Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
I am often surprised that most people do not see any evil at work. We easily talk about racism and poverty, but we do not seem to see the evil behind these things. We somehow think that if we do just one more seminar or come up with on more bit of technology that these evils will suddenly disappear. The reasoning goes that if we get our technology just right that we will wipe out all evil. We never want to face the fact that evil is always here and no matter how hard we try human beings we will never conquer it.
Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out that we humans and particularly the societies we invent have an equal chance for good or evil. Reinhold Niebuhr first says that we are flawed from the very moment we start. Niebuhr went even further he said that society was more likely than humans to be evil. That takes away the humanist idea that a perfect society, a utopia can defeat evil. However, no matter how many seminars you attend against the evil of racism, or the evil or any kind of basis we never will totally wipe out that kind of evil. It will again and again raise its ugly head.
William Barclay says that Jesus accepted the fact that life was about the struggle between good and evil. Jesus did not bother to wonder about where evil came from. Barclay says that Jesus was a little bit like the man who wakes up to find that his house is on fire. That man does not suddenly feel inspired into writing a treatise on “The Origins of Fire in Private Houses”, instead he looks for a way to put out the fire. He fills pots full of water or runs out and gets the garden house because his main aim is to put out the fire. Jesus was all about defeating the fire, putting out the fire, getting rid of evil. Jesus saw the only way to defeat evil was through the power of God. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series Vol: The Gospel of Mark [Philadelphia, 1975] p79)
Jesus says it is ridiculous to think that evil will defeat evil or that we are helpless against evil is just not true. Jesus showed everyone that evil and madness can be defeated. As soon as that happened it freaked out the powerful and they started to call him all kinds of names. They even decided to label him evil and mad.
The scribes, like Christ's other critics, judged themselves in judging Him, and bore witness to the truths which they were eager to deny. Their explanation would be ludicrous, if it were not dreadful. It is not fashionable at present to attach much weight to the fact that none of Christ's enemies ever doubted these miracles. It would have been a sure way of exploding His pretensions, if the officials could have shown that His miracles were tricks. Not without weight is the attestation from the foe that 'this man casts out demons.' The preposterous explanation that He cast out demons using the power of Beelzebub, is the very last resort of hatred so deep that it will father an absurdity rather than accept the truth. It witnesses to the inefficiency of explanations of Him which omit the supernatural. The scribes recognized that here was a man who was in touch with the unseen. They fell back upon 'by Beelzebub,' and thereby admitted that humanity, without seeing something more at the back of it, never made such a man as Jesus.
It is very easy to solve an insoluble problem if you begin by taking the insoluble elements out of it. That is how a great many modern attempts to account for Christianity go to work. Knock out the miracles, waive Christ's own claims as mistaken reports, declare His resurrection to be entirely unhistorical, and the remainder will be easily accounted for, and not worth accounting for. But the whole life of the Christ of the Gospels is adequately explained by no explanation which leaves out His coming forth from the Father, and His exercise of powers above those of humanity and 'nature.' (http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/maclaren/the_mistakes_of_christ's_foes_and_friends.htm)
St Matthew tells us of the miracle, which was the occasion of this blasphemy, the cure of a man not only possessed with a demon, but also blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22). Beelzebub or rather Beelzebu-l was the title of a heathen deity, to whom the Jews ascribed the sovereignty of the “evil spirits.” (a) Some would connect the name with zebûl = habitation, so making it = the Lord of the dwelling (Matthew 10:25), in his character of “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), or of the lower world, or as occupying a mansion in the seventh heavens. (b) Others would connect it with zebel = dung, and so make it = the lord of dung or the dung-hill, a term of derision amongst the Jews for the lord of idols, the prince of false gods. This fearful blasphemy was repeated more than once.
The scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, etc. These scribes had apparently been sent down by the Sanhedrim, on purpose to watch him, and, by giving their own opinion upon his claims, to undermine his influence. They gave as their authoritative judgment, "He hath Beelzebub." One of the most prominent characteristics of the public works of our Lord was the expulsion of evil spirits. There was no questioning the facts. Even modern skepticism is here at fault and is constrained to admit the fact of sudden and complete cures of insanity. So, the scribes were obliged to account for what they could not deny. "He hath Beelzebub," they say; that is, he is possessed by Beelzebub, or "the lord of the flies," as a source of supernatural power. They had heard it alleged against him," He hath a devil;" and so they fall in with this popular error, and give it emphasis, by saying, Not, only has he a devil, but he is possessed by the chief of the devils, and therefore has authority over inferior spirits. Observe the contrast between the thoughts of the multitude and of those who professed to be their teachers, the scribes and Pharisees. The multitude, free from prejudice, and using only their natural light of reason, candidly owned the greatness of Christ's miracles as wrought by a Divine power; whereas the Pharisees, filled with envy and malice, attributed these mighty works which he wrought by the finger of God, to the direct agency of Satan.
How can Satan cast out Satan? Observe here that our Lord distinctly affirms the personality of Satan, and a real kingdom of evil. But then he goes on to show that if this their allegation were true, namely, that he cast out devils by the prince or the devils, then it would follow that Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself. As a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could the kingdom of Satan exist in the world if one evil spirit was opposed to another for the purpose of dispossessing, the one the other, from the minds and bodies of men. Our Lord thus employs another argument to show that he casts out evil spirits, not by Beelzebub, but by the power of God. It behooves you, then, to understand that it is with the Spirit of God that I cast out devils, and that therefore the kingdom of God is come upon you." (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/3-23.htm)
N T Wright as he often brilliant does points out that they tried to defeat Jesus by saying Jesus was mad, insane, demon possessed. The way to argue against someone is to label them in a disrespectful or demeaning way. Jesus understood that and refused to take the bait and label his adversaries. (N T Wright, Mark for Everyone [Louisville, 2004] p38-9) Jesus is pointing out that something stronger than evil has now come. This stronger force can throw out the evil in people. Jesus is saying a better solution has arrived, it is no wonder the Scribes were so upset.
When we watch television and see the journalist and experts bemoaning the fact that we have so many things wrong in the world we almost forget that we are assuming things about the world that are often wrong. We seem to believe that if we work hard and are smart enough that we can conquer all the problems of the world. We forget that evil is present and is not so easily removed.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Five hundred years ago, the lawyer and philosopher Thomas More wrote a book with an unhelpfully unwieldy title: Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia. We can just call it Utopia – an original name, coined by More himself, for an original and hugely influential idea.
Derived from the Greek, that title means “no place”, but it hints at an alternative meaning: when the book was first published in 1516, it included a short poem claiming that the better world More described really was “Eutopie”, a “happy place”. It’s a paradox and a pun, playing on the British inability to distinguish between the pronunciation of the two terms, and it suggests that something’s not quite right. (The word “dystopia” seems to be a much later invention.) Is this paradise, whichever name you give it, unobtainable? That’s assuming the place really is meant to be a paradise in the first place.
Whatever it is, in More’s book Utopia is described by a traveler called Raphael Hythloday who bends the narrator’s ear with a survey of our own corrupt, far-from-happy side of the world before enthusiastically describing how much better things are in the island republic of Utopia on the far side of the world. There is no such thing as private property there, and no sectarian strife – but there is a welfare state (incorporating state-sanctioned euthanasia), as well as full employment, a program of rehabilitative slavery for Utopian criminals, a democratic political system that works, a six-hour working day (many enjoy their work so much that they work longer, though), divorce courts, and a general disdain for gold and silver (which are used to make chamber-pots). Reason governs all – at least until Christianity comes along.
Hythloday’s description of Utopia has meant different things to different readers. In the 19th century, it could be drawn on as a prototype for Communism. A historian interested in the Tudor period could draw satirical lines between Utopia and the disorderly London that More knew all too well in his capacity as one of the city’s undersheriffs (he once had to face down a rioting mob). A good Roman Catholic familiar with him primarily as Saint Thomas More (he was canonized in 1935) could point out how divorce, married priests and euthanasia might not fit that easily with their beliefs.
