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Evil: Good or Bad?


The question above is not seriously meant to justify evil, but rather, to draw attention to an apparent paradox that exists throughout the New Testament. I believe it is at the heart of the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet, it is widely missed in the world today. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah talked about good being called evil and evil being called good (Isaiah 5:20) and I think something similar happens when it comes to following Jesus. I'd like to take a look at a few examples of why badness may not be as bad as we sometimes like to think it is.

I've recently been corresponding with several people on a prophecy forum who cannot seem to comprehend the idea of there being a good reason for Christians suffering for their faith. They see it as a very, very bad thing. Whether it is escaping the great tribulation, dealing with day to day lesser tribulations, or just plain ole obedience to the disciplines of Jesus, they all seem to have one reason or another why it is wrong to think that a God of love would expect something unpleasant for his followers.

Sure, they talk about how we all experience tribulations from day to day in a very general sense, but when pushed a bit further about the nitty gritty details of the kind of persecution or discipline that comes from applying the teachings of Jesus the story slowly starts to change, and their talk about tribulations begin to sound like the kind of everyday problems that everyone in the world experiences anyway, quite aside from the specific religious persecution talked about in the Bible. It all becomes so much jargon.

But for Jesus and the other New Testament heroes, it definitely was not jargon, because they had a vision that was so much bigger than discomfort. Their vision was so much bigger than inconvenience or expediency because they understood that there was a PURPOSE behind the suffering and discipline that often not only takes us away from the comforts of this world, but actually puts us at war against them; an alive and active underground campaign to challenge the very foundations of everything we've been taught to believe since birth. In other words, we are not playing Sunday school; we are talking about serious spiritual warfare. Every excuse we make to avoid that purpose becomes not only a testimony against us but a witness to the world that the God we serve really doesn't have anything to offer them worth dying for, so why should they bother?

One way around this is to get a correct understanding ourselves of the vision Jesus was talking about. When he said "Rejoice when people say all kinds of evil things about you" (Matthew 5:11) he was giving us a good example of the question which I originally asked. Is he really saying to rejoice because of evil? I think he is. Obviously no one LIKES being lied about, and yet he says that this will happen if we take him seriously, and he says that we should rejoice when it happens. He wants us to rejoice that our obedience has caused the world to react so strongly that they feel a need to lie about us. He wants us to rejoice that they have no power over us. And he wants us to rejoice that the best they can manage is a lie against our testimony when we represent His teachings.

We Jesus Christians have experienced something similar in the past few years, with all kinds of negative media reports and postings on anti cult forums. As active Christians we get involved in many programs and projects aimed at either helping the world in some practical way or encouraging thoughtful debate on difficult issues, or a combination of both. Because these actions seek to provoke the world into a face to face confrontation with the demands of a loving Creator who dares to exercise his authority to tell people what they should and should not do, we often find ourselves the focus of negative campaigns by people who simply do not like being told what they can or cannot do. We do not tell them by our own authority, mind you; but as the messengers of what Jesus has said, we still take the blame.

The media do it because a sensational story about a dangerous cult will sell more copies of whatever publication they are selling, and the cult busters do it because promoting "cult fear" is good for their business. However, after reading a negative story that has either just been published nationally or worldwide, along with Paul, we usually end up saying to ourselves, "Well, whether of sincerity or of contention, the gospel is still being preached, so praise God!" (Phillipians 1:16-17)

We have learned that the evil these people intend for us only serves to promote the message we are preaching and it's really not as bad for us as they like to imagine. It's often embarrassing or hurtful to hear the kind of lies being told about us, especially when our motivations are so opposite in reality, but we know that there are sincere people out there who will always catch a hint of "something wrong" in the sensational story and seek out answers.

Another example of finding good in evil is the cross of Christ. Paul quotes the Old Testament by saying "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree" when referring to Jesus' death (Galatians 3:13) and Jesus himself asked if there was any possibility that God could find a different way to resolve the issues (Luke 23:42). But in both cases, the story did not stop there. Paul went on to explain that Jesus became the curse for us so that he could go on to offer us salvation. Jesus went on to say that he did not want his own will, but the will of the father. Despite whatever suffering was coming his way he knew there was a bigger picture to keep in mind. His suffering had PURPOSE, and that is what makes the difference between suffering and discipline.

In Revelation 12 there is a verse which is one of my favourites in the whole Bible. It says the followers of Jesus were able to overcome the Beast (Antichrist) by their testimony and by not loving their lives even to the death. Here is yet another paradox, which is so much in tune with what Jesus himself did. They were able to win by losing! But it is that willingness to let go of everything, including our very lives, that gives us the power to defeat the Beast and all the evils of this world. While we cry and beg for God to take us away from all the evils associated with suffering, these people are fighting with the Beast and winning, just by laying their lives down. My God, but their faith shames us!

We need to stop seeing only the bad and start looking for all the good that can come from evil if we just get the perspective that Paul had when he said that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8). Jesus told us not to resist evil (Matthew 5:39), and he gave an example of being beaten for his sake.

On the other hand, there are indications that Jesus DID resist evil. He resisted the evil and adulterous generation that wanted miracles. He resisted the arguments of the hypocritical Pharisees on many occasions and he resisted Satan's temptations out in the wilderness. So is this a contradiction? Once again, no. I think all of this is still consistent with an interpretation that I have been talking about in this article; stop resisting the fact that standing up to the evils of the world (and suffering for doing it) are part of our job as Christians. Don't resist the fact that evil opposition will be an everyday aspect of our lives if we choose to follow Jesus. When we follow Jesus we will attract the attention of an evil world like a magnet. Don't resist that uncomfortable reality, but deal with it head on!

The more we come to embrace the sometimes cold hard comfort of Jesus the rock, the more we come to see that rock, not as an inconvenience that chaffes and scratches away at our comfort, but rather, something that builds a spiritual toughness in us which leads to a different kind of comfort... one that reminds us "Hey, the worst they can do is to kill my body, and then what"? That's not so evil, is it?

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