Skip to content

“I Wish God Would Just Wipe it All Away”

Every morning on my way to work I drive past the local prison.  It is a surprisingly picturesque facility—lots of big trees for shade and well-manicured green grass, a nice lake beside it with all kinds of birds, a baseball diamond and basketball courts visible from the road.  Nonetheless, the barbed wire and the chain fence around the perimeter leave little doubt about the purpose of this place.  The jail on the side of the road has been a regular source of interest for my kids ever since we moved back to Alberta.  They often ask if the inmates are allowed to read or watch TV, or about what kind of food they get to eat, or how often they get to play outside.  A few weeks ago we happened to drive by while a baseball game was going on.  The kids were very pleased.

This morning, I had to drop my kids off at their grandparents before work.  It had been a mostly quiet commute, but as we passed the jail my son said, “dad, I wish there was no more evil in the whole world.  Then there would be no more need for jails.”   His sister was not far behind.  “Me too,” she said, “I wish God would just wipe it all away.”  An interesting conversation followed, where we talked about some of the differences between restorative and retributive justice, about how sometimes institutions contribute to the problems of the world rather than fixing them, about how the stories of inmates are often very complicated, about evil and human freedom, etc.  Needless to say, their interest in the conversation gradually began to wane.

But however we parse the complexities of the criminal justice system (or any other human institution, for that matter), at rock bottom the hope my kids fleetingly expressed this morning is the hope of virtually all human beings, regardless of their religious convictions.  A world with no more evil.  A world where good is done instinctively and naturally.  A world with no more pain and suffering and waste and decay.  A world of beauty and harmony and peace.  And, for Christians, a world where God moves from the margins and the shadows to take centre stage.  A world where we truly see and know God rather than the seeking and longing and missing that we are so familiar with now.  Yes, I wish God would do all this (and more!) too.  Wipe away all the bad stuff and make things new and right and clean.  This is what we hope for.  This is what we live for.  This is what we wait for.

After I dropped the kids off, and returned to my study, I read these words about faith and patience in the face of the silence of God from Tomáš Halík’s Patience with God:

In the final analysis, the patience we exercise in the face of life’s constant enigmas, by resisting the temptation to defect and resort to simplistic answers, is always our patience with God, who is not “at hand.”  But what else is faith but this openness in the face of God’s hiddenness, the bold “yes” (or at least yearnful “maybe”) of our hope in the profound stillness of God’s silence, that small but tenacious flame that bursts forth again and again from the ashes of resignation even in the longest, darkest, and coldest of nights?  In Christianity there is no way of separating faith and hope—and patience is their common attribute and fruit.

If God exercises such patience with us, can we refuse him our own patience of faith, hope, and love, with all the limitations of our human frailty—even at moments when we don’t receive all the certainty and comfort we would maybe wish, at moments of darkness and emptiness, when there is no alternative but to wait or defect from the path of waiting?

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ernie #

    In August of 2011, the LCC held their Centennial open house with a gym full of displays of their history and present settings. It would have been interesting to have children tour such a place.
    I always wondered about the naming of these institutions. They call it “Lethbridge Correctional Centre” and I always considered that a contradiction in terms. Anyone familiar with the cattle business would understand the term “holding pen” and that is often what it is. Considering the mindset of our Federal government and its focus on punitive retributiion rather than restorative measures, we will only see more jails in the decades to come.

    July 19, 2012
    • Yes, the names we choose are interesting aren’t they? I suppose “Correctional” Centre has a softer ring to it than “Retributive” Centre…

      I have similar concerns about decisions our federal government has made and the general direction we seem to be heading. It is worrying indeed when our national strategy for dealing with crime is dismissed by conservatives in Texas (!), even if the reasons seem more pragmatic than moral.

      July 19, 2012
  2. Larry S #

    Ryan, I resonate with your post.

    A question and comment.