All of these approaches ought to make us question what we think is going on in the book, just as More’s contemporaries and fellow humanists were invited to do. It started a centuries-spanning conversation – one sign of the book’s greatness – which this week takes the form of the London School of Economics’ Space for Thought literary festival, devoted entirely to Utopias, the “power of dreams and the imagination and... the benefits of looking at the world in different ways”.
On the other hand, there is also a fine tradition of Utopias going terribly wrong when people tried to put their ideals into practice. It is true that some “intentional communities”, as those who study them like to call them, have flourished. But here are a few, imagined and historical, that show how acting on a dream can sometimes land you in a nightmare.
You find yourself in a street in a small city – exactly which city is hard to say because all the streets in all the cities on this island are equal in size and virtually identical in appearance. All the buildings are the same height (three story’s each) and are constructed from the same materials. Perhaps you’re feeling thirsty? Well, tough: there are no pubs here in Amaurot. Yes, this is Amaurot, the capital of city of the island-state of Utopia, where the very idea of a “public house” is redundant: every house is “public” because no house is “private”, and the double doors to each of those identical houses around you are not locked. You could walk into any one of them right now. The Utopians find this architectural uniformity saves them a lot of collective mental adjustment when they move to a new house which they do in a regular and orderly fashion every decade, by drawing lots.
As you would soon discover on your journey through Utopia – for which you would need a special license, by the way – this is indeed a society founded on reason, organized rationally for the benefit of all. And the ultimate benefit of this rational hierarchy is pleasure – not just “any kind of pleasure”, please, but only “good and proper pleasure”, either for the body or the mind. You don’t need to be a raging libertarian to realize that living in the Utopia of all Utopias, is strictly for those who are rational, egalitarian and all but selfless.
In 2005, the idea of living “off-grid” came to Dylan Evans. He duly found a good spot for establishing an independent community up in the Scottish Highlands, and issued an online invitation to others to join him. Things did not go according to plan: his book The Utopia Experiment begins with him waking up at 3am in a psychiatric hospital.
The idea of The Utopia Experiment was, in principle, simple and appealing; a group of voluntary Utopians would live, work and learn new skills together, over a strictly limited period of 18 months, playing out the likely scenario, in the wake of a global catastrophe, of having to fend for themselves. Utopianism isn’t just a whimsical side-project here but a potential survival strategy.
A hopeful start, however, gave way to all kinds of disappointment. The Utopia Experiment wryly tells of battling to keep the Scottish rain out of home-made yurts, arguments over religion – even somebody cutting a finger while chopping wood and having to be driven to hospital. Perhaps worst of all, Evans wonders why he has done any of this. Is it really about founding a better way of life – or is it merely a sign of depression? In any case, as Evans admits, “To call something Utopian is...not entirely positive...The connotation of a perfect society is offset by that of a hopelessly impractical ideal”. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/utopia-nine-of-the-most-miserable-attempts-to-create-idealised-societies-a6887316.html)
Beelzebub or Beelzebul is a name derived from a Philistine god, formerly worshipped in Ekron, and later adopted by some Abrahamic religions as a given name to a major demon. The name Beelzebub is associated with the Canaanite god Baal.
In theological sources, predominately Christian, Beelzebub is sometimes another name for the Devil, similar to Satan. He is known in demonology as one of the seven princes of Hell. The Dictionnaire Infernal describes Beelzebub as a being capable of flying, known as the "Lord of the Flyers", or the "Lord of the Flies".
Beelzebub is commonly described as placed high in Hell's hierarchy. According to the stories of the 16th-century occultist Johann Weyer, Beelzebub led a successful revolt against the Devil, is the chief lieutenant of Lucifer, the Emperor of Hell, and presides over the Order of the Fly. Similarly, the 17th-century exorcist Sebastien Michaelis, in his Admirable History (1612), placed Beelzebub among the three most prominent fallen angels, the other two being Lucifer and Leviathan, whereas two 18th-century works identified an unholy trinity consisting of Beelzebub, Lucifer, and Astaroth. John Milton featured Beelzebub seemingly as the second-ranking of the many fallen angels in his epic poem Paradise Lost, first published in 1667. Milton wrote of Beelzebub, "than whom, Satan except, none higher sat." Beelzebub is also a character in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, first published in 1678.
