Archive for the ‘Evil’ Category

Two of the great archetypal stories of the world are Job, from the Bible, and Faust, written by the German literary light Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

These iconic tales have this in common: Both Job and Faust are tempted by the devil. What is different, however, is the devil takes things away from Job, but he gives things to Faust. 

Job loses his health, his family and his property. 

In Faust, Mephistopheles, the tempter, offers Faust three temptations: first, the pure love of an innocent girl; second, the artistic fecundity of Helen of Troy and third the creation of a new land and a new people according to his desires. Faust makes a deal with the devil, unlike Job, but Faust fails to create a satisfying life with his opportunities. He bungles them. 

And yet there are similarities. Both men, Job and Faust, in their dark days, make great efforts to resist the devil, and they both struggle to try to understand nature, the world and God. 

It’s the endings that I find most interesting. After confronted by God about his ignorance, Job says, “I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes.”

At that point Job is restored as well as his fortunes, and the Bible says that, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”

When the Bible concludes that Job died full of years, there’s a sense of peace and satisfaction in the ending.

In contrast, while Faust also realizes his errors, struggles against the devil and makes efforts to be right, he never finds the enjoyment of life and satisfaction with it that he longs for. 

In the end, Faust is not thriving like Job. He is struggling, with everything.

Both stories dig deep. Both stories reveal the universally frustrating effort to understand life and grapple with evil.

But perhaps the story of Faust is more parallel to many of ours than the story of Job. Not many of us lose it all, and then — as if winning the total-life lottery —  get it all back. Not many of us are as righteous as Job, particularly when it comes to loss, suffering and enduring mystery.  He weathers difficulty with dignity, despite the advice from his foolish friends and remains quite noble. 

But we don’t see a noble, peaceful, provided for or restored Faust at the end of his life. Faust’s experience is more like ours, the losses and the failures and confusions mount along the way and the deep rest so longed for and the deep understanding so desired is not forthcoming. And for Faust, his family life spirals into disaster.

And yet right here is precisely where the classic, mythic narratives get interesting and Biblical, in the endings, and the story of Faust falls closer to many of us that the story of Job. Grappling with our own convoluted theological narratologies, our own imperfect families, we find that Faust is us and we, him. 

Just before the devil is to take Faust to hell, Angels  arrive as messengers of divine mercy  and declare, “He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still.” And they take him with them.

Another interpreter phrases it this way. Faust is carried to Heaven by angels who sing, “We can redeem him who bestirs himself striving.”

Here Goethe got it right. 

Strivers all! Or most! And yet by grappling and pushing and shoving our stories around — helped by the devil or not — we don’t get at the true knowledge of nature, God or even ourselves. Despite our cri de cœur, we are a bunch of conflicted, disfluent, ambivalent, equivocal ideological wavelets. We are theological tidelets! We wash and wish and wonder  —  and yet the grace of God saves us anyway. 

We never arrive at the state of ataraxia, the Greek term for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. 

If we arrive at all — anywhere! —  we arrive by grace.

Natality is in Christ.

”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ep. 2:8-9



We don’t fly our own wings to heaven; we are carried by angels.

I love this! I love the picture of Faust, of me, of you, carried by angels — virtually kicking and screaming our way into heaven. 

Then arriving a hot mess, I imagine the gentle, powerful angels will set us down — we totally confused and exhausted strivers — and we will be quiet for a long, long time — along side Job and all the other strugglers present there. 

I have two sweet, passive, house casts. The cats recently got to licking each other, which resulted in some biting, then some hissing and scratching, finally we had to separate them.

We did this by moving between them. It’s called splitting behavior.

We live in a violent world — cat fights, family fights, the San Bernardino shootings, the Paris bombing, the civil war in Syria.

An unholy violence touches all our lives. A friend of mine was murdered by her husband.

The Bible is no strangers to this.

Listen to Jesus.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matthew 11:12)

The Bible is not all happy sheep, gentle doves and precious rainbows. It includes terrors, violence, mayhem — lots of death.

