Just like the first season of Serial captured the attention of millions by drawing listeners into a captivating story bent on seeking the truth in the midst of a terrible crime, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer has pulled its audience into a story of crime, corruption, innocence and guilt. The beginning of the show demonstrates how Steven Avery served 18 years in jail for a violent crime he didn’t commit, and the latter half of the show explores whether he may or may not be guilty for a second violent crime.
But what makes these stories so popular? What chord does this strike with millions that has them binge watching, arguing with co-workers and going out on social media to campaign for the guilt or innocence of a man already convicted?
Stories like the one told in Making a Murderer are captivating because they scratch at the kinds of questions that lie at the bottom of our deepest desires, doubts and problems. More specifically, they are propped up on two major themes that resonate with any person, Christian or not: the reality of truth, and justice and the depths of evil.
Truth to Be Found
Among those watching Making a Murderer, there seem to be two predominant groups of people—those who believe the police could possibly have planted evidence and those who cannot fathom the idea that police could possibly do something like this. Here is the reality: Evil is pervasive at every level of society. Truth is, Avery may be absolutely guilty of all the charges. On the other hand, if you find it inconceivable that a group of powerful people couldn’t possibly give in to an evil desire to malign and hurt a vulnerable person, then you possess both a small view of evil and of the strangeness of truth.
Wherever you land on the Avery story, all viewers find themselves compelled to grapple with their desire for the truth to be unveiled. When we are confronted with differing voices claiming truth, we may be like Pilate standing before Christ, asking ourselves, “What is truth?” Truth is there to be found, but it might be stranger than you think.
The tension of the show, what pulls the viewer in, is the uncertainty that evil creates as we pursue truth. Sin has broken our ability to see the truth clearly, but we find ourselves demanding it when injustice is on display in the world. This presents an opportunity for us to ask, “What is truth?” and, “What measure do we use to assess truth claims?” We all long for truth, goodness and beauty, but we find ourselves incapable of seeing it on our own in the midst of a world sick with evil.
No Reason to Do Evil
I have heard countless times in watching Making a Murderer, “Why on earth would Avery have killed an innocent woman? Why would the cops have framed him? What was the motivation?” When we see evil in the world it startles us, drawing our attention to what we make a habit of attempting to ignore. Major news outlets know this and exploit this captivation by pressing story after story of tragedy into our field of vision.
In the face of great evil, we find ourselves asking, “What would compel someone to commit this crime?” We feel the need to associate evil with a mental illness, an exposure to violent media or a disgruntled employee. We do this because we can diminish the terror of evil if we can control it by naming it. The sad and strange truth is that humans don’t need a reason to do evil. Because of Adam, our representative in the garden, we have entered the world unable and unwilling to do good. We aren’t evil because we do evil. We do evil because we are evil. And that is terrifying.
No one likes this part, but apart from Christ, criminals, cops, judges and jurors are all marred by evil. When Adam sinned, everyone who ever lived sinned with him. The truly surprising aspect of a show like Making a Murderer is that it reveals humanity’s inconsistency, crying out for an explanation for evil, when we find it incredibly difficult to justify why we choose evil over good.
The strange truth of Christianity is this: Humanity is the cause of all the great evil in the world, yet we cry out for someone other than us to be held accountable. We hate the evil that we see in the world and yet we contribute to it. We are culpable. We are guilty. Made blind by evil, we forget what truth even looks like. But hope rises up, for whether we have found ourselves rightfully accused or counted among deceptive accusers, Jesus Christ says, “Here, I’ll take your evil, and you take my truth, goodness and beauty.”
When a show like Making a Murderer or a podcast like Serial catches your attention, you are hooked because there is a deep desire within you to see the world made right, to see justice done. These shows serve as a magnifying glass, focusing our attention on how desperately we desire truth, goodness and beauty to win and how disappointed and angry we are when they seem to lose.
We may indeed be drawn to these kinds of stories because they claim that truth has been perverted. But they also reveal how desperate we are to see the world live under the reign of God’s future kingdom where truth, goodness and beauty are all we know. That world may seem like a figment of the optimists’ dream, but it’s a world more real than ours.