Sebastien Michaelis associated Beelzebub with the deadly sin of pride. However, according to Peter Binsfeld, Beelzebub was the demon of gluttony, one of the other seven deadly sins, whereas Francis Barrett asserted that Beelzebub was the prince of false gods.
Within religious circles, the accusation of demon possession has been used as both an insult and an attempt to categorize unexplained behavior. Not only had the Pharisees disparagingly accused Jesus of using Beelzebub's demonic powers to heal people (Luke 11:14–26), but others have been labeled possessed for acts of an extreme nature. Down through history, Beelzebub has been held responsible for many cases of demon possession, such as that of Sister Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud, Aix-en-Provence in 1611, whose relationship with Father Jean-Baptiste Gaufridi led not only to countless traumatic events at the hands of her inquisitors but also to the torture and execution of that "bewitcher of young nuns", Gaufridi himself. Beelzebub was also imagined to be sowing his influence in Salem, Massachusetts: his name came up repeatedly during the Salem witch trials, the last large-scale public expression of witch hysteria in North America or Europe, and afterwards, Rev. Cotton Mather wrote a pamphlet, titled Of Beelzebub and his Plot.
Rabbinical literature commentary equates Baal Zebub of Ekron as lord of the "fly". The word Ba‘al Zebûb in rabbinical texts is a mockery of the Ba'al religion, which ancient Hebrews considered to be idol worship. Jewish scholars have interpreted the title of "Lord of Flies" as the Hebrew way of calling Ba'al a pile of dung and comparing Ba'al followers to flies.
Trying to categorize Niebuhr as a political revolutionary or a neoconservative, a hawk or a noninterventionist, will not do. At the heart of Niebuhr’s thought we encounter neither a political liberal nor a neoconservative, but rather a thinker steeped in the philosophical and theological traditions of the West who offers a penetrating assessment of the human condition in the modern world. Niebuhr was convinced that at the heart of any philosophy, however explicitly it might be based on scientific inquiry or rational speculation, lay its views on these human issues, on the questions of the meaning of life. For him each philosophy’s understanding of fate and the tragic, of human evil and human renewal, shaped all of its other speculations about reality and knowing. (Langdon Gilkey, On Niebuhr: A Theological Study (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 21.)
In short, Niebuhr insisted that our philosophical systems ultimately rest on subterranean, nonrational presuppositions, or “faiths,” regarding the meaning of life and the nature of man. Thus, for Niebuhr, to comprehend and address our religious, political, and cultural challenges, we must first assess the strength and validity of our accounts of human nature, measuring them against “the obvious facts of history” —tragic facts largely concerned with what Hegel termed history’s “slaughter-bench.” Niebuhr held that human nature presents our first-order problem, and it is only when we take into account man as he is that we can essay an approach to the second-order problems of politics.
Niebuhr famously began Human Nature, volume 1 of The Nature and Destiny of Man, with this conviction: “Man has always been his own most vexing problem.” Not politics, not culture, not even philosophy, but man presented the central question and the central problem for Niebuhr. He contended that the history of modern thought is largely a history of man’s misapprehension of himself—hence Time’s caption “Man’s story is not a success story”—and he attributed much of the political chaos the West confronted in the twentieth century to a naïve and misplaced optimism in human reason and the basic virtuousness of man. Against all evidence, Niebuhr argued, modern man blithely affirmed the capacity of human rationality not only to ameliorate but to solve the problems of politics and culture. Whether through scientific and technological advances and reforms in education and social conditions, modern man believed that his increased knowledge could finally vanquish human evil, which was not regarded as an innate condition but a historical artifact:
The unwarranted optimism at the center of this failure Niebuhr attributed to the rejection of the purportedly outdated biblical doctrine of original sin in favor of a naïve confidence in the essential goodness of man. Sin, of course, is a term that relatively few take seriously today, despite Niebuhr’s famous observation that “the doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” Niebuhr made the case that however disfavored the term, however much it affronts and antagonizes our self-regard, it is a necessary component of a realistic picture of human nature. But when Niebuhr spoke of sin, he didn’t envision it as a moralistic weapon deployed by a crabbed clergy or resentful bourgeois, but as the best available description of the human tendency toward outsized self-importance, partiality, failure, and moral corruption. In short, by sin Niebuhr meant the bent toward self-deceptive pride that infects the corrupted human will. The evidence, he pointed out, is everywhere, however we wish to avoid it. Niebuhr insisted that recovery of the language of sin offered a way to understand the limitations of our capacity and our projects yet pursue them nonetheless. Armed with this insight, Niebuhr believed, we become more aware of the possibilities and perils of political life and can establish a stronger foundation to our democracy. (https://www.nas.org/articles/democracy_and_sin_doing_justice_to_reinhold_niebuhr)
