WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Looking Evil in the Face
One of Lenny Bruce’s classic comedy routines is “Father Flotsky’s Triumph”. A satire on prison films, it presents a riot in the penitentiary yard. The leader of the rioters is a prisoner named Gus. The warden is negotiating with Gus, to no avail (long before “Seinfeld”, all Gus says is “Yadda yadda!’) But then the prison chaplain steps up–Father Flotsky (who has an Eastern European sounding name and an Irish brogue). “Let me try,” Father Flotsky says. And Gus snarls: “Yadda yadda, Faddah!” But Father Flotsky tries to calm him: “You’re not a bad boy, Gus. Killing six children never made anyone bad, now...”
Lenny Bruce put his finger on a truth in that comedy sketch. Christians ooze forgiveness and love, to the point where they have trouble calling people evil.
If you think Father Flotsky is an exaggeration, let me quote a Christian social justice activist, who was pleading for the life of a murderer who killed two sweet young teenager lovers.
“People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.” If that worst thing is getting drunk, or dipping into the till at work...maybe. But double murder? Again, it seems Christians are sometimes so intoxicated with compassion that they can’t see evil.
The United States military recently blew up an ISIS stronghold with a bomb called MOAB–Massive Ordinance Air Blast. But the military has a nickname for MOAB: The Mother of All Bombs. A Prominent Christian Leader spoke out on this incident. And what did he say? Did he thank and congratulate the U.S. for striking a blow against ISIS, an organization that specializes in the persecution and murder of Christians? Uh...no. Instead, he lashed out at the nickname “Mother”. A mother is nurturing and life-giving...while a bomb delivers death! How dare people call a bomb “mother”? So he passed on a chance to attack real evil, and instead criticized the naming of the explosive that destroyed the evil. This same Prominent Christian Leader also once attacked people who work in the armaments industry. No true Christian could make munitions, he declared. Now if you say that making munitions is immoral, then what are governments supposed to fight evil with? How are governments supposed to defend our freedoms, including freedom of religion, without weapons?
A Prominent American Theologian embraces complete, total pacifism. No resistance at all to evil. This Prominent American Theologian once was asked if he would stand by while his family was killed. His answer was: “Yes”. (Sure am glad I’m not related to him). This Prominent American Theologian is actually a disciple of Another Prominent American Theologian, whose writings popularized pacifism and non-violence in many churches. (Interestingly, after his death, the seminary where this Other Prominent American Theologian taught held a service of healing for the more than 100 female students that he had exploited and abused. Pacifism indeed).
Some Christians seem to have issues with recognizing evil. Maybe St. Augustine is the culprit. He famously said: “Evil is the absence of good.” In other words, evil doesn’t really exist. It’s simply a vacuum where good is absent. As much as I love Augustine, I find that to be a rather lame definition of evil. Evil is a real, living force, not the absence of something.
Jesus does indeed prohibit Christians from taking direct action against evil. “Resist not evil,” He says. (Matthew 5:39). “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” But he does not deny the reality of evil. He simply tells us not to retaliate against it. When Peter draws a sword to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Christ tells him to put it away. (This may, however, be a unique case–Christ does not want God’s plan of salvation through the cross to be interrupted. And it’s not clear how far non-retaliation goes–after all, in Luke 22:37-38, Jesus checks to make sure that his disciples are packing a couple of swords. Maybe Christ doesn’t want us to stand by and watch our family be killed after all).
God has means of retaliation of His own. Fire and brimstone? Well, that’s what He used against the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah...but these days, He uses the police and the military. A classic passage in this regard is Romans 13: “Government is a servant of God...it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” God has established government to bring his judgement upon evil.
On September 11, 2001, a man went to church to find some comfort. And all the church spoke of was forgiving the attackers. He found the concept disgusting. And it is disgusting if it’s not paired with the idea that government has a God-given responsibility to bring justice to evildoers. We commend them to God’s mercy, but we pray that the government will neutralize them.
A few things are on my mind as I write this. One is the dreadful attacks in Manchester England on concert goers, and in Egypt on Coptic Christians. Those who carry out those attacks are evil people who need to be neutralized. Another is Memorial Day–when we remember those who bore the sword against evil on our nation’s behalf, and perished while doing so. The dislike of the military (and also of law enforcement) one finds among some Christians is a way of allowing evil to flourish.
The day will come when weapons are no longer needed–where evil is removed from the creation, and all is pure: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:3-4) The day will come when we don’t need “the mother of all bombs”, when we don’t need people to track down and apprehend evildoers. But that day is not here yet. Instead of denying evil, or criticizing those who confront it, weChristians thank God for his servants of military and law enforcement, who are used by God to give us safety, security and freedom.
God loves you and so do I!