We continued our series at Gateway in Austin called “Angels and Demons: Do You Believe in the Supernatural?”
Our world is intrigued and sometimes even embraces evil. Horror movies make a ton of money at the box office. Shows about the occult, the paranormal, and true crime are all big business. Why are we so drawn towards evil? And where does evil originate? Discover how evil can be found in the world’s systems, in the human heart, and because of unseen spiritual forces.
If you look at all the Netflix, TV shows glamorizing evil, you realize Hollywood often confuses the definition of evil, making it seem like that’s where all the real fun lives. Is this true? Some of you aren’t sure—so we’re going to talk about it.
The concept of Evil exists in every single world-view and religious tradition except radical relativism. In preparing for this message, I read a book called Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History by Jeffery Burton Russell, professor of History at the University of California Santa Barbara. The leading historian in the world on the topic of Evil. He chronicles the history of evil in every culture and society – past to present.
There’s no denying it. Evil is a force that humanity has had to grapple with since the beginning. But what is it? What causes it? What role do angels and demons play—if they are even real? How can we fight against evil? These are some of the questions we’re going to tackle in this series. And I believe it’s vitally important that we don’t deny the existence of Evil, nor fear evil, but realize that we can choose to be a part of God’s plan to overcome it.
But for some reason, it’s hard to get people to really engage the topic of evil. When it gets close, people get uncomfortable. We have to joke about it, or make light of it.
Like how do you invite someone to today’s topic: “Want to come to my church, we’re talking about Evil, and the first thing I thought of was you!”
We Know It When We See It
Evil is real, and yet we rarely really think hard about what it is and where it comes from. But we know it when we see it—don’t we? A young woman is beaten, a child is raped, an old man is mugged, a terrorist flies a plane into the twin towers; Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Ida Amin, racism, school shootings, corporate crime, sexual abuse, domestic violence. Evil is real! And when we directly experience it, we all know intuitively what it is. When it happens to you, you know it’s evil.
Jeffrey Burton Russell says that evil can be moral. Like when a person knowingly does harm or inflicts suffering physically or emotionally on another person. But something in nature seems evil as well–cancers, tornadoes, birth defects–Instinctively there is something not right about these destructive, chaotic forces of nature. Russell also notes that evil can be personal – like an individual hurting another individual, but it can also be transpersonal. Like when a government commits genocide, or children starve from famine while nations let grain rot for economic reasons. Or more personally, like when a group of High School Varsity football players in Austin, many who would never do such a thing alone, took a woman I know and gang raped her as she screamed for help. Evil has touched all places, at all times, and every single individual. That’s why we need to understand it.
Plato wrote about evil and said that it is not a “something” but the lack of something – it’s a privation. Kind of like darkness – what is darkness? It’s nothing. Darkness is the absence of something – light! In the same way, Plato posited that Evil is the absence of Good. Just as a lie is the absence of truth. Hate is the absence of love. Christian philosophers would say Evil is NOT the opposite of God–not the equal and opposite opponent to God, Evil is the absence of God and God’s ways – the effect of free-will creatures going against God’s ways.
Jesus often used the metaphor of light shining in the dark to describe God’s ways versus the ways of evil:
35 Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. 36 If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant…. Luke 11:35-36
Jesus said of himself, “The light from heaven [Jesus] came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” John 3:19 “[Jesus] said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12.
Evil is metaphorically equated to darkness. It’s the absence of God’s light, God’s goodness, God’s loving ways that lead to a life of love.
Because of this, Evil has nothing good to offer at all. Evil can only take something good God created and offer it in a way God didn’t intend. So evil has to lie and deceive us into thinking it’s ways are good. It plays off instant gratification of our lower instincts. If we fall for evil’s ways, it may feel good for a moment, but it ends up less pleasurable, more destructive, and often enslaving. As Jesus warned, evil is deceptive. The light we think we have can actually be darkness.
