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Eating it

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”
-W. H. Auden, 1-Sep-39

Auden wrote those words about the outbreak of World War 2, but the headlines on every news network today reflect it as well. I was painfully aware of it as I watched an older teenage boy in the park physically abuse his younger cousin recently. Though he was gone by the time the police got there, I know had they questioned him, he would have said that someone did it to him when he was young (probably the evil grandmother yelling at the other kids while it was all happening). If you follow the tangled web that leads to any act of vandalism, bullying, abuse, or even terrorism, you will find someone at some point acting out on what evil had been done to them – not paying it BACK usually. More often, they are paying it FORWARD—Zig Ziglar’s kicking the cat syndrome. Tolstoy, in his short story The Forged Coupon, traces the cancerous progression of evil beginning with a boy falsifying the amount on a coupon, which eventually progresses to murder. It’s the circular saw of evil, each act of evil adding another blade in the ever widening circle.

Into this world is born the Lamb of God. He doesn’t pay it back. And He doesn’t pay it forward. He eats it. My pastor called it absorbing injustice, and I recommend his sermon on it here.

And we are called to be like Him. Tim Keller has said it boldly, “A Christian’s call is to stop the spread of evil.” When I first heard that quote, I had to stop and think … Really?! Not just avoid evil or not do evil myself, but to actually STOP evil? It was helpful to go through Ephesians again with women at my church this quarter. By the end of Ephesians, when Paul says “stand firm,” this is exactly what he’s calling us to do. By God’s GRACE, He has equipped me to deal with the evil in myself. And by His grace, He’s given me the tools to deal with the evil in the world. I am called to plant my feet, hold up my shield, hunker down, and STAND FIRM. And when evil slams up against me, Satan’s schemes to defeat me and undermine the march of the kingdom of God, I hold on – feet planted, sword in one hand, shield in the other – and preach the gospel of peace that brings an END to this war.

I love the picture painted of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. But what does that look like in real life? THAT is the million dollar question. I’m thinking about it this morning with my children. How do I teach them to eat the forged coupon? Left to themselves and apart from Christ, their little conflicts with one another escalate to a childish form of murder every time. It starts by someone politely asking for a shared toy, and ends with each boy crying after scratching and clawing the other in anger. I’m thinking about it in terms of myself. How do I eat it when I receive the forged coupon? When my children do evil to me? How do I stand firm in the gospel of peace when my husband is short with me? When he misunderstands me?

I am also contemplating this in our world. Abuse and oppression are everywhere. I’ve become particularly aware of it in the church—spiritual, sexual, and physical abuse in many different denominations. It’s as rampant in Bible and Baptist churches as it is in Catholic ones. It’s often hushed up by church leadership with the end result of predators moving quietly to another congregation in another city to offend again.

My call is more than just to deflect evil off myself, leaving it to affect someone else later. Nor am I called to a victim mentality that endures evil so that evil is perpetuated by my indifference. No, I am called to an endurance and steadfastness that absorbs and ends it. ENDS it. Social justice is the natural outworking of the gospel of peace, which I talked about here. I’ve heard good things about Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice, which I have as the next book on my To Read list.

I am beginning to form a global perspective of what this looks like. Then, as I sit in my chair thinking about my part in ending global evil, I’m distracted by my son walking through the room, demanding something of me. And I’m reminded that my first line of battle is right here in this house, right now, with these two guys – planting my feet firmly in the gospel of peace, absorbing injustice, and doing unto them not as they just did to me but with a vision of what God is calling them to be. Like the guy who can stop the saw with his hand, my job isn’t to get out of the way while the circle of evil perpetuates itself. And my job is certainly not to stay in the cycle. But I am now equipped and called to END it.

Special thanks to my pastor’s wife for prompting me to think on this, especially in terms of our children.

8 Responses to Eating it

  1. Wenatchee the Hatchet December 17, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    The subject of Germany and the second world war is something surreal. You mention it here but there was a conversation I was part of weeks ago in which someone brought up the national socialists and mentioned (as certain types of conservative Christians are wont to do) how things that happened in “Nazi Germany” are happening now. One of the older guys spoke up and said that before this line of thought went any further to consider that what we often skip in discussing history is that had England and France not dumped upon Germany their war debts whil simultaneously insisting on the dismantling of the German industrial infrastructure then the punitive and terrible economic reprisals that made the German public resentful and open to national socialism could not have happened. My brother, who has studied WWI history a bit says that while the Allies feel confident of how righteous they were the second time the English and French can get extremely defensive about how their post World War I punitive measures actually laid the cultural and economic seeds in the ground for a German reprisal. Obviously those warnings were not heeded!

