A double life: reflections on Russ Williams
Canadians heard more details today about the unspeakable suffering of two of the victims of Col. Russell Williams, the once-respected Canadian Forces officer who was convicted on two murder counts, two sexual assault counts and 82 counts of break and enter. In recounting Williams’ career, one reporter used the telling phrase “a double life”. This is an apt description of the character and conduct of a man who operated for years as a competent, respected, decorated and successful military officer by day, and a perverted, violent and apparently unfeeling sexual predator by night.
In a strange sort of way, it can be comforting to look at an obvious villain like Williams. The more judgmental among us can point our fingers at him and say to each other “Now there is a really evil man. Decent folks like us would never do anything like that.” Those with more politically correct attitudes might say, with appropriate concern and sensitivity, “It’s not really his fault; the poor man was just very sick”.
I’d like to propose a third way to look at this story. Once we get beyond the shock, the outrage, the fear and the pity, a story like this one can serve as a wake-up call for the rest of us. Yes, a wake-up call, because – much as we might want to deny it – the truth is that we’re not so different from Williams.
Really? “I could never do what he did”, you gasp. Maybe not – but if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to lay money that Williams didn’t start out as a violent man. Whatever the influences on his life, he made choices to think, respond, believe and act in a certain way, and over time those choices shaped what he would become. He became a man whose whole life was a lie. He began by deceiving himself, and ended up deceiving and harming many others. That’s the way deception works. It becomes a way of life, until deceiving yourself and others is so much a part of your thinking that it becomes natural to your character, a pattern of behaviour you can no longer control. In one sense, people like Russell Williams have to be viewed as fully responsible for their own actions, and cannot simply be let off with the lame explanation that they are “sick”; yet in another, equally true sense, I’m convinced that people like Williams are also deeply wounded victims of the Deceiver, the enemy of our souls. This conviction has been reinforced by years of ministry to some very wounded people.
Most people aren’t as deeply divided as Williams, but all of us are self-deceived and divided to an extent. Self-deception, in the words of the late Jack Frost, founder of Shiloh Place Ministries, is “the easiest thing in the world”, and if unchecked it can lead to a deeply fractured life. All of us are heirs of the decision made by our first parents to walk independently of our Creator. It would be easy for us to blame Adam and Eve, were it not for the fact that we have willingly chosen the same path of independence. We want our own way too, just as they did, and we are susceptible to the same delusion that the only person you can trust is yourself and that you can do a better job of running your own life than God can. Russell Williams may be an extreme example of the bad fruit that comes from this way of thinking, but rather than seeing him as a freak, we would be wise to recognize his story as a warning. I can’t imagine a more selfish, ego-driven, or tortured way to live, and I would never want to go down the path he walked. However, I can recognize that my thoughts and actions have often been far from completely pure and innocent (something we don’t usually like to admit of ourselves, but it’s true of you too), and that I’ve been subject to many temptations that could have led me down dangerous and destructive paths. If it hadn’t been for the healing mercy of Jesus, who knows where I’d be or how I would have ended up?
There really are two very opposite Kingdoms, with no middle ground. Ultimately, we all end up in one Kingdom or the other. Lives of exceptional beauty and goodness, like that of Mother Teresa, or of exceptional ugliness, like that of Russell Williams, remind us of what we will become if we walk down one path or the other.
On the one hand, we have a Kingdom characterized by division, suspicion, ambition and mistrust, peopled by tragic characters like Russell Williams, and ruled over by Satan – the ultimate Deceiver. On the other hand, we have a Kingdom characterized by unity, peace, freedom and light, populated by those who are learning to walk in the light, and ruled over by Jesus – the most integrated, consistent and faithful man to ever walk the face of the earth.
How can we be set free? How can we walk in integrity, truth and goodness? There is only one way. Jesus has purchased forgiveness for us, and he has also provided a way for our hearts to become free from the control of evil. If your eyes are good, he said, your whole body will be full of light. What does he mean by “good eyes”? He’s referring to eyes that have been trained to look at only one thing. If we focus our attention on the One who gave His life for our freedom – the One who alone is entirely trustworthy – we will become like Him; we too will become people of integrity, people who are trustworthy, people whose service is motivated by genuine humility, people full of gratitude and mercy, people whose whole life is characterized by His light.
I can’t change what happened to Russell Williams – or his victims. But I do have a choice about which Kingdom I want to live in, and so do you. Do you want to live in a house of lies or a house of truth – a house of deception and disappointment or a place of light, freedom and hope? I know which Kingdom I want to live in, and Russell Williams’ story increases my motivation to seek the Light while I have the opportunity.