Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Evil Could You Be?

"...deliver us from evil" --Matt 6:13

What does the face of evil look like? Does it bear the rectangular mustache of Hitler or does it hide behind the long, bristly beard of Bin Laden?

Or can evil lurk in that image we see each morning in the bathroom mirror?

How evil might each one of us be -- given the right circumstances?

In describing Hitler and Stalin, the great evils of his time, CS Lewis insightfully wrote: "You and I are not, at bottom, so different than these ghastly creatures." Could that be true? It is worth pondering.

We live in an age where a great deal of evil is minimized by our social customs and even  excused under the auspices of psychology and medicine.

For example, if a child is rude and disrespectful to you and is forced to apologize, what are you supposed to say?

"Oh, that's okay."  Or "It's alright."  Or "no problem, don't worry about it."

What are we teaching kids?  It's not alright to treat others poorly.  The apology does not make the behavior okay.  Treating others badly is a problem.

Perhaps a more appropriate response would be "I forgive you."

We downplay wrongdoing even on the adult level, but we have found more sophisticated ways to make evil behavior palatable and void of responsibility.

In 1991 in Virginia, a 41 year old woman was acquitted of drunk driving after claiming "diminished responsibility" due to her PMS. In England, a barmaid who murdered her co-worker in a fit a rage was convicted on the lower crime of "manslaughter" after claiming severe PMS diminished her responsibility.

Yes, I understand the whole chemical imbalance and hormone thing. Yes, I've experienced a bit of it myself.  But is that an excuse for sin? Does it make sin okay?

A few weeks ago I visited a friend who struggles with a bipolar disorder. She is very open about it. And I have to say  she manages it extremely well. Still the disorder impacts every aspect of her life. But she has not used it as an excuse for sin.

She has taken responsibility which in her case means meeting with a therapist each weak who adjusts medication regularly. She has to make conscious choices when everything inside of her is driving her to run away.  When all feelings tell her to do things that would destroy her life, marriage, and family, she must choose to fight and avoid situations that might even lead to temptation. And she does it. She fights a hard battle each and every day, tirelessly. She does it because she knows what is at stake.  Her prayer of "deliver us from evil" is a very real and tangible one.

Humbled by how she lives her life, I had to re-evaluate how I respond to my own mood swings which are just a result of being female. How often do I allow the fact that I feel edgy and miserable inside to become some sort of license to snap at my husband or children.

 The fact that  I feel bad does not give me a right to treat others badly. (Yes, I know the blog will come back to bite me, but that does not make it any less true.)

And men are not off the hook.  How often do we let things like stress (whether we brought it on ourselves or it was thrust upon us) to be our excuse to treat others badly?

Do I really think that because I feel overwhelmed and stressed that it's okay to yell at my kids, be rude to my spouse, slap the dog ...etc.?

It sounds ridiculous, and yet we've bought into it. So how far are we willing to take it?

Hitler had a troubled childhood, does that somehow atone for his sins?  What was in Bin Ladin's chemical makeup and childhood upbringing that crafted him into the image of evil that he became?  Do those things invalidate his countless murders?

Considering how bad we are at taking responsibility for how we treat others, if we found ourselves in either Hitler's or Bin Ladin's same circumstances, would we really be so different than they?  It's a chilling thought.

And with that thought, we can properly look at this line of the Lord's prayer: "Deliver us from evil."

Indeed we are capable of all kinds of evil and we can thank God that he has preserved us in so many ways.  Still we allow evil to creep into our lives and even embrace it.  We've allowed certain sins to become familiar friends, so much so that we hardly even think about asking forgiveness for them anymore.

No wonder Christ taught us to cry out, "Deliver us from evil."

Let's rekindle the desperation of this plea and recognize how we've given evil a foothold in our lives.  Let's stop giving ourselves a license to sin in the name of stress and pms and start crying out forgiveness and help. For God wants to help us bear those firey emotions -- that we may not to leave those we love most as scorched victims of our wounding words and deeds.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Worst Thing That Could Have Happened

"Lead us not into temptation ..." --Matt 6:13

It was the worst thing that could have happened.  For a major in the US Army to be passed over three times for promotion to Lt. Colonel, stung with a bitterness that was not unlike death.  Yes, it was a death, the death mark to a military career that had otherwise appeared quite successful. Everyone who knew him and had worked with him were aghast. If ever there was a major who deserved promotion, it was Major Russell J. Chun.

What no one knew at the time was all that hung in the balance of that promotion. Had he become Lt. Col. Chun, Russell would indeed likely have received the accolades he deserved and completed all the accomplishments he'd planned. But countless lives would have also been left in bleak darkness.

Because he did not make this promotion, he became involved with GoodSports International and began working with orphans in Hungary. As a result I met him, leading to our marriage and the birth of our daughter and the adoption of two children out of the Hungarian orphanage system. But that is only the beginning. His retirement in 2005 led to a consistent presence in the Miskolc orphanage where the children regularly hear and experience the love of Christ. Beyond that, at least four or five other adoptions can be traced directly to Russell's involvement with GoodSports and the Miskolc orphanage.  Still more, thanks to Russell's failure to make Lt. Col, one orphanage boy grew up to work with GoodSports where he met his American wife. Her family has so embraced him that he has discovered what family is all about.  Moreover, another boy who grew up in the orphanage now attends Bible college in Hungary.  And these are just a few of the stories where we've had the privilege to see the outcome. How many more do we not even know about!

Yes, at the time it seemed like the worse thing that could happen to a successful major in the US Army. But in God's economy, it was the best thing that could have happened for countless souls.

When we think about temptation, we think about the lure to sin.  But often we limit our scope to sins like adultery, fornication, lying, stealing and cheating. And granted, we need to pray that we are not lured into such sin.  By praying this, we acknowledge our weakness. We realize and remind ourselves that we are frail creatures prone to failure in our spiritual walk and we desperately need to cleave to our Lord to make it through the temptation.

But temptation can take many forms -- forms that we are all too comfortable with.  And subtle sins can become familiar friends in the landscape of our lives, so much so that if we really understood what we were asking God, our human nature might hesitate to pray this prayer.

CS Lewis explained it well when he said, "'Lead us not into temptation' often means, among other things, 'Deny me those gratifying invitations, those highly interesting contacts, that participation in the brilliant movements of our age, which I so often, at such risk, desire.'"

The prayer "Lead me not into tempation" may well mean, in practical terms, "Deny me success in my career because that success would make me smug and self-satisfied." It could mean, "Deny me marriage, because that relationship would become more important to me than my First Love."  It might mean, "Deny me a house or car because having those things would make me materialistic."

In a nutshell, these five simple words can have long-reaching ramifications.  It can mean, "Deny me all things that I long for and value most if they, in any way, would draw me into sin"

Because at the end of the day, when all is said and done, God is more interested in our character than our career.  His deeper concern is for our holiness more than our happiness.

And so Jesus urged us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation..." So if we are brave enough, if we have faith enough, let's obey and pray it. But let's do so with open eyes, understanding all that it might mean.  Because we may well be asking God to allow that which we think is "the worst thing" to actually happen to us.

But we also may well discover, like Russell Chun, that the thing we deemed "worst" by the standard of our frail and fallen desires may actually end up being a better plan with effects far greater than we could have ever dreamed.