Cain murders Able, the world drowns in a flood, Abraham travels to sacrifice his son Isaac, the Egyptian’s are devastated by the plagues. Paul murders Christians, Jesus dies like a criminal nailed on a cross of wood.

The Bible verifies that life is rough and tough, dangerous, and we are vulnerable and the violent bear us away.

But the Bible also helps us know how to live in such a world, wisely.

What did Jesus say?

Matthew 15:17-19

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Jesus said what?

Jesus said that violence — physical, sexual, verbal violence — does not begin with standing armies, tanks, guns and bombs.

It rises out of the pathology of our own souls.

Violence begins my heart and yours. It is not far off.

It is as close to us as our own hearts. Because of this, we must be careful to no let anger and hate rule us or we too might say or do terrible things.

Jesus warned us saying, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matt. 5.21-22).

Yesterday out driving, a slow car in front of me so irritated me, was taking so much time, so timid, so slow that I grew very impatient. It’s in me too.

When I went around them, in my fast sports car, I didn’t make a hand jester. I was so glad. I think it was one of the elders of my church.

Violence lurks in us all. Perhaps we are too strong with our family. Perhaps we are raging about someone at our work. Perhaps we are verbally abusive at home.

We must pray: “God remove hate and anger and violence from my heart.”

Let’s now get clear on this.

Jesus instructs us not to use violence to attempt to bring about his kingdom.

When Jesus was arrested, one of his companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

But Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:51-52)

We must beware of reaching into our hearts and dredging up violence against non-Christians or anyone. It will come back to bite us.

At his trial Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place”

This ” my servants won’t fight” was and is a statement of Christian principle.

It is a principle Jesus is very clear on. He says it unambiguously.

Luke 5:29. “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”

This teaching is very powerful. We all must grapple with it.

No cheek slapping. Restraint can save us — save Christians and the church — from abuse, from harming others, from crusades, from taking up arms to bring about faith.

Is someone slapping you? Are you slapping back?

“What, ” you are thinking, “do I just stand by, and let harm happen to my self, my family, my people?”

No, we apply the violence cure.

The Bible and Jesus teaches us to bravely stand up against violence.

Just because Jesus doesn’t employ violence, he does not model or encourage us to act like helpless sheep, to give in, to give up.

One way the Bible teaches us to stand against violence is to respect and work with the police and military in their efforts to protect us.

Romans 13:4 says, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Police officers, government leaders, military, then it their duty to defend, to sometimes use force to stop violence. They must be brave, do their jobs, but they should never use force — unless necessary.

We stand with them in their role.

In my career as a pastor I have worked along side of the police, Child Protective Services and the courts. I have reported sexual abuse and physical abuse to helpful authorities. I have comforted and counseled women who have been abused and I have worked with soldiers suffering from PTSD.

I have cried with victims and stood in court with them. I have walked out afraid of being beat up on the street.

As a church, my church holds Church Has Left the Building Sundays,. On these we have fixed up a local domestic violence shelter, our staff has reported abuse, we have set up a counseling center, we have paid for professional counseling for victims.

In the last few years, our church has the become the REFINERY, a place where people get better, are protected, can recover.

We are all about, healing hearts, wounded by violence.

Our staff MFT’s increasingly busy. We will report the bully at the school or in the office or on the ship, call the police on the law breaker, report the threat.

We are not helpless sheep!

When one of my daughters was in middle school, she was harassed, inappropriately touched by another student. I went straight to the principal and advocated for my daughter. I stood up and protected her.

I yelled at the principal. I shouldn’t have. But I would not be put off, until something was done. We must protect our kids and stand with them in trouble.

Secondly, Jesus instructs us to stand up to violence with words.

When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus, Jesus verbally defended her and stopped her accusers from stoning her.

Jesus did this with intelligent thinking. He used words.

It is recorded in John 8:7 that he confronted her accusers by saying,” “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Her accusers snuck away. This was so powerful that the phrase “throw the first stone” is now a conventional, protective part of our everyday speech.

Go create words; defend women from double standards, defend children from abuse, defend us all, from violence, from a culture of violence.

For as long as we have strength to stand up to bullies, it is both our nature and our privilege to do so.

