How do you react when coming upon great evil?
As is usually the case, articles I write are often triggered by something I have just recently read or watched. In this case, a few days ago I had viewed part of some American true crime program on TV. The gist of it was this: a woman with four young children conspired with her lover to kill her husband and get his insurance money. They succeeded.
However, she was soon caught, tried, convicted, and sent to prison for life. Good! What a monstrous woman this was! Hating her own children and husband and happy to murder him! That of course was my immediate thought. But as a Christian I really had to quickly readjust and/or supplement my initial reaction with a few other truths. Two main biblical responses that also came directly to mind were these:
One. Yes satanic evil is alive and well. There most certainly is such a thing as evil – and evil people. We must never dismiss nor play down the reality of diabolical wickedness. It should always offend us and disgust us. We should never grow used to it nor become calloused by it. Evil is real – and it is horrible.
Two. ‘There, but for the grace of God go I.’ Are we really any different? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, if I hate someone, it really is the same as murdering someone (Matthew 5:21-22). Our outward actions flow from our inner attitudes and dispositions. Thus it immediately sprang to my mind that given the right circumstances I could just as easily have done something like this.
‘But,’ you might say, ‘you would not kill your spouse and be so cavalier about your own children, would you?’ Well, the fact that I am still so often so self-centred and selfish and sinful – even as a long-standing Christian – means that I have hated them at the very least. When I fully put myself first, I am putting others last. I am not loving them as I should but hating them. And that, Jesus said, is just like murdering them.
I shared some of this on the social media recently, and then said this: “In sum, we are to hate evil with a holy passion, but we are also to look into our own hearts. And we must pray for women like this.” All these points can be expanded on at length. So let me add a bit more to each one.
First, one Christian gal asked me a somewhat surprising question. She wanted to know how I would pray for this woman. I would have thought that was rather obvious. I replied: “That she repents and gets saved.” She does not deserve this, but that is what grace is all about.
Is she an evil monster who deserves to be locked up for life? Yes. But as I just said, so are all of us. We are all capable of great evil. And usually it is just social disapproval, fear of what others might think, and so on, that keeps us from committing really gross and horrid evils.
In that sense, I have often referred to the 1993 film Falling Down starring Michael Douglas to make my point about all this. If you don’t mind, I actually like what I wrote 13 years ago about this, so let me share part of that article here:
It tells the sad story of a man who slowly lost the plot. Everything was going against him, and it took its toll. He lost his job, his marriage broke up, and he was not able to see his young daughter. Despite a restraining order, he was intent on going to his daughter’s birthday party. But on top of all his other misfortunes, his day just went from bad to worse. He got stuck in an LA traffic jam on a hot summer day. His air conditioning was not working, and on top of all that, there was a pesky fly in the car bugging him no end.
Finally he simply snapped – he lost it big time. He abandoned his car, leaving it on the crowded freeway. He then went on a rampage, smashing up shops and going berserk. He eventually gets a hold of some firearms and started shooting people.
I leave the rest of the story for you in case you wish to see the film, and discover how it all ends. The point of the movie of course is that this is just an ordinary guy – just like you and me. He is a normal Joe who starts getting some raw deals and bad breaks. And when all the circumstances seem to conspire against him, he finally loses it. He falls down. He snaps.
This may have been what occurred with the guy in the UK the other day. Indeed, it seems to happen fairly often. And the moral of the story is this: would we really be any different? If we were put in the same situations and endured the same circumstances, would we not also snap? Would we not also go nuts?
Again, most people would immediately proclaim, ‘Not me! No way! Never! I am not that bad!’ But that is already the beginning of our downfall: our pride. It is pride which says only the other guy is capable of great evil. It is arrogance that says I am pretty decent, and I would never lose it.
The Bible of course insists that we are all sinful, all depraved, and all capable of great evil. It is only the heavenly restraining factors mentioned above that keep us from fully going over the edge. That is the Biblical assessment of every one of us, and most of us do not like such an assessment.
The truth is, without the grace of God, we would all respond in the same way if put in these difficult circumstances. And this goes straight back to our first parents. Adam and Eve blew it big time. But the sad truth is, we all would have done exactly the same as Adam and Eve if we were in their place.
Take any situation, and we are able to replicate it. Jesus had twelve disciples for three years, but when crunch time came, they denied him, turned from him, repudiated him, betrayed him. And we all would have done the same as the twelve. We too would have denied our Lord and fled into the night. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/04/falling-down-and-mass-murder/
So, here we have an ordinary Joe who snapped and went full-tilt psycho, doing great evil. If we had enough honesty and humility (and could see ourselves as God really sees us) we would quickly realise that we could and would do just the same. It is only God’s grace that has kept us all from being mass-murderers and the like.
Of course there are extremes that we must all avoid here. We must not make excuses for sin and evil. We cannot just glibly say, ‘No one is perfect after all.’ Yeah, try telling us something we don’t already know. Of course we are not perfect, but that does not mean we can get away with murder – literally or metaphorically. We are morally responsible under God to make right choices, and with God helping us to do so, we dare not settle for second best.
We are told quite clearly in Scripture that to love God means to also hate evil. It is a package deal. And it is not just what we find in the Old Testament, but the New as well (see for example Psalm 97:10 and Romans 12:9). And if you think this is somehow above and beyond a loving Jesus, consider Hebrews 1:9: “You [Jesus] have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (quoting from Psalm 45:7).
As I say, that must begin with looking at our own lives. Indeed, as the spiritual seeker Jordan Peterson recently put it, ‘To hate evil … you have to implicate yourself in that … you have to hate the evil in your own self.’ https://www.prageru.com/video/each-person-needs-to-confront-the-evil-in-themselves
So often we want to look down on others and think they are so reprehensible and deplorable while we are not. But we ALL are deplorables. We all are dirty rotten scoundrels (to mention another film). We all deserve eternal punishment for our sin. It is only God’s mercy and grace that makes it possible for us to avoid that.
And that is why Jesus Christ came and died a cruel death on a cross, taking the punishment we deserve upon himself. He paid the penalty so that those who come to God through Christ in faith and repentance can enjoy his favour and grace, and avoid the eternal destiny that we all deserve. That is great news. That is the good news of the gospel.
So the short moral of the story is this: Yes, we are to hate all evil, but beginning with the evil that resides in our own human heart.