under every spreading tree

There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.

Samwise Gamgee

Not all night skies are equally dark. At least once this summer, I had the privilege of seeing the night illuminated by a full moon that had less atmosphere and light pollution with which to contend. We were in the high mountains of Colorado and the moon looked as if we could simply reach out and take it for our own. Of course, those same skies can be so inky black that the saying “I can’t see my own hand in front of my face” is not just hyperbole but a reality.

The days can be dark as well. But the darkness of which I speak isn’t one dictated by the movements of celestial bodies. No, it is the much more oppressive darkness that has to do with the ebb and flow of evil in the world.

And some days are darker than others.

Am I alone in sometimes feeling that evil is getting the upper-hand in the world? Set aside (which is sadly all to easy to do) all the atrocities that happen on a global scale… genocide, world hunger, human trafficking, and so on. My guess is none of us has to search very far to find people whose lives are falling apart or being ripped apart by sin, brokenness, and evil. String enough of these stories together and it leaves one with the impression that that the Kingdom of God isn’t making much headway. There are times when the darkness so overwhelms that it can be difficult to join Samwise in seeing the “some good in the world.”

One of the reasons I’m a “not-so-closet” Calvinist is that I am pretty well sold on the doctrine of Total Depravity. Sadly, this theological tenet (as well as Calvinism in general) is woefully misunderstood. It doesn’t suggest that there is no good in the world… or in human beings. Rather, it only affirms that which we already intuitively know. That even our best attempts at “good” are tainted with self-interest, self-righteousness, and self-promotion.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Yes, the days are evil. So is the world all around us. And as our old friend N.T. Wright reminded me recently…

The line between good and evil is never simply between “us” and “them.” The line between good and evil runs through each of us. (citing Alexandr Solzhenitsyn)

Never a truer word.

Speaking of Wright, he has written a brilliant book (he is apparently incapable of writing anything that isn’t) on the nature of evil and the way in which the Scriptures invite us to see God’s answer to the darkness around (and in) us.

One of the thing I appreciate about him is that he is both a realist and idealist at the same time, as the following two quotes should illustrate.

To be sure, it is humiliating to accept both the diagnosis and the cure. But, as our world demonstrates more and more obviously, when you pretend evil isn’t there you merely give it more space to operate; so perhaps it is time to look again at both the diagnosis and the cure which the evangelists offer.

Evil and the Justice of God, 90-91.

The New Testament invites us, then, to imagine a new world as a beautiful, healing community; to envisage it as a world vibrant with life and energy, incorruptible, beyond the reach of death and decay; to hold it in our mind’s eye as a world reborn, set free from the slavery of corruption, free to be truly what it was made to be.

Evil and the Justice of God, 118.

These great words (from an even better book) couldn’t have found their way into my life at a more opportune time.