In celebrating our freedom this past 4th of July we were reminded of the oppression of evil that can infiltrate our current experience. Evil is not something of the past. It is very present with us. The reports of a mass shooting coming out of Highland Park in Chicago during an Independence Day parade bring fresh reminders that we live in a world full of evil. It was difficult to celebrate the freedom of our nation when the knowledge of domestic terrorism lurked in our minds. For those close to the situation, I’m sure it was impossible.
The typical approach to this topic has been to debate gun control and mental health resources. I’ll leave that to the politicians, activists, and mental health professionals. Those are relevant parts of the problem to be discussed, and we need to take a hard look at both aspects, but they are not the entirety of the solution.
I have been thinking about the issue from a spiritual perspective. How does a person, a community, and a country battle evil? Can we even agree that there is Evil within our country? Our state? Our community? Our churches and homes? And even within our own hearts? I’ll define Evil as “a spiritual force of darkness that is an unseen realm of our reality which seeks to destroy innocence, righteousness, and goodness.” I believe Evil exists in a variety of deceitful, destructive, and insidious ways. I also believe it exists in the heart of EVERYONE and that we are all sinful, meaning that we can choose to act upon the evil influences from within and without.
Sin is choosing the opposite of what God would have as His best for us. It is more than just disobeying one of the Ten Commandments, which when broken into broader categories boils down to loving God and loving others. Sin is also an expression of rebellion against God, whether a conscious and defiant outward refusal to submit to God’s authority, or whether it is a subconscious self-reliance.
Many sins are under the surface and difficult to identify, but some sin is so clear and so raw that it cannot be hidden from making the list of evil intentions and actions, such as the recent shootings in our country.
To understand the origins of evil that resulted in murder, look at the example of Cain and Abel. The very first family had serious issues. When you read the account in Genesis 4, God accepted Abel’s gift of some firstborn lambs, but Cain’s gift from his harvest was not acceptable. Cain’s anger toward his brother over his own inadequacy was so unwarranted because God tells Cain he’ll accept him if he just does what is right. He goes on to tell Cain, “if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” If he did what was right (forgave and relinquished his stubborn anger) he would be accepted and would be right with God and his family. If he didn’t, he would become mastered by the controlling sin of unresolved anger and persistent jealousy, which eventually turned Cain into a murderer. There was no need for talks about gun control or mental health resources at this early stage of recorded history. Neither existed. What did exist, was an invitation to get one’s heart right with God. If that had happened, Abel would not have been murdered by his brother.
We want to address the issue of gun violence purely from the angles we can see because they seem within reach and more tangible. But the fact remains, Bobby Crimo III has a soul that needed to be surrendered to God in order to be well. He could have received medication and therapy, and that may have helped, but he also needed to be made right with God, and to understand the depths of his sinful heart that acted upon the unchecked evil tendencies in his life.
In my early teen years, my dad became an alcoholic, and it was a tumultuous time in my life after having a beautiful childhood. The details of my experience with him I’ll leave out and jump ahead to where I went from being a victim to an agent. I moved into a place of considering how to take matters into my own hands at age 14. Looking back now it is clear that I was headed in a murderous direction. My angry, bitter teenage heart was on a collision course with chaos and thoughts of destruction…without any internet or violent video games to fuel the fire. Nobody had to suggest evil to me, because it was in my heart, influencing me to solve my hurt through hatred and retaliation. I did not act on these feelings, thank God.
What turned me away from the temptation to pay back evil with evil? One very important conversation with a youth leader who understood my pain. I did not share with her some of my terrible thoughts, but she created a very safe place for me to talk about my strong feelings and guided me toward a Biblical viewpoint of my suffering. She showed me that I could forgive. She taught me about “unconditional love”. She knew I was not in terrible danger in my home, and trusted that learning how God loved and forgave me for my sins could enable me to love and forgive my father.
It was a long road to get to that place of complete forgiveness, but I definitely arrived there in my early twenties. God took that initial conversation and continued to steer me closer to Him and to His likeness. If I had not had that conversation, I may have chosen a vastly different course for my life. The sinful path would have been to harbor the unforgiveness, play the victim, and act out of an evil desire to punish and retaliate. Instead, I was wisely led to begin the process of forgiveness and to learn what it meant to love someone unconditionally (please note this never means to stay in an unsafe situation or to allow abuse, but in other types of non-abusive situations, to walk the path of relational difficulty in love and grace).
I share this deeply personal experience publicly because I really do believe what God says in Jeremiah 17:9 “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” and in Romans 3:23 where He says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sinfulness lives within us and can spark easily when provoked. Without true spiritual relationships and Biblical guidance, we are left open to spiritual attack and to temptations that would seem unthinkable at a stronger point in our lives. Surrendering our deepest hurts and bitterness to God brings about change in our hearts that is life-giving. The beauty that unfolded from my choosing a deep and meaningful forgiveness is book-worthy and someday maybe I will write it. For today I simply desire to share with you that the power of God, His word, and His love are there for everyone to embrace, able to overcome evil in our hearts when we turn to Him.
How I wish this Bobby Crimo III had experienced the love of God in his own heart. There would have been a parade of joy and celebration as planned on the 4th of July in Highland Park, rather than the upcoming procession of hearses for the funerals of his victims. May we not neglect the spiritual aspect of this present evil in our country. We must consider every aspect of the problem, not just legal and medical. We are complex individuals, and need to acknowledge and address the spiritual realm as well.