    When God takes centre stage don’t we want evil to be judged? Isn’t that also part of what we hope for all the rest (a world without evil, when people are instinctually good, no more pain, waste and decay). And I suppose this means along with evil systems and the demonic we want evil people to be judged – although we want a pass for ourselves?

    You mention that “virtually all human beings” have the hope of a world without evil, pain, waste/decay. There is a part of the population that wants no such thing those without a moral center – the psychopathic personality, thriving on self-centeredness and chaos. Until God moves out of the margins the system, although very, very imperfect and worthy of critique, serves a purpose.

    July 21, 2012
    • Thanks for your comment, Larry.

      Re: “don’t we want evil to be judged?” Yes, absolutely! I didn’t mention judgment explicitly, but I see this as bound up with “a world with no more evil.” And, while I wouldn’t mind a pass, at my best I include myself in this—I want the sin and struggle that are part of my current experience to be judged and consigned to the cosmic trash can. At my best..

      I recognize that there is a part of the population whose actions and desires seem obviously not to reflect the hope of a world without evil. There are psychopaths, certainly, as this week’s events in Colorado (and the horrific story of Canada’s Luca Magnotta!) make clear. I would say that these are cases where the human impulse for goodness and truth has, through the mysterious combination of nature, nurture, and personal choice, been systematically pushed down, and the impulse toward sin and darkness has been actively fuelled I would like to think that even in the case of extreme psychopaths, there is a tiny seed of goodness and hope that could yet be nourished. Wishful thinking, perhaps, I don’t know…

      I am not critiquing “the system,” necessarily. Like so many other things in this world, I am glad for the good that prisons do in restraining evil and restoring human beings, while lamenting the way that systems participate in and perpetuate that which contradicts God’s purposes for the world.

      July 21, 2012
      • Larry S #

        “There are psychopaths, certainly, as this week’s events in Colorado (and the horrific story of Canada’s Luca Magnotta!) make clear.”

        From the little I know of psychology someone like the dude in Colorado may have another form of mental illness. He may not rate very high as a classic psychopath. I`m thinking about someone with a history of leaving chaos in their wake, thriving on self-centredness, who scores high on things like the Hare psychopath test (http://www.hare.org/)

        “ I would like to think that even in the case of extreme psychopaths, there is a tiny seed of goodness and hope that could yet be nourished. Wishful thinking, perhaps, I don’t know…“

        I am unconvinced and not at all hopeful. From what I`ve read prison and community based programs geared for the “normally“ flawed person only make the psychopath more dangerous because they`ve learned to use some words and concepts against potential victims. The useful method is to convince the psychopath that hurting others no longer serves their self-interest. Teaching empathy to someone unable to learn empathy is a waste of time. (This of course, leaves the notion of conversion and the Holy Spirit an open question).

        Regardless of the theological ramifications of my last paragraph I think the following should be considered. I`m told that about 10% of the population would test out somewhere on the psychopath grid. Of course not all are violent and are found in every walk of life. I`m convinced that pastor types should become aware of the profile and know what to watch for. The old “wise as serpents, harmless as dove` thing. I think pastors should do a study in evil, in particular learn about psychopaths – specially the hopeful pastor types.

        “And, while I wouldn’t mind a pass, at my best I include myself in this—I want the sin and struggle that are part of my current experience to be judged and consigned to the cosmic trash can. At my best..`

        Agreed, and I bet you will agree with me on this: Let`s not wait for the eschaton. I`m trying, with the Spirit`s guidance and gentle judgment, to get my stuff dealt with now.

        July 21, 2012
      • Thanks for your insights here, Larry. I appreciate the view from someone much more closely acquainted with these matters than I…

        And, yes, I agree. No point in waiting for the eschaton… We live into what we are convinced we will one day be.

        July 21, 2012
  3. Larry S #

    this is way off topic but I was wasting time and followed a link for Hare’s website to the FBI Law Enforcement bulletin. (i was somewhat intimidated, thinking that Big Brother was going to get me). I didn’t find the psychopathy piece but the June 2012 bulletin has an article about ‘Servant Leadership’

    who would have thunk? 🙂

    July 22, 2012
  4. Larry S #

    This evening while I was doing my evening chores I listened to Steve Earle and a song written from the perspective of a prisoner came on called “the truth”.

