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“LOOK AROUND YOU”
by ProfDave, ©2020
(Oct. 29, 2020) — Halloween joke: What happens when you get behind in your payments to the exorcist? You get repossessed! (jokes2go.net)
Back in the 50’s it was all in good fun. We moderns laughed at superstition and were embarrassed by references to demon possession in the Bible. Demons were something missionaries talked about – far away and long ago. Not anymore. Some Post-moderns take these things very seriously. Most of the occult is hokum, but Jesus-followers know that the power of evil is very real here and now. Satan is alive and well and a mortal danger to mankind. OK, you may not believe in a real personal devil, but there are those who do and embrace him. He represents radical rebellion against God and all things good. Is Satanism a religion or an anti-religion?
The Bible says Satan is “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Does anyone seriously question the existence and power of evil in our world? Is there such a thing as good? Is there a difference? How can there be a difference between good and evil if nature is “all there is?” Is there such a thing as evil in nature? No, evil is in us. But is it all us or is there a supernatural force beyond us that is eating our lunch?
So far as we know, we are the only species that chooses between right and wrong. Others just follow their nature. We alone know “ought.” We know what we “ought” to do and be and we know (if we are honest) we do not measure up. Our nature is broken and inclined towards selfishness (the selfish gene?) and rebellion against the good – yet we know better. The harder we try to do what is right, the more we become aware of an opposing force, in our nature and beyond our nature. Is it just me or am I being ambushed?
Is evil real? Do you watch the news? What is evil? Where does it come from? Is it natural or unnatural? Is it human? Is it us? Is it you? What can we do about it in our world? What can you do about it in yourself?
Those who presume to reproach theism by raising the “problem of evil” are opening Pandora’s box for themselves. The “problem” cannot even be addressed outside a theistic context. There can be no good or evil in a purely material universe. But even the most post-modern atheist cannot stop making moral judgments: good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Where in evolutionary heck does that come from?
The “scientific” naturalist can recognize evil only in a natural, material form but is it really evil? If you get caught in an avalanche or a flood it certainly is bad for you, but is the snow or the water evil? When the cat catches a mouse, it is bad for the mouse but for the cat it is lunch. Then there is the survival of the fittest – like in the NBA. Bad for Golden State, but is Cleveland evil? Gravity is not evil when you trip and fall – it is just operating according to its nature. So is the cat. So is the competition. Good and bad things happen randomly to people, plants and animals whether they “deserve” it or not. “Fair” and “deserving” are foreign words in scientific naturalism.
The winners are only evil when they break the rules – or when the game itself is corrupt. But we cannot even talk about sports, let alone human life, without using “unfair,” “unjust,” “wrong” and “evil” as moral terms.
Is it real? Ravi Zacharias was fond of this syllogism: if there is such a thing as good and evil, there must be a moral law. If there is a moral law there has to be a moral law-Giver. Q.E.D. (“thus it has been demonstrated”). Not so fast, you say. OK.
Is there a natural, evolutionary explanation for what happened in Las Vegas or Orlando, wherever the last mass shooting happened? Can executing or suicide bombing innocent strangers be described in naturalistic, relativistic, morally neutral terms? Is it a natural event? You can try, I suppose. Do guns spit bullets like volcanoes spit lava and nothing more? Is a suicide vest just another style choice? Is terrorism just self-expression? Yet you still want to blame the NRA, Republicans, or Christians or capitalism?
No, if there is no good and evil, you cannot blame anybody. And no thanks, I would rather not live in a world where there is no right and wrong.
Yes, Virginia, I am afraid there is such a thing as evil. Yes, we are born that way. We have a built-in knowledge of right and wrong, even before we acknowledge the decrees of our Creator. We know that truth is better than deception, respect is better than hatred, faithfulness is better than adultery, generosity than theft, and so forth. Even when evil would be to our individual “evolutionary” advantage, we know that it is wrong. We know we should put others ahead of ourselves. We know we should sacrifice for our families and our country. We even admire altruism, though we rarely practice it.
It seems that evil has two components: an ethical standard and an intent to violate it. In the West, that standard was expressed in the moral portions of the Law of Moses, handed down from the Creator on Sinai and reflective of the primordial code hard-wired in humanity everywhere. An expression and a code we are trying to forget.
So there is a distinction between good and evil that is embedded in the human psyche. Every successful society and world religion expresses in its laws pre-existing, built in, standards. Archaic religions that did not make such ethics a requirement of their deities disintegrated in competition with those that did. Morality is the glue that holds a society together. Jesus- and Moses-followers hold a moral law that is a revelation of the Creator’s eternal character. “Be ye holy, for I, the Lord your G*d, am holy.” It is the foundation of Western Law.
