Tag Archives: evil

Apologies revisited and moral outrage

The matter of Michael Vick and his return to the NFL cannot be escaped–especially when you live in Philadelphia Eagle territory. Seems the media cannot get enough of him: Can he be forgiven? Is he truly sorry? Has he paid his debt? Should he get a second chance?

I care little about these matters but would like to make two observations.

1. On apologies (again). I’ve written here numerous times regarding the good and the bad about the art of apology and what one reveals about the person making said apology (use the search engine above to find them). But let me highlight one thing about Vick’s recent comments regarding his awakening to the evils of dogfighting. The following appeared in a recent USA Today,

During his interview with Brown, Vick summed up why many sports figures lie through their teeth when caught red-handed in personal or criminal scandals. They’re — what else? — terrified of losing their multimillion-dollar salaries and endorsements. “I was scared. I knew my career was in jeopardy. I knew I had an endorsement with Nike — and I knew it was going to be a big letdown. I felt the guilt and I knew I was guilty, and I knew what I had done. And, not knowing at the time that, you know, actually telling the truth may have been better than, you know, not being honest. And it backfired on me.”

Notice his answer reflects the same root problem that got him into the problem behavior–SELF. His reason for truth telling is because it would have been better for him. “What is best for me” thinking is one of humanity’s main problems.

2. Moral Outrage. Is anyone else surprised at the level of public outrage about Vick? He is not an elected official charged with leading us? He is not anything but a professional football player. Why is there so much outrage about the evils of dogfighting and so little outrage for other evils (abortion, porn use, child abuse, poverty, obesity, etc.)? Here I think NT Wright is instructive. In his book, Evil and the Justice of God(IVP, 2006), Wright suggests that most of the western world (a) ignores evil unless it hits us personally, (b) is surprised when it does, and (c) responds in “immature and dangerous ways as a result.” (p. 24). To point c he says,

Having decreed that almost all sexual activity is good and right and commendable, we are all the more shrill about the one remaining taboo, pedophilia. It’s as though all the moral indignation which ought to be spread more evenly and thoughtfully across many spheres of activity has all been funneled on to this one crime.” (p. 27)

Well, maybe we should add animal cruelty to the list of greatest evils.

He goes on to remind us,

Lashing out at something you simply know by intuition is wrong may be better than tolerating it. But it is hardly the way to build a stable moral society.” (p. 27)

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Filed under Abuse, News and politics

Read any good books on evil?

Have a new writing assignment on the theology of evil in sexual abuse. I’m to think theologically about this particular kind of evil. So, I want to do some reading. Any books you might recommend that discuss evil (outside of the usual ones describing the damage done by sexual abuse)?

I’ll start with NT Wright’s “Evil and the Justice of God” book, but other recommendations might be helpful as well.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin

Final thoughts on roots of evil

Well not really. Just that I posted on Tuesday that I would add a few more thoughts on this topic. On Sunday, Terry Traylor preached on the last verse of Judges and the first part of Matthew 21. You can hear it here. In his sermon he gave a nice summary of the book of Judges and the cycle we find in it:

1. The people stop dealing with sin, begin to flirt with it
2. God gives them over to their desires. He lets them have what they demand.
3. The people slowly recognize the problem, take a long time to do something about it, but finally call to the Lord for help.
4. God raises up a protector/deliverer.
5. God provides a period or rest and safety

Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself. Except for one small problem: the cycle is broken when the people fail to cry out to God for help but keep going on their way. We could call it the “butterfly effect.” When the people fail to get rid of the idols but accept forms of syncretism, then it allows temple workers (Levites) to make it okay to have a concubine in the first place. He doesn’t protect her when some rapists come his way. He shows her no concern after her rape. She dies and he doesn’t give her the decency of a burial but sends her body parts to the 12 tribes and tells only the part that makes others look bad. And ultimately this butterfly effect ends with thousands dead in a civil war and innocent women stolen and subjected to forced marriages. All because everyone did right in their own eyes.

It would seem that this is part of the problem in Rwanda. You have a rather religious/Christian population that flirts with hatred and jealousy of the other, turns a blind eye to neighbors doing violence to others and ends up with civil strife and genocide.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, conflicts, deception, self-deception, sin

Some more thoughts on the roots of evil

Continuing my reading about the tragedies in Rwanda, I’m now following the writer Jean Hatzfeld–thanks to my colleague Carol King. He has written a few books on the genocide in an attempt to give voice to both surviving victim and killer. “Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak” is a chilling mix of interview of 10 “killers” from the district south of the capital and background information

[FYI, for those following this blog for some time, my trip to Rwanda has been delayed until at least July. Pray that it happens then!].

For most of the world, Rwanda was a quiet, tiny country that exploded into Tutsi genocide in 1994 after their Hutu president was assassinated. One day it is calm, the next an entire population of Hutus begin systematically destroying their Tutsi neighbors. Even soccer teammates killed each other, with no remorse.  