    The song brought your post to mind, Ryan. Here is the You-tube link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4g1i-lvYWA). Earle’s music and left-wing politics aren’t for everyone. Earle’s lyrics can be hard are hard to make out so I found them. I think the last line is the “take-away.” I found the last 2 paragraphs of interesting.

    The song is ambiguous just like custodial centres.

    Steve Earle ‘the truth’

    In the blue of the evening when the sun is low
    There’s a shadow that creeps across my cell block floor
    And it comes to remind me what I’m in here for

    No, I’m not admittin’ that I done the crime
    I’m only getting down to doin’ time
    The passin’ of day is no concern of mine

    There’s a guard on the second shift comes on at three
    And he’s always about a half inch off of me
    Like he needs to keep remindin’ me that I’m not free

    God forgive him ‘cuz he doesn’t see
    He’s no less a prisoner ‘cuz he holds a key
    And God forbid he turn his back on me

    For every wall you build around your fear
    A thousand darker things are born in here
    There fed on contempt for all that you hold dear

    The truth is it doesn’t matter what you do
    ‘Til you gaze in that mirror with an eye that’s true
    And admit that what scares you is the me in you

    …. this song is on his “Jerusalem” cd which is my favourite Earle cd.

    July 23, 2012
    • Fascinating lyrics… Very insightful portrayal of the complexity of “darker things” and the nature of our relationship to evil, within and without.

      July 24, 2012
  5. Ken #

    I have been thinking about your discussion with Larry here as I read daily accounts about the mass shooting in Colorado and the public reaction to it in the news.

    I am sure this mass shooting counts as evil, even while I am not really sure evil is useful or credible category in modernity. My own inclination in reaction to mass murders and other violence generally is not to attribute them to evil, even while the effects are awful. I don’t even think they reduce to immorality or sin.

    I doubt that anyone will ever be able to point to a cause for what the man did in Colorado, or ever find a narrative that fully explains it.

    We do need protection from violence, or, rather, prevention of violence, as much as is possible while maintaining freedom. In some cases that seems to inevitably require incarceration of people who are dangerous. Still, many are incarcerated who pose no great danger, who were never violent. They are simply being punished. I think we should change that, even while all of us who are victims of crime feel punishment is justice.

    We cannot wait for God to prevent or end violence. Personally, I don’t think the scriptures ever encourage waiting in that context, even while they have encouraged people in exile, the persecuted members of the early church and countless others suffering over the centuries of waiting to keep their faith in God.

    I am not seeking to disagree with anything you or Larry wrote, just to weigh in on something that matters so much to everyone.

    July 24, 2012
    • I am sure this mass shooting counts as evil, even while I am not really sure evil is useful or credible category in modernity. My own inclination in reaction to mass murders and other violence generally is not to attribute them to evil, even while the effects are awful. I don’t even think they reduce to immorality or sin.

      I know that you said that we may never find a narrative that fully explains these things, but do you have any thoughts on what might be more “useful” or “credible” categories in modernity, in the absence of “evil” or “sin?”

      July 25, 2012
    • Ken #

      In modernity our categories are mental illness, genetics, psychology, sociology, and so forth. I see these categories, rather than evil and sin, used in modernity to find ways to prevent or overcome suffering and delay death. At the same time, I see our judicial systems continuing to use an older paradigm that involves punishing evil, even while they employ the modern categories too. I read this morning that the Colorado man may not be able to use mental illness as a defense. The law regards him as evil, as one who must punished, even though it appears quite clear that he is gravely ill mentally. Punishment won’t solve this, or prevent it from happening again in other lives.

