Wrestling with evil

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Few things are as bewildering as callous, irrational evil. We may read or watch with a kind of numbness reports of nationwide uprooting, raping, and murder of neighbors; the gunning down of schoolchildren; the senseless killing of innocent co-workers.

Hearts in the community often gush with sympathy for the victims and their families. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship fill up as people seek comfort and reassurance.

But why do senseless, brutal acts of evil continue? This is the most challenging question for many people. The Bible presents an extensive account of people's wrestling with this question. And different people in different eras have found that the Bible is filled with answers.

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Not only that, there is a cohesiveness to those answers.

The accounts of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Job, Jonah, Jesus Christ and his apostles, all provide answers. The bedrock of the Bible's teaching is found in the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3). We should have no other creator, power, presence, activity, except God and that which comes from God. The more we obey this commandment, the more creation - as revealed in the first chapter of Genesis - becomes evident in our lives. This creation is good, filled with good, and involves nothing but good.

Conversely, the more we believe and fear that there is some causative force besides God, the more we end up with the opposite of good - evil. It shouldn't be shocking that evil is horrible. After all, God isn't in it. Evil is the absence of goodness, justice, honesty, decency, intelligence, and love.

It is to save us from evil that the First Commandment urges the essential point "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." And because we are so used to including evil in our picture of creation, this is challenging. The Bible is filled with accounts of people's wrestling with this very discipline - and the benefits that came from the wrestling.

Consider the experience of the prophet Elijah. During a time of great drought, he was sheltered in the home of a widow and her son. They were faced with starvation, and Elijah's faith in God brought wonderful evidence of God's goodness through a constant supply of food. But then her son became ill and died. Elijah turned earnestly to God and raised this age-old question: "O Lord my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?" (1 Kings 17:20).

Could the God who had blessed them with the food needed to live be the same God who would end life? Elijah was a genuine prophet; that is, he saw the spiritual facts about things. And his prayer soon brought him into deeper communion with God. We are not told what was revealed to him. But when his prayer presented to him more of the nature of God, the child was restored to life. There's the blessing that comes when we have "no other gods."

Evil, in the form of poverty, disease, or death is not of God. And in Elijah's case, the presence of God destroyed, eradicated, evil and its effect. Jesus also illustrated this point over and over again. Regardless of how strong the forces of evil that he encountered seemed to be, he nullified the sense people had that evil or wickedness ruled them or had a place or an effect in the kingdom of God - in heaven or on earth. He lived a life that embodied the First Commandment. And he revealed that it is possible for all to live in obedience to it.

Of course, Jesus' life was not free from the awful attempts of evil to discredit or destroy him. Evil's ugliest face was revealed to him. But his thoughts were always about his Father, allowing for no other God but good. When he struggled with evil, he was never harmed by it. He lived by the law of God; he had no other God; he acknowledged no other mind, force, or presence.

Understanding the significance of this, the author of the Christian Science textbook wrote: "The First Commandment is my favorite text.... The divine Principle of the First Commandment bases the Science of being, by which man demonstrates health, holiness, and life eternal" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 340).

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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