Following Jesus we should stand against verbal abuse, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, abortion, bullying and racially motivated violence.

My church is the home of the Grossmont College’s Southbay classes to train adoptive and foster parents. We give away space for free for this to happen.

We are The REFINERY that empowers.

We are mending the ravages of family violence right here, right now.

Thirdly, we stop violence by becoming peacemakers.

We Christians should always be growing in learning peacemaking, in learning to conflict negotiation, in finding non-violent ways to stop violence.

Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, [taught Jesus] for they will be called children of God.”

Peacemaking uses the leverage of language, the force of negotiations to find solutions.

Jesus called each one of us to peacemaking.

When I was in South Africa a few years ago the Christians there totally inspired me as to what Christians can do.

When we were in Johannesburg, some of the pastors told us that during the Soweto riots of 1976, the church gathered and prayed.

South Africa was at the brink of civil war, racial war, but the church prayed and white President F.W. DeKlerk unbanned the ANC and unbanned the South African Communist party and of all affiliated organizations, and released Nelson Mandela from 26 years in prison then sat down at the table and negotiated the country away from Apartheid and war and hate.

It worked. God worked a miracle. It was and is still messy, but it worked.

We can take a lesson from this. God hates it when the strong prey on the weak, when innocent ones are harmed, and God helps those who resist this.

We can oppose even our own government when we see that it unjustly uses violence against it’s own citizens or when it uses violence to wrongly dominate people’s of the world.

Christians can stop violence by not voting for haters and war mongers.

It is not unpatriotic to vote for laws and leaders that protect, those who will protect all races and religions and peoples.

We are the people of the first amendment. We stand for protection of speech and religion and safety for all.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. And red lives matter. And white lives too.

The lives of our young people matter, the lives of police officers matter too. Christian lives matter; Muslim lives matter too.

All lives matter — the unborn, the sick, the disabled, the old, and the church should work for the protection all precious, God loved lives. We are to protect the lives of those Christ died for.

If we have ever been bullied or beaten or raped or verbally abused, God hates that and he suffers with us and want to protect and help us.

What to do? Report abuse. Get help. Pray. Move away from it. Protect ourselves, protect our friend, protect our children.

Christians need to shelter victims. When it comes to sexual abuse or sexual harm, we need to engage in splitting behaviors.

When I was in South Africa, on church we visited had renovated a whole housing complex that was formerly a Dutch, Afrikaner compound, and the homes were given to people in the congregation if they would take in a baby or child who had lost their parents to AIDS. We saw those homes, we held those babies.

The church can redeem a broken culture.

If a woman tells you she has been raped, believe her, get her to safety, help prosecute the rapist, take her in, keep her away from the abuser.

We need to work with law enforcement, criminal justice, educators, mental health professionals, and many others to stop sex trafficking, to stop sexual abuse.

Too often the church has been too silent and too soft on sexual abuse. No more.

Lastly, Jesus taught and modeled an internal response to violence, “Be not afraid!”

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body [said Jesus] but cannot kill the soul”

And Jesus said: “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world” (John 16.33).

We Christians are on the side of the winner.

In the end God wins. His peacemaking wins.

God will redeem our evil, violent hearts, and in the end, peace and peace making will rule the day.

This is our certainty.

The Lion will one day lie down with the lamb and yet the peacemaking Lion will yet remain the conquering Lion.

Sometime I look at how much violence, abuse and evil there is in the world and I wonder, where is God? Abuse, rape, violence, hate —  how can he see it up close and not do something about it?

But perhaps God is doing something about it, in this way.

Built into the very structure of reality are consequences, the rewards and punishments intrinsic in actions.

The violent shoot and stab their own hearts with their violence as soon as they hit, pull the trigger or wield the knife. When they harm and kill, they kill mercy, compassion and love within themselves.  Every act of violence harms the perpetrator.

I can myself remember getting so angry, inappropriately, that I could literally feel it harming myself. All actions elicit immediate, attendant reactions and results.