      A friend was recently telling me about a woman in her office whose coworkers believe has sociopathic characteristics. That category has been subsumed by psychopathy, but the behavior or personality is the same. No one calls her evil or sinful or immoral, or suggests that she is possessed. Her behavior that troubles others is attributed to her psychology – a credible category in modernity. This category, like all the others in the DSM, is useful in efforts to change the behavior or respond to it, even while not perfect. A neuropsychologist friend uses somewhat different categories that merge understandings of brains and psychology. She never speaks of evil or sin. Evil and sin are just not credible to many people today and using those categories is seen as impeding progress towards solving problems.

      Still, the modern categories are not wholly effective, whatever the reason may be. When we use the word God in modernity, I think many of us are expressing our hope for more, for the ultimate, whatever that is. Meanwhile, we do the best we can with the credible categories at hand.

      July 25, 2012
  6. Larry S #

    Ken wrote: “even though it appears quite clear that he is gravely ill mentally.”

    how do we make that determination based on what we’ve seen/heard via media. the guy looked a bit buggy on t.v. but i’d hesitate to say anything based on that.

    or r u saying that his behaviours prior to his arrest make it “appear(s) quite clear that he is gravely ill mentally.”

    does modernity/post-modernity write every behaviour off as mental illness rather than naming a behaviour evil?

    July 25, 2012
    • Ken #

      Hopefully I can clarify.

      I don’t think in modernity we look at evil as an explanation or cause, even while we still sometimes use the word to express outrage.

      In the Colorado case, it is just my impression from what I have read that the man is gravely ill mentally.

      An notable modern, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote something to the effect that we don’t choose evil, we merely mistake it for happiness. I think we tend to associate minor misbehavior with this and major misbehavior with mental problems, whether neurological or psychological. I think we also tend to associate misbehavior with defects in the social order.

      All I am really saying here is that is how I read the ways and discourse of modernity and that I recognize these tendencies in myself and others. From this perspective, seeing evil as the cause is a defective way of seeing, one that is harmful because it keeps us from more effectively solving the problems we face as individuals and societies.

      When I look at the Bible and ancient history, even history up to the time of modernity, I see an attribution to evil as a cause that I see replaced in modernity by other categories and explanations.

      Re: “does modernity/post-modernity write every behaviour off as mental illness rather than naming a behaviour evil?”

      Yes, more or less. Mental illness, poor reasoning, defects in the social order, etc.

      Of course, not everyone has adopted this perspective.

      BTW, I have noticed that liberal politicians avoid the use of the word evil more than conservative politicians do. When a conservative uses evil to describe a person or nation, liberals ridicule their expression. While I don’t condone that ridicule, I don’t use the word evil except perhaps occasionally in a metaphorical way to express disapproval. My sense is that this is the way conservatives themselves mainly use the word.

      In the Colorado case, I would say it is indeed evil, expressing my disgust with it, but at the same time, I think preventing future acts like this will be more successful if we understand and speak of the problem in the ways of modernity and attempt to solve it accordingly.

      I think we can embrace this modern way in theology too.

      July 25, 2012
  7. Larry S #

    Ken, I’m hoping to dialogue with you and Ryan on the issues you’ve raised. It could be a day or two.

    Some thoughts:
    it appears we are coming at things from different worldviews so w/be easy to misread one another.

    given what you’ve written i’m wondering if any action can be called “good” – if nothing can be called “evil.”

    is ‘torturing babies for fun’ evil or the behaviour of someone emotionally, psycolgically impaired ?

    just some musings as I get back to my work – nothing abstract about any of this for me.

    July 25, 2012
    • Ken #

      Thanks, Larry. I think in modernity we call things evil of which we disapprove, even if we don’t literally mean that evil is the cause, but instead believe that mental illness, defective reasoning, or societal dysfunction is the cause.

