6-2-15 - Fighting Evil with Evil?

As Jesus' public ministry was getting under way, he got flack from many quarters. His family tried to shut him up, and next we see the scribes speaking against him:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

The scribes' job was to painstakingly copy out Torah scrolls, and perhaps other clerical duties in the Temple. This group had come from Jerusalem to either investigate or condemn Jesus – at the point we hear from them, they are clearly in condemnation mode. Unable to deny Jesus’ spiritual power already evident in miracles of healing, they are nevertheless unwilling to credit it to the presence of God. They assert that it is by demonic power that Jesus casts out demons.

And, as usual, Jesus makes no defense for himself. Instead, he points out the logical fallacy in their theory. “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” That makes sense – we can’t draw on the power of evil to rid us of evil.

It seems to me that most of the horror and heartbreak in the world arises from just that: using the arsenal of evil to get rid of some oppression or corruption or injustice that benefits some people at the expense of others. What is terrorism, but the attempt to counter evil with evil, destruction with destruction What are violent revolutions and “Robin Hood” schemes but combating evil with evil?

Are there times when even people rooted in goodness and godliness use violence as a weapon against evil? Of course. I think immediately of the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis for his part in a failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Did this profoundly holy and faithful Christian leader fall into that trap – or is some evil so horrific it can only be met with violence?

One online piece about Bonhoeffer said, "Some of his later writings insist that many Christians do not take seriously enough the existence and power of evil," so I imagine he was conscious of fighting evil. He was forced to choose between two evils, really - letting the madman continue, or taking action to stop him. He made a choice rooted in prayer and community, to take one life in hopes of saving millions. Many have done the same.

In the gospels, Jesus never does. He can be liberal with sarcasm, but never violence. His mission was to disable the devil, to “bind the strong man,” as he puts it. As Christians we claim he accomplished that – and yet, to live into that promise takes a very long view indeed, as we still see the power of evil managing horrendous destruction.

What are we to do in the face of evil forces? We are invited to deploy the arsenal of God – the power in the name of Jesus, the fierce advocacy of the Holy Spirit, the defensive weapons of the Spirit promised to us (Ephesians 6). And we have the power in prayer, the power that made the galaxies ready to mobilize when we pray in faith, in the name and power and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. That's the promise!

I sure would like to see heaven and earth move more quickly and clearly against certain evils that persist in cruel destruction around this world of ours. And yet I believe, sometimes against evidence, that the only force powerful enough to cast out evil is the love of God, wielded in prayer.

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