Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who Causes Evil?

There are good things and bad things that happen to us. Sometimes we have a large role in creating the good and bad we experience, but sometimes we don't. And, even when we largely give shape to what comes to us, we have been formed by so many things that went before us.

We are certainly agents that can affect our environment, even shape it, as we are shaped by it. But, we never have the chance to extripate ourselves from our environment: social, psychological, spiritual, physical, political, and make decisions without being pushed and pulled by forces we cannot fathom or control.

In thinking on things like this, I invariably think about God's relationship to what happens in this world. I feel that God is in about everything, but not "in control" the way God is often presented in Western Christianity. To hear many preachers, you would think that God just sits back at the switchboard and causes this and that to happen. And, though it may seem bad to us, it is all good in the end as it is all part of God's masterplan. Well, I just don't see things that way, nor do I experience them that way. And, not too many of those who wrote the Bible seemed to either.

Presbyterians are afraid to give too much credence to evil, and we are also afraid to punch any holes in our doctrine of providence. But, Jesus suffering and crucifixion, might be understood to reveal just how much in rebellion this world is and just how much evil lurks on earth in defiance of the goodness of God. In the resurrection, God says "NO" to the evil in this world, especially because of Jesus suffering and obedience to God as Jesus defied the powers of evil. But, the evil is strong. So strong, that though God struck a blow against its power over humans, the victory has not yet come. Sin still covers the earth, and stirs humans to twisted and distorted and violent living. Death follows in the wake of sin.

I really like the realism of the last book of the Bible. Most mainline Christians really hate Revelation. But, that's because they think things are really pretty good and we are just going to step right off of the earth to heaven through the passageway we call death. And, I guess things are at times pretty good for mainline Protestants in the U.S. - if they can pretend through the pain. But, things aren't good at all for many other people around the globe, as they watch their children die from starvation or civil wars. As they find their daughters raped and beaten during wars. No, for many, many people, life on earth can be a hell. And, the answer to all this comes not in heaven, but in God's coming to earth - fully and finally, bringing judgement and redemption.

To many people my talk probably sounds like science fiction. Yes, it is like science fiction. That's why I love science fiction, because it is one of the closest portrayals of the way things really are that we have in our imagination and writing. Life is really a lot more like "The Lord of the Rings"than contemporary understanding makes it out to be. And, life for me is a lot more interesting than it is for good, solid people that never stray from "common sense." I really like to think that God blesses us with "uncommon sense" so that we can see the glory that is hidden in the present.

I really like "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," because - to me - Tolkien's portrayal of Middle Earth is just "so realistic." The outcome does seem in doubt at times, but something deep within, something so good, just convinces you that the good will triumph - even though everything seems to point the other way. The simple goodness of little Hobbit trying to fulfill his destiny. The truth that it is only one so humble that has a chance really taking on the powers of evil that break humans.

O, yeah, I was going to talk about who causes evil. Well, in the deepest part of me, I think that God does not. I think that God is fully good, not good and bad. We traffic in evil; God does not. But, God's way of overcoming evil is not too easy to understand. We want God to be like the military and come and force evil out. But, problem is evil has grown within us along with our good, so the eradication of it would mean the eradication of us. We have to learn to live with it in God's patience and God's Spirit. And, to overcome it in time as the good becomes ever stronger.

When You are Trying to Help

If you would help someone deal with her bad characteristics/practices, you do best to encourage that person in her good characteristics/practices. That way, the person who is strengthened in her goodness gains leverage over against the evil in her, whereas if you directly criticize the bad, all you do is call attention to it without helping her marshall the good resources within her. By calling atttention to it, you may strengthen its power as well, causing a person to think that is what defines her.

It is only in a very trusting relationship that direct criticism can have a good effect, and even in those relationships, it is best to try strengthening the good as the first strategy in helping.