      July 25, 2012
  8. I think that categories like “good” and “evil” are not only credible but desperately necessary, in modernity or in any other time. In fact, I think that it is categories like mental illness, sociology, genetics, etc that lack a kind of credibility, if only because they don’t tell enough of the story. It is precisely in extreme cases like the Colorado shootings or in Larry’s hypothetical “torturing babies for fun” that this is most clearly seen. Modern categories can shed some light on these behaviours, perhaps even offer partial “explanations,” but they do not offer a “thick” enough account of the horrific actions themselves or how these actions are experienced by human beings.

    It is like trying to describe a sunset or a mountain view by using only the language of physics and biology (i.e., light hitting our retinas, which triggers certain chemical events, which produces a certain experience in the occipital lobe of our brain, which leads to the release of certain endorphins, etc). While we might agree that such language plays a role in explaining our experience, I doubt anyone would seriously say that it is sufficient to capture the fullness of what the sunset feels like. No one would say, upon being presented with a comprehensive biochemical “explanation” of their experience of a sunset, “Yeah, that describes my experience perfectly!” I think the same is true when it comes to experiences that call forth the categories of good and evil.

    July 25, 2012
    • Ken #

      I can’t quite tell what is evil to you, can’t quite tell what you are saying when you use the word.

      Is it a just a word that means really bad or awful (as it is to me), is it an archetype that has power, or is it the work of the devil, or what?

      BTW, I know that you believe God is a supernatural being. Is the devil a supernatural being too?

      July 25, 2012
      • Larry S #

        Ken when you write “in modernity we” I’m unsure of your use of the word “we.” Of whom do you speak? I agree, many secularists or materialists would affirm what you write. In my experience, many Christians (both modern/post-modern) would affirm that evil (personified in demonic form and also in a kind of meta-systemic manner) is an influence but not a primary cause. Some Christians may speak as though ‘the Devil made me do it’ (like the comedian whose name I forget). However, many evangelical/fundamental/charismatic Christians would likely verbalize something about spiritual warfare or attack believing in a very real Devil and his horde of demons.

        When I was in my first pastorate, many years ago, a fellow pastor and I listened to and critiqued one another’s sermon (we shared a sermon tape). After listening to my sermon, my friend asked me if I believed in a personal Devil? So that was me, fresh out of seminary and probably at my most conservative theologically and a friend was wondering if I believed in a Devil because the evidence of my sermon seemed to indicate otherwise. Since then and currently as I’ve see a parade of people every day fully immersed in evil behaviour (I’ll try to give a definition of evil later in this post) I don’t look for an outside agency causing people’s behaviour. When I worked in the penitentiary with mentally challenged individuals, violent offenders and sexual offenders I saw nothing that made me go looking for the Devil and his demons. But I certainly saw and see people who were fully given to evil. Perhaps this is confusing but I do believe that people and their behaviour can be influenced by demons. So perhaps I’m hopelessly pre-modern. 🙂

        Quick answer to a question you asked Ryan – I believe in a supernatural being: Satan and his minions. At the same time, I believe so deeply in the fallenness (although, I have some questions about the classic Christian framing of the fallen human race) that I don’t go looking for demonic supernatural forces. Humans seem screwed up enough. However, when I read about societies like Germany in WW2, genocide in other countries I have an easy time believing in the supra-personification of evil mysteriously working through systems and people.

        You ask, “what is evil?” How is this for a simple but perhaps profound answer. Evil is anything that acts in rebellion against the One True Creator God of the Universe. This definition needs to be parsed out far more carefully/fully. But it is about as good as I can do right now.

        Coincidentally I am reading NT Wright’s “Evil and the justice of God.” This is what I read this during lunch (p. 89) “Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures. …..” Wright goes on to write about death as the greatest enemy and how Jesus through his public career and the Cross took on the full force of evil/death.”

        Switching gears – I’ve listened to podcasts called a “Christian and an Atheist” (a sometimes entertaining podcast) I’ve heard the atheist host, from a materialist evolutionary perspective, describe evil as something from a human perspective that harms the development of the human community.

        This post is way too rambling (out of control) – sorry. I’m happy to try to clarify if this as unclear as I suspect it is.

