There are times that the world seems to be so full of evil. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. There are wars and atrocities, hate-filled movements, lies, and perverse ideologies. There is misery and abuse, hopelessness, depravities, depravation and sorrow. We watch the news and we learn of human history; and the whole weight of human sin and trouble can feel so heavy.
We want to feel that we are good people. Good people need to do something to oppose and counteract evil in this world. But what? The knee jerk reaction we have to evil is often more evil. “An eye for an eye”. You stop evil people by making their actions so costly that they back away from them. In other words, you use the methodology of evil to fight evil. But that rarely works. It only shifts what type of abuse is happening and fails to improve the overall situation. Often, it only escalates the evil.
While it is in the Old Testament to use the “an eye for an eye” principle, Jesus doesn’t seem to endorse it. He states that “it is written”, but he has different instructions. Why write it then? Having a punishment fit a crime can have a short term deterrent function. It is better than being merely passive in the face of evil. To really accomplish good, you cannot take that route. To do what Jesus says in the passage below, you will need more than a commitment to do oppose evil. You will need the goodness of God within you. Jesus says,
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:20-21
When is this to be applied and what is the goal? This is the response that God wants his people to take. (Many times they have not.) It will not stem the tide of all evil. Rather it looks to God to execute justice and avenge. Setting out drinks and sandwiches would not have stopped the German blitzkrieg, for example. Would God have done something supernatural had this been done? We will never know.
The response of overcoming evil with good is not passive. One must work hard on the good. But those doing evil might mistake going good for being weak. Doing good works slowly, it is very costly and often dangerous. But it will ultimately win out.
First we need to understand what is evil in this definition. It is not simply the things that you don’t like. Evil is anything that ultimately has its source outside of God. It opposes God. It is always hurtful, but not always violent. It is selfish, but not always recognized as such. It comes naturally to humans, but is propagated intentionally by demonic powers. As such, evil can almost behave like an infection. You stamp in out in one place, but it finds new life nearby.
God identifies what is evil through His laws. Laws like the Ten Commandments are not merely suggestions for social structure nor culturally conditioned mores. They help us to know what behavior comes from being created in God’s image, and what flows from the opposition invented by Satan. Violating these laws can seem innocuous on the surface, but evil grows and spreads and gets out of our control.
With our cooperation, evil can become a mega-phenomena. For instance, greed and classism, begat colonialism and oppression; which birthed World War I, communism, and created fertile ground for radical Islam; which resulted in retaliation for the war, which was the cradle for National Socialism; which resulted in World War II, which produced an environment of godlessness in Europe, the spread of atheistic communism, states like North Korea and China, the murder of millions, and who knows what else or what’s next. While many other evil factors fed this firestorm, evil and responding to evil with more evil keeps it burning.
It is particularly hard for governments to follow Jesus’ principles. But they can and it works. Rebuilding Japan after World War II rather than continuing to punish it has worked wonderfully, for example.
It works even better on the personal level. Being strong and showing love to a mean schoolmate or an antagonistic sibling is the best choice. Responding with forgiveness and seeking understanding of your spouse saves a marriage, provides a healthy environment for your children and can have a positive impact for generations. Sometimes a evil person will be resistant. While that disappoints, your actions won’t be disappointing to God and he will take care of the offender.
Certain evils can only be changed with good. Racism responded to with hatred, violence and more racism only reinforces a negative stereotype and division. Responding with love can change hearts.
It is disappointing to know that we will not eliminate evil until God eliminates it at Judgment Day. That fact should not deter us from doing all within our power to counteract evil and diminish it. That will only be accomplished through good.