Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Evil

Deep Roots

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. 
A good man will obtain favor from the LORD,
But He will condemn a man who devises evil. 
A man will not be established by wickedness,
But the root of the righteous will not be moved.

Proverbs 12.1-3

Have you ever tried to get rid of a stubborn weed or a sapling or a bush that has sprung up in the wrong place? No matter how hard you try, it seems to win. You cut it; it grows back. You spray it; it comes back. 

Why do weeds so often win? Simple. They have deep roots. If you don’t kill the roots, you won’t kill the plant, and if you don’t kill the plant, it’ll always come back. 

However, the same thing is true of desirable grasses and flowers and shrubs and trees. If they have well developed root systems, they’ll also persist. 

The third verse of the above text suggests that righteousness, by the Lord’s design, is intended to operate the same way. The first three sayings in Proverbs Chapter 12 contrast various manifestations of righteousness and wisdom against various manifestations of wickedness. The righteous love discipline and knowledge, but the evil is too lazy to learn. The righteous are blessed while the wicked are cursed. 

Then in verse three Solomon unexpectedly reverses the order: The wicked person will not be established, whereas the righteous person has a firm root. This reads much like Psalm 1.3-4 with its imagery of the righteous as a well-planted, well-watered tree, and the wicked as chaff to be blown away by the wind. By reversing the order, I think Solomon wishes to emphasize the permanence of the righteous in God’s economy. 

During the spring and summer, many of us are thinking about stubborn weeds, and with good reason. Solomon suggests that we should also think of stubborn righteousness, also with good reason. Not obstinate righteousness, but resolute righteousness. The righteous simply never give up in their righteousness, and in that righteousness, they lay deep roots.

How deep is your righteousness?

Overcoming Evil

I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. It’s hard to wrap my head around the notion of a teenager choosing to end the lives of 19 children and 2 adults. It’s hard to grasp that degree of indifference, hatred, and animosity toward one’s fellow humans. 

How we deal with the evil around us says a lot about us. For some, it’s why they no longer believe in God. For others, it’s why they doubt the power of God or the goodness of God. And they question the intellect or goodness of anyone who would believe in such a God. 

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the problem of evil, in whatever form it may occur. Job wondered why he was suffering, even though he knew he wasn’t guilty of blatant transgression. The psalmist wondered why his wicked neighbors prospered (Psalm 73). Solomon saw injustice on top of injustice under the sun (Ecclesiastes 4.1-3). It’s not a new problem. 

How do we deal with evil when we encounter it? I want to look at a three-part answer given to us by the apostle Paul in Romans 12. He doesn’t (nor will I) address the philosophical or theological dimensions of evil. He simply gives three practical admonitions to help us cope with evil on a daily basis.

First, he says, “Abhor what is evil” (v. 9). It’s hard to condemn the evil in others if our own attitude is suspect. We can’t afford to wink at evil or make subtle distinctions between our sins and the sins of others. Good is the atmosphere in which we thrive. We must surround ourselves with others who love what’s right, who do what’s right, and who encourage others to do what’s right. That’s why fellowship other Christians is so vital in our daily walk. You can’t avoid evil, but you can learn to think properly about it.

Second, he says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (v. 17). That’s simple enough. If someone provokes you, don’t respond in kind. If someone curses you, bless them. If someone angers you, let it go. I don’t believe he’s addressing the issue of self-defense or defending the innocent who are targets of evil attacks. I believe he’s addressing kind of things we face every day at work, or at the store, or in the neighborhood, or at a restaurant. We can’t avoid evil in these circumstances, but we can learn to exercise self-control in the way we respond. As Paul says two verses later, “Leave room for the wrath of God” (v. 19b).

Finally, he says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21). It’s easy to be discouraged. It’s easy to throw up our hands in despair and ask, “What’s the use?” It’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. Evil will ultimately be defeated by God. He’s greater than Satan, greater than evil, and greater than sin. The victory was won at the cross by Jesus. He simply asks us to wage our own war here in this life.

Today and every day, choose good.

Drifting Into Goodness

In 1982, author Anne Herbert wrote a book titled, Random Acts of Kindness. The title was a phrase coined by her to counteract a then-popular phrase, “random acts of violence.” Ever since then, we are often encouraged practice these “random acts of kindness.”

I certainly agree that we should practice kindness in our everyday lives. However, to say that kindness is something done randomly misses the mark. Kindness isn’t random, any more than evil is random. Kindness and evil are both character traits we consciously pursue. 

William George Jordan said, “Man does not drift into goodness… the chance port of an aimless voyage. He must fight ever for his destination.” 

He reminds us that character never happens by chance, only by choice. At some point, we decide to do the right thing, we decide to become a certain kind of person. And every component of our character – goodness, faithfulness, compassion, nobility, love, integrity – results from choices we make and actions we take.

In other words, decide if you want to be good, or decide if you want to be bad. But don’t blame your circumstances or your peers or your parents or your teachers or your church or your stars. And don’t say that you just randomly did something. The choice was yours all along.

There’s a certain irony to all of this. What if you choose not to choose? What if you just don’t want to decide? The irony is that by not choosing, you’ve already chosen. If you don’t want to be good, in essence, you’ve chosen to be bad. Or at least you’ve chosen to be indifferent toward the good. Maybe not as bad as you could be. Maybe not pure evil, like Hitler. But by not choosing the good, you’ve settled for something less than good.

All of this has a biblical basis. The writer of the book of Hebrews, uses the same metaphor of drifting” when he says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2.1). 

Aimless drifting isn’t idyllic, it’s dangerous. It’s the shortest route to moral shipwreck.