    We as Christians can find ourselves justifying violent measures against those who we believe are treating us unfairly or speaking against us wrongly without considering how we may have ourselves put them in such a miserable double bind they feel stuck with no other options. Part of the bondage of sin is that my sin against you can leave you feeling you have no choice but to react which I then interpret as you just being even more sinful without considering what my failures or active evil contributed to the situation. In other words, without conviction from the Holy Spirit we can be like the Allies who meted out exorbatent punishment on Germany for wanting a bigger part of the colonial imperial pie and then treating them as the bad guys again a second time when they come back to get revenge for their first humiliation. The Marshall plan devised by the United States was simply ingenius as a way of preventing a third outbreak. What was the plan? In a word binding up the physical and economic wounds we had afflicted upon Germany for what they did. I don't mean to get into our problematic legacy in Japan but in Europe the prodigal fatherly response of helping Europe rebuild itself after ravaging itself by war had many admirable aspects to it.

    Of course one of the challenges conservative evangelicals will face is an antipathy toward any words associated with social justice precisely because those are equated with godless liberalism or the old Social Gospel. Ironically the Social Gospel could be described as a grotesquely self-satisfied American application of post-millenial theonomistic thought. That 19th century approach to the faith within evangelicalism failed to do two things at a grisly and obvious historical level: 1) it failed to prevent the Civil War from happening 2) it failed to be much hope or promise in how non-whites of every sort were treated. To the extent that a demise of civic religion means that it is less easy for Christians to rationally or ardently use Christian concepts as a way to rhetorically ask “And who is my neighbor?” is an extent to which having a “post-Christian culture” can only be good for us.

  2. Wendy December 17, 2010 at 6:38 am #

    That's interesting analysis, WtH. I'll be thinking about it for a while.

  3. Anonymous December 18, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    aloha Wendy,
    It's been some time since I looked at postings from people I once knew in the church environment. But, I figured I could always give my camp counselor a shot. =) I appreciate your thoughts. While I have swung completely to the extreme of my religious upbringing (mostly to clear my head) I'm finding we meet much closer in the middle than I anticipated. I look forward to reading more from your studies.
    Melissa F.

  4. Wendy December 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    It's good to hear from you, Melissa. I have many good memories of you. I read the FB survivors group sometimes, and I'm very sorry for what you've experienced.

  5. Bina December 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    I love it!! So well said.

  6. Kelsea Nicole December 19, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Thanks for this Wendy. I really needed it as I am headed back to spend time with my unbelieving family over the holidays. At first as I thought about it, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I am called to stand alone against the ongoing sin perpetuated by my family over the years. Then I was strongly reminded that I am never alone, that right now it is especially appropriate that I have this opportunity to recognize Jesus as my Emanuel, the God who is always with me, and it is only his power that makes it possible or even reasonable for me to expect to stand firm. Thanks again.

  7. Staci December 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    I was directed here by a friend's link on Facebook. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Not to dwell on the WWII analogy, but like the above comment indicates, to understand WWII, you need to understand WWI, and you can't understand World War I without going back to the Ottoman Empire, and to understand the Ottoman Empire you have to go back to the Roman Empire, and to understand the Romans you have to go back to Alexander the Great…it's endless, really.

    There is such a temptation as mothers to want to protect our children from the evil of the world. And while this is one of our duties, we can insulate ourselves to the point that we cease to let our light shine to others. And we also seem to forget that our sinfulness (and our children's) starts within our hearts.

    I'll have to check out that short story by Tolstoy, too.

  8. Anonymous January 1, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    why is it then that there are churches out there, like the one I am trying to prove are doing wrong with there teachings, they have classes on how to spank your kids without leaving marks as to cause any kind up questions, and that spanking the “sin” out of them because from birth they are evil little hearts and that is the only way to fix it. This is WRONG!!!!!