Lesson 6: Return Good for Evil

Love Thy NeighborI have been suggesting that following the way of Christ has practical applications in our everyday life. We are now at the tough one. If God heals by forgiving sin rather than damning us all to hell, then we overcome the suffering of evil in the same manner– returning good for evil.

This is the message of the New Testament from beginning to end. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Paul says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And even Revelation says, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” as it offers Christians only prayer, testimony, and martyrdom. I cannot find any other message.

This hardly seems practical from a conventional perspective. As Rita reminded us, Christian hope asks us to live this way even though we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Bob points out most people will not regard this to be a marketable product. It does not seem to offer short term, direct personal benefits or to threaten hell if you do not participate. However, this is our product.

And there is practicality. This is exactly the way we operate in good families and small groups. We realize the only way to overcome inevitable suffering is to forgive others when they sin against us. We daily return good for evil in these, treating others well even when they do not reciprocate. We all understand this is the way to help children mature and make situations better.

It is true we find it hard to apply this to larger groups, but of course, we seldom even try. We pretend being practical in these is arrogantly to respond to violence with more violence. Perhaps our failed policy in reaction to the September 11 terrorism is the best present example. Our leaders ignored the counsel of many Christian leaders to build more creative relationships on the empathy in the Muslim world. Instead we clumsily declared war on Muslim society, bombing civilians, practicing immoral action, abandoning domestic freedoms, violating human rights, wasting trillions of dollars and damaging our souls. And many of us think we made the world an even more dangerous place as we simply multiplied hate.

Of course, to act according to the way of Christ is difficult. The New Testament writers realized that. When Paul speaks of overcoming evil with good, he adds, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you.” In other words, realizing God promises this is the way to heal the world, we should make this our goal and do the best we can.

This will demand a lot of repentance, a lot of rethinking our values. Again, Paul is aware of this as he introduces his discussion with “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—- what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Rita noted that hope made an appropriate Advent theme. We have now come to a second one, repentance. Certainly, we should be pondering daily what we should be doing with the New Testament’s promise that the way to overcome suffering and evil as we build a better world is to “return good for evil.”

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  1. Derek says:

    Very interesting having the political angle there, that got me thinking about things a little differently.

    I think the new testament provides a an “honest” portrayal of how these things work, and I appreciate this. After telling his follower to put away his sword, you don’t see the situation work out in a worldly way for even Jesus. Perhaps if they fought (or certainly if he called down legions of angels) things would have been “better” in the short run. But ultimately, in the very long run, Rome goes from killing Jesus to worshoping him. He accepted his short term fate for a goal that would not be acheived for generations.

    When things like 9/11 happen, people expect, if not demand, their leaders to say that they’ll do everything within their power to prevent another attack, but then act surprised or disgusted when their leaders do exactly that. I think many promoting peace are coming at it from the perspective that there are short term diplomatic magic bullets to solve any problem, but would be equally intolerant if another attack happened, and would kick out the politicians who had obviously failed in their short term diplomatic efforts.

    Instead it seems we are called to “turn the other cheek” to tell our politicians that they shouldn’t do “everything” they can to prevent another attack, to leave the terrorist training camps or their leaders or whatever alone to seek a peaceful solution, and most importantly that we are willing to accept a short term risk of dying in a mass murder to persue a long term solution in a Christ like manner.

    It seems if we lack that acceptance of risk or an acceptance of truely horrific consequences when they happen, then politicans who would turn the other cheek are removed, and we are left with those who will not.

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