How do you benefit from evil?

I got to thinking again about how much we benefit from evil during a recent NPR story on the controversy surrounding the Olympic torch relay. The reporter mentioned that this tradition of having the torch criss cross the globe on the way to the games started with Nazi self-promotion. Check out this quote on wikipedia (and we all know that a wiki is always true, right? :))

The relay, captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia, was part of the Nazi propaganda machine’s attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler’s regime. Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.[

So, you’re probably wondering how you benefit from a torch race. You don’t. But, my point is this, good things sometimes have their roots in evil intent.

Can you think of some ways you personally benefit from evil? How about your Hi-def TV or DVD player? Your high speed Internet? Most of our technological advances in electronic media have been in some part devised in an effort to advance pornographic imagery and make it readily accessible.

What about white privilege? We white folk benefit, albeit without any effort, from not having to answer questions about our race. Though much has been done to decrease racism, its a stretch to say in 2008 that white privilege no longer exists. And so we benefit from historic and current evil. What about the fact that we live on land taken from Native Americans?

Like cheap prices at Walmart? It comes on the backs of sweatshop workers in Asia and other 3rd world countries.

Let me get personal for a moment. My wife and I are/were infertile. We decided to adopt. While adoption is a good and beautiful thing, it is possible ONLY when evil has done its work (e.g., death, abuse, rape, drugs, teen sex, poverty, etc.). And so we benefit from evil in that we can raise two beautiful boys not from our own loins.

So, how should we respond to these benefits? End the torch relay because it refers back to Nazi-ism? Boycott new electronic technology? Continue some form of affirmative action? Stop buying at Walmart? Keep kids in foster homes? Of course not for most of these examples (though affirmative action and boycotting Walmart are possible and maybe even probable answers). Instead, I think we ought to:

  1. Remain vigilant about the subtle ways we benefit from evil so we are not blind (1 Thess 5:6)
  2. Make sure that those being actively hurt (e.g., sweatshop workers) are helped by our stand for justice (Eze. 22:29)
  3. Being willing to suffer for the benefit of the vulnerable (e.g., higher prices; jobs going to qualified minorities that might not be as easily noticed). (Phil. 2)
  4. Reclaiming for God’s glory what was intended for evil (e.g., using electronic media to spread the Gospel) (Gen 50:20; Acts 11:19f)


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, sin

11 responses to “How do you benefit from evil?

  1. As a birthmom myself, I’ve never thought of adoption in those terms. (Adoptive parents benefiting from evil.)

    In my own life, adoption has been pure grace. Getting pregnant as a teenager led me to salvation and off a destructive path.

    In some ways, doesn’t this sum up all of our lives as christians? Good coming from evil? God bringing life out of death?

    Of course, I wouldn’t argue that cheap clothes at Walmart are God’s grace. But I’ll go to bat for adoption any day. 🙂

  2. Oh, I’m with you about going to bat for adoption! And God has from the beginning of time been life out of death. But, I’m reminded that my children are mine to raise because someone else had a tragedy.

  3. Amy

    Great post, Phil! Very thoughtful and insightful.

    My best friend/roomie Sarah is a social work for the county specializing in adoptions. Some of the stories behind the kids that are up for adoption (usually after parental rights have been terminated) are sickening. In these situations, you can only pray that these kids will find good from the evil that has surrounded them.

    I always think back to when Joseph’s talking to his brothers way back in Genesis and he says, “You guys did this thing and you meant it for evil, but you know what? God meant and used it for good.” I think that’s the story of the cross really–mankind put Jesus to death and God used that horror for our good, and then showed us grace and the glory of Jesus’ resurrection.

  4. Scott Knapp, MS

    Time seems to be, in a metaphoric sense, one long string of dominoes, and as one falls it impacts the next and so on down the line, from Adam until us. We’re to the point today that rarely anything that comes to us as “good” has not been in some way impacted by the taint of evil…”nothing new under the sun.”

  5. life cannot be neatly packaged. Unfortunately or fortunately. Adoption = good. Porno = evil. Whatever. Death = evil. Life = good. Not so simple.

  6. I don’t think that these traditions or technology are innately evil because of their origins. I think that whether it is torch running or DVD, these things in it of themselves are not evil or good. They BECOME evil when used for evil, but they are only evil becuase of hoe they are used. Technology, I believe, is an empty vessel in this way. If it has been used for evil in the past, the least we can do is use it for good now. By refusing to use any of these technologies on account of their origin we give too much power to the evil doers of the world.

    In short, we should never have any reason to fear doing good works. We should do our good, and make the world a better place.

  7. JT Listener,

    I agree. These things are not innately evil. And yet we ought not overlook the fact that some things are made for the purpose of evil. Does the maker’s intent ever give us pause. We have benefitted from their evil intent.

    I do not have hi speed internet connection at home nor an HD TV. But I’m willing to accept donations 🙂

  8. lizzie tanners

    I don’t really see it as evil… Everything happens for a reason… the reasons may not be apparent when the event occurs but eventually people will see the reason why it happened….. and it always ends up good…..

  9. If their intentions are truly evil, then I could think of nothing that would irk them more than turning that technology on its head and using it for good.

  10. Scott Knapp, MS

    Hi lizzie tanners….I have to disagree with what you’ve written, and here’s where my thinking is going these days about that. There’s a school of thought called “fatalism” that puts forth that all events that occur, occur solely because they were pre-planned and pre-ordained to happen exactly as they’ve happened, controlled by a “higher” force that is organizing all events to contribute toward an equally pre-ordained purpose. Now that sort of sounds like the biblical concept of “sovereignty”, but it would necessarily say that the “higher force” instigated and produces both good and evil happenings. Although I’m a fairly adamant 4-point Calvinist (I’m shaky on one point!) and accept that God is sovereign over all events, but I believe in His sovereignty he makes allowances for human choice (even the evil choices), but does not effect or cause those choices. He is able also to work all things together for “good,” meaning “the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose”, but I think there is allowance for consequential harm and evil from evil choices that mars any “good” that might be seen, maybe even for years, generations, decades or longer. The “good” that God orchestrates from all events is summed up and completed at the return of Christ…until then, many evil choices will result in evil results that could (and should) have never happened. There is no evil act, in my opinion, that God could not live without and still accomplish His best will…there is no evil act that was absolutely necessary to happen in order for God to accomplish His best will. I think to conclude otherwise has the same silliness woven into it as the thought that you need darkness in order to appreciate light. Darkness may be the absence of light, but light can certainly exist without darkness, and does not need darkness in order to define itself. This is the thinking that leads me to disagree with what I think is your premise. I’d appreciate your thoughts if you ever get back to this blog string.

  11. Scott Knapp, MS

    OK, re-reading my last post, I would have to concede that the evil act of the crucifixion was one evil act that absolutely had to take place in order to fulfill God’s best will…but it would take some serious convincing to buy into much else evil.

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