Evil exists. Ever since Lucifer was ousted from his role of service in the very presence of God because of his mutiny against God, he has been on a mission to twist the beautiful things God has made into hideous caricatures. Lucifer, or Satan, is called the father of all lies, adept at portraying light as darkness and darkness as light. He deceived Eve into believing she desired something he knew would destroy both her and the beauty of the entire creation. Using lies as his principal tool, Satan is still deceiving people whom God created in His own image. Satan convinces them that God is not the Lover He is, but someone to be feared, hated, and worked against. Through these captives, Satan has wreaked havoc on God's good earth. Evil rears it ugly head wherever one looks. We are constantly confronted by it. What do we, the people God has redeemed from the evil that twisted our lives, do about evil? How did God, incarnate in Jesus, respond when faced with evil?
The culture into which Jesus was born was one under the oppression of an enemy empire. Jesus' ethnicity subjected Him to all the atrocities committed by men who have fallen to the evil of power and, mistakenly thinking they are pursuing their own self-preservation and pleasure, work out the destructive plans of Satan. Armed soldiers could demand any man or boy to work as his pack horse for a mile, reducing the beautiful creatures upon whom God bestowed the glory of His image to mere objects to be ordered about and exploited. Not very dissimilar to the neighborhood, national, and global scene today, Jesus saw people taking advantage of each other financially, physically, and socially. Jesus saw people heartbroken, physically suffering, and dying as a result of mankind's succumbing to evil. What did Jesus tell these victims of the greed and blindness of others? Jesus called them to love. He called them to see past the actions of the people who posed as enemies and see them as people deserving of love because they, too, were created in His image and worth dying for. He told the man forced to carry a soldier's pack to walk twice the distance required of him. To the person sued for the very clothes on his back, Jesus' admonition was to give additionally his undergarment. Instead of retaliating, Jesus said it was better to allow one's self to be slapped repeatedly rather than slap in return. One of the most beautiful examples of this is found at the scene of Jesus' unjust and illegal arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. In His own humiliation and mistreatment, Jesus healed the severed ear of one of His assailants. Instead of responding in kind, He was relieving the suffering of those causing His.
Jesus' call to love in return for inflicted evil might seem radical and even unjust to our humanity, but I wonder if He might not have been trying to help us see what love always does. Love sees people for who they really are. Whether or not they are puppets of Satan and agents of his evil is irrelevant; people are universally created in the image of God and deserving of love and respect. Love is not deserved or undeserved by actions. The stamp of the image of God on every person demands treatment of respect, regardless of actions that label them as an enemy.
Does Jesus' command to love rather than inflict hurt mean that He ignored evil and did not stand in its way? Not at all! In, fact, he did quite the opposite. Jesus' reason for coming to earth was to defeat the powers of evil and work backwards the effects it holds on humanity and the entire cosmos. His work of redemption is the counter-acting of evil and the effect it has on Creation. The nature of love clashes quite violently with the nature of evil. The two are complete negatives of each other and cannot work together or use each other's methods. A mere refusal to comply with evil or use its methods of retribution is a standing in the landslide of evil and blocking its progressive devastation. Everywhere he walked, Jesus left in His wake people whose lives had been dramatically and wonderfully redeemed from the scars of evil. Those with maimed bodies were made whole, the dead raised, the sinner released from his bondage. Redemption from evil brings the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus was far from passive toward evil. He turned evil on its head and set its prisoners free.
During His ministry here on earth, Jesus apprenticed men for the carrying on of His work upon His glorification and return to heaven. He did not instruct them to take a passive stance toward evil; He empowered them to fight it. He "gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matthew 10:1). The disciples were left with the task of being the hands and feet of Christ in His absence, carrying the message and actions of redemption to the vast regions of the known world. The battle against evil was not fought with the methods employed by evil, but with love. This movement, this revolution, carried no weapons of destruction, but rather an offering of life. Repeatedly, when followers of Jesus were mistreated, they chose to see the blood of their assailants as more valuable than their own lives and comforts. When Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed, they extended forgiveness to their jailer. As a result, the jailer was touched by Love; his life was transformed.
Not only did the disciples of Christ offer love in retribution for the evils committed against them, but also for the evils committed against others. Acts 16 tells the account of Paul and Silas's reaction to a girl in both physical and spiritual bondage. Paul released her from her spiritual bondage, thus reversing the effects of evil on her life and also making her useless to the men to whom she was enslaved. As a result of Paul's active love for this slave girl, he and Silas suffered a beating and a night in prison. They were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of redeeming someone else from the grip of evil.
Our world today is just as broken, just as bound by evil, as it was in Jesus' day. Our neighbors live in darkness, bound by the lies of the devil. In nearly every house in every community are children, alone, unloved, and abused, suffering the effects of their parents’ bondage. The global slave trade is alive and thriving. Wars and unspeakable atrocities are rampant in numerous countries. Many of the products we Americans thoughtlessly enjoy are bought with the blood, sweat, and tears of those weaker and less fortunate. Are we, as we claim to be followers of Christ, being His hands and feet? Are we combating evil with love? In a world riddled by sin, true love will inevitably be taken advantage of. This is why Jesus told His followers that, if they're living as He lived here on earth, they will suffer persecution. Are we willing to stand in the way of the avalanche of evil? Whether or not the evil is affecting us personally is irrelevant. If we are filled with the love of Jesus, I believe it should be impossible for us to live idly. I believe we, as the temples in which God has chosen to dwell, are called to set captives free from the bondage of evil, even at the expense of our own lives.