But dig a little and you find out that this is not so. Despite living and working together, Hutus (the majority) felt the minority Tutsis (treated as the upperclass by Europeans in the formation of Rwanda) had too much power. Much radio and media did comic portrayals about the killing of cockroaches (the Tutsis). Apparently, they were so funny that even the Tutsis listened and laughed.

It looks like this is what happened:

1. Conflict between groups, fanned by leadership (read pp 52-58 for how it happened).
2. Use of both comic discussions of killings plus occasional actual killings going unpunished
3. Lots of free beer, food (many ate meat every day when normally they only ate it at weddings), and promises of rewards
4. Threats of violence to Hutus if they do not follow outsiders orders. These outsiders “apprenticed” farmers into killers.
5. A large group involved (100% involvement) with lots of camraderie so as to defuse guilty feelings.
6. A simple task ordered: kill.
7. The abandonment by the white individuals in the country and so gave the sense that the world didn’t care and wouldn’t hold them accountable.

This is quite a chilling book (because thus far there is no apology or blameshifting in the book by those being interviewed). Here’s one especially difficult passage:

For my part, I offer you an explanation: it is as if I had let another individual take on my own living appearance, and the habits of my heart, without a single pang in my soul. This killer was indeed me, as to the offense he committed and the blood he shed, but he is a stranger to me in his ferocity. I admit and recognize my obedience at that time, my victims, my fault, but I fail to recognize the wickedness of the one who raced through the marshes on my legs, carrying my machete. That wickedness seems to belong to another self with a heavy heart. The most serious changes in my body were my invisible parts, such as the soul or the feelings that go with it. Therefore I alone do not recognize mysefl in that man. (p. 48)

Tomorrow I will post one more on this topic: the pattern of running away from and then back to the Lord as seen in Judges. Or, how we stop seeing our sin and forget to cry out to God.


Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, Rwanda, self-deception

The God I Don’t Understand 6: The Canaanites?

After a long break from blogging, I return to Chris Wright’s book, “The God I Don’t Understand.” We are now at chapter 5 where he explores whether there might be any possible satisfactory solution to the extermination of the Canaanites–something that might make the conquest by Israel more acceptable.

In short, he says he has no “solution…[nothing that would] neatly remove the emotional and moral pain and revulsion generated by the conquest narratives.” But, he does attempt to explore 3 “frameworks” in the chapter to help the reader “cope with the destruction of the Canaanites and understand at least some things about it in light of what the Bible as a whole says.” (p. 86)

1. The framework of the OT story. In this section of the book he explores some of the context of the Ancient Near East (ANE). He notes that the conquest isn’t considered a holy war, but the war of Yahweh. Further, Israel was not to profit from it but that all things were to be for the Lord. He speaks of the concept of “herem” (ban of plunder for personal gain) and that the total destruction of property and civilians was a common concept in the ANE. But, he also says that reports of total destruction were commonly rhetorical exaggeration and points to places where the Bible reports such total destruction (e.g., Jericho) but records individuals being saved. He suggests this is a literary convention rather than falsehoods in writing.

Here Wright takes a detour. He considers whether God accommodates himself and his will to “fallen reality within the historical earthing of his revealing and redeeming purpose.” (p. 88) God allows divorce and even provides a way for it but doesn’t sanction it. He has a creation ideal, says Wright but a legislative concession to our sinfulness 9p. 89). Then, might God use this kind of war because of the nature of the ANE but not have it as his ideal? Wright does not offer an opinion.

Returning to the context of the OT story, he reminds the reader that even though the conquest is bloody, it is limited to a single generation of the Canannites. So, we should not view God as “constantly on the warpath” (p. 90).

2. The framework of God’s sovereign justice. God’s destruction of any peoples is always put into the light of judgment against wickedness. This goes for gentiles and Jews. The conquest is not seen as a genocide by Wright since it is not spoken of in ethnic terms but in response to wickedness. Here Wright points to Gen 15:16 where the Canaanite sin had not reached its full measure in the time of Abraham and so God withheld his judgment at that time. He also points to NT passages depicting both conquest and later destructions of Israel as God’s punishment of wickedness.  While punishment doesn’t make the acts done any easier to swallow, for Wright it does change the “moral context of violence.” (p. 93) There is a difference, he says, between arbitrary violence and intentional punishment of sin. Finally, he ends this 2nd framework by reminding readers that Israel’s victories didn’t make them more righteous. In fact God uses unjust populations to his work (as in Habakkuk) and also warns and then delivers on that warning that Israel will fall if it fails to worship only Him.

3. The framework of God’s plan of salvation. Wright wants to look at the conquest in light of the whole story of salvation. He looks first to the promises to Abraham, which include blessings to all nations. God may use violence to do complete his plan but he condemns it when it is used for wicked reasons. Wright here points to the ultimate destruction of war in the new creation and points out that David was not allowed to build the new temple due to his warring nature.

