Doing “Good” Evil

Jesus said: “I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” (Luke 22:34)

Evil is a tricky thing. As Scripture tells us, with the exception of Jesus himself, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). As fallen human beings, we all turn aside and do wrong. Sometimes this may be by mistake; but often we know we are doing wrong when we do it.

On the other hand, to “do evil” carries with it a more serious connotation .  Evil goes beyond accidents and mistakes, or errors made in ignorance.  There is a willfulness to what is evil; it purposeful and deliberate.  Evil knows what it is doing and wants to do it.

However, in many cases — perhaps most cases — evil does not recognize itself as evil. Even as “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Evil often comes in the form of what is good, and appears good to those who practice it.

I would even go so far as to say that to truly commit evil deeds, people must first be convinced that what they are doing is right.  Most villains see themselves as the hero of their own story. They tell themselves that what they are doing is for the greater good, or at the very least, that their goal is the right one and the ends justify the means.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially in how they treat those with whom they disagree.

After a year of stress and concern over the Covid-19 virus, people are worn out – mentally, physically, and spiritually. Just as we thought we were past the worst, we face renewed reports of Covid variants, threatening a continuation of the pandemic we hoped would be over by now. In speaking to the people I know, whatever their experience or point of view, people want to do what is right.

As people continue to argue for or against wearing face-masks, economic shut-downs,  or whether they are pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, no one has suggested to me that their goal is to deliberately do what is wrong. To the best they can determine, everyone thinks what they’re doing is right.

That might not be bad if we were able to talk to each other in a civil manner, and show each other respect. But we have deteriorated so far into “my team” vs. “your team” that it is no longer a debate on the choices we can make, we have made it a battle between those who we see as good and those that we see as evil.

Here is where the temptation to genuine Evil rears its ugly head.  No one ever forces other people to act against conscience unless they are convinced that they themselves are right and the others are wrong.  It stops being about deciding what is best ourselves, and becomes about forcing others to submit to what we think is right. It become less about being helpful for the sake of the neighbor, and more about punishing those who disagree with us.

We are seeing the signs of this around us. Whether it be censoring views with which we disagree, and denying the speech of those we consider evil, or whether it is demonizing our opponents and scape-goating those we believe have caused the evil we feel around us, we all consider ourselves in the right.  That is field in which evil plays.

It concerns me to see that some cities, states, and nations have decided to deny basic goods and services to those who will not do what the authorities think is right. It worries me that many would not only trade liberty for security, but would actually force others to do what they think best by taking away their means of making a living. I not sure I want to live in a society where we can’t talk about important subjects, and seek to silence those who disagree. I don’t want to live in a society where we must sift out dissenters, creating a system to divide people into groups for punishment and reward. Such things deeply concern me; I wonder where this all will lead. 

However, as I recognize the evils present in the world, it would be easy to point at the things around me and the external threats we face as those which pose the real danger.  Like everyone else, I could put myself in the place of the “good” and “right” and try to make others do things my way. But I wonder if that is where the true temptation lies. As God said to Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

How do I master evil in myself? I look to the one who is the Master.  Instead of resting on the certainty of my own “rightness,” I am called to “number myself among the transgressors” as Christ himself did.  If He who was without sin could take on the title of Sinner, how much more should one like me, who has truly earned that name?

If it is true, that to truly commit evil deeds, people must first be convinced that they are doing is right, then I should be willing to admit that this is not true for me. So long as I remember that “there is no one good but God alone” (Mark 10:18), the impulse to see myself as better or more deserving than others is given pause. Ironically, when all is said and done, the certainty that I am not right becomes for me a shield against evil. To refuse to claim for myself the righteous that belongs to Christ alone keeps me protected under his wings.

I will be the first to admit that evil is real and present in the world, as well as in my life. But though I walk through the darkest valley, I do not fear this evil, for God is with me.

— Pastor Steven E. King

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