• Caleb Kaltenbach

When I Was Close To a Serial Killer...

Updated: Aug 5

Growing up as young kid, my mom and Vera treated eating out like a sport. We visited new restaurants and critique them on the drive home. About once a month we had dinner at their friend Megan’s house. Her home was near The Plaza in Kansas City and was also across the street from a peculiar yellow house.

The Yellow House

Actually, the two-story house was a faded yellow that was in desperate need of a paint job. The yard was unkempt with noticeably aging cement steps leading up to the front door. Cracks and gravel were scattered on top of the steps. The front porch hosted a couple of old lawn chairs, a plastic flamingo yard statue that was toppled on its side, and other random junk.

Nearly every time we went to Megan’s house, we’d park right in front of the yellow house. I always asked mom and Vera to park further down the street or on the other side of the street. From the first day I saw it, I had a really weird feeling about the house. Probably assuming I was just a young boy with a huge imagination (which was very true), they ignored my suggestion.

Though I never saw or met anyone from the house, Megan had. I asked her a lot of questions about the people who lived there and what they were like. She told us that a single man named Bob was the resident. As you probably guessed, I questioned her about Bob. Apparently, he owned a store named “Bob’s Bizarre Bazaar.” He also had a couple of dogs that Megan took care of from time to time. She said Bob seemed nice enough, but was very private.

Bob’s yellow house grew even more chilling as the sun went down. No one could see inside the house because window shades covered each window. However, I would often see a faint glow behind the first floor window shades, as if light itself was trying to escape. The house always felt like it was on alert and watching whoever passed by.

During a sunny spring day in 1988, a man wearing nothing but a dog collar jumped out of a second story window in Bob's house. Disoriented and frightened, the young man wandered across the street to a parking enforcement officer. The two of them went to a nearby house and called the police. Not long after arriving on the scene, Bob was arrested for crimes committed in his house.

You see, the foreboding exterior of this yellow house paled in comparison to the atrocities that happened within its walls. Bob was actually a serial killer named Bob Berdella. He was a regular in certain bars and clubs where he’d lure young men back to his house, drug them, hold them captive, and torture them until he decided to kill them. I’m sure you can imagine the horrors they discovered inside his home and buried in the backyard.

When my mom told me about Bob’s arrest, I remember thinking, “So, he’s evil.” Eventually, Bob pleaded guilty to the torture and murder of at least 6 young men, died in prison, and the house was torn down (the lot is still vacant today). Even today, I still feel uneasy when I recall the yellow house. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time I encountered evil.

Bob Berdella

What goes through your mind when you read or hear the word evil? Someone you know? Does the word evil conjure up images of historical figures like Hitler, Bin Laden, Isabella of Castile, Emperor Hirohito, or Nero. You might even picture fictitious villains like Darth Vader, Michael Corleone, Saurman, Michael Myers, or Voldemort. More than likely, you automatically think about the Raiders or Broncos (I joke, I joke!!!!). Even the news makes it seem like everyone has evil intentions. Nowadays it’s easy to resonate with William Shakespeare’s words in The Tempest: “Hell is empty. And all the devils are here.”

Could it be that our thinking about evil needs to be more personal?

Realize What YOU Are Capable Of

Over the past two days, I’ve asked several friends how they define evil. I received great definitions and most shared common ideas like offending God & people, selfishness, pride, etc. I’m not sure how you define evil, but here’s my definition in first person:

Evil— I sacrifice you for my sake.

No matter how seemingly insignificant the manifestation, evil is an attack on God and people. Evil always prioritizes ME over YOU. Actually, you are merely a means to an end for me to get what I want. Looking at others before reflecting on my heart and intentions makes my dark side worse.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There is some good in the worst of us, and some evil in the best of us.”[1] Before you take offense at my insinuation, keep in mind that I’m throwing myself in the boat with you! I’m not comparing you to Bob Berdella, Hannibal Lecter, Gordon Gecko, or Nickelback. I do, however, want us to be honest and examine our hearts. Quoting Psalm 14:3, Paul writes, “There is no one who always does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10). But Paul isn’t the only biblical author who writes such words:

  • The Lord saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil (Genesis 6:5).

  • People’s minds are full of evil and foolish thoughts while they live (Ecclesiastes 9:3).

  • More than anything else, a person’s mind is evil and cannot be healed. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

  • All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind (Mark 7:21)

Over and over again, God’s words remind us that we are the ones who are sinful and need Him, not the other way around.

Empty Lot Where Berdella's House Used to Be

In his book, The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston writes, “We all have a monster within; the difference is in degree, not in kind.”[2] In other words, as you already know, everyone struggles with sinful issues (monsters). It’s easy to judgmentally look at another person’s job failure, wrecked marriage, or overreactions and think, “If I were in that position, I’d never act that way! I’d never make that decision!”

Here’s the harsh reality—you might! Immature people brag about mistakes they would never make (and they brag at the expense of those who made such mistakes).

Immature people brag about not making mistakes, but mature people realize their capacity for any mistake.

You’ll never grow stronger unless you understand what you’re capable of and consistently surrender to Jesus. Otherwise, you might end up doing the worst.

So, the question isn’t if you have a monster lurking within you, but what are you going to do with that monster? How do you identify your monster? Chances are that you already know your monster. And there's something you can do...