Niebuhr’s type of realism is “Christian” because it is rooted in his interpretation of the doctrine of original sin. In The Nature and Destiny of Man, Niebuhr states that this doctrine claims “man sins inevitably and by a fateful necessity.” Humans are necessarily fallible: all human intentions and actions, no matter how ostensibly good, are somehow tainted by imperfections and selfishness. In this sense, we are fallen “creatures.” We are also, at the same time, “creators” in the image of God. As creators, humans have a certain degree of freedom to act within history and must take responsibility for their actions. However, in our freedom we overestimate our abilities and unintentionally cause harm, which was the opposite of the “good” we intended. In this sense, the condition of original sin is ironic. The failure to see irony, such as the example of the communists above, is rooted in the failure to perceive original sin. Niebuhr writes: “The evil in human history is regarded as the consequence of man’s wrong use of his unique capacities. The wrong use is always due to some failure to recognize the limits of his capacities of power, wisdom and virtue. Man is an ironic creature because he forgets that he is not simply a creator but also a creature.” This is the lesson Niebuhr takes from the Eden story: the humans ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge because they wanted to be “like God,” but ironically, once they ate from the tree and acquired divine knowledge, they became even less like God. The first man and woman thus became painfully conscious of their limitations.
The claim that there are limits to human power, wisdom and virtue, and that we must be conscious of these limits so as to minimize our potential evils, is not something readily accepted by most moderns. Niebuhr writes: “Practically all schools of modern culture, whatever their differences, are united in their rejection of the Christian doctrine of original sin. “Through this rejection, moderns are blinded by various types of idealism which do not accept the inevitability of human sin and claim that humanity is sufficiently virtuous to become “master of historical destiny.” Evil, for both liberals and communists, is not integral to fallen humanity; rather, it can be overcome through human initiative. Niebuhr writes: “In the liberal world the evils in human nature and history were ascribed to social institutions or to ignorance or to some other manageable defect in human nature or the environment.” All that is necessary to defeat evil is to reform unjust social institutions, provide enlightened education, and use science to cure human “defects.” For Niebuhr, communism stands as the most dangerous example of this modern idealism. Communists understand the root of evil to be in private property and class distinctions, not in fallible human nature. Once the social institution of private property is abolished through violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, human wickedness will disappear from the earth. Heaven on earth will appear in the form of a classless society; humans will no longer be malicious because all of their needs will be met. As Niebuhr puts it, the communists are confident that “slaughter will purge the world of evil.” The communists are thus unable to see their own fallibility and corruption: their supposed disinterestedness in saving humanity is infected by pride and the lust for power, giving rise to “demonic” totalitarianism. The perfect society they dream of is impossible because evil is rooted in fallen human nature. (https://voegelinview.com/irony-apocalyptic-america-reinhold-niebuhr-presidential-rhetoric-good-evil-911/)
So, what do you do when there is so much evil in the world? What can YOU do about it? There's only one thing that I know to do. I know (and feel it deep in my heart) to do good. My way of overcoming evil in the world is too invest in the lives of Chinese children. I do this every day. I love 'giving back'. I love taking the money I earn and investing back into the lives of children. I will create a language learning lab in a public high school's international department (I already bought four new computers for it this week). The students need the tools to work on their English exams and prepare for TOEFL, IELTS and the SAT. There's no provision for them to have such a resource right now, so, rather than complain about it not being done, I decided, 'why don't I do something about it.' I know that I can and just decided to do it. It isn't anything great, but it will make a difference in the lives of some.