The rapist in raping rapes his own soul. He immediately violates his own bondaries and harms his own capacity for respect, for gentleness and for love. Yes, he damages another, horribly, but in raping he annihilates himself.

The evil instantly become the evil they do, and this is the most horrible of punishments. To become the thing that harms, wounds and destroys — this is what it truly means to destroy oneself.

The greedy beome greedy and lose the real purpose and value of things. The sexually immoral become jaded and lose the real joy and meaning of sex. The dominating become dominant and are cut off from love and friendship and respect — ironically often the very things they crave.

Jesus said it best. We reap what we sow — and this is more quickly than we know. Indeed, the seeds of what we sow sprout instantly in our hearts.

The truth is that God is not absent, indifferent, inactive or uncaring. God is just and right and good. He has built justice into the very DNA of our existance.

Guest post by Levi Kottas

“By the way, a Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow,” Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother’s words, “told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them–all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.

These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.”

“Brother, what are you driving at?” asked Alyosha.

“I think if the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”

The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky captures the essence of evil perfectly. Most us of are left feeling ill after reading a selection like this. Francis Schaeffer referred to this internal turmoil as “moral motions” (see Romans 2:15). In a world seemingly defiled with evil, the Christian can easily find himself orr herself questioning the goodness of God while others may even question his very existence. When confronted with real, palpable evil – rape, murder, torture, etc. – asking why God would cause these sorts of things to happen or angrily denying God’s existence is altogether understandable.

As ambassadors of God’s kingdom, how do we flesh this out? Is God the author of evil? Should we be questioning the validity of our faith in the face of war, famine, disease and suffering? The quick answer is no, but with a topic so emotionally charged, a one word response will not suffice. In order to effectively tackle the problem of evil, we must first come to an understanding of what evil is.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that evil is something. That is, evil is real. In other words, evil is a matter of objective fact and not merely personal opinion (more on this later). The second thing that needs to be understood is that evil is not some “thing.” I know this sounds like a bit of double-speak but an important distinction needs to be made here.

Evil is not a blackish-grey blob floating around the universe that we must carefully avoid. No, evil is a relational property (as evidenced by the fact all questions about evil are either raised about a person or by a person). A good example of this can be made through the use of a piece of steel. If the piece of steel is a scalpel being wielded by a surgeon to remove a tumor, the “relationship” between the steel and the person with the tumor can be declared good. If, however, the piece of steel is a knife in the hands of a criminal being plunged into the belly of his/her victim, the “relationship” between the piece of steel and the victim can rightfully be declared evil.

Why is this distinction important? If evil is a description of the “relationship” between two or more things (more specifically two or more caused/created things), God cannot be its cause, author or creator. The astute among us may already have the follow up question ringing in their head; “Okay, maybe he didn’t cause it, but why would a loving God allow so much evil?”

The rejoinder to this question, made popular by Alvin Plantinga, is known as the free will defense. In reading through all of God’s “omni’s” it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that God can do anything. The truth is God cannot do just anything. God cannot do that which is logically impossible. He can’t make a square-circle, He can’t make a rock so big He can’t lift it, and He can’t contradict himself (praise God!). God also can’t create freedom without choice.

God didn’t want robots that blindly follow him. Rather, He wanted people who freely choose to love and follow Him. We can all understand the importance of choice concerning a loving relationship. What makes love authentic is being loved according to another’s volition rather than through coercion. My relationship with my wife is special because she chooses to love me. She was never forced or told to do so. To put it simply; God is responsible for the fact freedom and we are responsible for our acts of freedom.

There is one objection to the free will defense that holds a bit of rhetorical force that I would like to address before moving on. Some might respond to our freedom of choice by asking why God couldn’t have created a world with less evil. That is, why not keep freedom of choice intact but eliminate cancer and poverty? There are three things not being considered by a person who sincerely asks this question:

!. We don’t know that God hasn’t done so already.

