“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).
The Enigma of Evil
Do you remember the story of the Boston Marathon bombers a couple of years back? I don’t remember all of the details but apparently a couple of guys set off a bomb during the Boston marathon and killed some people. They claimed to be Jihadists although they grew up in America.
What I remember the most is the confusion of the TV reporters and pundits who couldn’t seem to get their heads around the idea that home-grown American boys could be “radicalized” to the point of blowing up people who were just running a race. What is the world coming to?
I also remember thinking at the time that the world, in general, had a very inadequate concept of evil. Evil is a bad word these days. We might call Hitler “evil” or some pedofile that molests children, but generally it is a word that is reserved for the worst of the worst. A little bit like the word “saint.” Most people reserve that word for someone like Mother Teresa but not just for anybody. It’s almost as if the majority of us live in “the middle” neither very good nor very evil. Just mudane and normal.
That is not how God looks at it. Not at all. We have all been “radicalized” and we are all living a lifestyle of “wickedness and evil.” Romans 3: 22 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Isn’t that a bit much?
Well, that is the thing with evil. It is blind to itself. It justifies itself. It gets used to itself. It even has a name, “the mundane face of evil.”
We live in Argentina and, of course, my daughter asked me about the whole Eichmann situation in Buenos Aires all those years ago. You know the story, popularized by the book, The House on Garibaldi Street. A new version of the story just came out on Netflix a couple of months ago. So I took her to the place and told her the story about what happened.
But then I also told her about the girl who survived the holocaust and became a writer (my daughter is also a great writer) and how she wanted to face this evil man, the architect of the Jewish Solution, who had killed so many of her people. She wanted to face him down and demand answers to explain this great evil. Maybe she expected evil to radiate from his eyes, or for him to give her some sort of philosophical bullshit that she could write about and scoff at. I don’t know what she wanted. I doubt that she knew either.
But when she finally met him face to face in that courtroom in Israel when he was sentenced to death for his crimes against the Jewish people during WW2, she was most impressed by how normal he was. He was a father. He was a husband. He was even a grandfather with some health issues. He like futbol and had a favorite team. He had a job and made a living just like all of us. He had perpetuated one of the greatest evils of the modern world but he was just a normal man given immense power who used it without love to further his own ideas (and the ideas of his boss) about how the world should be. She called it “the mundane face of evil.”
It was shocking because, in the right situation, it could be any one of us. In fact, the Bible says, if we are honest, that same evil is within all of us. Perhaps not to the same degree. Of course not. But the same thing nonetheless. If we are honest, and we seldom are about these things, we would have to admit that we haven’t always been that loving even to our own husbands and wives (more than 50% of us get divorced), to our own children (almost 80% of violence comes from family and friends), our neighbors, other church members. Forget about what we don’t do which we should. Just think over the relationships that we have hurt or destroyed in our lifetimes. Take a moment right now to do so. Make a list if that would help. Just jot down some words to remind you of the situation. Relationships broken. Angry words said. Violence given. Abuse taken. Not love. Evil and wickedness.
It’s not easy to do. Agree with God. His standards are higher than ours and well they should be. We have cheapened the law and we have cheapened the foundation of the law. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37 NIV). Love was always the point. Our lack of love was always the problem.
People always come back to me and tell me that they don’t need God in order to love. And I tell them to go ahead and do it then. That confuses them. Yes, go forth and sin no more. Go and love God and your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Love the unloveable. Love the terrorists. Go to the prisoners in jail and love them with food and companionship and presents. Love the poor sleeping on their cardboard pieces on the heating grates from the subway. Go ahead. Do it.
Does it get done? No. Otherwise the world would be a very different place. Maybe we don’t need God to love our families, our friends and maybe a few in-laws but to love our neighbor as ourselves? Not even close.
Our problem is not that we have NO love, it’s that we don’t have ENOUGH love. Enough love to solve the problems of poverty and sickness in the world. Enough love to stop wars instead of start them. Enough love to find alternatives to destroying our environment. Enough love to make a difference in the educational system or to deal with difficult social questions. No, love was always the point and our lack of love was always the problem. Against love there is no law (Galatians 5:22-25).
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…. (vs. 18a).
