The Problem of Evil in a Civilized World

I am almost afraid to turn on the television and watch the news anymore.  It is difficult to hop around on social media lately as well.  Something has changed.  Someone is always angry with someone else.  It seems like there is either a war going on somewhere in the world, or at least the threat of a war.  I am reminded of a famous phrase from a popular movie from long ago ... 'There is something strange afoot.'

I think that we often read the words in the Bible that say "the thief comes to steal and destroy", but we gloss over them. Many of us may think that these words represent some mystical ethereal being called the Devil, but that they are more symbolic than factual. We think that spiritual warfare doesn't really happen, and most of the evil in the world can be attributed to human nature, war, lack of education, or something to that effect. But is that really all there is to the story? What if there were actually a real undercurrent of evil which exists in our world? Something stronger and more focused than just human nature?  Many feel it is outdated to think about the problem of evil in a spiritual way I suspect, especially in the twenty-first century.  But bear with me as we delve a little deeper into this subject matter, I think it will be worth your while. It will help make sense of some of the sobering things we see going on around us.  It is definitely an interesting time to be alive. 

I remember watching a documentary called 'Worse Than War' not long ago.  It did an excellent job of outlining some of the reasons behind genocide and the mass killing of entire segments of the human population. I'm not talking hundreds of people here, I'm talking millions. Nazi Germany, or even the Bosnian War in more recent history for example. Not to mention current headlines about Aleppo.  Wikipedia defines genocide like this: the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. An adequate definition I suppose. But now imagine that you lived in Darfur and you witnessed your neighbors, friends, and family being dragged into the street and murdered in front of you - only to realize that you were probably next. Or lets bring it even closer to home.  You are pulled out of your car at the stoplight, waiting to go to the mall to do some shopping, or on your way to work. Suddenly your life is in danger for no other reason than the color of your skin or your ethnic background.  You get the idea. An academic definition is good as far as it goes, but then reality comes rushing in. Compare the black and white films we used to watch in high school about the German gas chambers, and then contrast that with talking to a holocaust survivor. The problem of evil is real, pervasive, and widespread. It appears to be here to stay.

The film-maker in this particular documentary went and interviewed one of the men from Rwanda who participated in roaming groups which went into communities and wiped out families. You may remember this atrocity from news headlines years ago.  What he said was difficult to accept.  To paraphrase, he said "We would go in with machetes and [dispose of] whoever got in our way first. If they were fast and made us chase them for too long - we would purposely cause them more pain prior to death. If they submitted willingly to us, we would kill them quickly, or occasionally even let them live. Sometimes it was tough, because you would encounter young babies who would just start to learn to smile. They would smile at me, and then I would murder them."

When asked what caused him and his fellow militia soldiers to act like this, he said "I don't really know. I don't have an answer for this. We knew we were doing it, we were fully conscious... but it was like a kind of fog enveloped us. A current of great cruelty overtook us, almost like it was controlling us."

The documentary offered some different explanations for this type of cruelty: blind obedience, bias, racism, etc. These are all true, in so far as they go. But the answer that this man from Rwanda gave was much more haunting. It seemed to defy secular categorization.

The Bible tells us that evil is real. That it isn't just some aberrant behavior carried out by small portions of the world's population due to lack of education or divisive belief systems. There is something more going on, and none of us are immune. Americans are lucky in some ways.  My generation hasn't had to deal with conflict on our own soil really, apart from the events of September 11th in New York city. But this relative peace won't last forever. That great evils have occurred in the past, or that they will occur in the future - or even that they are currently happening - doesn't concern me as much as the reason they occur. If you answer that it is just part of human nature to seek out conflict, you may be right to a degree. But what happened to mankind, who can be loving and generous one moment, then awful and vengeful the next?  How have we fallen so far from the mark? I believe it was a fall indeed. The book of Genesis talks about the fall of man as a result of original sin, but not only that.  There are spiritually dark undercurrents that do exist in our world.  It is a problem that cannot be overcome (much less solved) without addressing the spiritual realm.  

Ephesians 6:12 says "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

There appears to be more going on behind the scenes than many of us feel comfortable thinking about.  And as such, I believe we must combat this malevolent force in a way that entails much more than simply bolstering our military might or securing our borders.  It must begin with the ardent prayer of God's people for peace.  It must begin with an understanding of what we are really dealing with, and a willingness to combat it on more than just a physical level.  There is a time and a place to use force as a method to protect ourselves and our family, and we cannot disregard that.  But it is not the only method. 

Fortunately for us, there is also good news.  If there is such a dark reality in our world, then there must be the opposite of that evil which exists also. There is always a balance.  We cannot call true evil bad, unless we know the greater good that is also at work. This I believe, at least in a round-about sort of way, points directly to the existence of a loving God. Do not let the fact that planet Earth can be a violent place sometimes wash away the fact that it won't be like this forever. The Bible tells us that there is a God, that He loves us, and that He has promised not to abandon us. We can focus on Jesus, and in so doing live out that part of our human nature that is divine and good. As a people we don't stay in our homes and hide from the outside world, afraid to venture out or unlock our doors.  But rather we go out into the world, and bring with us this light from above.  

Few people would doubt that true evil exists. But we are not given a spirit of fear either.  God has provided us with a knowledge and a picture of what is truly good and righteous in the Bible. And I believe that if we seek after it and cling to it, He will use us to reverse this dark undercurrent slowly but surely, one person at a time, and in ways we cannot yet fathom.



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