Sermon Summary (4/26/20) “The Problem of Evil” (Ge 2:15-16; 3:6-7; 4:2b-7; Ro 12:9-21)
I love the stories of WWII and the people who sacrificed to save the world. Through them we see the very best in people, but of course through the war, we also see the worst. Evil exists from the Rape of Nanking to the Holocaust, 75 million people lost their lives. Evil was at the heart of the slaughter. Today, evil still exists, with St. Louis murders at an equivalent rate to Venezuela, 60 murders per 100k population. Life is cheap, even in America where we have so much to live for. We take lives with guns and destroy souls with drugs. We diminish others with hate and retribution.
The dictionary defines evil as “behavior profoundly immoral or wicked.” We are talking about behavior, the actions of people. Sure, we can think of cancer or viruses, but it’s the behavior of people that is evil. It is part of the human species. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn made it plain: “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Evil, that “behavior of human beings that is profoundly immoral or wicked.”
John Steinbeck says we only have one story and it is a net the net of good and evil. And all of our stories from Cain and Abel to Sleeping Beauty bear that out. We have all been impacted either in person or heritage by it. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled and The People of the Lie) describes evil as not just the murder of the body but also the murder of the spirit, “that which deprives us of life or livelihood.” Evil kills not only life, but the vitality of life. And Scott Peck says we cannot talk about evil without talking about good, the opposite of evil. Jesus came that our lives have vitality, “that you may have life and it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
I therefore commend to your study Romans 12, Paul’s chapter on overcoming evil with good: 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.
Not only that, be passionate about doing good: 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
(You need to read and embrace it all.) But he caps it off with: 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In our relationships with one another we have a choice. We can embrace life, we can lift the spirit of others. We can let love be genuine. We can cling to good. We can hate what is evil. Or, or we can be overcome by evil. Paul is telling us to embrace life, lift the spirit of others; and that the only way to overcome evil in this world is to lift the spirit, give life to others and be passionate about it.
As United Methodists, our baptismal vows call us “will you resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” And the answer is “I do.” We are called to be proactive, intentional in confronting evil. Martin Luther King Jr said, “For evil to succeed., all is required is for good men to do nothing.
Maybe the greatest story of story of good and evil in our time is The Lord of the Rings in which an ordinary hobbit, Frodo, and his fellowship of travelers passionately take on evil. The author, JRR Tolkien tells us in “Return of the King, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
We can’t do it all (master the tides), but we can clean the fields where we are in the time we have so that those who come after will have clean soil to till. I believe we do that when we “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.”
We are called to clean the soil where we are—with good. That’s how we address the problem of evil. Amen.