Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Overcoming Evil with Good

I've been exchanging emails with my pastor this week, a conversation precipitated by my ire at the litany chosen last Sunday. I sent him the beautiful poem that Presbypoet left in the comments:
"On Loving Our Enemy"

You demand we love our enemies.
How can we love the killers of Fallujah?
What do You mean when You say to forgive?
Does love do nothing and ignore evil?

What did You mean when You said.
"Let he without sin cast the first stone."
Do we sit silent and do nothing
when evil shows its full face?

Is this what it means to turn the other cheek?
Is that what You demand?
How can we approve what they did?
How can we endorse what they did?

Is it that we should not react but respond?
Not simply seek revenge but justice?
Is this the hard lesson we must learn?
We cannot do it on our own.

You did not remain silent
in the temple that day.
Your righteous anger showed us
sometime response is required.

Lord teach us to hear You
when revenge tempts us.
Help us learn how to forgive
and when to overturn tables.

(Matthew 5:38-39,43-47, 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, 23:34, John 2:14, 8:7)
(c) Presbypoet, April 2, 2004
His poetry blog is at He has some very profound verse there.

My pastor wrote back, asking some semi-rhetorical questions about the imperative for Christians to overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 states "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I decided to explore the topic some more.

I don't know how to present the case that warfare, per se, is not necessarily evil. Perhaps the Catholic teachings on the Just War Doctrine should be considered. I found this explanation at very interesting. It distinguishes between individual responsibilities and government responsibilities (emphasis added):
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, "once all peace efforts have failed." [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4]

As with all moral acts the use of force to obtain justice must comply with three conditions to be morally good. First, the act must be good in itself. The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself. Second, it must be done with a good intention, which as noted earlier must be to correct vice, to restore justice or to restrain evil, and not to inflict evil for its own sake. Thirdly, it must be appropriate in the circumstances. An act which may otherwise be good and well motivated can be sinful by reason of imprudent judgment and execution.
If the doomsayers had been correct in their fears about hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, millions of refugees, chemical warfare, pestilence and disease running rampant, then certainly history would judge the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein a gross mistake. For perspective, read Victor Davis Hanson's pre-invasion article and his retrospective from last March. While you're at it, go read his piece on "Evil over Good."

My pastor prefers peace-making to warfare, and wanted some examples of "mustard seed" activities. To see what some of the "mustard seed" activities have been, you need to go way beyond the New York Times. Arthur Chrenkoff has been compiling roundups of good news from Afghanistan and Iraq periodically for the past 18 months; has been carrying the posts. The latest from Iraq is at here, and the latest from Afghanistan is here.

I think that there is no single "Christian response" to evil in the world; every person faces different circumstances and opportunities, with differing sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Some are called to be healers, some warriors; both are needed in the present dispensation. Read I Corinthians 12:14-26. I cede the point that "warrior" was not on Paul's list!

Finally, a Google search on "Ecclesiastes season" dug up the article "ECCLESIASTES AND THE SEASON OF WAR: COMMENTS FROM TOWARD TRADITION," published on Sept 25, 2001. Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote:
“Forgiveness is Divine and a wonderful trait to emulate. However, right now, the only people with the ability to forgive are mostly buried beneath tons of rubble. The rest of us must humbly shoulder the burden of a nation unified for war just as we have been unified for peace in the past, and God willing, will again be so in the future.

“As soldiers sail, fly, and march off to combat, and as civilians pledge their support of the America’s warriors, both should do so with a full heart, knowing that - like birth and planting and falling in love - war can be the seed of a future that is much to be desired. It is the season of war, and who knows what good things will be born of it? The defeat of wickedness is a very good thing indeed.”