Like many people, I am struggling with evil these days. One of the forms that that can take is I focus on the evil that is out there, evil that is in somebody else, evil that I think is being inflicted on me and overlook the evil that is inside of me, my selfishness, my deceitfulness, my ego, my pride, my greed. So I’ll tell you the takeaway for this talk right at the very beginning and that is to ask God for the life changing, heartbreaking, hope producing gift of remorse. Now that’s a gift, nobody wants remorse. But we’re walking through very important truth about the human condition that sounds very strange in our days.
This is from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, Romans chapter three, starting with verse 10. “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they become useless. There’s none who does good, there’s not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving. I know about that from within and without. The poison of asps is under their lips whose mouth is full of cursings and bitterness, whose feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths and the path of peace they have not known.”
Now, this language is strange us. It seems overly severe. It seems to be not scientific. We’ve a hard time taking it seriously and, of course, sometimes it is misunderstood. Sometimes people assume that the Christian faith believes that every moment and every thought and every decision of every human being is beret of goodness and that is not the meaning of the prophets.
Somebody asked Dallas one time, “Do you believe in total depravity?” That’s a phrase that’s not found in the Bible, but sometimes has been used by folks in the church to describe the biblical description of the human condition. Dallas said, “I believe in sufficient depravity.” He asked what is sufficient depravity and he said, “That’s the idea that everyone is sufficiently depraved that no one will be able to get to heaven and say, ‘I merited this.'”
All of us have evil within us, evil although it’s mysterious and its power is quite simple in its essence. It is to will the bad. It is the opposite of love to will the good. It is to want to harm, to damage, to destroy, to have disordered attachments and a disordered will that will do damage rather than create good. One of the great problems in our day is we are not prepared to deal with this reality.
Dallas writes about this in Renovation of the Heart, which is what we’re going through, page 58, Can’t Face Up to Evil. “When the flood tides of evil break across the television screen or wash the pages of media in what is now called news, people roll their eyes helplessly and say, ‘Why?’. They never say why when something good happens.” It’s an interesting dynamic in us. “But they would if they ever faced up to the reality of the ruined soul. However, they simply cannot deal with actual content of the human heart, mind, body, social context, and soul.” We’ve seen those are the parts that make up the person.
“In intellectual circles, evil like sin is a non category. It is politically incorrect to speak seriously of it, even if it involves flying airliners loaded with innocent victims into skyscrapers. Some years ago, a leading media personality had a high-level conference in Aspen, Colorado on the topic of evil. Shouldn’t that meeting have been held elsewhere,” he says parenthetically, South Los Angeles or Soweto and that’s not just a funny line that is deeply, deeply true. If you have a conference on evil and you meet in Auschwitz, I guarantee you, it will have a different outcome than if you meet in Aspen. Colorado.
Dallas says, “The outcome was that one or two participants out of a large group thought there was such a thing as evil, but most were either non-committal on the point or certain evil did not exist at all. When you heard their comments, it was clear that they simply could not conceptualize the evil to be seen flourishing abundantly around them in the 20th century.”
Dallas goes on, “We should be very clear that the ruined soul is not one who is missed a few more or less important theological points and will flunk a theological exam at the end of life.” Many people have that picture of God, heaven and hell. That’s not the way it is. “Hell is not an oops or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by constant effort to avoid and escape God. Outer darkness is for one who everything said wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and human beings. The ruined soul must be willing to hear off and recognize its ruin before it can find how to enter a different path, the path of eternal life that leads naturally to spiritual formation.” We are deceived about ourselves and our wills and our minds and our body is glued in this.
I was talking today to our little team and Alyssa. Alyssa is helping to create those email devotionals. So if you want to get one of those that’s based on what we talk about each day, then you can sign up for that. She was reminding us out there’s been a campaign for about the last 10 years for a candy bar, Snickers. I love Snickers bars. It’s a very clever campaign that says, “You are not you when you’re hungry.” It started about 10 years ago with a Super Bowl ad of guys playing sandlot football. They were yelling at this one character who was just playing terrible and the quarterback said, “You’re playing like Betty White,” and then you look it is Betty White, 100-year-old actress just recently passed away. Then that person has a Snickers bar and they’re transformed from Betty White into a powerful athlete.
