One of the things that likely impacts how you and I respond to evil stems from how we define it. It can be easy in the current culture to call something or someone “evil” because we disagree with it or them or if it or they offend us. We need to consider our label carefully before we bandy it about as true.
Until we are clear on what evil is and its source we will fall prey to its influence and our responses will be tepid, misguided, or absent.
Evil is defined as something that is “morally wrong or bad, immoral or wicked deeds, embodying or associated with the forces of the devil.” It is not an opinion or a preference. Scripture is undoubtedly the best source of clarification of when that label is appropriate.
Because evil is so reprehensible it would seem we should be able to call it for what it is and confront it for what it is. Yet history shows in every nation and culture we can be slow to do that very thing if it isn’t impacting us directly. It can almost appear we have accepted the inevitable since we know that until the Lord returns and evil is judged once and for all that it will be present on the earth.
We may feel powerless in the face of it despite the power of the Holy Spirit within us if we are God’s children. Perhaps we tremble in fear. The key is whether we seek His counsel and direction at such a time.
Two recent books I have read have brought evil sharply into focus. One focuses on the brave men and women in the Underground Railroad who risked death, fines, and imprisonment to help American slaves flee to Canada for freedom before the American Civil War. The other looks at men and women who risked similar consequences for trying to protect Jews less than a hundred years later.
Today despite our “instant” access to news we can forget nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution for their faith. We don’t hear much about that on the news and sometimes not in our churches.
When I consider how I might respond to evil I am drawn to the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 as well as others who responded with courage, wisdom, and discernment. Here are quotes from just a few of those who stood against evil:
William Wilberforce faced evil head on and wrote these words:
“A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”William Wilberforce
Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced difficult choices without compromise when he wrote and spoke. Here is one of numerous examples:
“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Elisabeth Elliot in the face of the grievous loss of her husband faced the evil that took him with love and forgiveness. Listen to her wisdom for us:
“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”Elisabeth Elliot
Solzhenitsyn left this powerful challenge to consider in The Gulag Archipelago:
“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are replanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
How do we respond to evil?
We start by defining it for what it is and its true source and then seek the Lord for guidance on our response to it when we are faced with it. Above all, we must take into account the words of Isaiah.
Isaiah admonishes us about the need to discern rightly what is evil and what is good:
“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! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”Isaiah 5:20-21 (ESV)