My grandmother used to tell me, "Michael, do what you can with what you've got for those you meet." I still follow this wise rule in my life. I'm sensitive to others and their needs. Recently, a woman brought her son to me and wanted to join my classes. I noticed that her purse was old, her shoes looked very worn and the boy wasn't dressed too well. I guessed that maybe they didn’t have the money for the classes. I asked more and found out that in fact they do have money. They just live quite conservatively. I want to be sensitive the needs of others and do what I can to help when needed.
Clay, a foreign friend of mine here in Zhengzhou, rescues and cares for orphaned handicapped children. Every time I see Clay, I hand him a wad of cash to help him in his efforts. Why? Well, I can't go there and help those children physically but I can help in some of the expenses of taking care of those children.
We aren't put here on this earth to simply serve ourselves. When I see these stories of those who have obtained tens of millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars and who are supposed to uphold an ideal of all people being equal, I get more determined to do the little I can with what I have. I don't need a BMW, a Mercedes or a Rolex watch to feel important and powerful. I've had those things and found out they don't fulfill the true need in my heart. I do need to help a child and do 'what I can with what I have, where I am.'
I can't change the warped ideas of others who choose to do evil in the world. I can do something about touching a child's mind and life through teaching them English or how to play a musical instrument. It isn't much, but, I am not only willing to do it, I am doing it every day.
And, as I said recently, I am the richest man in China. Rich in life, in heart, in happiness and fulfillment. I'll do what I can to overcome evil by doing something good for others, every day. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2015-02/12/content_19569615.htm)
Martin Luther King said that there are three major evils—the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war. These are the three things that I want to deal with today. Now let us turn first to the evil of racism. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racism is still alive all over America. Racial injustice is still the Negro’s burden and America’s shame. And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans. We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations.
Now to be sure there has been some progress, and I would not want to overlook that. We’ve seen that progress a great deal here in our Southland. Probably the greatest area of this progress has been the breakdown of legal segregation. And so the movement in the South has profoundly shaken the entire edifice of segregation. And I am convinced that segregation is as dead as a doornail in its legal sense, and the only thing uncertain about it now is how costly some of the segregationists who still linger around will make the funeral. And so there has been progress. But we must not allow this progress to cause us to engage in a superficial, dangerous optimism. The plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower. And there is no area of our country that can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. Every city confronts a serious problem. Now there are those who are trying to say now that the civil rights movement is dead. I submit to you that it is more alive today than ever before. What they fail to realize is that we are now in a transition period. We are moving into a new phase of the struggle. For well now twelve years, the struggle was basically a struggle to end legal segregation. In a sense it was a struggle for decency. It was a struggle to get rid of all of the humiliation and the syndrome of depravation surrounding the system of legal segregation.
It is now a struggle for genuine equality on all levels, and this will be a much more difficult struggle. You see, the gains in the first period, or the first era of struggle, were obtained from the power structure at bargain rates; it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate lunch counters. It didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality. This is where we are now. Now we’re going to lose some friends in this period. The allies who were with us in Selma will not all stay with us during this period. We’ve got to understand what is happening. Now they often call this the white backlash … It’s just a new name for an old phenomenon. The fact is that there has never been any single, solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans to genuine equality for Negroes. There has always been ambivalence … In 1863 the Negro was granted freedom from physical slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. But he was not given land to make that freedom meaningful. At the same time, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the Midwest and the West, which meant that the nation was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor, while refusing to do it for its black peasants from Africa who were held in slavery two hundred and forty-four years. And therefore, Frederick Douglass would say that emancipation for the Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads. It was freedom without bread to eat, without land to cultivate. It was freedom and famine at the same time. And it is a miracle that the Negro has survived.
The second evil that I want to deal with is the evil of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus it spreads its nagging prehensile tentacles into cities and hamlets and villages all over our nation. Some forty millions of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life. And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The clear majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population … Now there is nothing new about poverty. It’s been with us for years and centuries. What is new at this point though, is that we now have the resources, we now have the skills, we now have the techniques to get rid of poverty. And the question is whether our nation has the will … (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/martin-luther-king-hungry-club-forum/552533/)
Perhaps at no time in modern memory did the evil of racism manifest itself worse than in Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution.” After Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, Aryan racial superiority became German government ideology. Such racist thought culminated in the deaths of some six million Jews.