But not every violation of ethical standards – whether natural law, revealed law or human law – is evil. It is almost always bad for the violator, for victims, and/or for society at large, but it can be innocent or even well-intended. There are no victimless sins: the sinner is always harmed – and all who love him. But to be truly wicked, there needs to be evil intent. Is there such a thing as evil intent?
What is it that makes a man hate perfect strangers enough to kill? To lust enough to rape? To covet enough to rob? To be arrogant enough to play God? To treat self and others with obscene contempt? To be so self-centered as to fantasize all of the above?
The Sermon on the Mount was mentioned. Jesus said if you hate, you have already committed murder in your heart. If you look at a woman in lust, you have already committed adultery in your heart (yes, porn counts). The same principle applies to the other eight commandments.
So yes, we have all been there. “All have sinned” and “the wages of sin is death.” We have all experienced the call of evil and tasted the forbidden fruit. We have all experienced selfishness and rebellion. We have heard the speech of the serpent and set ourselves up as gods. But the end of evil is destruction – ours, those we love and human society in general.
The real mystery is that good still exists! Hint: it might be the gift of God – the real God.
How do you explain patently dysfunctional behavior, from every-day, garden variety wickedness to the gunmen in Orlando and Las Vegas (getting to be everyday)? We are a self-destructive species. We blame society, we blame each other, we blame God, but the fault is in ourselves.
The right is written in our nature and the instructions were revealed by God thousands of years ago – in the black and white. We know the constructive way, but we seek the destructive shortcut, taking advantage of the innocent. In treating each other with contempt we become contemptible. We seek to be gods, inflating our autonomy until it bursts. In demanding freedom from the Good, we inherit the Evil. The consequences, in the end, are death for ourselves, our children and our nation.
But is it all in us or is there something else at work? Is someone making shoes and handbags out of you?
Our thesis has been that evil is real and it is imbedded in the human condition. We have a hard-wired choice between good and evil and a dysfunctional tendency to not just make poor choices, but to be intentionally wicked. The churches call it original sin. It is the theological doctrine most empirically substantiated in history. Open your history book. Any page.
But is that all there is to it? The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is full of references to spirit beings (angels), some of whom (led by Lucifer) are in rebellion against God and all things good. How do they win against the Almighty? How do they get back at Him for exiling them from heaven? They cannot, of course, except by messing with His favored creatures (us). Have you experienced temptation? Is it all you or is something messing with you?
It is the nature of the fish to go after the fly, but it is the angler that casts the phony fly with a hook in it. Is it all your fallen nature to go after the fly? Or is there an angler? Is there a hook in it? The Bible speaks of a spiritual enemy who “goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
You do not believe the Bible? How about the subjective experience of intelligent, well-meaning and sincere people in every land and every age who try to accomplish something good and holy? Circumstance and temptation collude with human weaknesses in ways that seem more than coincidental. The devil did not make me do it, but I often ask, “where did that come from?” What about the moral disintegration of our nation?
Traditional religions worldwide called these malignant spiritual entities gods, living in fear, trying to appease and manipulate them. Sound superstitious? Probably because most of it is imaginary – projecting our own wickedness on demons. But is all of it? Jesus did not think so. Is it possible there is some (3%?) occult reality behind the superstitions? Christians call out to Jesus and they flee.
We have been fooling around with evil long enough. Cheating on our diet or the doctor’s instructions may be unwise but cheating on the moral law of our Maker is evil. We hurt ourselves, those who love us, and our communities. The wages of sin is death. Look around you.
Yes, we are born that way. We are born with a built-in sense of right and wrong (conscience) and an ego that demands to have it our way and be our own gods. Our hearts are “deceitful and desperately wicked.”
It is easy to point the finger at others – the racists, the terrorists, the gangsters – but how do we recognize the evil in ourselves and what can we do about it? It is difficult because the first symptom of evil is deception – deceiving ourselves. That and self-righteousness. When our conscience becomes uneasy, we stuff it, we twist it, or we cauterize it. We can rationalize anything. Everybody is doing it. How can it be bad when it feels so good?
The way out? 1) Put a plumb line to yourself – a fixed standard. Denial is not a river in Egypt, it runs through every human heart. That is why we need a written Law of God that cannot be bent or amended. 2) Repent – turn around. Good resolutions are not enough in themselves. Usually we soon fail. Or if we succeed it only makes us self-righteous. But if we do not decisively reject the evil in our hearts we will never be free of it. 3) Humble ourselves and pray. Seek the help of a Higher Power. At least in Christianity there is a promise of forgiveness and transformation – a new life that is eternal. We can be born again into a new nature.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.”