4/5/81 What Evil has he done?
In the creation story, in the first Chap of Gen, it says, (v31) "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." This is one of the givens of the bible: What God has made is good.
But then we read in the 2nd Chap that he also created a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That is, he has created the possibility of evil. He did this by creating the human free to obey or to disobey. It was because the human chose to disobey that the reality of evil came to be.
But, even so, this account does not call human disobedience 'evil'. What is it then that the human does or can do that is called 'evil'?
Evil in the NT
Most of us think of the Resurrection as the most important story in the NT, and I think, theologically, it is. But the fact is that the four evangelists spend more time describing the crucifixion than they do the resurrection – or any other part of Jesus' life. There is a reason for that. They are telling us, I propose, what evil is.
The title for today's sermon is taken from the NT Rdg. Listen for the word of God in the NT.
Mk 15:6-32 – The Crucifixion
Evil in the OT
For our OT Lesson, let us go back to the book of Judges – 12, perhaps 15 hundred years before the crucifixion, to another story which also tells us what evil is.
In some ways, this story is reminiscent of the assault on Lot's house in Sodom, in fact it may be the same story from two different traditions. Unfortunately, this version has a much more tragic outcome. Judges 19:22-28b. It is hard to find the word of God1 in this passage. It starts out the same way as the assault on Lot's house.
RSV – "As they [the people in the house] were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, base fellows, beset the house round about, beating on the door; and they said to the old man, the master of the house, 'Bring out the man who came into your house [the stranger], that we may know him." [abuse him in some way] And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, 'No, my brethren, do not act so wickedly; seeing that this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do with them what seems good to you; but against this man do not do so vile a thing.'
But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them; and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man's house where her master was, till it was light.
And her master rose in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, 'Get up, let us be going.' But there was no answer."
Here ends the reading from the OT.
I think what sticks in our craw about this incident is the helplessness of the victim – in fact, that is why she became the victim – because she was helpless. [weakness vs strength]
[Furthermore, it galls us that] in that culture she had much less value than a strong man. In that culture, a concubine could be bought for a few sheep – or perhaps a cow – she was not much more than a slave – and because she had a relatively low value in the eyes of the men of the house, they pragmatically reasoned that since someone had to be thrown to the wolves, then it should be this expendable person.
Because of these circumstances, the men of the house never thought of themselves as cowards. There was never a hint of remorse on their part for the evil they had done. What we do see is that the human can and will do an evil act for personal gain – in this case for his own protection.
By implication, we are defining evil as hurting or killing someone.
Why do we do evil things?
[In this case it was for self-defense] But what about the men outside the house? What did they gain?
A co-worker was telling us about what a good time he and his friends had had last night. We asked him what they had done that was so much fun. He said they had taken a girl out in the country and gang-raped her. No remorse – this was just one way to have a good time – no concept of the rights of others – no respect for the other person – perhaps no concept that a woman is a person.
These good old boys probably threatened her life if she reported the incident. People who have no respect for a person have no respect for the life of a person.
Reason No 2: The human does evil deeds for his personal pleasure.
There is a biological instinct in each member of a herd to dominate all the other members. The purpose has to do with propagation of the genes. In the wild state, the dominant male becomes the head of the harem. The bachelor males fight among themselves until one becomes confident that he can challenge the dominant male. If the challenger wins, he becomes the new dominant male and takes over the harem.
This instinct in the males, to become the dominant male, becomes in the human the sin of 'lusting after power'. This is the sin that perpetrates most of the evil found in 'the world'.
We are adding to our definition – to hurt or kill someone in order to increase or retain Power.
To Gain Power and to Retain Power
The same instinct that drives every herd male to want to become the dominant male in the herd, will also drive the dominant male to retain his position of power. In the human, there is no action too ruthless – too cruel – for him to take. Matthew reports that when King Herod heard that the Messiah, destined to become 'the King of the Jews', had been born in Bethlehem, he sent word that every boy baby there, or anywhere nearby, was to be killed.
This type of massive cruelty, especially, cries out to us, because it is typical of the abuse of power. [It illustrates] power's wanton indifference to the cause of justice. It was Lord Acton who said, "Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely."
This same theme, The Massacre of the Innocents, is found in Exodus, where the tyrant 'Pharaoh' arbitrarily orders all male Hebrew children to be drowned in the Nile.
The lust for power and the lust to retain power! What evil has he done?
Power is rarely satisfied to simply destroy its opposition. It likes to humiliate its opposition. Humiliation is psychological or mental cruelty.
In the first Chap of Judges, the king of the city/state of Bezek brags that 70 kings with their thumbs and great toes cut off used to pick up scraps under his table. Psychological cruelty piled on top of physical cruelty.
The Humiliation of Jesus
Notice how much of the cruelty to Jesus was humiliation. (To paraphrase) "And the soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus as befitting a king, and they platted a crown of thorns and put it on him – every king should have a crown – and they gave him a stick for a scepter – for a symbol of authority. And they began to mock him by kneeling down before him saying, 'Hail! O King of the Jews.' Then they seized the stick from him and struck him on the head with it. They tore off the purple robe and began to spit on him." Power does that to a helpless victim.
We believe today, that the crucifixion was the most evil event of history. There have been other evil events – throwing Christians to the lions – gladiator fights – the inquisition – the burning of people at the stake – the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald – but none of these is quite comparable to the epitome of evil – the nailing of God Incarnate to the cross!
Or are they?
