Saturday, November 3, 2012

Identifying Evil

What is evil? When someone refers to an “evil” person, chances are they're referring to a murderer, or a criminal, or someone sexually degenerate. But what if that sweet little old lady next door is an evil person? What if a family member is evil? What if someone sitting next to you in church is evil? How do you know?

Even by definition (the world's, not necessarily the Bible's), evil means “morally wrong or bad; harmful.” So if someone is morally wrong – even though perhaps they are a good neighbor – then they are appropriately defined as evil. If someone causes you harm, then they can be defined as evil.

“But wait a minute! Every person has a different standard of morality. What's to say you're right and I'm wrong?” And that argument is exactly why we need the word of God. If there is no moral standard, then evil is in the eye of the beholder. If right and wrong are measured by who harms me and who pleases me, then now you have reached the classic textbook definition of narcissism. “It's all about me!”

Here's what the Bible says, “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:12). Even without the further definition of the Scriptures, there are some things that can be immediately pulled from the text concerning an evil person. If the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and against those who do evil, then an evil person is someone who is NOT righteous.

What does it mean to be righteous? As the word suggests, it is to do right and to be right – not according to our own standards or definitions, but according to the Lord's. If God says it's right, it's right … and to do otherwise is evil. As James says, “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

The second definition of evil regards that which is harmful. Lazarus is a good biblical example – the beggar, not the dead guy. Jesus tells us about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man – in torment – begs for mercy from Father Abraham, who responds, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” (Luke 16:25).

Lazarus received bad things in life (lit., evil). We can't assume this is simply misfortune, since God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Everyone experiences misfortune … this is about mistreatment. Lazarus was poorly treated because of his position in life, while the rich man was treated well in life because of his money. James speaks of such partiality, “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4).

Notice also the way Jesus describes those who simply will not prepare for the Master's return … His return. “If that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:38-51).

So Jesus' description of an evil slave is one who won't prepare for His return, one who mistreats his fellow servants, mixes and mingles with the world, and is actually nothing more than a hypocrite. No wonder James says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4).

How do we identify evil though? That's the question on the table. Yes, a mass murderer is evil … but so is your aunt Susie who goes to church every Sunday, but gossips about everyone in the neighborhood on Monday-Saturday. What she is doing is harmful. It is evil. Your friend, Billy Bob, is evil, too. Yup, he's a good guy. He would loan you his mower, fill it with gas, and do the mowing himself … but he's cheating on his wife. What he's doing is morally wrong. It's evil.

Jesus said, “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matthew 12:35). That means all we have to do is pay better attention, because “the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The fact that someone is related to you doesn't change the fact that their fruit is rotten. The fact that they sit next to you in church doesn't excuse the sins being committed out in the community.

The apostle Paul writes that “the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Oh, and he wrote that to the church … not so that they could identify things that were happening out in the world, but things that were occurring within the church.

Modern congregations have somehow come to believe that they can live one way on Sunday and another way throughout the week … that their behavior on this earth doesn't really matter … that God's love will tell His justice to put its hands over its eyes and count to a zillion. Folks, these are nothing more than lies. This earth and it's works are going to be destroyed by fire. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV).

For most of biblical history we read about the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were Jews … the Gentiles were everyone else. It's the same way today for Christians. Either you are one or you're not. Either you're living a righteous life, or you're not. Either your life is holy and godly, or it's not. Either you belong to Christ or you belong to the devil … “the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious” (1 John 3:10).

Identifying evil isn't as difficult a task as some want to make it. The word of God is still our standard, and Christ our example. Fruit – or a lack thereof – still speaks volumes. This is a message that the world – and the church – so desperately needs to hear.