No, this isn’t about the Rob Bell book and the whole controversy of Universalism. This is about another contention: Evil v. Love. I’m talking about Romans 12:21: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I’m not saying that I have any answers, but that quote is one that rolls thru my thoughts quite a lot at times, and this post is sort of my meditation in print on that theme.
A few years ago Dr. Joel Hunter gave a sermon in which the Rom. 12:21 verse was the text. One thing I recall him saying was something to the effect that he dreamed of a world in which our grandchildren would live in peace, and be friends with, the grandchildren of terrorists. This was around the time when the errant “pastor” of a tiny flock in north Florida became world-famous for stating he was going to publicly burn the Koran. At the time, I thought Dr. Hunter’s take was extremely naive. I was hoping the nut-case pastor would go ahead and burn the Korans and again bring the evil of militant Islam to center stage.
Also, around that same time on many days I would listen to 15-20 min of the poison of talk radio. Of course, that meant Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Rush, Michael Savage, Michael Medved and a few others. Now, I’m savvy enough to pick and choose the truth or wisdom in what I was hearing–and I certainly didn’t buy into all of it, but their rancorous take on world affairs provided the backdrop in which my anger simmered. And anger is something I have plenty of. At the time I was feeling like a world-wide conflict with Islam was brewing, and I was thinking the sooner we get it on and knock the snot out of them the better. I thought there was no way we could love them into submission, and I still tend to believe that’s the case. However, in confronting Islam I was ignoring the fact that agitating them further would put thousands of missionaries and other Christians living in predominantly Muslim lands in even graver danger than they were already.
Then, about six months ago, I stopped listening to talk radio and I stopped watching the news on TV. Almost immediately I started to feel more serene, less angry–and I knew that I’d made the right decision. What I need to know about the world (and local) scene I can get from the morning paper (when I choose to read it) and from Yahoo when I turn the computer on in the morning. And, so I don’t live with my head in the sand, I just choose to try to feed my mind more positive content. I’m not advocating anyone else do that, as I’m the one with the anger problem.
I was born during WWII, grew up during the Korean War, came of age during Viet Nam and spent two years in Army ROTC at a land-grant college that took their role in supplying officers to the military very seriously. All of my life I’ve been haunted by the spectre of war and violence—and, sad to say, I’ve been fascinated by it. Late at night before I nod off if I’m not watching Seinfeld reruns I’m watching the Military History Channel and reliving the slaughter that was WWII. In the past year I read the currently popular Bonhoeffer biography, a best-seller about the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Nazi’s “In the Garden of Beasts” and the Corrie Ten Boom book about the holocaust “The Hiding Place.” All three of these books have war, evil and the Holocaust as their backdrop.
I just finished the Corrie Ten Boom book about a week ago, and I was terribly moved by her decision to forgive their S.S persecutors– especially by her sister Betsie’s ability to love and forgive them as they were in the act of being starved and beaten. Betsie, her very godly father, and a nephew all perished. Betsie chose not to be overcome by evil, but instead chose to love her tormentors and saw her time in Ravensbruck as an opportunity to witness and minister to others. That is about the most powerful example of the love of Jesus being manifest that I can recall, and several times toward the end of the book I got teary-eyed. I realize that that love and forgiveness does not come from us, and I was daunted by the realization that I don’t seem to have that in me–at least as yet.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to not resist evil with evil but to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5). Now Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew Scripture as well as any man who ever lived, and I believe he tried to live out the gospel, but he made a decision to enter into the plot to kill Hitler. I’m not focusing on the fine points of hermeneutics or morality here but merely pointing out that a very godly man, Bonhoeffer, chose to live out his Christianity in a very divergent fashion than two very godly women, Corrie and Betsie. Bonhoeffer believed that living out the gospel meant making difficult existential decisions and that risking sin was better than sitting on ones hands on the sidelines.
Could both be correct? It seems quite contradictory. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after much prayerful agonizing, chose to directly confront the most hideously evil regime ever, and Betsie ten Boom chose to love and forgive those followers of that evil who were directly tormenting her. I can’t provide scriptural gymnastics to justify it–but in my bones I feel they were both correct and that they both were following Jesus as best they could.
Graham Cooke states that perhaps the greatest stain on our so-called Christian nation and culture is not war or poverty or crime or even abortion–but simply the lack of “goodness.” Evil wins in the absence of goodness. When Moses asks the Lord to show him His glory, what the Lord shows him is His goodness (Ex. 33:18-20)–a Goodness so stunning that Moses is not allowed to look at it directly. His goodness is His glory. Evil is overcome by goodness, by doing good, and at the moment it sure as heck looks like evil is winning. Cooke points out that a church obsessed with sin is not focused on loving our neighbors or doing good–but simply on sin–one’s own and each other’s sins. I’m both amused and saddened by the number of “devotionals” I receive on Facebook that have sin and thus trying harder to avoid sin as their focus. That misguided focus saps our spiritual energy. Love is a verb and goodness should be an action. BTW, a preoccupation with sin is Number 2 on the list in my book Satan’s Top Ten Tricks.
I suppose it could be said that loving one’s enemies into submission has never been tried on a grand scale, but I know that’s what we are to do in our own individual lives. I know that for Goodness to win, Loving is what’s required of me.