One saying of Jesus has superseded the Golden Rule: Whatever you do to one of the least of these my brothers [or sisters], you do also unto me.
[Jesus means every good thing, as well as every bad thing. So easy to say, but so hard to do.]
Man's Inhumanity to Man
You have heard the expression, 'Mans Inhumanity to man' used to describe human cruelty. Nothing could be further from the truth than to describe cruelty as 'inhuman'. It is nothing but human. Animals are not cruel – only the human is cruel – only the human is evil.
Suppose a Person Has No Power
The average person today has no power – not political, not economic, nor can he do very much even if he has physical strength. What course of action does his 'lust for power' take? [The hand-gun and automatic weapons became a major problem since this sermon was written.]
Well, for one thing, he can become a bully. If he cannot find a smaller, weaker male, then perhaps he can dominate his wife, or his children, or someone else's children, or even his domestic animals. (James Agee said that the poor mule in the South took all the guff, because it was the only creature the Black could take out his frustration on. The mule was at the bottom of the pecking order.)
[The Pecking Order
No one likes to be at the bottom of the pecking order - he might accept somewhere in the middle, but being at the bottom is detrimental to his self-esteem. He might begin to dominate others just to build-up his self-esteem.] To this person, Jesus might say, 'What you are trying to do is to make yourself acceptable to yourself – or even to impress another person, but the harder you try, the more your efforts are doomed to failure. It would be better to try to make yourself acceptable to God. In fact you are already acceptable to God. [All you have to do is to accept God, and he will embrace you as a lost sheep. Once you realize that you are a child of God, your relationship with his other children will vastly improve.]
We notice in both of our bible readings, another source of power for the inherently weak individual. As a member of a mob he becomes powerful enough to dominate a person he could not dominate as an individual. Not only does the mob provide the power, it takes personal responsibility away from the individual members.
One can always rationalize, 'I only went along with the others – I was not the initiator. I was only following orders. Lt Calley told me to do it.'
[It is easy to be swept up in mob action. One likes to be a part of the gang - that makes him acceptable - and he can almost pretend to himself that he wasn't really a part of the mob.]
See Mob Rule today
And In Conclusion
We have explored what evil is. It is evil to kill or hurt another person. (or even another creature)
We have explored how we do evil. It takes power to do evil. The more power we have, the more evil we can do.
We have explored why we do evil. We can hurt somebody in order to survive (we can throw a concubine to the wolves). We can hurt somebody for our personal pleasure. Rape or humiliation.
We can hurt somebody in order to gain or retain power. We mentioned Herod and Pharaoh,
We increase our personal power when we become part of a mob, in addition we lose the sense of personal responsibility for actions done as part of a mob. The mob may be a nation, an ethnic group, or any other coalition that works together in an anti-social manner.
We saw the NT teaching on the matter. Whatever you do to one of these my brothers, you do also to me.
May God add his blessing to this message.
Almighty God, infinite in wisdom, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, we praise thy holy name. We thank thee for thy wisdom which has created a people free to choose – free to choose life or to choose death – free to choose good or to choose evil – free to obey thy will, or to seek happiness in some other way.
We thank thee for thy patience with us, as we sometimes forget thy will and move out in some selfish direction, seeking our own good rather than thy kingdom. We thank thee for thy steadfast love for us – love that forgives our iniquities – that heals our diseases. For thy many blessings, we praise thy holy name.
O Lord our God, we pray for the David Ortegas, and the John Hinkleys in this world – the people who for whatever reason kill and hurt those around them – the people who seek to make themselves somebody in their own eyes – the people who are cruel to their fellow creature – whether viciously cruel, or thoughtlessly cruel – whether physically cruel of psychologically cruel – we pray for the people who seek to dominate their fellow creatures for their own glory – we pray for the people who humiliate Jesus, or one of the least of these his brothers or sisters. We pray for the people who crucify him, or one of the least of these his brothers or sisters.
Our Father, deliver us we pray, from the clutches of evil people – people who want to hurt us, or our loved ones. And we most earnestly pray our Father, deliver us from doing evil to any of thy creatures. We pray that we may never do anything to hurt or humiliate another person. O God! Help us to hear the message of the cross.
Our Father, we ask thy blessings on this thy church and on ourselves its members and on our loved ones. Bless those who are absent from us – those who are sick or shut-in – those who mourn. We pray in silence for those we know of who need the comfort of thy presence at this time.
Our Father, guide us thru the coming week so that we may be true disciples of our Lord Jesus, for it is in his name that we pray. Amen
Comments: I realize that it is the teaching of the Church and its Bible that the Crucifixion was necessary for our Salvation. In my opinion, this doctrine comes from the ancient teaching that God causes everything that happens, therefore, since it happened, God must have caused it. Since God caused it, the reasoning goes, he must have had a reason for causing it. The reason that seemed logical to the New Testament mind was that for 'forgiveness of sins' God required a sacrifice. So, what greater sacrifice could be made than 'his Son'?
The trouble with this thinking is that Christians can believe that the Crucifixion was not evil, but that it was required by God for our Salvation. Thus we can lose sight of what is really important.
If we believe that God is omnipotent, then God can do anything he wants to. Therefore, he can ‘Redeem’ us if he wants to. No sacrifice necessary.
For an elaboration on the ‘Evil’ theme see a Tenebrae Service.
See also ‘El Salvador’ for an elaboration on the US role in Latin
2 I usually introduce the Scripture reading with the admonition, “Listen for the Word of God.”
Goto Chap 6