12 March 2021
“Lord, keep me from being either naïve about human evil, self-righteous about it, or cynical before it.” That’s how Tim Keller begins one of the prayers in his book of daily devotions in the Psalms: My Rock; My Refuge. It’s a useful summary of how we may respond wrongly to human evil.
We can be naïve. We can be surprised when evil erupts, when apparently good people do bad things. We shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus could say to people, “though you are evil” – as if he could assume it and didn’t need to prove it. He memorably taught his disciples that it’s “out of a person’s heart” that all kinds of evil come.
Could members of the Royal Family be racist? Yes. Could Meghan be lying? Yes. Could a serving police officer be a murderer? Yes. All those things, sadly, are possible. Let’s not be naïve.
We can be self-righteous. Is that why we love news stories of wrongdoing? We love to make our own judgments, not only of what’s right and wrong, but to show that we’re on the side of right. If we choose the stories carefully enough, we can normally prove to ourselves that we are righteous – while carefully editing out the other stories.
Again and again, Jesus warned people of self-righteousness. He knew we tend to think we’re better than we are. Most famously, he taught his disciples: “take the plank out of your own eye” before even trying to “remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” We need to believe we’re capable of doing the very things we want to condemn in others. Let’s not be self-righteous.
We can be cynical. We can lose all hope that things will ever be any different. If the daily news alerts us to the reality, the depth, the spread of human evil, it can so overwhelm us that we can see nothing else. You can watch or read too much news.
Jesus told us to ask our heavenly Father to “deliver us from evil”. He became one of us, he died for our sins, he was raised from death, he reigns on high, he’ll return in glory in order to do that. One day, if we belong to Jesus, we’ll be delivered completely, and for ever, from all evil. One day the devil, the source of evil, will be thrown into the fiery lake, for ever. Let’s not be cynical.
Father, as we contemplate the reality of human evil, may we be sober rather than naïve, humble rather than self-righteous, and hopeful rather than cynical. Amen.
Chris Hobbs, Senior Minister