Reflection on Evil

In the aftermath of Billy Graham’s death recently, I ran across a TED talk he gave back in 1998 in which he challenged the tech-savvy audience to come up with a reason for human evil in the world.  “Where does it come from?” He asked. “How do we solve it?…I’d like to see Oracle (referring to the technology company of late 90’s fame) or some other technological genius work in this. How do we change man?”  I’ve been thinking about that a lot in these days full of bombs here in Austin. We are one of the most tech-savvy, ingenious cities in the world, but we have found ourselves in the midst of the evil feeling completely incapable of doing anything about it. And that has left us feeling anxious and afraid.  Out of our control evil violates us and makes us feel profoundly vulnerable in a world we like to think we can manage.

Thankfully, albeit tragically, it seems as of this morning that the specific perpetrator of this evil rampage has been stopped with death at his own hand.  If you were like me, you probably let out a big sigh of relief when you heard the news. No more poking my packages with the end of a broomstick. Sanity restored in the Capital of technology.  Whew.

But in reflecting on my own heart throughout these days, I wanted to pass along a few thoughts, especially in light of the Holy Week ahead of us.

  1. God is not the author of evil.  When life is out of our control, it’s very easy to throw a God who claims to be in control under the bus.  While there is - as Billy Graham pointed out - much mystery in evil and why God would allow it, we do know that his face is against evildoers (Ps 34:16) and that central to his mission in this world is to eradicate evil once and for all.  As Tim Keller said after 9/11: "How can you trust God after an event like this? The Christian answer to issues of suffering and tragedy always has to do with the Cross. Imagine you are an admirer and companion of Jesus Christ during his ministry. He is such a powerful worker of miracles that disease and hunger are almost banished from the countryside when he is present. He is such a powerful teacher and spiritual guide that thousands of people hear him gladly and get hope. Then suddenly this man who is the one to help the whole country is cruelly, unjustly cut off in the very midst of his life--at only age 33.  What if you stood at the foot of the cross in front of this apparently senseless act of violence and tragic waste of life, and you said, "I can never, ever trust God again after an event like this!" And what if you went home and completely renounced all belief in God saying, "This proves that God is either a monster or indifferent or he doesn't exist"?  If you did that, you would have been missing the greatest act of God's love and redemption in history.”     

  2. God is not rejoicing in the death of the perpetrator.   Yes, it is absolutely right to be grateful that the evil at his hand is over and that justice seems to have been served, but he is also made in the image of God and therefore has inherent, created dignity.  At the heart of God’s mission to eradicate evil is the depth of his grief over it.  So much so that he would send his son to die a violent death for the thieves on the cross next to him.  God hates sin and death. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be and not the way it will be when Christ returns.  In the meantime, we need to respond with righteous grief to this situation. A friend of mine just texted me as I am writing this.  His response is right on: "Glad they got him, sad he blew himself up. What a mad world.”

  3. Be careful where you find your security.  It’s not wrong to be a technology wiz or marvel in the glories of our city’s ingenuity and progress.  Those are very good things. But it is misguided and dangerous to find our ultimate security in any human achievement or security systems.  This week has reminded us that our only true security lies in the God who rose from the grave on Easter. There he shows us that he is ultimately the only one really in control and the only one we can ultimately trust.  Billy Graham’s point to the TED audience was simple. You think you’ve got the cat by the tail, but you don’t. Your achievements are wonderful, but they won’t save you. You need Jesus and his death and resurrection.

So as the Gospel-formed family we are, please join me during the last weeks of this Lenten season in prayer.  While we are grateful that justice seems to have been served here, the effects of the evil will linger on. For the victims and their families, it will never be forgotten.  Please pray for them. Please pray for our city. For its healing and wisdom in the midst of this senseless suffering. Give thanks for the good men and women who helped bring justice.  Please pray for faith for all of us who struggle with doubt and cynicism over God’s goodness in the face of suffering and evil like this. Pray that the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter will give assurance of his power and steadfast love and his mission to eradicate this evil.  And finally please pray for your own heart as I will for mine. That it will find security in Christ’s finished work much more than the man-made security systems of our own good but broken ingenuity.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Jay