I have been thinking about good and evil a lot over the past few weeks. It began with a couple of deep conversations at the dinner table with some of our daughter’s housemates, inspired by recent world events. The intensity of conversation, probing questions, and obviously painful struggles that were being sorted out contrasted with the views of Utah’s beautiful Capitol Reef National Park landscapes just outside. The questions of these young men and women included whether evil truly exists and if a person can be wholly evil, whether there is such a thing as an unforgivable act, why God would want to forgive anyone who committed unspeakable atrocities, and what our responsibility is in all of this. These were not idle questions. The questioners were hungry for responses to help them make sense of a world that feels broken. This last Sunday’s Gospel also speaks to the issue of good and evil, and to God’s singular role in ultimate judgment.
In recent weeks, all of us have experienced or witnessed pain caused by violence and, like my daughter’s friends, we may be searching for answers. My heart aches for the innocent women, men, and children who are being killed and injured in Gaza; for the Christians and other non-Muslims expelled from Mosul and other parts of Iraq and Syria by ISIS; for the young Central American children whose families fear violence in their own countries so much that they risk sending them north in order to protect them; and for the families of the passengers on the plane that was inexplicably shot down, leaving no survivors.
Surely violence, revenge and unprovoked attacks are not what God intends for creation. My theology – my belief that God’s Love wins in the end – bumps up against the sad reality we face. Somewhere in the core of our beings, we know that this is a theological or humanitarian issue rather than a political one. How do we attempt to make sense of all the unnecessary suffering and death?
All God created is good, and the one who is Love loves all that is within creation. However, the world, this field that God planted, is not complete. The Divine Realm, God’s Kingdom, has not yet come to fruition. In some ways, when the Lord invited humans to be stewards of creation, we became co-creators with God. Yet in our sinfulness, along with the good, we have contributed violence, pain, and suffering around the world. I fear that we grieve the heart of God when acts of violence are committed. These acts separate us, one from another, and from our Creator. Instead of the unity to which Jesus draws us with his outstretched arms upon the cross, humans contribute to disunity. How then, do we respond in keeping with our roles as co-creators with God? How do we set aside our judgment and contribute to the furthering of God’s Kingdom?
Through the parable last week, Jesus reminds us that God is the final judge and that we risk disrupting the good by trying to weed out the bad. Rather, as a church, as baptized Christians, we are called to work for justice and peace, and to recognize the dignity of every human being. We are called to share God’s gospel of love, mercy and forgiveness with those we meet. And we trust that God is at work, doing all that we cannot do to reconcile the world to God. Foremost, we continue to pray for peace – God’s true peace that passes all understanding.
“Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility your dominion may increase until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 258)