Tag Archives: Evil

Pray for Knowledge of Christ’s Love

Earlier this week during my morning prayer time I read a wonderful passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This passage is one of my favorite prayers in the Bible:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NIV).

At the time I thought about how this passage would be a great basis for a blog post reminding people how much God loves them, but the week got away from me and the post didn’t get written. Today, following the tragedies in Portland, Oregon (so close to my home) and in Connecticut, I realize that God’s timing is perfect because this passage holds the answer so many are looking for as to how someone could do such an evil thing as shoot strangers in a mall or kindergarteners in a school, not to mention their own mother.

Throughout scripture we are told that the heart of mankind is evil. The reason we are told God flooded the earth and saved only Noah and his family is because “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5 (NIV). Of one of the kings of Israel it is said, “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:14 (NIV). As Jesus explained to His disciples, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” Mark 7:22-23 (NIV).

But the heart that grasps the love of Christ is filled with the fullness of God. In such a heart evil thoughts are driven out by love and compassion. In this world we live in, and especially in the United States, people think they can live without God. Many don’t teach their children that God loves them, perhaps because they don’t know this wonderful truth themselves, and then we are surprised when children grow up to be murderers.

The problem that leads to such tragedies as we have seen this week is not that people have guns, it is that they do not have Christ. I realize that there are plenty of people who do not believe in or know God who do not go out and murder others, but I also know that those who commit such unspeakable acts cannot possibly know God’s love for them.

The love of Christ is kind of like a vaccine. We give vaccines to all our kids to prevent them from getting terrible diseases, even though not every kid would get the disease if the vaccine was not given. We need to vaccinate all our children against the evil that has the potential to take over their hearts, and that vaccine is the heart knowledge of the love of God that surpasses human knowledge.

As Christians, we need to pray not only for those who have suffered a great tragedy, but we need to pray every day—as Paul did for the Ephesians—for our children to have the power “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

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Out of the Heart

I know that we are not supposed to judge others (see Luke 6:37), and that only God is able to see into the heart of a man (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

But right after command us to not judge, Jesus says:

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45 (NIV).

So even though we are not to judge others in terms of pronouncing their ultimate fate — for only Jesus is our ultimate judge — we can still sometimes tell what another has stored up in their heart, whether it be evil or good, by the things that they say.

One who stores up anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, and pride in their heart will often speak ill of others, revealing the evil that they cling to. They will constantly complain about and judge others. Having people such as this in our lives can be truly exhausting as they are difficult to love as the Lord has commanded us to love.

Each of us must be careful of the words we speak and be aware of any evil in our own hearts that words of bitterness might reveal. When we see such bad fruit in the lives of others it is a good time to take an inventory of our own fruitfulness. It is also a good time to practice the lessons our Lord has taught us about how we are to live and not allow such evil to spread to our own hearts.

Above all, I believe the Lord calls us to be a witness to and pray for those in our lives whose bitterness, envy, and pride can cause us such grief. Quoting in part from Proverbs 25:21-22, the apostle Paul wrote:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NIV).

When Paul, quoting from Proverbs, says being kind to your enemy “will heap burning coals on his head,” what exactly does he mean? According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, this phrase signifies “retribution by kindness, i.e., that, by conferring a favor on your enemy, you recall the wrong he has done to you, so that he repents, with pain of heart.” Vine’s pg. 107. In other words, by repaying another’s evil with kindness, you might cause him to return to the Lord and be saved so that Christ might reign in his heart.

But it is important to remember that it is only by the grace of God that we are able to treat the one whose bad fruit seems to plague our lives with love. It is Christ living in us who loves them and wants to change their heart, to destroy the evil in their heart and replace it with good, who is alone able to give us the capacity to show them love. For it is when we store up Christ in our own hearts that we are able ourselves to bear good fruit.

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That Evil May Not Triumph

I know today is Friday and so I am supposed to be posting a recipe, but it’s also Veterans’ Day in the U.S. so I decided to post something in honor of our veterans and active service members instead.

The quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” has been floating around in my head. I did a Google search (no, I did not “google” it, you’re welcome for the help protecting your trademark, Google) to determine the source of this quote. I found out it is commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, but that there is no conclusive evidence that he said it, and it does not appear in any of his writings. It is, nonetheless, a good quote that supports what I want to write about veterans today.

Many people are very anti-war. I see bumper stickers that say “Endless this war” and wonder if the people who put them on their cars believe that war is never necessary.

I am not a big fan of war, by any means. Too many good people are killed and injured in wars. It would be truly wonderful to live in a world where there were no wars and where we did not need to have an active military to protect our freedom.

But that is not the world we live in. Instead, we live in a world where evil people oppress and attack others; where evil people do all that is in their power to capture territory belonging to others; where evil people let greed and power control their actions; where evil people seek to crush the freedom of others to live their lives in harmony and peace.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In WWII, if good men had done nothing, the evil of Hitler would have triumphed and he would have succeeded in killing even more innocent men, women, and children in the death camps. In this instance, war may not have been desirable, but it was necessary.

Our veterans and our active service members give their lives to protect what is good and to protect our freedoms. They stand at the ready to do something so that when evil rears its ugly head it does not triumph. I suspect if you asked most veterans and active service members whether they like war, they would say no. But there are many things in life we may not like but still must do to uphold justice, peace, and the lives of good people.

Instead of protesting particular wars or war in general, I choose to thank our veterans and the members of our armed forces for their service, for their willingness to stand ready so that evil might not triumph.

Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13 (NIV).

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Understanding Vindictiveness in the Psalms and Real Life

I’ve been reading (slowly) Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. It is going slowly in part because, having read through chapter 4, I was compelled to go back and reread chapter 3. The title of chapter 3 is “The Cursings.” As is typical with Lewis, he begins this book by first addressing the more troubling aspects of his overall topic before getting on to the more palatable aspects. This chapter is sandwiched between the chapters on “Judgment in the Psalms” and “Death in the Psalms,” both of which were interesting and challenging.

But there was something about chapter 3 that seemed particularly interesting to me. There is something in this chapter that shines a light on the topic of mercy that I and some fellow bloggers have written about recently, and that light reveals a very different side of the equation.

First, what exactly does Lewis mean by the cursings? Some specific examples that he refers to include:

 6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
   let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
   and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
   may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
   and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
   may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
   may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
   or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
   their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
   may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
15 May their sins always remain before the LORD,
   that he may blot out their name from the earth.
Psalm 109:6-15 (NIV).

8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
   happy is the one who repays you
   according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
   and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:8-9 (NIV).

This sort of cursing, even of one’s enemies, seems quite harsh to Lewis, as it does to me. And yet there is something in me that imagines that God will treat the truly wicked in such a way. Those who abuse women and small children, those who commit murder and seem to have no remorse, and those who greedily swindle the elderly and the downtrodden out of their last penny, deserve such punishment, and so this type of cursing seems natural.

But when we read the words of Christ telling us to ” love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43 (NIV)), it is difficult to reconcile this with the prayers of cursing that are found in the Psalms. I have often, in my own thinking, reconciled these seemingly conflicting notions with the understanding that the Psalmist trusted God to know when to answer the prayer of cursing because God knows the hearts of the enemy that is being cursed. I think Lewis has pondered out a better way to reconcile the cursings and the command to love, and shown the value of an attitude that might lead one to pray such a prayer in relation to the truly wicked.

Lewis tells a story of overhearing some soldiers during World War II who believed that their government had fabricated the evils of Hitler and the Nazi regime in order to “pep up” the troops; and yet those soldiers were not the least bit bothered by this. “That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of their fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course.” Reflections, pg. 29. Lewis argued that these uncaring soldiers were in a worse condition than the vindictive Psalmist because they had seemingly lost any moral compass of right and wrong. Although a vindictive reaction might be a sin, it at least indicated an awareness that a wrong had been committed.

Lewis goes on to write:

Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one. Even when that indignation passes into bitter personal vindictiveness, it may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin; but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists — just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or the great reformer point to something in him above mere self. If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim. Reflections, pg. 30.