I remember meeting with a guy who started coming to Gateway. I was explaining to him all the reasons to believe that Jesus was sent from God to pay for our sins and give us peace with God. He didn’t feel he needed a Savior or to be forgiven. I mentioned how all of us do wrong toward one another and need God’s forgiveness. And I confessed how I’ve caught myself doing things I knew were wrong. He said, I kind of see Evil and Good as two sides of the same coin. Maybe the yin and yang of the nature of God—evil and good are both from God. Well, that was a convenient theology I later discovered from his wife, since it allowed him to justify that he and God were fine, while he stayed addicted to cocaine, physically and verbally abused his wife, and kept sleeping with his young co-worker. His theology told him it wasn’t wrong—after all, good and evil are two sides of the same coin! But the light he had was actually darkness. It was a lie that enslaved him to many addictions and destroyed his family.
Jesus says evil is deceptive above all else. We never knowingly fall into its trap…we get there through many, small, seemingly unimportant steps, decision by decision. And if you get nothing else out of this message—I hope you will see how deceptive evil can be—and that God’s Word is truth, light, that dispels all evil. So Where does Evil come from? Scripture teachs 3 main sources, and even if you’re not a believer, I want to challenge you to find a better explanation of this bizarre reality called Evil.
Evil Comes From The Way of the World.
Since almost nobody, even Hitler, sets out to do evil—how come there’s so much evil? Fighting, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, greed, callousness, racism, bigotry, selfishness, religious justification of hatred, biting sarcasm toward loved-ones, revenge, tax evasion, nasty divorces, ethical corner-cutting—it’s all over. And we all hate it. But it seems to be the way the world works.
Anyone remember all the hostile takeovers years ago? My mom was a widow. My dad left enough for her to live on for a lifetime. But the bank managing it had one hostile takeover after another, they churned her investments to make more commissions, and when not much was left—they turned it over to her and had her sign indemnity. When I figured out what had happened, I read back through the letters from every new bank management—every takeover they’d send a letter saying “In order to serve you better…” announcing the takeover. Now, do you think that’s what was really happening? Is that the truth? These corporate raiders got together and said, “We need to better serve John Burke’s widowed mom?” NO—manipulation, shading the truth, it’s motivated by greed and self interest, but it’s so widespread, we don’t think about it.[One little girl was asked in Sunday School to define a lie, she said, “A Lie is an abomination unto the Lord, and a very present help in times of trouble. ] It’s just the way the world works, isn’t it? But it leads to Corporate scandals, Enrons, markets crashing, incarceration injustices, systemic injustices of all kinds—the Way of the World.
Jesus said, “The world has nothing against you…It’s against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions.” John 7:7
Jesus is not talking about the World as in Creation–the good, the beauty, the people created in God’s image…God so loved that world, he sent his son for it…. Here Jesus is addressing the world’s system—the Ways of the World that flow the opposite direction of what God intends.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world [system]. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:15-16.
So one source of evil is a World System that sweeps us downstream away from God’s ways—selling us with envy (lust of the eyes), priming us with sexual lust (lust of the flesh), pumping us full of prideful self-worship (you deserve, you do you, you rule). And if we’re not aware, we drift along with what “everybody is doing”, we get caught in a riptide of evil and don’t realize it. [Evil never just jumps out and says, “Hey, how about wrecking your marriage and kid’s lives with continued lust that leads to an affair?” It’s much, much more subtle than that.]
Jesus prayed for all His followers the night before he gave his life to overcome evil:
The world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one…Make them holy [set apart] by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. John 17:14-17.
The World’s System—there are systemic evils everywhere—so don’t be surprised, Jesus said so. And be deceived into fighting the wrong enemy. I hope you see in this series, deception is the only real power evil has. But when you’re deceived, you don’t know it. So pray “Lord, don’t let me be deceived”—it’s my most frequent prayer. But notice too, Jesus says God’s Word is truth—truth is the antidote to the lie. God’s truth is Light in the darkness. That’s Why we did this last series on the Bible and how to know it’s God’s Word—so we will follow it’s truth. So evil comes from the World’s System, and…
Evil Comes From Evil Angels.