Drop the Magnifying Glass and Look in the Mirror

In the book Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson and his team write, “As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape—with any degree of success—is the person in the mirror.”[3]

Upon many occasions, I've heard my friend Tim Harlow say, "We need to drop the magnifying glass and look in the mirror." Though looking in the mirror is difficult, it’s absolutely necessary

Despite my inclination to look elsewhere, the battle against evil begins in my heart.

Paul laments as much to the Christians in Rome: “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate… So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me” (Romans 7:15, 21). He obviously understood his own mortality and fragility. He also wasn’t afraid to be authentic with others. We should do the same.

A good look in the mirror might include:

  • Asking questions like: What do I prioritize over God? Who do I prioritize instead of God? How am I tempted to stabilize my emotions in unhealthy ways when I feel out of control? What do I assume I couldn’t live without? What have I struggled with in the past?

  • Reading the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, then looking at the sins of human nature in Galatians 5:19-21, and identifying which sins you struggle with or which fruits you aren’t displaying.

  • Memorizing scripture that addresses your struggles.

  • Regular prayer when temptation arises.

  • Finding someone who can help you with accountability.

  • Having grace on yourself when you make a mistake.

Looking in the mirror is vital, but there’s another place where the battle against evil is either won or lost—our choices.

Fighting Evil Is a Lifestyle, Not Some Far Off Adventure

Perhaps as a result of his own life experiences, Oscar Wilde understood the difficulty of making good and healthy decisions: “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” Even Paul, who definitely believed in Satan, also realized that “the person in the mirror” had potential to be his worst enemy.

During an interview, one of my favorite authors, Stephen King commented, "the battle between good and evil is endlessly fascinating because we are participants every day."[4] The thing is—you might not always see the battle between good and evil. It could be that you feel like you’re watching the battle from a distance. Regardless of how we feel, as Stephen King said, you are a daily participant in the battle to overthrow evil. Therefore, your daily life matters... a lot.

Speaking about attempts to overthrow Hitler, author and Abilene Christian University professor Richard Beck writes: “The goal of resistance wasn’t simply to topple Hitler. Resistance had to be a way of life, the only way to live as an agent of grace and love in a dark and evil world.”[5]

Never Buy a Serial Killer T-Shirt

The battle against evil isn’t one momentary conflict in time, but is comprised of many different smaller battles throughout each day. You and I live our life within the context of our relationships, but we express our values in our daily choices. What we decide to do is an indicator of who we are. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore had to remind Harry Potter that our decisions reflect our character: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”[6]


Our decisions carry enormous weight and have potential for a long-term aftermath of consequences. We’re only one bad decision away from ruining our life and the lives of others. As such, it’s paramount for our decisions to be based in sacrificial love, not selfishness. With God’s help, I can win my battles against evil through my everyday decisions if they have their foundation in grace and love. This is why my personal definition of love corresponds with my definition of evil:

  • Evil— I sacrifice you for my sake.

  • Love— I sacrifice myself for your sake.

But again, making healthy decisions can be difficult! When we’re about to make a decision that we know is evil, might be harsh, or are unsure about, we need to ask ourselves a question like:

Is this decision for my sake or their sake?

Questions like this can be applied to most of the decisions we make (especially the ones we're unsure of):

  • Is my decision to assume the worst of someone for my sake or their sake?

  • How is my decision to "fire back" at someone on social media for my sake or their sake?

  • Does my decision to play the victim benefit me or others?

  • Is my refusal to enter the forgiveness process for my sake or their sake?

  • How is my decision to act harshly towards _________ (insert person's name) for my sake or their sake?

Here’s a remarkable truth about our faith—in the words of Paul, “Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). When you were at your worst, Christ was at His best. During the times when you didn’t even know about or care for God, He passionately pursued you. As my friend Carey Nieuwhof says, “The remarkable part of Christianity is not that we have a Savior who came to deliver us but that we have a Savior who sees us for who we really are and loves us anyway.”[7]

As Revelation 20-22 promises, one day, evil will be no more. I agree with Thomas Aquinas's idea that because goodness (flowing from God) existed before evil, goodness can exist without evil but evil can’t exist without goodness. I long for the day where we won’t have to attend funerals, go to court, or stay in hospitals. Can you even begin to imagine how amazing it will feel to be free from sin’s weight on your shoulders? We won’t have to battle sin, because we’ll be forever in the presence of God... and sin will be NO MORE! My heart yearns for that day.

I tear up whenever I read these heartfelt words from Brennan Manning: "Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors. No evil can resist grace forever."[8]


So... no, you're not a serial killer. But you and I are capable of more than we assume. We need God's grace and presence more than we know. And He's waiting for us to walk with Him on the journey to evil's defeat.

______________________

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength To Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010). [2] Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi, The Monster of Florence (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008). [3] Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, & Al Switzler, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011). [4] Jessica Strawser, “Writing Advice from Stephen King & Jerry Jenkins,” Writer’s Digest (July 21, 2009). https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/writing-advice-from-stephen-king-and-jerry-jenkins. [5] Richard Beck, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016). [6] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (London: Pottermore Publishing, 2015). [7] Carey Nieuwhof, Didn't See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2018). [8] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2005).

© 2020 by Caleb Kaltenbach