        July 25, 2012
      • Ken #

        Thanks, Larry. By “we” I meant to refer to people in the modern west generally.

        You are straight forward and clear about your beliefs. That is very helpful.

        The story about listening to the sermon tapes is interesting. I once gave a sermon in seminary based on the passage concerning the Gerasene demoniac, and after the sermon people asked me if I believed demons were real. Virtually no one in seminary believed in God, much less in demons. They either worried that I was a heretic in their midst (if I did believe in demons) or, perhaps, the sermon made them doubt their own convictions, even if only temporarily. I did not believe demons are real, but given the arrogance of their convictions and their meanness towards evangelicals, I hope the effect was the latter. I would love to think that I made them fear a real devil, even if only for a few minutes.

        Honestly, demons and the devil have never been part of the reality that I have known. I function without that belief, for better or worse. It is only with willful suspension of disbelief that I can relate to a narrative like the Gerasene demoniac. It is myth to me.

        July 25, 2012
  9. Ken, I will respond to your comment above down here—I didn’t want the conversation thread above to get too unwieldy.

    You said:

    I can’t quite tell what is evil to you, can’t quite tell what you are saying when you use the word. Is it a just a word that means really bad or awful (as it is to me), is it an archetype that has power, or is it the work of the devil, or what?

    I don’t mean anything particularly mysterious when I use the word evil. It is the opposite of good, it is conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, inflicting harm and violence, defacing, debasing, dehumanizing, etc. I think evil could be everything you mention above and more, no doubt.

    In addition, I think that here is both a subjective and an objective component to evil. We all know about the subjective component—events are experienced by human beings as evil. On a purely natural level, there is nothing “evil” about the biophysical events and processes that lead to cancer; but cancer is experienced as an evil from the subjective perspective of human agents with particular hopes, desires, aspirations, and expectations of how the world ought to to work. But I think there is also an objective dimension to evil. Things are more than just evil to us—there is a genuine way in which the world is supposed to go morally. Systematically and deliberately annihilating a nation or ethnic group is not just evil because it happens to offend our subjective sensibilities. I think that these kinds of things go against the very moral fabric of the universe, regardless of how this or that person or group might evaluate them. However difficult it might be to articulate or justify some form of moral absolutism, I think we all depend upon its truth. Again, events like Aurora, CO (and many others) tend to bring this into sharper view.

    Re: do I believe in Satan?

    Sure, why not. I can’t improve upon Larry’s response above:

    I believe in a supernatural being: Satan and his minions. At the same time, I believe so deeply in the fallenness (although, I have some questions about the classic Christian framing of the fallen human race) that I don’t go looking for demonic supernatural forces. Humans seem screwed up enough. However, when I read about societies like Germany in WW2, genocide in other countries I have an easy time believing in the supra-personification of evil mysteriously working through systems and people.

    July 26, 2012
  10. Ken #

    Thanks, Ryan. I understand what you are saying more fully now. You would have been an oddball at the seminary I attended for believing Satan and his minions are real:) But you are okay with me.

    re: “Systematically and deliberately annihilating a nation or ethnic group is not just evil because it happens to offend our subjective sensibilities. I think that these kinds of things go against the very moral fabric of the universe, regardless of how this or that person or group might evaluate them.”

    How do you reconcile this with the conquest of Canaan and God’s command to annihilate the people there?

    It seems that the Bible justifies annihilation when the people are evil. It happened in the flood. It happened in the conquest. It happens again in prophecy, even in that of Jesus.

    I think that genocide is deeply offensive to modern sensibilities, but has not been regarded as deeply offensive over most of human history. And even in modernity, ironically and hypocritically, in the twentieth century the great modern western powers stood ready to annihilate each other. The use of the atom bomb in WW2 against Japan is seen by many as virtually the same. This willingness and action was justified, and is justified, on similar grounds to the conquest of Canaan and the promises of Jesus that God would annihilate the wicked, that destruction of evil justifies annihilation. The bloodiest conflict in the U.S., its civil war, involved such sentiments as well, especially among the victorious, in spite of the modern philosophical roots of the nation.

