There are periods in which it appears that evil is prevailing. This has been true in the past, is true now, and will be true again in the future.
These are periods of time in which we go day to day waiting for what’s next. We almost expect it to happen. And when it does come, it is not all that much of a surprise. It’s more about us noticing.
When these periods of prevailing evil come, we may want to crawl away, hide, or just curl up and go to bed. We may want to just call it quits, tell God that we are exhausted, or that we are up against evil systems that are relentless and unchanging – so what’s the point?
Those are the reactions that evil wants good people, followers of God, to have. Evil is counting on it in fact.
It is in those times of prevalent evil that followers of God are tested. Not tested in the way that God is putting people to the test to see if they will remain faithful. Rather, tested in a different way. Tested in the sense of revealing one’s true character.
God never promises that following God will be easy or pleasant. God doesn’t promise that following God’s ways will yield material reward and the pleasures of life. Jesus does command his followers to pick up their cross, die daily, and follow him. That’s testing someone to see what they are really made of. Are you all in or not is what the test is about.
Evil asks the same question when it seems to be winning – are you all in on God or not? If you aren’t, evil offers you a way to back out.
But God offers blessing to those whose true character is that of a disciple.
The Beatitudes speak to this:
“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” (NRSV, Matthew 5:3-12)
Notice who is blessed – those who have been tested and God has found goodness, in spite of the evil that happens. Blessed are the poor in spirit. That means there is poverty. Blessed are the peacemakers is a message that tells us that peace is not happening, and yet, there are those who will do what it takes to make peace – real peace, not just the absence of conflict. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice). That means that justice is not happening and there are those who will not stop until justice is obtained. And on it goes.
When evil seems to be winning, the disciples are called to respond. To show their true character. To show what they are truly made of. But it isn’t really about what the disciples are doing. We can’t do it on our own. Rather, it’s about what God is doing in us and through us. It’s about how we die every day to our own desires (to avoid the pain of evil). It’s about how God gives us everything we need and equips us to do what needs to be done and to say what needs to be said. All that in spite of the consequences of standing up to evil. We don’t face evil by resorting to violence or evil. We face it with godliness – love in the face of hatred and fear, peace in the face of violence and war, justice in the face of greed and corruption, forgiveness in the face of mistrust and revenge, mercy in the face of power and might, grace in the face of judgement and selfishness.
Evil doesn’t rest. It keeps going and going. But the problem with that is common. Everything needs a rest at some point, or it will kill itself. Humans need to rest in order to survive and thrive. Animals need it too. And so do systems. But evil believes it can just keep on going, without stopping, without pausing. That is the very essence of pride – that the rules of life don’t apply. And it is that very nature of pride which brings about evil’s defeat. The very thing that brought about its apparent success also leads to it’s great downfall and failure.
Evil works tirelessly. We aren’t called to match evil. We are called to present something far different – God’s kingdom. Shalom (wholeness). Sabbath rest. Freeing those that are oppressed. Life-death-resurrection. Stewardship. Service. Humility. Imago Dei. Love of neighbor. Justice. These are life giving things.
Evil falls because it never rests. We can rest assure that God prevails. And holds us in God’s hands.
What do we do when it seems as though evil is winning? We do nothing. Instead, God encounters us, transforms us, and sends us out to be God’s hands and feet in the world. And we proclaim the Good News to the communities we are called to share it with. We can’t defeat evil on our own. And it’s not really a battle anyway. It’s a different way. A life way. A God way.