‘We’ Being Evil

Thought For The Day on Radio 4’s Today programme was more than usually thoughtful this morning! I didn’t catch the name of the contributor, but he was reflecting on the Jaycee Lee Dugard case and commented on how, if we avoid the use of the word ‘evil’ in connection with her captor’s behaviour, we may literally find ourselves “lost for words”. He noted the tendency in western society to use psychological or sociological jargon to explain such acts and how, while these undoubtedly do play a role in such cases, by using them we may inadvertantly absolve the perpetrator of blame for their actions. After all, in the words of one well known atheist in the UK, “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music“.

While wholeheartedly agreeing with the sentiments expressed in this morning’s programme, I would wish to qualify it slightly. In my experience there are many people who are all too happy to use the word ‘evil’. The tabloid newspapers, some right-wing politicians and if we are honest, many of us – will readily bring the word ‘evil’ into play to describe the more abhorent actions of other people in society. Always the actions of others, however. I cannot ever remember anyone in the public media describe him or herself as ‘evil’!

During the famous ‘sermon on the mount’ – a discourse alledgedly loved by many who would pour scorn on much of the rest of scripture – the Lord Jesus said to the assembled crowd “you then, being evil…”. Note that this was not a crowd of murderers or rapists. This was a genuine cross-section of society. He was not speaking of any particular evil act – indeed he was actually speaking about a relatively benificent act (giving good gifts to your children). What he was commenting on was the character of their life and contrasting it with the holiness of God.

This is one of the big sticking points of the Gospel message for many people. Recognising evil in other people is easy, recognising the potential and the practice in my own heart is one of the hardest things we can do. The Bible states clearly, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, Romans 3 vs22. That is why the Gospel message has two parts, “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ”, Acts 20 vs21. The reality of our sin has to be faced before we can take hold of the solution that God has provided.

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