Well, of course, the truth is you are you when you’re hungry. Now hunger does have certain impacts on us because we are a will. Basically, you are a mind with a will and a body. That’s basically what you are. Snickers went on because the campaign has been so effective to actually have a hunger rhythm, like an algorithm so that the more angry the internet was, they would adjust the prices of a Snickers bar at 7-Eleven downward and you can arrange to go get one less. Because you really need one because you’re not you when you’re hungry.
Hungry has become a thing, combination of angry because I’m hungry. I read an article about it where they were asking a medical doctor, “Is this a real physiological phenomenon or is it just the grown-up equivalent of crying for a bottle?” Now the problem with that false either or, of course, is that when a baby cries for a bottle it’s based on a real physiological process. But somehow we have come to believe that if someone can identify a physiological process that trumps all other explanations and therefore anything that is particularly moral or spiritual is just not scientific. That particular article cites a medical doctor. It doesn’t cite someone who is a moral expert because we’re not prepared to acknowledge that there is one.
The doctor goes on to say, “It’s not clear if being habitually hungry is related to having a personality trait disorder.” Now there is not actually any such thing as a personality trait disorder, but the APA, American Psychiatric Association, recognizes personality disorders and the definition is very interesting. This is from the APA. It is a way of thinking, feeling or behaving that deviates from the expectations of a culture and creates distress or problems functioning and lasts in time.
So if you were alive in 1930’s Nazi Germany and you had compassion wanted to work for justice for Jewish people, by that definition you would have a personality disorder. If you were alive in America when slavery was prominent in your region and you believe that it was racial injustice and saying you would have a… It doesn’t say a way of thinking or acting or feeling that deviates from what is right or what is morally good. Why not? Because we’re not prepared to accept that that actually is a thing that is a realm of moral knowledge and so we are deeply out of touch with ourselves.
That’s why Dallas goes on to write about what is needed is the necessity of remorse. “To prosecutors and judges in our court system, as well as people in ordinary situations of life, it still matters greatly whether wrongdoers show signs of remorse or seem to be truly sorry for what they have done.”
Why is that? “It’s because genuine remorse tells us something very deep about the individual. The person who can harm others and feel no remorse is indeed a different kind of person from one who is sorry. There is little hope for genuine change in one who is without remorse without the anguish of regret. This is so profound much of what is called Christian profession today involves no remorse or sorrow at all over one who is, over what one is or even for what one has done. There is little awareness of being lost of radical evil in our hearts, bodies and souls, which we must get away from and from which only God can deliver us.”
“To manifest such awareness today would be regarded and certainly by most Christians as well as psychologically sick.” And then this, this is so important. “It is common today to hear Christians talk of their brokenness. But when you listen closely, you may discover they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil that is in them.”
We carry wounds and they need to be acknowledged. I think of a good friend who when he was growing up and his parents would fight ultimately, they got divorced. He felt like, “Am I not enough to hold them together? It’s my fault.” It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. Or a friend deeply depressed that hears this shrill voice and thinks that it’s God. It’s not God. We carry wounds and they need to be healed. But the teaching of scripture has always been as well as that we carry evil. Now that’s all mixed up together in very complicated ways. The evil that I have suffered in the evil that I have inflicted is way beyond my ability to discern where one line is drawn and another turf begins. But the wrong that is in me that I become is the most serious human problem and the most serious one facing humanity.
So today ask God for the gift of not despair, not paralysis, not neurosis. God, would You help me experience sorrow, regret that leads me to You and to change? Would You give me the gift of remorse? Look for opportunities for experiencing and expressing it today, not theoretically, just openly so that we can begin to change and hang with me because we begin next time to look at radical goodness restored to the human soul.