Whence Cometh Evil?
Plenty is happening on the writing front but I want to post something on a serious note.
In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, my wife and I attended an interfaith service at the Cape Cod Synagogue last night. Not the sort of thing I would have done earlier in my faith and religious walk. Not at all. But sometimes, things changed for the better.
No, I haven’t embraced warm and fuzzy, Kumbaya ecumenicalism; we were invited and I believe it’s critical to be numbered among those who stand against savage acts of violence and hatred.
Hundreds in attendance, the facility packed beyond capacity, I admit I was astonished by the level of the response, encouraged by it in many ways. Our society grants us the privilege and liberty to find common ground and see our common humanity. I also admit I was discouraged in that as far as I could tell, there was zero Evangelical representation. I have distanced myself from that particular religious label with all its baggage in these past few years but still… Not everything has to be a Revival Meeting – a little empathy, respect, and solidarity speaks volumes.
The service went on for 90 minutes or so as speaker after speaker came to the pulpit to offer comfort, express support, and grapple with the enormity of the tragedy. And to try to offer some facet of explanation and guidance. But in all the talk, songs, and even poetry, the topic of Evil, particularly human evil or depravity, wasn’t really mentioned. Sure, there was the menu of generic ills: hatred, bigotry, senseless violence, intolerance… And the common recommended cures: love, tolerance, faith, compassion, seeing the sacredness and divinity in human beings…. Nothing wrong with that, not at all.
But for all the feel good, hopeful optimism, spiritual ideals, and the huge show of solidarity, I left the synagogue worried, worried that for all the activity, there was no real advance. No actual traction. I woke up thinking about it still uneasy because I didn’t hear a clear call to personal action, change, or responsibility, precisely because for whatever reason, that one vital issue – human evil, AKA ‘sin’ – was skirted or ignored.
It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who pointed out ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.’ That’s really the matter at stake here. It’s always struck me that at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commands that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”
The idea there is that individuals must turn from not only the world’s wickedness, or that of their family, tribe, generation, whatever… but their own brokenness, isolation, and defiance to God. Like it or not, that is the defiled wellspring of contempt, cruelty, envy, resentment, violence, hatred. Not out there, but in us, all of us, each of us. In me.
It’s only after that acknowledgment and change of mind, that primal shift from Self to God, that ‘remission of sins’ takes place. To me, that word ‘remission’ says the internal corrupting influence can be, will be, checked. Not completely removed, mind you, not in this life. But its spread and power, its decay and deception, is beaten back. Then I can heed the better angels of my nature, see that Imago Dei in others and treat them with a measure of the grace God has shown me.
Exercise can change a body, Education can change a mind, Discipline can change a habit, but only God can truly change a heart. (even then cooperation is required) In my understanding, He is the cure we so desperately grope for in times like these. God – not religion – is the answer. God who is Love, who is able, who is willing, who is present and yet for all that it seems somehow we never quite grasp on long enough or deep enough to let Him actually do the work only He can do.
Why do I say that? Because we’ve been here too many times before.
How long, Oh Lord? How long?
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
– 2 Cor: 13:11
Sunrise photo from Anton Gorlin