Runnin’ late today. I’ll finish it and update here … sometime.
Saturday morning update: I finally had a block of time and some brain power, so here’s my Word for Saturday.
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A few days ago a visitor to my blog was referred to last week’s WFW when they searched for today’s post title: how can good truly overcome evil? The question has stayed in my heart, and I’ve wondered about the person who asked it. I realized how far away from this viewpoint most Americans live, so I’ve decided, with a little trepidation, to try to answer. The question deserves an answer.
The question is based on scripture, so I’ll start with the relevant passages:
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)
Paul expands on the idea in his letter to the Romans.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
When I first read this as a new Christian I didn’t understand it, but I really liked the part about heaping burning coals on someone’s head. “That’ll fix ‘em,” I thought. Even now, I hear Christians that think that this is a means of getting even or bringing down the wrath of God on someone, but I don’t believe that’s the attitude this verse is supposed to encourage.
Instead, by resisting the human urge for revenge, the “enemy” might feel shame for what he has done and might be brought to repentance and reconciliation with God, which should be the goal of every Christian. Resisting that urge is not an easy thing to do, of course, because our natural instinct when we are hurt is to strike back. If our child or another innocent is hurt, we want to strike back twice as hard. But here are some examples, so it can be done.
In II Kings, Chapter 6, the king of Aram was warring with Israel, intent on being its king. He would send war parties to attack, but Elisha the prophet would send advance warning, and the king of Aram was unsuccessful. So he sent a great army, but Elisha prayed that they would be blinded, so they were captured and brought before the king of Israel. We pick it up after Elisha has prayed for their sight to be restored.
Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” He answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel. (2 Kings 6:21-23)
A more modern example comes from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, p. 215. In case you’re not familiar with the story, Corrie worked as part of the underground who protected Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland. She and her sister were arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where her sister died. After Corrie’s release, and then the end of the war, she traveled around Europe encouraging people to heal by turning to Jesus and forgiving their enemies.
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was empyting, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
And that, I think, answers the “how” of the question. How can good truly overcome evil? When the Holy Spirit enters our heart, He brings the goodness and love of God for us to dispense as needed, if we are lead by the Spirit and not the flesh.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:16-17)
In that short passage from Corrie, I can see from the other side, as well. I strongly identify with the Nazi soldier’s statement, “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” That sense of amazement is related in my testimony. I was subsequently filled with gratitude to God, which gave me the desire to be changed into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ – who is, of course, the best example of good overcoming evil.
Here are a few more related verses, so I’ll leave the “last word” to God’s Word.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.(James 1:17)
and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. (Philemon 1:6)
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)