2. We don’t fully understand linkages – the resulting effects of God intervening.

3. We don’t know that we would be satisfied with the limits imposed on evil. Consider Aristotle’s tallest man problem. Imagine a person who couldn’t stand the idea of there being a tallest man. In order ease his mental anguish this person decides to eliminate (kill) the tallest man. What then after he has eliminated the tallest man? The previously second tallest man is now the tallest man and we are back to where we started! The point is, the idea of eliminating some evil sends you into an infinite regress. We would get to the point of denying God’s goodness because of paper cuts (oh, the humanity!).

Understanding that God didn’t cause evil and why He allowed it might be good enough for the believer but many non-believers (atheists) remain unstirred. For many non-believers (atheists), talk over whether God allowed evil or caused evil is a waste of time; the idea of a loving God and evil coexisting is incompatible – like Super Man and kryptonite. When looked at carefully, it isn’t difficult to see how truly shallow this objection is.

Any discussion of evil (more specifically moral evil) under the atheistic worldview ultimately degenerates to nothing more than empty words. If there is no God to objectively ground morals in, all that we are left with is moral relativism – right or wrong/good or evil is purely subjective (only personal opinion). The value of maternal love of a human mother towards her child is as arbitrary and morally neutral as when a salt water crocodile eats her young. A slave owner is no more right or wrong than a researcher who dedicates his or her life to curing cancer.

It defies reason to even attempt to reconcile moral choice with a worldview that negates the very notion of free choice altogether (the two are not logically compatible). As Hume said, “No matter how hard one tries, you cannot get moral agents from a process of scientific materialistic reductionism. It simply does not work. Morality does not come from empirically verifiable scientific statements alone. At several points of the delicate formula we will always have to make the leap into the realm of moral reasoning; but if there is no absolute basis from which to make the leap, if there is no transcendent foundational scope to human life, then there is no platform from whence the leap can be made.”

I am not suggesting atheist can’t be moral. In fact, I believe they can. The problem isn’t immorality; to be immoral one would have to presume knowledge of right or wrong. Atheism cannot plausibly have any such knowledge. Atheism is not immoral; it is amoral, which is downright terrifying!

One last point to address before I wrap this thing up – natural evil (earthquakes, volcanos, etc.). First I think it’s important to point out there is nothing inherently evil about one continental plate slipping under another, nor about the earth’s trembling as a result. These natural events are morally neutral. Something “bad” only results when humans get caught in such events. Much like the case with moral evil, the non-believer (atheist) finds himself or herself in a precarious position when complaining about natural evil.

If an atheist suggests a tidal wave sweeping over an island ought not to have carried children out to sea he is acknowledging that this might be troubling for the islanders but is ignoring the great boon for the marine life surrounding the island. The atheist is quietly proclaiming there is a way things should be, a view only plausible for the believer.

The following five points might help the believer understand why God has chosen to allow natural evil:

1. The earth’s processes that cause many of these events are crucial to our survivability on this planet (rent The Privileged Planet on DVD for a better understanding of this)

2. God does not cause people to be in the times and places where the natural events take place

3. It is very plausible that only in a world suffused with natural evil would great numbers of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.

4. Although God has intervened in His creation before (performed miracles to handle/prevent some form of evil), He is the Master painter of this canvas we call the universe. Miracles are like radiant colors that add much beauty to a painting with just a light touch. Too much lustrous color can ruin the whole painting. God is the Master Designer/Artist and He knows the perfect amount and scope of miracles that will reflect the most beauty of His creation.

5. Compassion is a virtue that God desires us all to have. How could we develop the virtue of compassion without the existence of suffering?

Armed with all this information, how should we respond when someone we know is suffering from some sort of moral or natural evil? How quick should we be to answer with the proper philosophical or theological retort? The appropriate time is when they are ready to hear it; after having the chance to grieve and process all the pain (both emotional and physical).

I have experienced this first hand. Six years ago I went through a divorce and while in the throes of all the emotional anguish I was given many of the standard Christian responses, most of which rang hollow. There was however one response that I will never forget. Upon hearing the news of my divorce my brother, who was living in Escondido at the time (I was in Chula Vista) drove down that night to visit. He arrived at the house late, walked in my room laid down next me in shared in my pain. Two grown men crying together; so unexpected, so taboo yet so appropriate.