Summary of First Thursday, June 2nd 2016
Reading stories in the newspapers of the behaviour of those labelled “Christians” reminded us how some people in society (eg Muslims) can all too easily be “identified” by the notorious acts of some members of the same group.
We read Psalm 37- “Fret not yourself because of evil-doers. For they will soon vanish away.” Our first reaction was that perhaps the Psalmist should “get out more”. The Psalm seems to be saying that evil will gets its “just deserts” sooner or later- if not in this life then at the Day of Judgement.
How useful is that for living in the world today? Is it perhaps truer to say that there is something in the “DNA” of evil that is self-destructive? That injustice and violence is not sustainable but is internally self-contradictory? The Book of Revelation hints at that- in the end the kings who are part of the system fight against the Empire and destroy it (Revel. 17:16 to 18). A more modern example might be Hitler’s Third Reich, whose system of government (deliberately set up by Hitler himself) in many ways led to its own downfall.
But if evil is self-destructive in the long term, it creates a great deal of suffering on its way to collapse- in Hitler’s case 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of others regarded as “not worthy of life”. So how should we deal with evil and injustice in our communities? How can we counteract its impact before it gets to the point where (some would argue) it is necessary to use force to deal with it?
One programme which seeks to do this is the “Bridge Builder” programme: http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/558 It explores ways of creating trust and dealing with destructive anxieties, resisting the pressure to “scapegoat” others by projecting our anxieties onto them and blaming them. It looks for ways to deal with conflict and injustice calmly without panic.
Christian theology has often worried about the origins of evil. Milton’s picture in “Paradise Lost” of Satan as a “fallen angel”, thrown out of heaven because of his refusal to serve and obey, who then goes to tempt newly-created humanity has had great influence. But it is not a Biblical image.
In the Book of Job “ha satan” (the accuser) is part of the “heavenly court”- implying that faith and hope will inevitably be tested in the realities of human life. After their release from Exile in Babylon the Jews lived under the authority of the Persian Empire for 200 years, and on the whole prospered during that time. It is likely that their understanding of faith was influenced by some elements of Persian (Zoroastrian) belief- including the notion that good and evil were finely balanced in the Universe (though the Jews never doubted that ultimately God’s goodness would triumph).
In the New Testament the forces of militarism and financial power are seen as destroying the world (eg Revelation 6:1 to 8- this is not merely a concern that the “Empire” persecutes Christians) and are challenged and defeated by the coming of Christ into the world (Satan is “thrown out of heaven”- Revel. 12:9). This provokes an even more violent “fight-back” on the part of evil and injustice. These images are difficult for us to understand today. But a more important question is whether the underlying truths which the images and metaphors point to are valid for us today.