So what does this lack of love look like? It has two parts according to Paul. The first is “godlessness” and the second is “wickedness.” To be godless is to live in this world as if God did not exist or doesn’t matter. It is to live as if God has no claim on you. You live according to your own authority. You live independent of God, neither thanking him nor worshipping him (vs. 21).
Our relationship with God is a necessary relationship. It is not optional. It is no more optional than our relationship with our mother, our father, our siblings. It is basic to our natures as humans that we are social creatures. We need each other to survive and to thrive. It is a necessity that we cannot live without. God claims that our relationship with him is also a necessity. It is basic to our natures as humans and we cannot live without it without dire consequences. The fact that we are used to living in a godless and wicked world is no excuse for such epic blindness.
When I am doing evangelism, I always make a point of getting the person I am talking to to admit that they are leading a life without much reference to God. They think about him very little and pay no attention to what he wants or cares about. They don’t pray. They don’t give thanks to Him. They don’t ask themselves what would please God. They don’t know much about Him and they certainly would NOT think of themselves as being followers of Him. They are “godless” and they like it that way. We all do. It is like an addiction. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it even if it isn’t good for us or the people around us. I call it the Sin Addiction. Paul calls it “godlessness.”
Well, wait a second. Godlessness also kind of means evil, too, doesn’t it. And I’m not really evil, am I?
Yes, you are. So am I. This is the whole point.
In Christianity, all of the problems of mankind are traced back to this “godlessness,” this lack of a conscious relationship of love between ourselves and our Creator. This broken relationship is the source of all evil. Evil is relational pure and simple. Godlessness leads to wickedness.
Well, what is wickedness then? Wickedness is every expression of “unlove” that there is. Whether big or small. Whether we think it was taken seriously or not. Whether action, intention, or motivation. What ever does not come from love is sin and wickedness. Therefore, although wickedness is a moral concept it is closely linked to relationships, especially and foremost our relationship to God.
So there you have it. God is angry, exceedingly so, at the broken relationship we have instigated with Him (godlessness) and the resulting wickedness that has broken our relationships with everyone else (wickedness).
The little bit of love that we manage to hold on to is part of the common grace of God which he enables us to do or the world would deteriorate into a lawless state of chaos. Frankly, God should be angry at this situation. We get angry at it. And we like to blame God for it as if he wasn’t already angry at us for creating the problem. The difference between our anger and God’s anger is that he is in the right and we are not and, further, he found a solution that cost him everything. His love comes from his very nature, his character, especially as we see it in the life and ministry of Jesus and this character is what the Bible means by the “glory” of God. It is what makes him special and worthy of our imitation and worship (we imitate what we worship).
So why do we call this the Enigma of Evil? Because this concept of evil as relational is a mystery to most people. We might get some agreement if we were talking about our relationships with other people but God would not agree. God is clear about one thing. It has to do with our relationship with Him first and foremost. If we have a broken relationship with him, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves, love our enemies, love enough to make a difference. Other people can be moral, they can even do good deeds, but evil is relational and we are all guilty to one degree or another of living godless and wicked lives. Morality is not the issue. Relationship with God is the issue.
That mystery of evil that only Christianity lays claim to is the enigma of evil. Only Christianity claims that the problem lies in a broken relationship with our Creator and only a restored relationship can begin to solve the problem. That is only possible if there is a substitute. He must become a sinner so that we might become saints.
To make things worse, not only will we not acknowledge that a broken relationship with our Creator has made us selfish and unloving to one degree or another to each other, we are also arrogant about it. We seem to think that this is the way things are supposed to be. We are not only sinners we are arrogant about it. And that is the first thing that needs to be dealt with.
“The greatest embarrassment in heaven and on earth,
is the arrogance of those who ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Sadly, that applies to all of us.”
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I don’t want to be arrogant in my sin. I want to be honest. I can make a long list of things that I have done that were not done in love. I have been divorced. I have hurt my first two kids deeply in the process. I have taken money from people for my investments that could not afford it. I have lied. I have told half-truths just to get out of an embarassing situation. I have not always responded to other people’s needs even though I was able to. Lord, the list goes on and on. I am not a person who knows how to love. I know it has to do with my broken relationship with you. I believe you when you say that if my relationship with you is restored, then I will start to learn the ways of love again. I want to learn from you, O Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.