At Noon last Friday, I broke into sobs. Deep, heaving, uncontrollable sobs. I’d read the story of how a 28-year old man took a camera, took a gun and then took the lives of 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I’d watched interviews with survivors and a searching mom in shock, but then I saw one picture that opened the faucet to all the emotions that had been backing up in my heart. It was the still picture of one precious person facedown on the pavement. Murdered.
The murdered have names: Kahled Mustafa, and his 14-year old son, Hamza Mustafa. Naeem Rashid. Talha Rashid and his 21-year old son, Sohail Shahid. Taha Naeem. Linda Armstrong, age 65. Hafiz Musa Patel. Kamal Darwish. Amgad Hamid. Sayyad Milne, age 14. The tragic list includes another 39 names. Another 34 are hospitalized. People coming together for prayer. It’s fitting that we pray for the dear families of the slain, for the haunted first responders, and for the struggling survivors.
This is one of those times when you can’t escape the word “evil.” Misguided won’t do. Nor will unfortunate. Or wrong. Or mistaken. Or ignorant. Or broken. No, the word for this moment must be evil, You don’t hear the word “evil” in the news very often, but you heard it often on Friday. Evil is a word we only pull out for special occasions, a word we attach to a particular person, but not that person who looks at us in the mirror. This is a grave mistake. Why? I’ll let Jesus answer that question in the Sermon on the Mount:
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (The Bible, Matthew 7:11, NIV)
Uh oh. Evil is a word Jesus attaches to all of us. There’s a narrative that we humans are all fundamentally good people. This is partly true. Jesus affirms that we know how to give good gifts to our children. Each of us is made in the image of God. We’re made by God to love Him and each other. There’s a seed of the beautiful goodness of God in us. But that isn’t the whole story. There’s the “though you are evil” part of us. The Apostle Paul unpacks this further:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19, NIV)
He continues Jesus’ narrative that we’re a mix of good and evil. We’ve desires to do good, to give good gifts. But we also have evil desires. Evil is a daily battle for every human, and not a once-in-a-lifetime event for a few. You’ll face choices today between good and evil, though that’s not the word you’re likely to attach to the attitude or words or actions you’re choosing. Jesus pushes back with these words:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Mt 5:21-22, NIV)
The Bible also adds that “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer…” (1 John 3:15, NIV)
We generally concede that murder is evil. But spiteful anger? Belittling name-calling? Thinking ourselves superior? Hate? Wow! Blind spot alert! Jesus is saying that all of these are close cousins in the evil family.
Anger. Some things should make us angry—a good anger, but our anger readily boils into evil. An anger that doesn’t see people as precious, made in the image of God. An anger that wishes harm…an anger that wants someone to “go to hell.” An anger that refuses to forgive. An anger that isolates. An anger that we feed and harbor and don’t surrender to God. An anger that erupts into hate. It’s evil.
Raca. A term of derision or contempt that comes from the root word “to spit.” I see “Raca” words and attitudes in Facebook posts and comments all the time. I hear them in conversation. We demean and ridicule people whose ideas are different. Our very words betray a superior sense of intelligence, logic or morality. This is evil. Our evil. My evil. Daily evil. It is the evil behind white supremacy…and every other kind of supremacy-thinking. We feel better than others. We feel contempt for others. It’s evil.
Fool. We hurl derisive names or labels. Libs or fundies or tree-huggers. Labels can be helpful identifiers like Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Christians. But we often turn these identifiers into indictments. The label becomes a kind of slur. Sometimes, we just use names outright: monsters, idiots, deviants, morons–names that both feed and justify our anger, judgmentalism, harsh rhetoric or even hate. It is, as Jesus suggests, the language of hell. It’s evil.
Unforgiveness. Hate. Pride. Judgmentalism. Avoidance. Slander. Ridicule. Spiteful anger. Contempt. There wasn’t just evil in Christchurch last Friday. It was in Huntsville, Alabama, too. In my neighborhood. In my home. No city or village or home escaped it. Evil is ready to do its work again today.
With this kind of tragedy, we hear the question, “How could someone possibly do something so evil?” Having heard Jesus’ words, I’m not sure it should shock us. The New Zealand massacre is a vivid reminder of where unchecked evil choices can take any one of us. A 28-year old didn’t decide overnight to go out and slaughter a bunch of people. Unchecked evil choices build on each other. An unchecked string of daily choices we hesitate to call evil can consummate a murderous choice we are forced to call evil.
Evil is destructive, and it’s stronger than we are. The foundational check of evil requires us to admit to God our evil and helplessness and to ask Him both for forgiveness through Jesus and for His Spirit to come into us to help fight the evil. God will do just that. But that is just the beginning. You and I must then choose to walk in the power of the Spirit rather than the pull of evil. Today. Every day.
If you need extra motivation, I can help. The choices you and I face today whether to forgive or hate or ridicule or isolate or berate or belittle are some of the exact choices a 28-year made over the last few months and years. On Friday, we got a horrific reminder of where the evil in each of us can go.
[Feature photo by rauschenberger at Pixabay.com]