Evil is Real – So what do we do?


“Evil is real – and powerful. It has to be fought, not explained away, not fled. And God is against evil all the way. So each of us has to decide where we stand, how we’re going to live our lives. We can try to persuade ourselves that evil doesn’t exist; live for ourselves and wink at evil. We can say that it isn’t so bad after all, maybe even try to call it fun by clothing it in silks and velvets. We can compromise with it, keep quiet about it and say it’s none of our business. Or we can work on God’s side, listen for His orders on strategy against the evil, no matter how horrible it is, and know that He can transform it.”*

Lord Have Mercy.


Where do we go during times like this, when evil stalks and lurks? Where do we go when the world feels crazy and safety is as illusive as winning the lottery? What do we do? Where do we go? How do we respond?

I have become tired of judging others for reactions that are just as valid as mine. We create a people’s court, judging the hearts of people by the status of their social media pages. As though judging the hearts of others will add comfort to the situation.

Evil is not the final word.

I have written about evil before, and my words grow stale in the face of more and more tragedies. But I am compelled to continue to write. I am compelled to continue to feel through writing.

“The extreme greatness in Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it” says Simone Weil. 

So I go to the words of Scripture, knowing that they have brought comfort through the ages to men and women who have faced evil, men and women who have gone through suffering and lived to write about it.

They all have one thing in common, and it’s something that I think about as I write. 

They all knew that evil wouldn’t win.** 

Note: post has been updated since first published with excerpts from Evil is Not the Final Word. 

*Catherine Marshall in Christy

“Who Among You can Put Christina Back in the Arms of Her Mother?”


  
Sometimes a story emerges that captures all other stories. It becomes the iconic story, the one that explains everything. And everyone knows the story.

Everyone from Qaraqosh knows the story of Christina.

Christina was three and a half years old when she was literally snatched from her mother’s arms as they were fleeing ISIS. This was one year ago on August 6, 2014.

On the first evening I was in Iraq, we had the opportunity to see a play. The play was about the exodus of people from this city and was directed and acted by a group of actors from Qaraqosh.

At one point in the play, a little girl skips out on stage with a doll. The music is light as she skips around, safe in her world. As quickly as she comes, she vanishes, and only the doll is left on stage. The actor’s pain is acute as he shouts her name, and then asks the question: “Who among you can put Christina back in the arms of her mother?”

The agony of the audience is palpable. This is their city, and she has become their Christina. Who will put Christina back in the arms of her mother? Who will redeem this situation? Who will right the wrong? Who will defeat evil?

There are hundreds of questions wrapped up in the one.

It’s been a year and how much longer will the people of Qaraqosh have to wait?

The cry of the people of Qaraqosh is the cry of people through the centuries who have been victims to terrible evil. It is the cry of the exile, the cry of every mother who has lost a child.

It’s the cry of the Psalmist How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.” Psalm 13

But the play didn’t end on those words. Like the Psalmist, who says “But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation,”  the play ended with olive branches, a symbol of peace. The play ended with hope for return. The play ended with resurrection

The play represents much of what I saw during my short time, and I am challenged daily by the hope I saw in those displaced in Iraq.

For even as they wonder who will put Christina back in the arms of her mother, they continue living day by day, in hope of return.

 

The ISIS Definition of Who Lives and Who Dies

ISIS

The People of the Cross

I woke to the news that 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Tripoli. That ISIS would pick a beautiful place by the ocean to carry out this heinous act feels particularly galling.

God’s creation in all its beauty juxtaposed with man, made in the image of God, in all his free-willed horror.

The news did not even make it to the front page of the New York Times.

We are in a world where a terrorist organization decides who lives and who dies and it’s no longer front page news. 

The video that was released called the men “People of the Cross.” I have had the privilege of living in Egypt, of going to the homes, churches, and monasteries of Coptic Christians. These are my brothers and sisters in faith. It hurts my soul and I have few words for this horror.

But if I am honest, in my heart every day I make the kind of decisions that lead up to what ISIS did to these men. I daily decide who to despise and who to accept; who is worthy of my kindness and who deserves my rejection. And that’s what hurts — that as evil as ISIS is, the same spirit is in me.

We live in a world where the definition of who should be allowed to live narrows with each passing day. How can my prayers, my life, my actions reflect something completely different?

And can I pray for those who inflict such evil?

