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This Day in History: The Reality of Evil

30 Apr

Photo by clarita on Morgue File.

I got up this morning in a curious mood. Well, I got up with coffee on my mind first and then I played a quick game of Gin Rummy on my computer. After all this, I was in a curious mood.

I decided I would head over to history.com and see what had happened on this day in history. I have always been fascinated by history. Well, that is not technically true. I mean, first and foremost, I doubt we can say we have always been anything at all. But, even more specific to my case, I remember as a boy hating history. I actually made an “F” on a six-week report card once in the sixth grade because I did not have any interest in the subject matter that period: the Roman Empire! 

Somewhere along the way things changed. They changed to such a degree that in college one of my majors was history. So, I suppose I should say I have been fascinated by history for a good long while now.

Anywho, I noticed that it was on this date in 1945 that Adolph Hitler committed suicide in his bunker under Berlin. It ended a true reign of terror that is still hard to imagine.

If any one person has ever epitomized evil, it would be Adolph Hitler.

The Great Wars brought many disillusions to an abrupt end. Prior to these, many in theological schools were touting liberal theology, with the ideas that humankind was progressing and getting better and more enlightened. Those within this camp, scoffed at the antiquated and out-dated ideas (at least these were their opinions) of the Reformation. The teachings of the sinfulness of humankind, original sin and the real existence of something called evil.

These were dismissed as childish tales and silly folklore. Humankind had progressed. Our societies were of a higher quality. Our civilizations were more civilized. In a sense, we had arrived.

But a strange thing happened on the road to Utopia . . . the world fell into chaos and destruction.

The Great Wars reminded us that sin is very real. Evil comes in many forms: some of which are staggering and bold.

Hitler was evil, not only because of his barbaric genocide on millions of Jews and millions of others; but also because he thought he was right! He thought what he was doing was, in his demented sense of morality and reality, good and justified.

This sort of evil is very different from the usual depictions in movies and literature. There evil is often depicted as mindless: the acts of the depraved and insane. While this sort of evil does exist, it is not its only form. Or, it is presented as something unspeakable that happens in haunted houses or in the darkness of night. Something far away, far away from our normal lives and our quaint suburbia existence.

Hitler’s evil was not mindless (insane yes, mindless no). It was calculated and exact. It was planned, discussed, debated and adapted. It was thought out and executed with horrific efficiency and calculation.

It was an evil that was happening in broad daylight. This was a part of Hitler’s new world order. It was part of his vision of a new earth, for a “1,000 year” reign of the Reich.

The Messianic overtones to Hitler’s delusion are evident.

And it brings us to a sobering conclusion—the greatest evil exists, when we try to take the place of God.

When we saint ourselves as divine and see ourselves as the final arbiters of truth and morality, we find evil alive and well. When it is in our hands of who is valued and who is not. Who lives and who dies. Who matters and who does not. Who is a person and who is not.

Hitler’s evil was manifested because he had the position and power to enact and enforce his diabolic schemes.

But evil is no less existent in those who do not have that same power. Its effects may be on a smaller scale. Its existence may not become the stuff of history books. But its reality is still very real.

Some see evil, following St. Augustine’s thinking, as the absence of something: the absence of good. (As darkness would be argued to be the absence of light.) Therefore, evil is not a quantifiable thing in and of itself; rather, it is the a negation, an emptiness. When you remove good, when you remove morality and absolute moral truth, you are not left with a void or vacuum; you are left with something that is the opposite of that which has been removed. You do not end with neutrality; but rather, a negative thing, the opposite, the antithesis of what has gone.

But, is evil really just the absence of good? Or is it something substantive in itself? Is it its own reality? Is it a living, breathing, breeding mass of stuff?

Either way, it is real. As Christ-followers, we must be keen and ready to confront it as we encounter it. We must resist the evil one and seek the One who is holy.

The good news is that as great as evil is, goodness and holiness are greater. Satan has no power when compared to the Transcendent, Eternal God. Christ has vanquished his dominion; and, one day, he will destroy him in fire.

 

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Posted by on April 30, 2016 in Christianity, Grace in the Everyday, history

 

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