While the conquest was violent, Wright points out that the work of God is here also to bless the nations. But, “It did not mean that God would therefore have to “be nice” to everybody or every nation, no matter how they behaved.” (p. 100)

Lest we see God as capricious in his choosing who to bless and who to judge, Wright wants the reader to note that conversion and ways to avoid destruction were offered to some of the Canaanites. Even the hated Philistines will have a remnant in God (Zech 9:7).

In the end of this chapter, Wright attempts to make a personal reflection and speaks of the image of the cross as a means to view the conquest.

For the cross too involved the most horrific and evil human violence, which, at the same time, also constituted the outpouring of God’s judgment on human sin. The crucial difference, of course, is that, whereas at the conquest, God poured out his judgment on a wicked society who deserved it, at the cross, God bore on himself the judgment of God on human wickedness, though the person of his own sinless Son–who deserved it not one bit. (p. 107) 


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology

When you sit with endless human depravity…

you can become quite cynical about Christians, christian organizations, etc. is there any church or pastor who isn’t completely hypocritical? Are there churches or boards that handle abused individuals with care? Do any of our leaders actually admit their wrongs and seek forgiveness? Does anyone in a difficult marriage stay and avoid bitterness?

The answer, of course, is yes (to the last three questions). But we counselors rarely get the opportunity to hear those stories. Why would anyone pay us or bend our ear to tell us how great something worked out. But we humans have a propensity to collect “look how screwed up the world is” stories. Isn’t that what the news is all about. When I go home to my parents in Maine they actually do have some feel good stories and it feels rather strange and unnewsworthy. Where’s the killings, the rapings, the pillagings? This is news?

And yet it is good to recount stories where humans treat each other better than they deserve, where they admit to failings and refuse to excuse wrongs. Frankly, we must admit these stories aren’t exceptions. They happen all the time but we are blind to them. We fail to record these behaviors because we know how easy it is to not show mercy, to not show humility–because this is how we act sometimes!

So, listen for those vignettes where leaders, parents, spouses, etc. either suffer well or are willing to own up to failings (and then do the right thing about them). These stories are all around. And while they don’t dismiss those where leaders fail us they do round out the picture.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, stories, suffering

The God I don’t understand 4: Defeat of evil

We come to the 3rd chapter of Christopher Wright’s book, The God I don’t Understand(2008, IVP). Poking a little fun at theologians he tells us that while they want to explain evil, God intends and will destroy it. He reminds us that in the 1st chapter he called us to accept the mystery of evil and in the 2nd to protest and lament it. In this chapter he calls us to rejoice over evil’s final destruction.

The whole Bible, indeed, can be read as the epic account of God’s plan and purpose to defeat evil and rid his whole creation of it forever. (56)

Wright wants us to look at 3 ways the cross helps us understand God’s response to evil. “They are: the utter ‘evilness’ of evil; the utter goodness of God; and the utter sovereignty of God” (p. 57). The cross holds these 3 things together and Wright argues through the chapter how each of these things must be part of our understanding of how God defeats evil.

1. If evil isn’t that evil or rather was necessary, then God is somehow stained by it
2. God is utterly good. And his sovereignty over evil people and his use of their acts of evil does not stain him either.
3. God is sovereign and whether or not you try to distinguish between God’s permissive will and his declarative will, he is sovereign over all things.

Wright then recounts the Joseph story to show these three truths. Evil is evil in the life of Joseph. God is good to him and the whole area. God is sovereign, even over the evil behavior of his brothers.

And then he moves to the cross,

First, the cross exposed the utter depths of human and satanic evil–in hatred, injustice, cruelty, violence, and murder…

Second, the cross happened fully in accordance with God’s sovereign will from eternity…

Third, the cross also expressed the utter goodness of God, pouring out his mercy and grace in self-giving love. (62-63)

Finally, he finishes the chapter with an exploration of Revelation as it illustrates the centrality of the Cross in the defeat of evil. “Christ’s power to control these evil forces [the horsemen in Revelation] is the same power as the power he exercised on the cross.” (p. 67). And so, Rev. 21 tells us of the evils that will be banished (sea, death, pain, sin, darkness, shame, strife, curse, etc.).

This is a short but nice chapter on the power of the cross over evil–how God brings evil and righteousness together in one act in order to destroy all evil. Whenever human goodness and evil combine, the result is impurity. But God’s weakness/innocence on the cross results in the destruction of all that is evil.

From here we’ll move to questions about all the killing in the OT, of the destruction of the Canaanites to give Israel a land. How are we to understand that?


Filed under book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology

Psalm 36: How evil grows and a authentic response

In our staff meeting at Diane Langberg’s we read from a portion of George Adams Smith’s 4 Psalms where he devotionally comments on Psalm 36. He says there is a better translation of the first verse which suggests evil starts as a whisper in the heart and grows to full bloom of deception to the point where we don’t care but plan openly to sin. Then in an abrupt fashion, the Psalm changes course and focuses on the glory and majesty of God. This, he says, is the antidote to the growing problem (no, not the prostate per recent ads). You can check out Smith’s writing on-line at www.gutenberg.org. Search for him using the author search form. This book is his only work on this wonderful site.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Meditations, sin

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