Sunday, May 31, 2015 10:00 am ·  0 Comments
Human evil. How we struggle to understand it.
Perhaps, if we can just understand it, we can overcome it..
But even Paul, the first great Christian theologian, laments that,
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15).
Like us, Paul is besieged by the evils large and small that we fall into on a daily basis.
But overwhelming evil, evil without conscience, that is so much more difficult. Those individuals who commit heinous acts whose lives have been similar to thousands of others, how do we explain it? And if we can’t explain it, at least can we answer the question, “What can we do about it?”
I believe that Nicodemus approached Jesus because these were the questions that he was struggling with. John 3.1-17
He had lived as a powerful municipal leader, holding to rules that were supposed to prevent evil, but he could see that they weren’t having the desired effect. In fact those who were charged with enforcing the rules were falling into evil and exploiting others to achieve and maintain power and status and wealth. They were the soccer kings of their time. Perhaps Nicodemus had tried to change things and failed, or perhaps he was looking for a way to escape all the corruption.
When he approaches Jesus, he doesn’t ask a question. Instead he identifies Jesus as a teacher who has come from God. He recognizes the goodness he seeks and he lets Jesus set the theme of the conversation.
“No one can see God’s reign, God’s purpose, God’s goodness without being born from above.”
We can see, we can know human evil without any help. ‘Evil will endure in us unless we are born of water and Spirit,’ Jesus says. ‘I am talking about heavenly things, which are harder to see, unless you can see from God’s viewpoint.’
After killing 77 people, the Norwegian mass murderer worried about a 5 millimetre cut on his finger.
He had isolated himself from everyone and in his own eyes, through hours of playing computer games, imagined himself as a hero, a commander, a somebody. Other people became merely targets. And there was no one there to correct him. Karl Knausgaard, in a recent article in The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/the-inexplicable, concludes that “he is a person filled to the brim with himself.” He couldn’t see from above, because he had shut out God’s spirit.
Thirteenth Century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas taught that despair is the thought that one’s own evil is greater than God’s goodness. He believed that despair denied the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is precisely for these kinds of dreadful acts of evil that Jesus came. This is what the Spirit is for: to fill us to the brim with something other than ourselves.
‘It is only with a new creation, ‘the infilling of human’s with God’s spirit, that the world will be saved.’
Jesus calls us
That is what will set us free from our fears, our self centeredness.
The community part is important, as we know of all those descriptions of killers that start with, ‘he was a loner.’
Jesus offers us a process of transformation. The Rev. Sam Persons Parkes teaches us not simply to be inspired by the spirit, but to expire the spirit, to breathe out, to exude God’s Spirit in and to a world in which evil exists. But we can’t do that on our own. Christians need the church, the body of Christ.
That’s what the church exists for.
I see that process and its results here in so many ways. It tickled my spirit to hear of members giving equally to the kitchen renovation and the Syrian refugee family we are sponsoring with the Jewish and Muslim communities. We build up in order to reach out.
Our purpose is
We aren’t called to judge others.
Some parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut actually came to forgive their children’s killer. They were not only filled with God’s Spirit, but surrounded by people who exuded that spirit in their relationships.
We meet Nicodemus two more times in the Gospel of John: one where the police are about to arrest Jesus for his teachings. Nicodemus reminds his fellow municipal leaders not to judge Jesus without hearing him, and as a result Jesus is not arrested then. Perhaps he remembered Jesus’ parting words to him:
“What I tell you is true: God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Nicodemus appears again, after the crucifixion, with 75 pounds of embalming spices and with Joseph of Arimathea, prepares Jesus’ body for burial.
The Jewish Encyclopedia and some Biblical historians have a theory that Nicodemus of the Gospel is also Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Jewish Talmud (the foundational teachings of rabbinic Judaism) as a wealthy holy person.
It is the Spirit in us, in our midst, that shapes us into the contours of God’s landscape, bearing witness with us that we are children of God and of God’s goodness.
There is joy and freedom in this new creation that God’s spirit gives us — and hope for the world.
Christian theologian, Evil, Gospel of John, John 3.1-17, Joseph of Arimathea, Maple Grove United Church, Rev. Sam Persons Parkes, Romans 7:15, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Thomas Aquinas, Town of Oakville