The man who cries out against evil men but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.” — St. Silouan the Athonite

The Call to Prayer echoes across the Muslim world five times a day. It calls the faithful to stop what they are doing and pray. As a Christian growing up in the Muslim world, five times a day I have been reminded to lift my heart in prayer. The faith and truth claims are different, but the Call to Prayer still serves as a reminder. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he “willingly endured the cross”.From In the Midst of Tragedy, a Call to Pray

Those are my thoughts this day.

Picture Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2954746/Islamic-State-releases-video-purporting-beheading-21-Egyptians-Libya.html

We Who Cast Stones

Thoughts I’ve written as I’ve thought about evil, injustice, race, and we who cast stones:

We don’t have to live long in this world to see injustice. It looks back at us from the mirror.

When I fail to understand how I contribute to the broken portrait of our world I cast the first stone.

Until I understand what my heart is capable of, I will never be able to have wisdom and understanding of the problem of evil.

When people are hurting, they don’t want discussions, or lectures, or why’s. They want us to sit with them in their pain, hold them in their hurt, whisper to them in their tears.

The western church talks about mutuality and complementarianism, about sex and marriage, about rights and needs….and all the while a world hurts and begs for a Saviour.

We look for the needs of our heart to be solved with human understanding, with justice, with policy changes but the fact remains: No amount of human justice will ever satisfy the needs of the human heart.

I see essays called “Dear North American Church” and all I want to do is delete the essay, scoop up said church, and plop it into the slum I recently visited in India, or the refugee camp in No Man’s Land between Turkey and Syria, or the hospital in Peshawar where burned children scream out their pain– because no blog post will change the church. Ever.

 
We who cast stones need a Saviour. Those who feel our stones need a Saviour.

At the end of the day we are not promised fair, or easy, or simple. At the end of the day we are promised this: that He is with us always – to the end of the age.*

I see the Cross and the love that endured the cross as the only solution to evil. Responding to evil by the power of a love that conquered death.

“We do not worship a deistic God, an absentee landlord who ignores his slum; we worship a garbageman God who came right down into our worst garbage to clean it up. How do we get God off the hook for allowing evil? God is not off the hook; God is the hook. That’s the point of a crucifix.

The Cross is God’s part of the practical solution to evil. Our part, according to the same Gospel, is to repent, to believe, and to work with God in fighting evil by the power of love. The King has invaded; we are finishing the mop-up operation.” Peter Kreeft

Matthew 28:20

When Discussions on Evil Don’t Help

English: Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar Pakistan

It’s late Sunday night and my head and my heart hurt. The death toll rises from a double suicide bomb attack on a vibrant church in Peshawar Pakistan. Those of us with connections in the area are glued to news sources, trying to glean whatever we can from the pitiful western coverage of this event.

I wrote a friend earlier today – her children are in school in Kenya, and though they don’t live in Nairobi, I know this school and I know that they visit Nairobi and probably this shopping mall. I have not heard whether her children were there or not, but the likelihood of her not being affected by the siege on the mall is slim. Another friend whose daughter lives in Kenya posts that she is “safe” and I breathe for her.

At one time I would have wondered “Where is God in all of this?” I no longer wonder in the same way. Instead I scream for mercy to save us from ourselves. To save us from the awful horror that is human on human violence, so much worse than any ‘natural’ disaster. I cry out that God intervene in what St. Augustine describes as the “parasite” of evil.

The problem of evil has been a conundrum for theologians since time began – but when people are in pain, discussions on the problem of evil seriously lack the ability to give substantive comfort. Instead, what people need is empathy, prayers for courage and hope, prayers that they will feel the love and mercy of God in a tangible way. And when I think prayer is not enough – I go back to the words of my son Jonathan this summer: “Mom, when you think about it, prayer is the greatest expression of empathy we can possibly give.” 

In April after the Marathon bombings I wrote a piece called In the Midst of Tragedy- A Call to Pray and I leave you with an excerpt from that piece:

“Five times a day a Call to Prayer rings out across the Muslim world. I am fully aware of the differences in truth claims between Christianity and Islam – yet five times a day for much of my life I am reminded to lift my heart in prayer. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he ‘willingly endured the cross’……And so I pray the only words I know how: Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer. Free us from our pain.

************************

For more information on the church bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan I urge you to go to this post written by a blogging friend who lives in Peshawar: Peshawar church bombing a condensation of horror and loss.