Of course, as Lewis also points out, the danger exists of letting one’s indignation over wrongs that are hateful to God turn into self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and persecuting zeal. As with many good intentions and aspirations, taken to an extreme hating sin can become the sin of hating the sinner, and forgetting one’s own sinful nature.

I still believe that the better course of action, when faced with someone who has committed an evil act, is to pray for their repentance and salvation. It is far better, in God’s kingdom, that the lost be found than that they be abandoned. But I am grateful to Lewis for shedding light on a different side of the indignation and vindictiveness I have seen expressed towards various “evil” people who have been in the news. That’s what I love about C.S. Lewis; I always find something in his writings that challenge my thinking and help me to better understand God and my fellow human beings.

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Psalm 37 – Wait Patiently for the Lord

Today is our last Sunday of Chris Nye’s 4-week series on finding Jesus in the Psalms. The Psalm reading for today is from Psalm 37. I’ve actually written on this Psalm once before in a post called Don’t Fret, but I decided to post the verses that we read in church today for Psalm Sunday anyway. It’s a wonderful Psalm with great advice on how to deal with “the wicked.” And David certainly had his share of wicked people plotting against him, so he should know whether this is sound advice.

Psalm 37

A psalm of David.

 1 Don’t worry about the wicked
      or envy those who do wrong.
 2 For like grass, they soon fade away.
      Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

 3 Trust in the Lord and do good.
      Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
 4 Take delight in the Lord,
      and he will give you your heart’s desires.

 5 Commit everything you do to the Lord.
      Trust him, and he will help you.
 6 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
      and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

 7 Be still in the presence of the Lord,
      and wait patiently for him to act.
   Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
      or fret about their wicked schemes.

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Focus on the Inside

This morning one of my fellow bloggers posted a comment with a question about this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.” She asked, “Are the Christians the only ones who see the ‘ugly and bad’ side of the world?” I posted an answer to her question in a reply comment, but the more I thought about it I realized this was a question that was worthy of a regular blog post.

The question brought up memories of reading Nietzsche in college. I never like his writing. Something else he wrote is that God did not create man, man created God. He was definitely an atheist, and though I didn’t realize why at the time, his writing always made me feel uneasy. I couldn’t avoid reading it  because I was a political science major and it was required. But no one could make me like it.

I disagree with the quote my friend found. There is no Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad, but rather Christians are resolved to find God holy, good, and merciful. As Christians, we do recognize the sinful nature of mankind, but that is not what makes mankind sinful – or “ugly and bad.” Consider this, if I see the grass as green, that is not what makes it green, even if someone else does not see what color it is at all. There is evil and ugliness in the world. The fact that I and generations of Christians have seen it isn’t what brought it into existence.

I also don’t think Christians are the only ones who see the evil in the world. Even Nietzsche could see that there was something ugly and bad in the world. But Christians are often (though not always) the ones who can see the evil in our own hearts. Non-believers can easily point to others and see their evil and blame the ugly and bad in the world on them. This is essentially what Nietzsche has done in this quote. He saw external ugliness and blamed it on Christians, but never saw the evil in his own heart.

We have no control to change others and are often powerless to do anything about the evil and ugliness outside ourselves. But we can do something about the evil within; we can invite the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the ugly and bad in our own hearts. That is the Christian resolution – to rely on God to help us overcome our own evil.

“God knows people’s hearts.” Acts 15:8a. Only God knows how we have grappled with our own sinful desires and turned to Him for redemption. The prophet Samuel learned this when he thought one of Jesse’s older, taller, stronger sons would be anointed King of Israel.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

God had David, the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons in mind to be king. He saw David as a man after His own heart. Acts 13:22. Though David was not perfect, he consistently saw his own sinfulness and repented. He was able to look within his own heart and see the evil and ugliness therein; he grappled with his sinful desires and turned to God for redemption.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to grasp Nietzsche’s view and blame evil on everyone else. Rather, I want to be like David and confess the ugliness in my own heart, casting my lot on God for redemption and healing. If every person grasped the Christian resolution to not “worry about a speck in my friend’s eye when I have a log in my own” (Matthew 7:3) and sought the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to overcome my own sinful nature, then imagine what a wonderful place the world would be.

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