This the the 5th and final sermon in a series on evil. Some will ask, “Worth, why did you decide to talk about evil in the first place?” Because, as Carl Jung observed, “Most people are hopelessly unconscious of evil.” If we remain unconscious of evil and our part in it, we will not be able to name the evil, unmask the evil, or stand against the evil. That would be tragic. As Edmund Burke has said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good (people) do nothing.”
Most people are hopelessly unconscious of evil, but the human authors of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are not most people. They warn against evil in many forms.
Primarily, the human authors of the Bible warn agains the evil of human sin. Sin is the transgression of the Law of God. God laid down the Law through his servant Moses to protect us from ourselves and from one another. Therefore sin is anything that we do, or fail to do by which we hurt ourselves or another. That said, do not get the idea that sin is just the action or inaction of individuals. In Romans 3:9 St. Paul says that all the people in the world (both Jews and Gentiles) are under the power of sin. Sin’s power consist in part in its ability to deceive us. Sin appears to us in the form of something that is infinitely desirable, and then after it lays hold on us, it reveals itself as something that is infinitely nefarious. The Japanese have a saying about their powerful drink, Saki:
First, a man takes a drink.
Then the drink takes a drink.
Then the drink takes a man.
Likewise, a man chooses sin, and then sin makes choices for him that he would never have made for himself.
Now all of us are guilt of sin. The scripture says, “None is righteousness, no not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together we have gone wrong.” What then is our fate?
In his book, “God’s Search for Man,” Abraham Heschel relates how the ancient rabbis sought to determine the fate of sinners like you and me. First they went to wisdom and asked,“What should be the punishment of a sinner?” Wisdom said: “Misfortune pursues sinners.” That is from Proverbs 13:21. Then the rabbis put the same question to the prophets saying, “What should be the punishment of a sinner?” And the prophets said: “The soul that sins shall die.” That is from Ezekiel 18:4. Then the rabbis put the same question to the Holy One of Israel, blessed be He, saying, “What should be the punishment of a sinner?” And the Holy One said, “Let the sinner repent, and he will be atoned for.” In other words, God says, “Let the sinner repent, and I will restore our fellowship. He will again belong to my people. She will again be my daughter.” In Mark 1:5 Jesus began his public ministry saying, “Repent and believe the gospel for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It was William Jennings Bryan who said:
“When a man repents toward his neighbor, he repents
up a slippery slope. When a man repents toward himself,
he repents into the mouth of a raging lion. When a man
repents toward God, he repents toward the source of
all love and goodness.”
In Jesus Christ, God made atonement for the sins of the world! (Romans 3:25 NIV)
The Bible speaks of the human evil we call sin, but it also speaks of non-human forms of evil.
It speaks of Idols and demons. The idol is an expression of evil in the outside world. A demon is an expression of evil which a human being has taken into him or her self. Wherein lies their power? The prophet Jeremiah compared idols to a scarecrow in a cucumber field. It cannot talk, it cannot walk, and it has to be carried everywhere it goes. It can do us no harm, and it certainly can do us no good. Likewise, in 1st Corinthians 8:4 St. Paul says that an idol has no real existence. That said, the Paul would be the first to warn that if we give anyone or anything power over our lives, we have become slaves of that person or thing. One of the most horrible examples of giving an idol power over a human life is found in Psalm 106. There we read that the children of Israel mingled with the nations, and learned their practices, and served their idols, and were snared by them, so that they even sacrificed their sons and daughters to the demons. Today we we laugh at the idols of the ancient world, then we invent and serve our own. Anything that breaks up our families and destroys our children is an idol for us. Anything that separates us from God and from one another is an idol to us.
The Bible also speaks of the principalities and powers. We read in Colossians 1 how God created the powers in Christ. Thus they possess potential for great good. That said, we saw how the powers exist in the matrix of sin that is this world. Thus they possess potential for great evil. In Ephesians 6 the apostle defines the principalities and powers as “the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” The Bible speaks of the heavenly powers as “out there” inhabiting the space between earth and God’s heaven. They exist as the archetypes of worldly powers. The Bible also speaks of the concrete manifestations of the powers. It speaks of Herod, and Caesar, and Rome, and Babylon. William Stringfellow, a lawyer who made an extensive study of the principalities and powers said that the powers include: “all governments, all nations, all corporations, all institutions, all ideologies, all symbols, all idols and the like.”
The powers rise up out of our human society, yet they have characteristics human beings lack, and lack at least one characteristic that human beings have. In his book, “What Ever Became of Sin,” Karl Menninger, founder of the world famous Menninger clinic, compares one of the powers, the corporation, to human beings. He says that is many ways a corporation is just like us. Like us a corporation is born. It thinks, and plans, and works, and does all the things that human beings do. Then, eventually, it dies. A corporation, like all powers, may, or may not, survive the individuals that created it. Menninger says that corporations lack at least one characteristic that human beings have. Human beings have a conscience, but corporations do not.
Writing more than a century before Menninger, Henry David Throeau said, “A corporation has no conscience, yet the members of a corporations board do have a conscience.” That sounds good in principal; but in practice, it sometimes fails. In his book, “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” Reinhold Niebuhr says that it is possible to take any number of highly moral individuals, and put them together in a group, and the group may still prove itself immoral. He says the problem consist in this: An individual can sacrifice him or herself for the common good. Ordinarily, a group cannot, for the first rule of the group is to survive. Therefore most groups lack the capacity to sacrifice themselves for the common good. Let me give you an example. It matters not how much money the governments of this world fine Volkswagen for the diesel scandal, Volkswagen will do its best to survive as a corporation.