Jesus prayed “Keep them safe from the evil one.” Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell points out that although modern people believe less and less in a supernatural evil force, the practical experience of evil has not decreased, but instead increased in our society. Our educated modern views have done nothing to conquer the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world. The Hebrew Old Testament prophets taught there are unseen, angelic beings at work in the world. The Hebrew word, Satan, means “adversary.” Jesus tells us there are demonic forces at work. Historians like Russell note that most cultures have attested to demonic spiritual forces evidenced throughout history.
Now, this is where some people check out—conjuring up silly images of devils in red Onesies with tails and pitchforks, or we picture some Hollywood concoction. But understand that what scripture teaches is nothing at all like characterizations we’ve seen. Think of it this way, God created millions of different species on earth, and if there exist dimensions beyond our limited 4 time-space dimensions (like science shows), it’s surely possible that other created creatures exist in other dimensions.
“The suggestion that Jesus’ belief in Satan was merely part of a primitive world view poses serious difficulties. The notion that the first century was a benighted age [not as enlightened as we are] compared with [our] century is mere ethnocentrism shifted to time.”– Jeffrey Burton Russell, Historian
Russell says “It’s like ethnic pride, not enlightenment” because as he notes, whether you believe in demonic forces bent on mass destruction or not, it’s a fact that large groups of normal humans are often led to work together for the mass destruction of whole ethnic groups, from the Nazi Holocaust to Hutus and Tutsis. There are 5 active genocides right now. Did you know there have been between 1 and 11 active genocides every year except 1yr for the last 100 years? This shows the extent of an Evil force at work deceiving large groups together. But if we don’t believe it’s real, we keep falling prey—getting pitted against one another—yes even politically hating and fighting each other instead of fighting evil.
Carrie came to Gateway very skeptical and agnostic about Jesus. But she had a spiritual turning point. She worked for the Attorney General’s office, who sent her to a sex-crimes conference by nationally renouned FBI agent, Roy Hazelwood, who spent his life investigating serial sex-crimes. During the conference he showed photograph after photograph of all sorts of hideous crimes. Carrie said they were just horrifying, not things people would normally imagine, just awful. But what stuck Carrie in the heart was they had searched the home of a man they had arrested and they found a role of film. It was full of pictures of a 14 year-old runaway girl who had been missing for several years. She said, “I had seen horrible movies, read crime novels, heard many rape victim stories, but I was not prepared for what I saw. It was pictures of her still alive, he photographed his evil. But she said, it was her eyes—like her soul had been hollowed out, just empty. Carrie couldn’t imagine what that girl must have experienced, and she hoped she had something to hang onto—something that could overcome evil of her captor. She told me, “I had always believed this life was all there was, but if that was all there was for that girl, there was something horribly wrong. Something clicked inside—there’s got to be something Good, Someone more powerful than the magnitude of evil at work here.” That was the catalyst that got her seriously exploring the claims of Jesus and God’s plan to overcome such evil, one willing human heart at a time. She came to faith in Jesus and helped start Wounded Heart—our class to help victims of sexual abuse.
What is the source of such twisted evil? We want to say “they’re crazy,” and distance ourselves. Carrie said, “Most of the people who do these things are not crazy, they’re sane, holding down jobs, you’d never know what evil possessed them.” But what drives them to such evil? Maybe the same lying, destructive forces that deceive whole societies of normal people in all kinds of evil ways.
