Romans 12: 21
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I have a little statue (pictured) that was given to me by a church member. The three chimps portray the old expression “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” As she gave it to me, the church member joked that she thought that was “how preachers should view their congregations.”
Maybe so. All kidding aside, occasionally I think it would be nice if somehow I really could just block out all evidence of evil in the world. It is tempting to wish that we could avoid seeing or hearing about evil, and just not think about it. But that’s not possible.
The problem of evil is one that theologians have long debated and written about. Why is there evil in the world? Where does it come from? How real is the embodiment of evil in the being known as Satan?
We may not have complete answers to these questions, and Scripture gives different insights on the topic of evil. What we do know is what we see in the world. There are people who become enveloped in some kind of darkness of the soul, and commit terrible acts of cruelty, exhibiting a complete absence of humanity. We also see evil that is the collective expression of a particular sin, as a force that takes on a life of its own and affects not just one individual but many. Jesus taught that evil is not just embodied in a person’s actions, but also in their thoughts and attitudes.
Finally, we also know – and this is perhaps the most challenging part of all – that evil is also the capacity that average people have to become complicit by failing to resist the “active” evil, by looking the other way. We have heard the quote many times, the one that goes “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
So what do we do? We resist. As followers of Jesus, we resist evil in all its forms on behalf of the greater good. We resist in our actions also because of one unique aspect of our faith. Ours is a faith that is grounded in our belief in a crucified God.
As Christians, we proclaim an instrument of death, the cross, as the symbol of our faith. Not because we have a special affinity for death, but because we proclaim a God who has overcome death. We proclaim a God who took the ultimate evil – the crucifixion of God’s son – and turned it into the ultimate good, the Resurrection.
Frederick Buechner writes this on the subject of evil: “Christianity merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene – not even this – but that God can turn it to good.”
So we resist evil in all its forms. Through faith we resist the temptation to give in to darkness and cynicism, or the belief that death holds any ultimate victory. We don’t look away from evil, or try to ignore it, but neither do we fear it. We resist by living in the knowledge that God’s love is stronger than any forces of evil in creation.
We proclaim a Risen Christ who in his own words tells us that through love he has overcome the world, and through that same love we can overcome evil with good. For us that means that while we live now, there are battles to be fought, but the war itself is already won.
A hymn that speaks to this is the famous “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” The verses read:
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabbaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle.
We proclaim a crucified and Resurrected God who has overcome the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.