Good and Evil

good-vs-evil-two-way-street-sign-thumb17689704“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Do you believe that evil exists?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know it does.   While there are still many who insist that “evil” is a make-believe construct of religion, the evidence is all around us.  Mass murders, sexual exploitation of children, terrorism, rampant crime, cities racked by hatred and violence in every form—and you don’t have to look across the globe or in big cities to find it.  Evil is happening right where you live.

What is “evil”? Merriam-Webster defines evil as that which is: “morally reprehensible; arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; causing harm or repulsion.”  Pretty straight forward until you ask about the standards of morality or bad character.  There you will find a wide margin of disagreement.   However, when the Bible speaks of evil, it uses one root definition: “whatever is disagreeable or opposed to God.”  Who else is qualified to define evil but One who is perfectly good?

Genesis details for us God’s creation of the world, and when all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31), including the two humans.  It is important to know that Adam and Eve were good in God’s eyes at this point—there was no trace of evil in them.  They were not created with a bent for evil, their hearts and minds were pure and innocent, and that is the key to understanding good and evil.

When the Lord God created the Garden in which the first humans would live, He told them that they were free to take from any tree in the Garden, except the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17).  But why?  After all, as the serpent (the Devil) pointed out, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).  He was appealing to Eve on the basis of wisdom.  But wouldn’t that be a good thing?  Proverbs is full of passages extolling the benefits of wisdom and urging the pursuit of wisdom at all costs.  But that is not how the serpent presented it.  The serpent implied that God was trying to keep Adam and Eve in the dark about something they should know.  Or as we might say today, “God is holding out on you.”

The wisdom that the serpent held up like a luscious piece of fruit is a vain wisdom, a self-serving, worldly wisdom; the kind of wisdom that James warns against. “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. . . [bringing] envy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:15-16).   It is the complete opposite of the wisdom we are told to pursue which is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere and righteous (see James 3:17-18).

Did you catch those two words in the contrasts of “wisdom”—evil and pure?  Remember when I said that the key to understanding good and evil was knowing that Adam and Eve’s minds and hearts were pure and innocent?  The reason God told them not to take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was because, at this point, they were pure.  In their innocence, they were free from the harmful effects of the knowledge of evil, a knowledge they—and we—are unable to bear.  Corrie ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor and author recalled asking her father about a particular sin.  The wise man replied to his young daughter, “Some knowledge is too heavy for children.”  Yes, God knew that Adam and Eve would have knowledge of things they did not yet know, but it was knowledge that was too heavy for their innocent minds and hearts.  The serpent led them to believe they would be as wise and knowledgeable as God, but he failed to tell them that they did not have the moral capacity to bear that knowledge without disastrous repercussions.  When they were exposed to the knowledge of evil, evil overtook them and buried their innocence under impurity and selfishness and hate.  They had the “knowledge of evil,” but not the power to resist it.

When we witness young children at play, we wistfully comment on how “innocent” they are.  They are oblivious to the evil in the world around them, unencumbered by the heavy weight of horrible things that humans do to each other  How we wish we could keep them in that sweet, untouched state.  That is how Adam and Eve were before the serpent, before the lies, before the sin.  They were not burdened with the knowledge of evil and were free to enjoy every good thing God had provided in their perfect home.

Many who are bound up in addiction of any kind will often say, “I wish I had never taken that first hit, that first drink, or looked at that first website. “  That first taste or glimpse of sin led them into a pit from which they can never recover without the power of Christ.  And even Christians will tell you they continue to battle the images and desires of their sinful past.  Paul expresses it well: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21).  Sin will continue to knock at your door.

When she plucked that piece of tainted fruit Eve got “knowledge” all right, but she also got much more than she bargained for.  She opened herself and the whole of humanity up to the powerful influence of evil.  And as this world races toward the end of time, evil has exploded with an alarming increase.  Evil is the reason there are almost weekly mass shootings.  Evil is behind the perpetrators of sex trafficking.   Evil is the face of immoral laws and leaders who reject the truth.  Evil is real.  But it was not intended to be part of the human equation.  We were created for a good world with our good Creator.

Is that even possible anymore?  I will not leave you without hope:  Jesus Christ is the cure for evil.  Jesus defeated evil when He died for the sins of all mankind.  He defeated the devil when He rose from the dead three days later.   He died for your sins.  He rose again that you might live eternally in a good place with your good Creator—as it was always meant to be.

Beloved, will you allow Jesus Christ to break the power of evil over your life?  Will you receive His good gift of eternal life?  If so, pray this prayer and find the good life you were created for.

Dear God, You created me for a good life with You, but evil and sin took over instead.  I believe that Jesus Christ came to break the power of evil and to set me free from m sin.  I receive Your good gift of eternal life and choose to walk with you for the rest of my days on earth.  Thank you for saving me Lord.  Amen.

Ain’t Backing Down!

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

He was a formidable opponent with his huge, snarling face and quick, elusive ability to move with me in any direction. He intended to block my path, and he was bringing all his strength to hold me back. But I was even more determined to get by him and do what I knew I had to do. I darted – first to the left, then quickly jumped to the right and hurdled over his arm sweeping at my legs. I touched down again and pounded my feet on the ground, running with all my might. TOUCHDOWN! I glanced back at him, lying on the ground with a look of shock on his face as my cousins erupted with shouts and laughter. I rarely got the best of him, but this one glorious moment is etched in my memory – little sister had beaten big brother.

As kids growing up, my older brother often tried to intimidate me; big brothers can be a kid sister’s worst enemy. But lest I paint him badly, he also spent one Saturday cutting lawns in our neighborhood to buy me a sock monkey when I was sick and staged a “stuffed animal” musical with Monkey and all my “babies.” (I also have another older brother who was my frequent defender.)

Intimidation is nothing new. There will always be someone who is bigger or faster or meaner that will try to stand in someone else’s way.   The story that revolves around our key verse is set in the ancient Middle East, right after the Israelite captives were released from Babylon to return to Jerusalem. The bedraggled remnant found their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes in rubble.  In the book of Ezra which preceded Nehemiah, the returning Israelites had faced great opposition in rebuilding the Temple of God. Ezra 3:3 says, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offering on it to the Lord.” Later Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2). “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (4:8). Despite their own fear and their enemy’s threats the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “returned to the wall, each to his own work” (4:15), and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6).

The Israelites had a word from God to rebuild and restore their city, their place of worship and their protecting wall. The neighboring pagan communities opposed and tried to intimidate them, to cause them to cower in fear and abandon their work. But they refused to bow and stuck with the task and they completed the wall in a remarkable fifty-two days. Listen to what Nehemiah records of those who opposed them: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that his work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16).

God called me to the ministry of the Scriptures; to, in the call of Ezra, “study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word” (Ezra 7:10 paraphrased). My enemy, the devil, is “angry and greatly incensed.” He has lobbed threats at me, shouted words of condemnation and failure at me and set people in opposition against me, trying to discourage me and cause me to give in, give up and abandon the call. My big brother learned that when I am determined, I am not easily intimidated. The devil is learning that too. He can throw his best efforts at me, but I know what God has called me to do and I will not be intimidated. God has called me by His Word and His Word never fails.

I don’t know what God has called you to do; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving someone you’d rather not or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him.   Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and I with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. Let’s keep Paul’s attitude in mind: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Holy Father, You have called me to great things in Your name, and our enemy is infuriated. Give me the strength to stay the course, to keep my eyes on You and never, never, never give up. Amen.