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We All Do It.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak to seminarians about evil. When you live a relatively secure, stable, middle class life, you may think about evil from time to time in the abstract. Most of your ruminations about evil center on those people, or what’s happening out there.
But for Christian people, facing evil is a daily task, for evil isn’t only found out there and it is not only an abstract idea, evil is found within and it manifests itself in the concrete. Words, actions, contempt, outright agressions, quiet snubs. We all face evil. Evil not only comes against us. At times, evil comes about because of us. The Christian life is a life of repentance. It is also a life of righteousness, not a righteousness of our own, but one that comes from God.
In Understanding Our Spiritual Identity, Trevor Hudson writes:
The struggle we enter as Christ’s followers engages us, to put it quite bluntly, with the powers of evil. Interpenetrating the entire fabric of human existence, these dark forces affect every aspect of the world that the Creator has made good: the visible and invisible; the personal and the public, the individual and the institutional. The good news is that the destructive spiritual forces have already been defeated decisively. So no matter how costly or how painful the present contest, connected with the conquering Christ we shall ultimately overcome.”
There is no “neutral ground.” We’re in the struggle. We face evil in ourselves, in others, in systems, institutions, and patterns of life, in the material world, in the world of ideas…because reality is not only physical and material, but spiritual and immaterial. Sure, that’s a Christian metaphysical claim. But I’m happy to make it.
So how do we face evil? First, we draw near to God, and ask God to make us wise and discerning persons. After all, we must distinguish good from evil, and while many of us may think this amounts to “common sense,” I’d argue otherwise. Our moral sensibilities must be cultivated and honed. We do have an innate moral sense, which some philosophers and theologians have argued is a clue that there must be a moral law, and, thus, a moral lawgiver, or “God.” Again, I’ll make a claim: God does exist, and by drawing near to God, we learn to live a life that is holy as God is holy, with God’s help.
But we also live directionally. We “follow” Jesus. We follow him by learning from his example in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But we also follow him as the living Lord, as a person who can be known and trusted. We can take up his “easy yoke” and learn directly from him. Why? Because he is alive, seated at the right hand of the Father. And as we follow him, we live introspectively. We come to “know ourselves” even as we are known by God.
There are other ways to face evil. As we follow Jesus, we will learn to live a cruciform life, or a life shaped by the cross. We will be called to absorb evil, and forgive, trusting that God will one day rightly judge all things and balance the scales. We live an eschatological life. We learn what life will be like in God’s kingdom when Christ returns, and we align our lives today with that future. We live an active life. We renounce evil, resist it, and take loving action. We learn from Jesus how to do do so.
And lastly, we live a prayerful life, which is the foundation and starting point for all of life with God. We pray, “God’s kingdom come.” And we pray that God would bring it about, in and through us.
I’m still progressing through Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo and James K. A. Smith’s latest collection of essays, The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology. I’m still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and am now through Canto XIX.
Sights and Sounds
Last weekend we enjoyed a family movie night and viewed School of Rock (2003) starring Jack Black. This week I watched Last Action Hero (1993).
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - Steve, riding along.