    Right now, it seems that a large percentage of the western world is anxious to annihilate the Colorado shooter seeing that as the destruction of evil. The people of Europe who participated in the holocaust saw what they did as the destruction of evil. The rest of Europe and the U.S. bombed Germany mercilessly with the same vision.

    When I think of such things, I believe it is best to avoid the word evil and to suspend one’s belief in Satan. And yet, to me this belief of mine is nothing more than a modern sensibility. I like the modern sensibility, but I don’t believe it is written in heaven, or, if you will, the “fabric of the universe.”

    July 26, 2012
    • You would have been an oddball at the seminary I attended for believing Satan and his minions are real:) But you are okay with me.

      I’m glad to hear that. And I suppose I’m OK with being seen as an oddball. I often think of Hamlet’s famous response to Horatio and his ghost:

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

      Yes, there are many strange things in our cosmos—stranger even, no doubt, than demons. Or PCUSA seminarians :).

      How do you reconcile this with the conquest of Canaan and God’s command to annihilate the people there?

      Short answer: I don’t. And I can’t. Like the existence of evil in a world presided over by a good and powerful God, it doesn’t fit into a nice logical package and most attempts to make it do so ring hollow and trivial, at best, or offensive at worst.

      Long(er) answer: You will no doubt, be tired of hearing me say this, but one of the deepest of Anabaptist convictions is that the nature and character of God is most fully and truly expressed in the person of Jesus Christ who teaches us to love our enemies, and who broke down barriers between insider and outsider. It doesn’t magically explain how God is described as behaving or what he is described as commanding, desiring, etc in other parts of the Bible, but, for me, it is the best and most hopeful place to start, the surest ground upon which to stand in a dizzyingly complex world with all of its real and perceived evils.

      July 26, 2012
      • Ken #

        Its a good conviction.

        July 26, 2012
  11. Ken, I’ve been thinking off and on over the last day or two about your question re: whether or not devil is real. I was surprised by how little I actually think about this question and I wondered why this might be the case.

    On the one hand, I suppose it is because, at least for me, very little of importance hangs on the question of whether or not there is a “real” devil or demons or whatever. Evil—its temptations, its pervasiveness, its tragic effects in our minds and in our world—are real enough without worrying about whether or not there is some “being” behind the scenes contributing to the mess. On the other hand, Jesus seemed to fairly obviously refer to and experience the devil and the demonic as real “beings” (of course, for Anabaptists it all comes down to Jesus!). There is certainly no shortage of biblical evidence that could easily be interpreted as pointing to the reality of the demonic.

    I guess for me, it doesn’t really matter if the demonic realm is populated by real “beings” or if language about the devil and the demonic are simply ways of personifying the all-too-real way that evil is experienced and perpetrated by human beings. I know that for some Christians the issue is crucially important—it is bound up with their view of angels, the reliability of Scripture, etc. But for me, I find it difficult to muster much interest. The result is the same, either way.

    I continue to make my way through In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Mate’s harrowing and remarkably insightful book about the nature and causes of addictions of all kinds. Many of the people he works with refer to the “demons” they wage war against on a daily basis. Whatever conclusions we might come to about the ontology of the demonic, these kinds of stories leave little doubt in my mind about the ways in which temptation, trial, and oppression are experienced. These people stare down their “accuser” daily. And this is probably evil enough.

    July 27, 2012
    • Ken #

      I think that whether a person believes evil is real or not often affects how they deal with it, especially when the evil is perceived in a another person or nation or animal. At the same time, that belief does not alone determine behavior, just as you have explained here. Even a person who has no belief in the demonic realm can yet demonize others. One sees that often in partisan politics, and I saw it in an extreme form in seminary and the ministry of the PCUSA.

      In the end, it matters what we do, regardless of what we believe, as you have noted before.

      July 28, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: