Resisting Evil in a Fallen World
by Gary Thomas
The conversation gave me chills. By God’s discernment, I finally realized what was going on. The man I was talking to didn’t want to keep his marriage going in order to enjoy a healthy, mutually-uplifting relationship. Instead, he was terrified he would lose a platform from which he could cruelly abuse his wife. It was beyond my comprehension that a man could enjoy evil to the extent that he would try to use the church to preserve his platform for evil, but that’s what was going on.
As one who has written on marriage and family life and sees the beauty of God’s creation, including the joy two people, united in God, can be to each other and the world, it was heartbreaking for me to see someone take such a good creation of God—marriage—and turn it into a toxic force for evil.
Toxic people can feast on naïve pastors, counselors, and friends. How do we avoid this?
There are three elements of Scripture that we constantly need to keep in mind, but today’s evangelicals have a tendency to emphasize just two of them. These three are all essential: creation, fall, and redemption.
Everything God creates is good and holy, but then we’re warned about the second element, the fall, through which a fierce opponent of God’s good world, evil, is unleashed. God’s answer to this fall, this evil, is redemption. Eventually, God will set everything right. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, evil has been dealt a serious blow and in fact is dying but it’s not dead yet, and there’s the rub. Sometimes, enamored with creation and redemption, we act as if evil is no longer present.
Wise Christians recognize the profound and real presence of evil and sin, never forgetting that we have to be on the lookout for evil and confront evil as we wait for our ultimate redemption. The wise Christian thinks of the world as God created it as good, but also radically fallen.
Picturing creation (marriage, parenting, friendship, business, government and church life) without evil is to be half blind. God created marriage. God created parental authority. God thought up the idea of his followers gathering in churches. Through his word he endorses government. But evil seeks to penetrate, spoil and destroy every creational design. A good creation (nuclear energy) can be turned to nefarious purposes (a nuclear bomb). The good institution of marriage can become cover for evil abuse. Parental authority, though blessed by God, can become malicious and evil, twisted and abused to harm instead of to nurture.
We mustn’t look at anything in this world—even the institutions God has created and designed—as untouched by evil. When we talk about their maintenance and purpose as if we go straight from creation to redemption, we risk leaving people unprotected and unnoticed in the havoc unleashed by evil between creation and redemption. As teachers and friends, it’s our job to help people understand not only God’s creation (and thus the need to respect proper authority even when it’s difficult to do so) but also the effects of the fall (and thus the need to break from toxic people). If we speak only of “authority” without how it has been marred by the fall, we risk enabling evil rather than confronting it.
Shrewd in the Face of Evil
Both Jesus and Paul commend wisdom when dealing with evil.
Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard” (Matt. 10:16-17). When sending his disciples out to “seek first his kingdom” (Matt. 6:33), Jesus also warns them about evil people they’ll encounter along the way: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6).
Paul likewise warned his followers about toxic people: “Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:18).
Walking in the footsteps of Jesus and listening to the instruction of Paul means we don’t have to pretend evil doesn’t exist. Instead, we must learn how to address it—always with the hope of redemption, but never with the defenselessness of naivety. The notion that we can go from creation to redemption while skipping over evil or not being harmed by evil isn’t just naïve, it’s unbiblical. We hurt the people being hurt if we can’t call evil evil or toxicity toxic.
The Only Absolute Authority
The Bible clearly upholds authority as essential to his world, but the only absolute authority is God’s. Though we are called to obey the government (Romans 13:1), there are clear teachings about when it’s necessary to disobey the government (Acts 5:29; Exodus 1:15-17). Though many debate what the word “submit” truly means, Paul seems to suggest there is some kind of “authority” in marriage: “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” but then he hastens to add, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:17-18). He tells children to obey their parents “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” and then immediately counters, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:19-20). He tells early church members to honor church elders (1 Tim. 5:17) but also to publicly rebuke the ones who govern sinfully (1 Tim. 5:20).
What does this tell us? Authority matters to God, but human authority is always vulnerable to being abused and perverted. Paul never forgets that what God creates as good can be used for bad. If a father uses his authority to beat a child or starve a child, that authority can be revoked. Government should be obeyed, but if the government tells us to dishonor God, we no longer recognize its’ authority. The marriage covenant should be respected, but when one partner turns every hour into a toxic stew, squelching the life and service out of the other, just like we should remove the child from the home or the citizen from the state, the spouse can remove himself/herself from the marriage.
In practical terms, this means that while every war is caused by evil, not every war is evil. While every divorce is caused by sin, not every divorce is sinful. Sin is behind every act of a child being removed from its parents, but it is not always sinful to remove a child from abusive parents.
Family, church, and government are all good institutions but when they are used for evil the Christian stands with God, the only absolute authority. We respect authority but resist evil. This is a world where good things can go bad; when read in context, the Bible clearly doesn’t shy away from making provision in such situations.
As a people who know God will eventually set everything right, we must be willing to look evil in the face and protect each other from its assault. Let us revere creation and look forward to redemption, but let us not forget the reality of the fall. Otherwise, we’ll be easily manipulated by toxic people who want to use God’s good creation for evil purposes.