From the article:

“This is a catastrophe for the Christian community of Pakistan,” my secretary Ashbel Taj said to me a few minutes ago.  He had just returned from visiting the wounded at Lady Reading Hospital after today’s bombing at All Saints’ Church in the heart of the old city of Peshawar.

Despite having the largest trauma unit in the world, the hospital scene was chaotic, he said, as staff struggled to treat the 200 or more wounded.  Information is still emerging, but numerous conversations with colleagues in Peshawar – I’m in the USA at the moment – indicate that 150 or more people were killed.

I’ve tried to reach Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, but he is fully occupied in visiting the wounded in hospital.  He was on visitation at the parish in Bannu, in Waziristan, but rushed back upon news of the bombing. Read the rest of the article here!

The Courage to Call Out Evil

Conscience and law

“There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’.” Laurie Penny

I was a block away when I saw the crowd of teenagers. There were at least 20 of them on the corner of a city street. I hated going home this time of day. Packs of city teens traveled the subway together and reflected all the insensitivity and crowd mentality normal to that age, and unbearable to those looking on.

My heart beat faster seeing them. They were surrounding someone, something. Taunting, laughing, not a flicker of emotional IQ showed. I suddenly realized they were surrounding the disabled man who usually lay, prone, in a motorized wheelchair in a spot where on sunny days the sun would shine, a spot where he wouldn’t be too cold.

The wheelchair was tipped over and he was on the ground. On the ground surrounded by teens, being taunted and mocked. Because he couldn’t fight back. He was an easy target. 

He was a nothing to them, good as dead, a piece of skin and bones that could be pushed around, shoved to the ground. He had so little dignity to begin with that it was easy to rob him of the rest. Rob him of the honor of what it means to be ‘made in the God’s image”. The words ‘Made in the image of God’ were not something this group understood.

I breathed hot rage and started to run-walk to the scene. At just that time, police officers showed up and began dispersing the crowd and helping the man. The teens muttered profanities and walked off – looking for their next victim.

Had I been closer would I have had the courage to call them out? To call out their behavior for what it was? Evil in its dismissal of humanity? Evil in its demonstration of superiority and cruelty? Would I have faced 20 or more teens, most taller (and arguably stronger) than me?

Do I have the courage to call out evil? To call evil for what it is? No excuses? No “well … those who did this come from bad backgrounds”. No “they’re just being kids!” No “I’m sure they didn’t mean harm by what they did! They just didn’t think!”

None of that – just plain calling out cruelty and evil. Using words that are politically incorrect in a society that justifies all sorts of bad behavior. Calling out behavior that dismisses others as ‘less-than’, strips them of their agency, and attempts to dismiss the image of God within.

On Tuesday I read an article that had the courage to call out Evil. On Wednesday I read another article; another essay that called on courage, called out evil.

The women behind these article couldn’t be more different – but both used their voices and called out ‘evil’.

In ancient days prophets had the courage to speak truth and call out evil – and they paid, sometimes dearly. The Prophet Isaiah had harsh words for people who dismissed or failed to recognize evil: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

And this was and is a picture of redemption – to see and hear evil called out in a world that dismisses and justifies, to read past accounts of courage to confront evil — to know there are those still willing to call it out today, reflects a Good God – a God that redeems, a God that cannot tolerate evil.

A God that loves his creation too much to let them wallow without consequences in a pig sty. Could it be when we call out Evil, we call up Good? 

But the question remains: Do I have the courage to call out evil? 

Next Post

I wrote a post called “Outsiders” today and will still leave that up but I also wanted to repost this article I wrote last year. Thank you for reading!

MARILYN R. GARDNER

On September 11th in 2001 my first-born, Annie, turned 16. We had tried to plan something special for weeks. It was, after all, a 16th birthday and in the US it is something of a milestone. Dreadful reality shows like “My Sweet Sixteen” are indulgent, ostentatious, and narcissistic tributes to the importance this birthday plays in the United States.

“Do we get a limo?” I said to my husband worried that I didn’t know how to honor her properly. He looked at me in disbelief and didn’t even have to think about it. “Well, at a cost of $100 an hour I would say – No!” he said emphatically. In the end we decided to have balloons delivered to her high school and a small dinner with two of her friends before a larger party planned for a weekend.

On 9/11 at 8:46 am, on a cloudless day with bright…

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