Wednesday, March 31, 2010
They weren’t just being intentionally evil....
That phrase caught my eye. "intentionally being evil..." It occurs to me that most of the evil in the world is not intentional. Even the most psychotic and brutal figures in history have seen themselves not as evil but as a force for order. Granted this is a self-justification or excuse of their demonic deeds but the point here is that how much evil and wickedness is intentional and does it have to be intentional to be demonic or of the Devil?
Clearly the early Church Fathers saw Satan as the orchestrator of the actions and events that led up to Jesus' passion and death. They did not excuse the leaders of Israel from their duplicity or responsibility for the role that they played but they identified this evil as demonic. But we today are much more hesitant to describe the wickedness we find around us or the evils of this world as of the Devil. We think, perhaps, that we are too educated and sophisticated to think in such simple (and ?superstitious) terms. For us evil is just evil and wickedness is just wickedness. It has become banal, commonplace, and ordinary. We explain it, we look for a cause to explain it, and we reason it away as simple cause and effect behavior. Or, we assign psychological explanation to it (as if all evil or wickedness were the result of some personality disorder -- the number of such disorders being multiplied regularly).
When we as Christians assign evil and wickedness to Satan, we are not be overly dramatic nor simplistic in our approach to this terrible stuff. We are being honest, speaking honestly from a world view shaped by Scripture. It was Satan who tempted Jesus. It was Satan and his legions whom Jesus confronted over and over again. It was Satan who entered the heart of Judas. It was Satan who smugly thought this was the demise of his nemesis (going back to the Garden and the Fall where this cosmic battle was first spoken of). This does not diminish the role and responsibility of those who acted intentionally to end Jesus' interference or input into Israel's identity and faith. They may not have been intentionally evil but evil they were and this evil is not some generic evil but the wickedness spawned by Satan and his ways and influence over our weak and fragile human hearts.
So it is with evil and wickedness in the world around us. We can explain it away in terms of cause and effect relationships. We can justify it by placing it within contexts that might make the terrible more understandable or reasonable, a response to terrible done to them, for example. We can assign it to a psychological disorder and make it an illness that needs to be understood and dealt with compassionately instead of condemned. We can make everyone who disagrees with us a messenger of Satan and reduce the complicity of the human will and heart after the Fall.
Or we can admit that intentional or not, evil and wickedness are the fruit of sin, the fruit of Satan's garden and seed that has corrupted the garden of God's planting and all who live in it. We can acknowledge the guilt and responsibility of those who are complicit with the evil that springs from their own hearts, from the evil of the world, and from the evil born of Satan's dark power. And then we can see them acting and working together, a concert of demonic and sinful creating the awful music of death and destruction.
It seems to me that this is the path of Scripture. We are contending against fleshly evil that we face in the mirror, with the fleshly evil of the people around us in a world askew from God's creative purpose, and with the spiritual evil of him who orchestrates darkness for its terrible purpose as a conductor would lead musicians to work together for a larger purpose. This is Scripture's witness to us. It does not undermine or diminish our own responsibility but it acknowledges that the evil and wickedness faced by Jesus and faced by each of us who bear His name by baptism is more than just some bad choices.
On this silent Wednesday, when we hear nothing from Scripture of what Jesus said or did as the week approached its destiny, I can only believe that Jesus was left to pray... for Himself facing the evil one and for the God whose will triumphs even in the face of all Satan's wickedness and helpers of evil... for His disciples who would be tested by this darkness and found weak themselves (Peter)... for Judas whom He loved but knew his heart was corrupted by evil... and for the wonderful result of such terrible suffering -- a message to be preached to all the world in His name... So we might pray... for Christ to stand with us in the darkness, to shine with the light that the darkness cannot overcome... for contrition and repentance from our complicity with evil and wickedness... for wisdom and discernment to recognize the forces we face as Christian people... and for the world that lives its life in the shadow of this evil and death...