The Scriptures teach that demonic spiritual forces are at work in the world. That God created spiritual beings, called angels. We’ll talk more about Angels next week. But Angels are creatures, like us, but not bound by 4 dimensional space as we are—but just as real. And angels were created good, and with a free will like humans. Some of the angels, followed the most beautiful, powerful angel created – Lucifer–which means lightbearer, or morning star. Lucifer was created good—not God’s equal opposite, nor the only source of evil. Lucifer’s downfall was pride. He wanted to be God—and his most powerful lie is to persuade us to play God of our lives instead of seeking God and his will. Isaiah the prophet said,
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14
Jesus tells us Lucifer became Satan, the deceiver, and many angels fell with him. Jesus also assured us in John 8 that we don’t need to fear them:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my [followers]. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…” John 8:31-32
But some of the religious leaders who were going to murder Jesus to protect their power said, “We’re already free – we’re children of God.
Jesus said, No “You are the children of your father the Devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him…for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
The Scriptures teach there are many fallen angels—demonic beings who followed Lucifer. They are void of the light and love of God, they are consumed with their own desires. Bent on murderous destruction of God’s creation because they are void of God’s Love. But notice, the power they have is only in the lie. Don’t fear evil, and don’t flirt with evil. Hold to Jesus teaching, follow his teaching, you find freedom and have nothing to fear—we will talk more about how week 3.
If you want to learn more about the Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters, we have an online class that starts this week. Go to gatewaychurch.com/connect to sign up. One last source of evil—
Evil Comes From The Heart of Every Person.
We can’t just say “Everybody’s doing it, or the Devil made me do it.” It’s not just the World’s System or evil angels…we choose to turn from God’s ways and then we become a source of evil as well.
Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19
Jesus is not saying that we are completely evil, we were created in God’s image–as good. But that image has been marred by evil, and so one place that evil can originate is in our own hearts and minds. We almost never decide to do evil, it starts with little choices in our minds and hearts to go our way against God’s will and way.
Historian Dr. Russell says, “As none of us has a life in which no evil befalls him, none of us has a life in which he does no evil…at least part of the answer to the question of evil lies within me.” –Russell.
I don’t easily see it in myself, you don’t easily see it in yourself. But we easily see it in our loved ones, friends, co-workers, bosses, and exes especially—but if we tell them, they don’t easily hear it. And neither do we.
Which is why fighting Evil requires humility, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 1 Peter 5:5-6.
As we will see, humbly following Jesus words overcomes all evil.
A good friend of mine who is a philosophy professor at Wheaton College was speaking at Oxford University. He was invited to a very pretentious faculty dinner–all wearing their academic gowns and iso stuffy you could barely breath. My friend Jerry Root was sitting next to a woman who was a historian. Knowing he was a Christian, she asked “Why are you a Christian?”
He didn’t want to argue, so he said, “Because I’m aware of failure and deficiency in my heart, and I’m a Christian because God loves me and forgives me in Christ, and I need his love and forgiveness and leadership. That’s why.”
Her response was, “I can appreciate that, but it’s just not my issue.”
Jerry said, “I think I understand what you mean. I became a Christian in my first year of college, and I didn’t become perfect overnight…it took two or three weeks!”
She burst out laughing along with the whole table who had been listening.
Jerry said, “Your laughter betrays you. We just met, you don’t know me, but you are aware that my statement is nonsense. You must understand, either by history or by awareness of your own heart that no one is perfect.
She said, “You got me.”
So he asked, “How do you live with yourself each day, knowing what you do about yourself?”
She replied, “I have faith in humanity.”
Jerry said, “I’m open to that – I’m open to anything that will help stave off evil tendencies. But how does it work pragmatically? Have you ever been wounded by another human?”
“Of Course,” she said.
“Have you ever wounded another human?”
“I suppose so.”
“So how does faith in humanity work when humans have this evil tendency to be both wounded and wounders?”
Another professor asked “How does it work pragmatically for Christianity?”
Jerry explained God’s plan to triumph over evil, one humble heart at a time. That the real problem is our disconnection from the Source of Love, and Light, and Life. Jesus made a way for God to be just and to forgive us and take us back as his own children, to lead and guide us in His loving ways.
So you don’t need to fear evil—evil is nothing–like darkness is nothing–all you need to do is turn on the light.
Jesus cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life…When a person believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 8:12; 12:44-46