Friday, August 22, 2008

Under Heaven

There is evil in the world – cruel, brazen, mocking evil in the world. You can stop your ears. You can avert your eyes. You can fortify your life like a medieval castle, complete with moats and turrets, against the day that evil finds you where you live. You can box it up in neat philosophies and tie it with a bow of flawless exegesis. You can sleepily forget that it exists, even for years at a time . . .

But for all that, evil will not suddenly become less real, less aggressive – not to the child sold into a brothel before she can spell her name, not to the homeless man beaten for the amusement of teenagers in an American city, not to the Sudanese woman who bears the child of a systematic rape campaign.

If I have shocked your sensibilities, you who come here for your dose of lyrical prose, I am not sorry. It is midnight, I have turned the lights on, and around the world there are some two million children whose dignity goes for the price of a steak dinner. Tonight I have five of them stuck in my head (the five are somehow less bearable than the two million), so let me for at least five minutes refuse to look away from them.

Evil demands response. It will either run us over or rouse us to combat.

What shall be done?

It is one of the great advantages of Christianity that it takes the reality of evil as its starting place. Pure wickedness, and nothing else, necessitated the work of the cross. Christianity is thus well-reconciled to the accumulated life experience of most people under heaven. This faith becomes more difficult to understand, though, because it does not stop with recognition. It charges ahead with its lovely, terrifying images of the kingdom of God: days of judgment, the drying of all tears, heaven and earth remade without the blot of an accursed rebellion.

Indeed, it goes too far. It strains credulity. Two millennia later, where is the promise? Do the prophets of that kingdom live where the poor live? Do they walk in the Managua trash dumps, the Freetown slums, the Burmese refugee camps? Do they read the same newspaper? Surely they are fools are dreamers all to proclaim that the unjust execution of an itinerant Jewish teacher and miracle worker – a minor act in the history of the world’s gross excesses – will make everything good as Eden again. Evil doesn’t just linger with us; it laughs, it romps. By all appearances, it reigns.

What shall be done?

I have wept at evil. I have wept because it mocks the goodness and glory of my Maker. It treads His name in the gutter.
I have raged blindly at evil. I have raged because it praises the perverse and lays snares for the sacred.
I have sat frozen in the paralysis of despair. I have sat frozen because the weak cried out and the righteous faltered.

What shall be done?

The ancient Scriptures are not silent concerning the reality of evil. Nor are they silent about the end of evil, and how that evil shall be ended. The answer has two parts: “Take heart! I have overcome the world,” says Jesus, the Word whose words are life to us. In His coming, His atonement, His resurrection, He has overcome the resident evil. He has knocked over the first domino. He has sung the first verse of a new and brilliant music. But there is a second part.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is our mandate, our portion. We are to take up arms against evil, and our arms shall be the same as Christ’s, who wielded both authority and humility, truth and compassion, power and the obedient sacrifice of His will entire will and being.

What shall be done?

I dare you (as I, trembling, dare myself) to let yourself be re-arranged by two realities – the reality of evil and the reality of our responsibility to address it. If you call yourself Christ’s, this is not an additional feature - it is the very substance of the life of redeemed creatures. The answers we find are unlikely to seem rational, reasonable, or sufficiently moderated. But they will have the smell about them of things that are right. And sometimes in this world of unvarying gray, we still have to choose.

Am I ranting more than usual? Undoubtedly.
Am I over-simplifying? Almost certainly.
Am I wrong? I must own the possibility.

But this, God willing and God aiding, is what I shall do.


Helen Martin said...

Rant on, brave girl.

You are most decidedly not wrong.

Love, Helen

diana walker said...

Your words, though merely words, have struck something in me that is both deep and unexplainable. Lately it has seemed that satan has been given the upper hand and your blog entry provided a refreshing hope in today's gloominess. Thank you.