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Embracing our dark sides: How do you fight evil?

Embracing our dark sides

How do you fight evil?

For the last few months, this has been the question dominating the world's headlines. A range of different answers has been offered, from massive military strikes on several countries, to questioning what drives people to such murderous deeds. At the time of writing, the intensive rounds of diplomacy have given way to focused military action. So far, we have avoided falling into the traps set by the extremists who want to provoke a full-scale confrontation between Islam and the West, but the stakes are high.

Two thousand years ago, similar grave political crises forced the people of Israel to ask the same question. They were God's chosen people, called to be a light to the nations, to show the world how to live. Yet they were dominated by a foreign super-power which worshipped the idols of power, sex and war. For those who chose to ally themselves with the Romans there were rich rewards. Yet, for the majority there was the indignity of grinding poverty combined with the shame of seeing their religion, the symbols of their identity, gradually being compromised and defiled.

Some chose to become freedom fighters (or terrorists, depending on how you look at it). Despite their small numbers and puny military capability, they were convinced that God would join them in the battle and throw the Romans out.

Others took the line that God had allowed them to become enslaved because they had displeased him. Their answer was to strictly apply God's Law, especially the purity laws-those rules which set them apart from other peoples. Some (such as the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls) went so far as to physically separate themselves by living in desert communities. They saw themselves as the vanguard of God's chosen people restored and re-made. In an age which viewed sickness and deformity as a sign of God's punishment for sin, the lame or the lepers were not welcome in these special communities. Only the pure, the perfect, were allowed. Soon, they believed, because of their faithfulness, God would act to destroy their enemies and restore Israel.

Jesus took a wholly different path. To those who took up arms he said: 'those who live by the sword will die by the sword'. It was both an accurate prophesy (Jerusalem was annihilated by the Romans forty years later) and a theological observation (that those who choose violence are worshipping at the altar of Mars and become as wrong as the people they are fighting).

Jesus saw his work as re-constituting the People of God or 'building the Kingdom' and, like the Essenes, he believed that God would act through this. Yet, the way he went about this work stands in complete contrast to the Essenes or Pharisees. In the Sermon on the Mount, he pointed out that the so-called purity of external obedience to the Law fell miles short of the inner purity that God asks. In the face of these total demands to perfection, ALL fall short and stand condemned. The 'People of God' would not be re-made by excluding the sick and the sinners, but by healing them. All would be welcomed into the Kingdom, and the key to the door was forgiveness (of which healing was a visible symbol).

Jesus was no pacifist in the modern sense. He knew full well that walking the path of love and forgiveness would lead him to do battle with the powers of evil in the world. He took the full force of violence, cynicism, corruption and self-interested bigotry onto himself, trusting God to give the victory and breathing words of love and forgiveness to the last. The rest (as they say) is history!

The paradox at the heart of Jesus' mission is that the Kingdom is both coming and is already here. By raising Jesus from death, God did act, and Christians believe they are invited to share Jesus' risen life. Yet, clearly the Kingdom has not fully come because we are all still struggling with our inner weaknesses and failings. It is a hard concept, and too often churches and religious groups have come to think of themselves as communities of the saved (or changed), forgetting that we are also still in the process of being saved. Whenever we do this, we act like the Essenes by excluding people from their birthright as members of the Kingdom. In Jesus' time it was the blind and the lame. In our day it is the single parents, the gays, the poor.

So where does that leave us in the 21st Century? The temptation now-as before-is to see evil as something external, separate from ourselves, and either to take up arms against it, or to self-righteously regard our own communities as being without fault.

I believe that, particularly at the present time, we would do well to recognise the old truism that the dividing line between good and evil runs not between nations or religions, but through every human heart. Wherever we recognise that, and become a community engaged in that inner struggle, we become part of the Kingdom of God, and can expect to be working with the power of the Holy Spirit. In an interdependent world we are called to solidarity with fellow strugglers from every race, creed and continent. Our struggle must inevitably take on board the need for global justice and care for the environment, and the warm embrace of cultures and traditions different to our own.

Mike Lowe, UK

Last update: 2001-11-25 21:19:42 (EEST).
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