© 2005 by Gretchen Passantino
Be self-controlled & alert, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are going through the same kind of sufferings – 1 Peter 5:8-9.
Disadvantaged, ignorant, oppressed, immature, irresponsible, careless – we have lots & lots of words to describe the causes of human failure. Most of them imply that the individual who is failing is not responsible for his or her failures – in fact, the failure itself is often pointed to as proof that the individual has been wronged by some system, class, mechanism, or other non-personal function that is far easier to blame than any individuals. While it is the case that circumstances in our fallen world are often behind human tragedy & failure in some measure, we must never assume that because there is general failure, there is no personal failure. In fact, God’s Word tells us that the general failure is, itself, the result of personal failure – the failure of the original humans, Adam & Eve, & the consequent failure of all descended from them.
Paul tells us “sin entered the world through one man, & death through sin, & in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As a consequence, “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” The failure around us is not destined to last forever, however, because just as through one man the creation was wholly corrupted, so through one man, Jesus Christ, the whole creation will be redeemed: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. . . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21).
Because general corruption comes from individual sin, we have an individual obligation to guard against sin not only for our own relationship to God, but also for the consequences of our sin outside of ourselves. The writer to the Hebrew Christians warned us to see to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:12-13).
It may be uncomfortable for us to consider evil – the actual willful, deliberate rejection of God’s law in favor of our own self-interest – but it is necessary. If we fail to recognize & resist evil, we will perpetuate its power in the world & all too often we ourselves will succumb to its subtle lure. All sin is evil in one sense, but the Bible itself distinguishes between our general condition of sinfulness & specific acts of evil.
Rev. Michael G. Clark is the Lutheran pastor of a church in Wichita, Kansas. He failed to recognize evil & consequently was completely blindsided by a serial killer who was responsible for nearly a dozen brutal murders over many years. Dennis Rader, who called himself the BTK killer, not only prowled Rev. Clark’s community for his prey: he was a leading member of Rev. Clark’s congregation & had become the congregational president just months before police finally identified & captured him. In a recent news article, Rev. Clark said his failure to acknowledge the actual, personal existence of evil allowed him to remain oblivious to the devil in their midst. He admitted, ” have changed my theology. I never thought I would. . . .If on Feb. 24, 2005, a day before Dennis was arrested, someone had suggested that I would be talking the way I am today, I would have told them they were just plain crazy. But I am convinced from what I have been through that there is definitely an evil force out there that is viable, & it’s something we need to know about
Dr. M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist who once dabbled in skepticism & mysticism. He failed to recognize God or good as well as the devil or evil until he encountered clients in his practice who were not merely disadvantaged or broken, but, well, as he put it, just plain evil. His journey from skepticism to Catholic faith began with the realization that his psychiatric training had taught him to help those who were hurting, but not how to either recognize or combat those who wilfully & knowingly chose evil. In his book The People of the Lie he admitted the inadequacy of any but the Christian world view for explaining the reality of evil and resisting it. What would his destiny have been if he had never recognized or rejected evil? He could not have know those many years before that he would die of cancer at a relatively young 69 this past September 25.
Novelist Michael Connelly’s stories often include powerful depictions of evil, & even more powerful depictions of the individual whois inadequate within himself to combat it, but finally overcomes evil by surrendering his inadequacies to the better good. In his newest novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, his main character expresses the importance of recognizing evil. Mickey Haller is a criminal defense lawyer who cares more that his clients be found “not guilty” than that they be “innocent.” Now, however, Haller has a client for whom he can almost certainly achieve a “not guilty” verdict, but whom he realizes is far from “innocent;” in fact he is evil. He asks, “You know what I used to be afraid of? . . . That I wouldn’t recognize innocence. That it would be there right in front of me & I wouldn’t see it. I’m not talking about guilty or not guilty. I mean innocence. Just innocence. . . . But you know what I should have been afraid of? . . .Evil. Pure evil. . . . All I know is I should have been afraid of one thing but I was afraid of the complete opposite.” And that ignorance of evil threatens the lives of those Haller loves the most.
Take to heart the examples of Rev. Clark, Dr. Peck, & Mickey Haller – learn to recognize evil, & overcome its attacks with God’s power. One of our best role models, the apostle Paul, reminds us, “Be strong in the Lord & in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world & against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:10-12).