“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.