Keith Olbermann has now taken his nightly rant, Countdown, to Current TV. (Any similarity to thoughtful public discourse is purely accidental.) Somewhere during this diatribe, he gives a mock award to the “worst person in the world”. Keith invariably finds a political and/or religious conservative to dub the “worst person in the world”, proving that sometimes the best evidence of a person’s good character is who their enemies are. (I wonder if Keith is aware that, in the minds of many, he himself might be on the short list for his own award.)
But his rant does raise an interesting question. Who really is the worst person in the world? Who would you nominate?
Before you vote, let’s get one rule straight. The person must be alive. Adolph Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, both leading vote-getters in the recent past, are no longer acceptable choices. Charles Manson or Bernie Madoff, on the other hand, are permissible. (In the unlikely event that you want to nominate Elvis Presley as the worst person in the world, I have no choice but to permit it since his status is apparently incapable of conclusive resolution.)
To turn serious without any adequate segue, about 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul had a startling answer to this question. He said it was him. When writing to his young disciple, Timothy, he said: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The temptation is to think that Paul was being falsely modest, but he makes the case against himself in all seriousness. He describes himself, before receiving God’s mercy and grace, as a “blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent” of God and his people. (v. 14). I think he meant it when he identified himself as the foremost of sinners.
I think we would do well to follow Paul’s example. We need our own sin to be large in our own eyes. We also need to remember to do what Paul did. He evaluated himself based on who he was apart from the grace of God. He did not make the mistake of thinking what was noble or pure or praiseworthy in himself originated with him. He knew who he was without God and that it was not pretty. So when we are tempted to focus on someone else’s sin, (Keith Olbermann’s, for example), and to discount our own, let us remember that an excellent case can be made that we are the “worst person in the world.”