Deacon Don in his sermon this last week (every so often he gives our presbyter a break) told us all in every storm/crisis we have two choices and only two choices: get on God’s side or evil’s (I’m paraphrasing but that’s close). That is after all the story we heard in Job 38:1-11, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 and, Mark 4:35-41. For my part, I nodded and agreed. But to be honest I was thinking about real crisis situations like the one experienced at Emmanuel AME this past week which is still so vividly on all of our minds. I was thinking of those amazing and inspiring congregants who publicly forgave the man who coldly murdered 9 of their number last Wednesday. Clearly in a moment of great crisis and active evil getting on God’s side is the instruction we all needed to hear.
Many of us have very little experience with active evil. The big splashy newsworthy evil which is very real, is also very easy to meme-ify and categorize. Our brushes with it are often (thankfully) brief scary experiences which bond our communities for a time. But when we see it we know and understand as Christians how we should respond. And even if we fail we know that our human failings are a part of our story and we can find consolation in growing towards God even years later in the aftermath.God has however placed on my heart another less-learned lesson. Dylann Roof did not wake up one morning and become actively evil. He moved progressively letting quiet evil grow and poison his thoughts. We will no doubt know more and more about the growth of this evil within him as the media and investigators delve further into the young man we all learned of only recently. He spelled out his self-awareness of it on his “lastrhodesian” site, which I feel is too graphic to link to from this blog. What I will note is this, his first paragraphs discount any notion of the smaller influences which led to the liminal moment when he embraced hate. Dylan starts with a big moment of epiphanic alignment with his hatred. But later he wrote about smaller moments which he has actively chosen to disregard as of that writing.
The lesson of the progressive and insidious nature of quiet evil is that the same two choices are the only two choices: get on God’s side or evil’s. Quiet evil is not on the news every night. We rarely talk about it even among ourselves. It’s not big and splashy. It’s gentle, it’s pervasive and it’s insidious. It walks beside us all the time, so that we don’t notice it, and take our ability to be good within it for granted. It’s the kind of evil Stephen King writes so well, subtle, innocuous.
Much has been made in recent years of the images we share of Jesus. I too tire of the pretty blond hair blue-eyed boys chosen as visual models of the Son of Man for movies and imagery. Or the way quiet jokes and words are bandied as nothings and pervade our culture desensitizing us. And I would agree this is a subtler evil, which should be addressed. My husband likes to tell the story of how I removed someone he’d known from childhood from our first home because he told a racist joke and I simply couldn’t deal with that. Nor is this limited to racial relations, it affects us all when bullies of any type quietly stretch us into relaxing our tolerances. This still though is not quite deep enough. We make choices of faith at an even simpler level.
Here is an example of the quiet evil I’m talking about. Lost keys.
Yep, mundane old simple lost keys. Have you ever noticed though the exponential relationship between lost keys and the urgency of being somewhere? Whether the keys have in fact moved, or whether our brains fail to fathom their location at the exact instant of need, we can count on them to be gone at critical moments. And this is where I needed the lessons of this scripture and Deacon Don’s sermon. In this simple moment I have a choice: get on God’s side or evil’s. God would have me walk humbly by faith and locate my keys. Evil would seed doubt, worry, stress, anger and grow in this moment. I know for myself I have let this tiny evil get the better of me on quite a few occasions and felt ridiculous moments later.
Now that I am on this path of discernment I am becoming more aware of this subtler evil which it is so easy to let in even as I am more aware of God’s presence. As I reflect on the larger stories of this past week, I am also cognizant that these stories began as much smaller ones. If you’re looking at flags on a building, quiet tolerance of intolerance, a joke, a word, ridiculous caucasian actors play Jesus — those all need to be examined — it won’t be deep enough to root out evil. If we dig deep enough, we will nearly always find a moment when a choice was made not to trust God to be in control, and to feed and fall to the rising storm.
So whether it’s “Don’t Panic,” “Let go and let God,” “Pray more worry less,” “Get on God’s side,” or“’Quiet! Be still!’” I know both the choice I need to make, but also that I need to become more active about making it each moment of my life. I need to trust Him more readily and keep evil at bay. I pray for the wisdom and faith to walk with him all the days of my life.