The corporation has yet another law that works against morality and the common good. The corporation exist to make a profit, and the corporation sometimes sacrifices its morality for the sake of profit. Therefore, in the 1970’s Volkswagen covered up the news that, when a VW Beetle was hit from the rear, the front-seat anchors frequently broke, throwing the driver and passenger against the rear shelf, causing serious injuries that often resulted in paralysis or death. Likewise, in the same decade, Ford covered up the news that, when a Ford Pinto was hit from the rear, the poorly located gas tank frequently exploded, condemning the passengers of the car to a fiery death. I am not picking on VW and Ford, I have owned both with great satisfaction. Elayne and I drove a VW Beetle from San Diego, CA to Morehead, NC in three days. We loved that little car. And some of you will remember that the late Ray Troutman often accused me of thinking that a1966 Ford F100 truck that I once owned was the center of the universe. I am not picking on VW and Ford, I am pointing out that all corporations have a similar weakness. The corporation like all the powers was created in Christ, and posses the potential for great good, as human beings work together for the common good. Yet, because they exist in the matrix of temptation and sin that is this world, those who serve them, or own shares in them, must exercise a constant vigilance to see that they act morally.
The Bible also speaks of the ultimate evil which it names Satan, also known as, the devil, aka, the accuser, aka the enemy, aka the prince of the powers of the air, aka the prince of demons, aka the deceiver of the whole earth. The Bible describes Satan in language that is progressively frightening. The author of Revelation refers to Satan as that ancient serpent. St. Peter says that our adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. St. Paul says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. When Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Jesus looked at his disciple and friend, and said, “Get behind me Satan, for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Now, as I draw this series to a close, let me point out three things I would have you to remember.
First, I would have you remember our rational for believing in the devil. C.S. Lewis said that to believe in the devil is to believe that evil is greater than the sum total of its parts. I believe that. Emil Brunner said that to believe in the devil is to believe that the possibilities of evil are not exhausted by purely human evil. I believe that. Yet, I do not believe that the devil is a person like God is a person. God is the Creator, the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is before all things, and in him, all things whole together. The devil is a parasite, he cannot exist apart from the creation. In the Bible his beginning and ending are closely tied with the beginning and ending of the human race on this planet. Indeed, apart from his involvement with the human race, the devil has no power in the world. It is only through us that Satan haunts the of the matrix of human sin, and turns this world into a toxic dump. I think it is interesting that in the book of Revelation, it is after the fall that Babylon, aka Rome, that the land on which the city one stood is called a dwelling place of demons, the haunt of every foul spirit. (Revelations 18:2)
Second, I would have you to remember that God is the source of goodness and the order that flows from it, while Satan exist in a matrix of evil and the chaos which flows from it.
In the Bible the One God reveals God’s Self with three persona, or faces: The face of the Father, the face of the Son, and the face of the Holy Spirit. Theologians say that, in speaking of God, we must be careful not to divide the essence of the one God, nor confuse the faces. That said, the Triune God works in perfect harmon with God’s Self to bring all the people and all powers under the sway of the kingdom of God. People will be redeemed by God, and so will the powers. Thus in Revelation 21, when the New Jerusalem has come down from above, and God has established God’s Self therein as the Light that shines so bright that no sun is necessary, then the kings of the nations are free to come into the city to bask in the eternal light and blessing that is God. Meanwhile “nothing unclean shall enter (the city).” (Rev. 21:27)
God is One, and, in a sense, evil is one too. It is impossible to speak of demons without speaking of the prince of demons, or to speak of the powers without speaking of the prince of the powers of the air. Evil presents a united front, yet evil exist in confusion, and all the evil powers are in constant competition with one another. There may be some honor among thieves, but eventually thieves, and the powers, bite and devour one another, for it is in their nature. Thus, in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, God frequently uses one earthly power to admonish and punish another. The theme of the Bible is “the LORD God Omnipotent Reigns, and the LORD God will establish righteousness and justice in the world.”
Finally, above all, I would have you to remember that God has already won the war against evil.
Therefore, in Colossians 2:15, we read that God disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Jesus Christ and in his cross.
The cross itself is a power. In 1st Corinthians 1 chapter 1, St. Paul says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews, and folly to the Gentiles, but to those of us who are being saved, both Jews and Gentiles, it is the power and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than me, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
On the cross, Jesus won the war against evil by exposing it. Evil did its worst, and God did His best. The last power available to evil is the power of death (Hebrews 2:14, etc.), but not even death could stop God’s purpose. The cross is not the bad end of a good man, it is the road traveled once for all by our now victorious savior. In the death and resurrection of Jesus God won the decisive battle against evil, and the outcome of the war is certain. In the meantime, we continue to contend, not against flesh and blood, for God loves all flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness, against the prince of the powers of the air that is even now at work in the children of disobedience.
It was Oscar Cullman, the great 20th century New Testament scholar, who said, “The devil is bound, but with a long rope.” Because the battle rages on, the powers of evil can still do us harm. Any one of us may be among those who die in the war against terror. Any one of us could be killed, or crippled by a faulty airbag, or by a rapidly evolving virus brought into this country by a drug smuggler. Anyone of us could suffer and die long before his or her time. This does not mean that we are beaten. We cannot be beaten because we belong to him who suffered, and died, then rose again. As the Apostle writes:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.