October 7, 2013

What if Evil is a Chisel?

Gary Thomas — 

One of the great hypocritical ironies of our sinful existence is that we hate evil in others even as we practice it ourselves. We even hear ourselves say, “Why does God allow evil? Why doesn’t He just get rid of it?” not realizing in our (sorry, but there’s no better phrase for it) blind stupidity that we might just as well ask, “Why does God allow me to live? Why doesn’t He just get rid of me?”

Of course, our evil never seems as evil to us as does the evil of others—we want God to rid the earth of those evil people, not us. One prison chaplain told me that he has yet to meet a convicted rapist and murderer who isn’t convinced he’s going to heaven, largely because, compared to the other guys he lives with, he thinks he’s still above average.

The same dynamic is true in marriage.

Our evil rarely seems as evil to us as does the evil of our spouse. We resent our spouse’s evil more than we hate our own, which is why we obsess over our spouse’s shortcomings more than we focus on being rid of our shortcomings. Accepting the fact that for God to remove all evil in my marriage would mean God destroying both me and my wife, how might I embrace a notion once put into poetic language by the 19th century pastor Henry Ward Beecher?

“Like [sandpaper] with which we scour off [rough] surfaces, evil and trouble in this world are but instruments. And they are in the hands of God. If they bite with sharp attrition, it is because we need more scouring. It is because men’s troubles need ruder handling and chiseling, that evils float in the air, swim in the sea, and spring up from out of the ground.”

What if, rather than resenting the manifestation of evil in a family member, I treated it as “sandpaper”?

Of course, we must and should hate evil in our family; I’m not suggesting we simply excuse it. There is a time and place for confrontation, exhortation and accountability. But on my part, what if I asked if, whenever I am faced with evil, that perhaps, in God’s hands, this evil can be a chisel with which God shapes me and removes some of my evil?

One of the reasons I think this works so brilliantly is that I am never more tempted to sin than in the face of someone else’s sin. Men justify lust by saying they were set up by their wife’s stinginess and refusal in the bedroom. Women justify their gossip by saying their husbands’ behavior was so deplorable, others just had to hear about it.

Rejecting this notion of someone’s sin leading to my own sin, what if I said, “Evil is in the hands of God. When it bites me, it’s because I need more scouring. How is God using my interaction with this evil to make me more like Christ?”

To view evil as a chisel, I am going to have to learn how Christ responded to evil with goodness.

How Jesus, even while hating the sin, showed remarkable compassion and tenderness. Occasionally, when a group just didn’t get it, He let his response be marked with force and even the threat of violence (overturning the money changers’ tables, for instance). He wasn’t a simplistic man, so it’ll take some study and prayerful reflection to thoughtfully ask how interacting with this particular evil can make me more like this particular Man. It may call me to become gentler; on the other hand, it may occasionally call me to become bolder and more courageous.

It is not wrong—indeed, it is a holy desire—to want your family and your spouse to be rid of all evil. But what if, when it manifests itself, we also ask what if this evil is a chisel? What is God smoothing out in my own life? If we do this, marriage will resemble a pretty impactful school of sculpture.

Have you ever experienced this in your own relationships?

How has sinfully responding to the sin of others led you into your own sin?

How has God used evil as a chisel when you responded as a husband or wife surrendered to the Holy Spirit?

[photo: Creative Commons, John Loo]

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