For the week of December 29, 2012 / 16 Tevet 5773
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 2:1-12


Evil Is Real

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Bereshit / Genesis 50:20; ESV)

Evil is in the news again. We don't normally hear a lot about evil. I don't think most people believe in it any more. The Governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy, does. Commenting on the mass killing of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, he said, "Evil visited this community today". Joseph in the Bible did. Commenting on his own brothers' murderous jealousy, he said, "you meant evil against me". But most people don't believe in evil, not really, for to accept evil as a reality is to embrace a worldview that we don't want to consider. Somehow we sort-of cope with mass shootings and terrorist acts as isolated aberrations - glitches in our evolutionary climb to perfection. But evil? That's something else entirely. For if evil is real, then who is immune to it? Who is its next victim, the next perpetrator? It might be anyone of us. If evil is real, it's not just something that randomly and tragically falls upon some; it affects us all.

The Bible claims that evil is real. If I read it correctly, helping us to understand the reality of evil is one of the reasons why the Bible was written. But before I get into that, I should first define evil the way the Bible does. The Hebrew word for evil is "ra". It simply means "bad", often used in contrast to the Hebrew "tov", meaning "good". When translators choose to use "evil" for "ra", it is because they have determined that the "badness" in those contexts is of moral nature. The English "bad" is not strong enough a term for English readers to sufficiently appreciate what the original readers would have understood. But I don't think that really helps us get the gist of what the biblical writers' intentions were when they wrote "ra". To say something is "ra" is to say it isn't what it should be as opposed to "tov" (good) describing that something is as it should be.

As simple as an explanation as that might be, it is a crucial one to understand the world in which we live. Commenting on people, actions, things, and events by calling them good or bad as the Bible does is only possible if there is a way that things ought to be. This is one of the Scriptures' most foundational truths. God created a universe that was designed in a particular way for a particular purpose. Human rebellion against God's expressed will resulted in people, actions, things, and events going bad.

It is difficult enough to live within a creation gone bad, but it's far worse to deny that reality. Throughout history, people have denied evil in all sorts of ways. Some call it an illusion; some consider it misunderstood goodness; others simply ignore it, which I would guess is most common in many places today, especially in more affluent societies. By filling our lives with pleasures and distractions we think we can escape the reality of evil, that is until it completely overwhelms us as it did recently. But evil is with us always. The sooner we wake up to that reality, the sooner we will be able to deal with it effectively.

Joseph was a victim of evil, but somehow Joseph not only endured it, he overcame it and became a source of blessing to the world of his day that itself was victimized by a creation gone bad, a famine in this case. Joseph's trust in God in the midst of extreme rejection, vilification, and physical suffering not only enabled him to endure evil, but kept him from the kind of bitterness that would have undermined everything that God intended him to do.

It was the reality of evil that the Messiah confronted head on as he endured its full vengeance. Sadly one form of the denial of evil comes from well-meaning Bible believers who claim that Yeshua's victory over evil removes any prospect of us having to face it. On the contrary Yeshua's victory through his resurrection empowers us to be like Joseph. Evil's power has been broken, so that we too like Joseph, can thrive amidst its fury. One day God will eradicate evil all together. But until then, we can overcome it, if we put our trust in Yeshua.

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