More recently, “ethnic cleansing” became the term used to describe the racially motivated slaughter of population segments considered inferior. This was the case in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s and in other human tragedies since. Today in America, racism explodes in violent street clashes in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Charlottesville, Virginia.
Racist thought and racially motivated hatred is deeply rooted in mankind’s psyche. As defined by Merriam Webster, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
Where does racism come from? Like all evil that men do, it comes from the heart of man. Christ said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).
Racism does not come from a system of economics that supports slavery, such as in the days of the Roman Empire or in early American history. It does not originate from societal structures that support class distinctions. These things have perpetuated racism, but they are not where racism comes from. The Bible is clear: The evil of racism comes out of the heart of man.
An attitude like racism was even addressed in the New Testament Church. Here, the apostle James warns the believers not to “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (James 2:1). The word “partiality” seems less serious than racism, but it means nearly the same thing. Partiality means showing favoritism, or “respect of persons”—that is, thinking one person is better than another due social class, wealth or race.
If the believers were doing this, James asks them, “Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James2:4). God will have no part of such thinking, for Scripture says, “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).
The Bible says, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27), which includes men and women of all races. Further, it says, God “made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 1:26).
If we treat a person with contempt for their race, religion, social status or any other reason, we have “become judges with evil thoughts.” Harboring such thoughts in the heart is to hate another person made in the image of God. Scripture says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
Such evil in man’s heart—evil like racism—influences all his attempts to justify his supposed superiority on his brother. According to God’s Word, this is a spirit of murder.
Racism has been and will continue to be a scourge on mankind. To eradicate it, this ingrained and evil way of thinking needs to be cleansed from man’s heart. Thanks to God and His mercies, there is such a plan in the works. To anyone who draws near to God in true repentance and cleanses himself from such evil, God will draw near to him and purify his heart (James 4:8).
When God brings His Kingdom to earth, racism and all evil in man’s heart will be eradicated. God will show mankind a better way: “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds, I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16). The heart of man will be cleansed of the evil that comes from it, thus ending the scourge of racism forever. (https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-questions-and-answers/where-does-racism-come-from)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: From a sea of troubles I call out to you, Lord.
People: Won’t you please listen as I beg for mercy?
Leader: If you kept record of our sins, no one could last long.
People: But you forgive us, and so we will worship you.
Leader: With all my heart, I am waiting, Lord, for you! I trust your promises.
People: Israel, trust the Lord! He is always merciful, and he has the power to save you. Israel, the Lord will save you from all of your sins.
Lord, we confess that we are surrounded by evil, but we think we can alone conquer the many evils that surround us every day. We live in a world that knows the solutions to every evil problem is just around the corner. We live in a world and often that thinks it can remove evil with a couple of clever ideas or a re-arrangement of how we think. We confess that we do not take the idea of evil seriously. We confess that we believe that evil can be conquered by education and a good legal system. We confess that we do not take evil very seriously even when we see it happen again and again. We confess that we think that if we punish the evils of the past we can some how remove evil in the present. O God, we come here this morning to find Your power over evil as the real source of hope, we pray for this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Help these offerings this morning to help conquer the tribalism and poverty that surrounds us and harms us each day. We pray for this in the name of the hope of the world. Jesus Christ. Amen.
We come this morning Dear God, to ask You to take away the evil in our lives and in our world. We come here to ask You to empower us, Your community of believers to work against the many forms of evil we find at work in each of us and in each of our communities, governments and institutions.
Help us bring to the front of our minds the many traditions that enforce and undergird the many evils in our society. We ask that we see the many problems in our society not as just something that will always be, but instead as something that God can conquer. As we battle racism we ask that it not be replaced by another form of racism. We ask as we battle against poverty that we do not replace this with another form of poverty. We ask as we battle violence to have it replaced with another form of violence. We instead pray that we stand aside and let God give us solutions that do not add to evil but conquer and remove evil. We pray for this in the name of Jesus who removed evil while here on earth. Amen.