The Ubiquity of Evil and the Hope of Christmas

IMG_0031Whenever describing the evil actions of a person, most Americans will typically turn to the WWII Nazis as an example of evil personified. For the Russian writer Dostoevsky, he turned to the actions of Turkish soldiers to describe the detestable nature of human deeds. We can point to almost any nation at any given time and find people performing some of the most inhumane and violent acts. One can point to a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy who stands accused of attempting to choke a hospital patient to death and then charged the patient with assault. He did this for no apparent reason, which just stands as evil. Or we can turn to New York where two police officers – one a husband and father, the other a newlywed – were murdered for “revenge” right before Christmas.

It is near impossible to look into this world and not see it consumed by evil. Certainly, it seems that we have fallen into a void, one in which all can agree that we have gone astray. Many people hold to some form of naiveté believing that they could never be the perpetrators of evil, forgetting that Nazi guards were also fathers at home, that psychotic cop killers were once someone’s child. Evil is so prevalent in our world that we are, at any given point, just moments away from performing any given evil. The men who put people in gas chambers were not monsters, but men like you and I. The soldiers who perform war crimes are not subhuman, but quite human with hopes, dreams, and even good qualities outside of their acts of evil.

In a way, the humanity of those who perform monstrous acts makes them all the worse. Were they monsters then we could expect their evil as a part of their nature. It is why there is no conflict in fables when the hero goes off to fight a monster; monsters are, by their nature, evil beings. But what if the hero goes off to kill the dark knight, only to discover that while the knight did burn a village, he’s also a father to two children and a husband to a loving wife? He is a man, who by his nature is good, neglected his nature and turned to evil. Evil seems all the worse when we realize that partaking in it is the abandonment of our nature as humans.

Contrary to popular belief, humans are not evil by nature. Were we evil by nature then God would be a liar, calling his creation “very good.” Christ would have had to been evil by nature, that or have not taken on a human nature. Rather, Christ took on a human nature, showing that it was not the human nature which was evil and fallen, but the human will that fell. Thus, our engagement and enjoyment in evil does not stem from some natural inclination towards evil, but against our very nature; we must choose to engage in evil, we must choose to enjoy it. The Nazi guard did not do what came natural to him, but rather had to rationalize his actions and justify his actions, because deep down he knew them to be wrong. Such is the cry of all tyrants throughout history; “I was only following orders,” “It was my duty,” “I did it to protect my nation,” and so on. But acts of kindness, acts of love, never need such justifications. No man says, “I gave to the poor because I was told to,” or “I helped the orphans to help my nation.” No man who performs an act of love, an act of goodness, must ever justify his actions, for his actions speak for themselves. Only acts of evil need justification, and while the perpetrator might rationalize his actions, he will never justify them.

Through our rationalization of evil – of recent, rationalizing torture, isolation, subjugation, killing of the innocent in the name of authority, killing of the innocent in the name of revenge – we must admit that our world is a very dark place. Indeed, evil seems commonplace in the world and impossible to overcome. Somewhere in the world a child is starving because a warlord decided to horde the food for himself and his minions. Somewhere a woman cries out to apathetic ears while being violated by tormenters. Elsewhere a child sells himself to rich men for their acts of debauchery so that his family might eat. A man is killed for some arbitrary reason and to satisfy the evil urgings of another. A wife discovers her husband has cheated on her and seeks to cheat as well in order to exact revenge. Children sit in the same home as their parents, but are technological orphans, finding more connection with their cell phones than with the flesh and blood that brought them into this world. A man yells at the person with a foreign accent, hating someone for the mere fact of being different. Another hates people for a different shade of skin. The list of evils continue, all occurring within seconds of each other, overlapping each other, covering the globe, displaying the ubiquitous nature of evil. 

It is no accident that the Bible begins with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” It is into this darkness, this void, that God spoke and creation sprang to life. The Christian belief of ex nihilo is that God created from nothing, that into a void of darkness, of absolute nothingness, God’s word begat everything. 

The Gospel of St. John begins in much the same way. John tells us that in the beginning was God and Christ was with God and Christ was God. Then he informs us that Christ is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome him.

God spoke into the darkness and brought forth creation. His creation fell into a spiritual darkness, into a void of evil and barbarism, and into this void he spoke yet again, bringing Light and eviscerating the darkness. The angels proclaimed the Light to the shepherds in their fields, announcing that the darkness was over. The magi followed the night sky, looking at the brightest light, eventually bringing them to the Messiah. Even this event served as a prelude to the eternal light he would eventually bestow upon his creation.

The hope of Christmas isn’t just the giving of gifts. It isn’t so simple and mundane as having time with family. It isn’t even limited to feeding the hungry or being kind to the oppressed. All of these stem from the hope of Christmas, but they fail to encompass the entirety of its message. The hope of Christmas isn’t – much to the chagrin of some evangelicals – about paving a way to Heaven. The hope of Christmas is found in God taking on human flesh and redeeming us in our entirety, it is in offering the totality of salvation, that we are saved from our fallen wills in the here and now, but also hold hope of a future reconciliation. The hope of Christmas is that God did not just speak into the darkness yet again, but rather stepped into the darkness and was not consumed by it, but rather consumed it. It is that Christ came into the world in the form of a captive only to break the chains of evil’s oppression and liberate its prisoners.

The same flesh that suffers under the hands of an oppressor, the same flesh that oppresses the innocent, is host to the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ. In that hosting we are all united and therefore without excuse in our predilection to evil, but we can also find hope that redemption and reconciliation is just beyond the horizon. We hold the hope that a better future awaits us, one in which poverty is foreign, oppression is impossible, and where evil has no quarter. Evil seems so prevalent today because we act against God, but the hope of Christmas is that one day all will follow Christ and evil shall be no more. The hope of Christmas is that on a cold winter’s night two thousand years ago, Light came into this world and defeated the evil within and that we now await the completion of his victory. May it come swiftly, and may we begin to partake in his peaceful victory in the here and now.