Last week, I heard about a book, now nearly thirty years old, written by a psychiatrist named M. Scott Peck called People of the Lie (Schriebner and Sons 1983). Over his years as a therapist and analyst, Dr. Peck began to realize that there was something missing in his tool-box. He knew all about multiple personality disorder, had worked in the military with post-traumatic stress disorder patients and had read all of Freud, yet one category was missing. He had not yet accounted for evil.
And before you start throwing stones, remember that the church is not a shining example of an organization that recognizes and acts upon such spiritual and ethical words. We are too busy trying to become nice people for all that. And so evil goes by not only undetected; so much more so it goes unnamed. We hesitate to make a judgment call more significant than hymn or chorus. We have seen a significant atrophy in our ability to judge good and evil.
It is a problem we have dealt with from the very beginning. The devil first tempted Eve with fruit that was “useful in judging good and evil.” He promised that the forbidden fruit would be so spectacularly eye-opening that man would see into the deepest parts of reality, just as God does. But it was a trick. Even satan does not have access to these parts. He was selling what he did not own. No wonder Jesus called him a liar and a thief from the beginning.
But where were we? Oh yes, evil. So what does evil look like to you?
Surely the word “evil’ conjures up images of Adolf Hitler spring to mind; or Pol Pot; or Benito Mussilini; or the senseless slaughter of human life in Afghanistan or Iraq and that may be true. But what is it about evil that we can name in our own town? What is the log in our own eye that is preventing us from removing the speck out of the eye of the great perpetrators of evil? Isn’t that why we are powerless to fight evil abroad? How can we be surprised if we let it run amok domestically?
Dr. Peck points out two ingredients of evil that he has seen, time and again. He points out narcissism and he points out laziness. Yikes. Those hit really close to home.
But what if we sell out to our own will time and again? Who has become our god? We go back to Dylan, you gotta serve somebody. Nobody is a free-agent in this conversation. Our quest to serve our selves takes on a host of forms. Some will step on the heads of anybody “to get to the top”. Others will hide out, stay silent and protect themselves from the danger of the outside world.
That sounds like me. What I may lack in outward ambition I make up for in silent power. Silence, for me, so many times is nothing more than assuring myself of victory. Muhammed Ali invented the “rope-a-dope” strategy, but I’m working on perfecting it. All because I am more interested in myself than I am in others. I hold back what I can offer the world because I may lose my self-constructed identity in the fray. Some play offense, some play defense, but unchecked, we are all prone to fight to present our best face to the world- even if we know it is all a flimsy façade. And what if we are content to nurse our self-focused version of the world into adulthood? Who wins then but the devil himself? It would cost our lives to protect our lives.
The problem is that selling out to evil is so much easier than fighting against it. And we prefer to take the easy way out. We are, after all, just as prone to laziness as we are to self-centeredness. Laziness comes from a state of despair. We see that there are problems around us, hurting people, a morally decaying culture and a fearful church but it would be so much easier to give up. After all, what would our best efforts achieve? Life itself has lost its meaning to the lazy man.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about this in his letter from the Birmingham Jail so many years ago. He wrote a letter addressed to pastors, explaining his position in the Civil Rights movement. He wrote about the arrests, death threats, successes and defeats. He wrote about friends and he wrote about enemies. But what stands out to me, as it has to many others over the years, is his indictment of the white moderate. Notice how narcissism and laziness perpetuate the evil of segregation and racial violence:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
So the question for today is, where are we partnering with evil out of self-defense and laziness? Are we turning a blind eye to the sex-slave in our own city? Do we have a hand in the victimization of others by our silence? Are we too preoccupied with our hobbies to engage in a world in need? Are we lukewarm? Are we pleasantly numb?
With Holy Week upon us, let us be willing to enter into the suffering of Christ for those in need- whatever that will look like for us. As we relive the greatest display that God is for us, in the life, death, descent, resurrection, ascension and mediation of Jesus, how will we enter into his suffering with him for others?
Jesus said the gates of hell will never be strong enough to withstand the assault of the mobilized kingdom of God.
Evil will never win the day.
Let’s join in the fight.