Several days ago, I was thinking that, I wish I had not chosen to speak on this particular subject, because so much has been written on the issue of evil, and so, to take all that I have read over the last six weeks and try to distill it down into a 45-minute presentation, is a rather difficult task, but I’ve attempted to do it, and I pray that it will be enlightening to you. If at any point you get hung up with anything I’m saying, just hang on with me because we’ll keep going.
I don’t know how many of you were here, exactly three years ago in January of 2003, I did a two-part series on “Why does God allow Pain and Suffering”, and it was a very well-received, very popular series. In fact, if any of you would like copies of it, just put it on that card with your address, and we’ll send you a copy of that two-part series. But in that series, I discussed evil on a limited basis, and I didn’t distinguish then, which I’m going to do this morning, there’s a difference in what’s called natural evil, which is like an earthquake, a hurricane, a tsunami, disease. There’s a difference in natural evil, and what I want to cover this morning, which is human or moral evil, and I believe this is a very important issue. I believe, and I’ll say this, the issues that I raise this morning are crucial for any thinking person to understand. I ask you to hang with me as I go through this, but I think it’s very important, and I think when we get to the end, you will see that there is a critical application to every single one of us. I think one of the reasons I’ve chosen to go this route, to really focus in on moral evil, is because it is so perplexing to us as people. It’s so bewildering to us on the inhumanity that we see one person live out and play off against another person.
I remember seeing Tom Brokaw doing a special, and you know Brokaw is usually very sophisticated, very he’s very articulate, very composed, and yet, in this special, he was interviewing a guy, and he was just dumbfounded over how these young men could be so barbarous and act like animals, and it just blew him away. He was dumbfounded, and it does perplex us. It reminds me of the words of the Prophet Jeremiah when he said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else it is desperately sick who can understand it?” I mean, think about it, and I don’t mean to be morose, but, who can understand a man raping and then killing a ten-year-old girl? Who can understand what took place at Columbine? I don’t know if you’ve read any of the detailed accounts that they have been able to put together from eyewitnesses and from the cameras they had, but I think it was Dylan Klebold who stood over a girl and asked, do you believe in God? And when she finally admitted that she did, he blew her away with a shotgun. I mean, who can understand that? Who can understand this?
I just finished reading Eleanor Stumps’ very acclaimed work. It’s an essay called, “The Mirror of Evil”. Listen to this. A young Muslim mother in Bosnia is repeatedly raped in front of her husband and father with her baby screaming on the floor beside her. When her tormentor seemed finally tired of her, she begged permission to nurse the child. In response, one of the rapists swiftly decapitated the baby and threw the head in the mother’s lap. I mean, who can fathom that type of human wickedness? And then, events like the Holocaust. You know, six million people murdered, I mean, that’s like somebody coming in here and killing everybody in the state of Alabama. Listen to these chilling words of Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust. These are chilling words. “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night. Never shall I forget that smoke, never shall I forget the little faces of children, whose bodies I saw turn into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.” You know, the natural human response to this is, why, or why God? How could You allow this to happen in this world that You’ve created?
I’m gonna attempt to tackle this this morning. Even though evil is truly a mystery, I believe we can gain some real insight into it, important insight. It’s important to know this. In Western culture, in contrast to the eastern world, in Western culture, there are two predominant views of moral evil. The first is what I call the modern secular view, and this modern secular view is dominated by the social sciences, and God is irrelevant to the discussion, and then, the second perspective, the second view, is what I call the Judeo-Christian Biblical view and I want to take a minute to contrast. I mean, let me just say that it’s important to understand the differences, because when you understand, particularly this modern world, it better helps us understand this issue of evil and why it seems to flourish in our world.
Now, when I start, this is kind of the foundation that I want to lay, these next few words I want you to hear, and hear them because they’re important. A person’s view of God, your view, my view of God, whatever that view might be, is your faith view of reality, I say it’s your faith view, because you take it by faith, whether you believe in God or don’t, it’s a faith view, and it becomes the foundation of your thinking, and it determines the way you view the world. Now you may not realize that, but it’s true. As Dr. Tim Keller has said, “your view of God, even if it’s an atheistic view, is the foundation in which all your reasoning proceeds. You screen out all that does not fit with your view, and this is particularly true what comes to moral evil.”
There was an op-ed piece in The Los Angeles Times by this guy, David Klinghoffer, a Jewish journalist, and listen to what he says. He says, “What we are observing in our society today seems to be the struggle of religion versus no religion. In actuality it’s a conflict of various religions including secularism.” In other words, he’s calling secularism a religion. He says, “If you object to secularism, which is atheistic as a religion because it has no deity, let’s remember that other faiths, like Zen Buddhism, also lacks a belief in God.” And then, listen to this, this is a great question he asks, “What is a religion, then, what is religion? Simply this. A system of beliefs explaining where life comes from, what life means, and what we, as living beings are supposed to be doing with our few allotted years.” He says, “Answers of these questions are not provable. They are taken by faith.” Now think about what he’s saying. He’s saying, our view of God, our faith view of reality, gives us an explanation of where life comes from, what life means, and what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, and, as we’ll see, it has a huge impact on our view of evil.
Now, as we consider this, how does the modern secularist view evil? Well, quite simply, he doesn’t believe that it exists. He doesn’t believe that evil exists. They believe people aren’t evil, they’re sick, they’re psychologically dysfunctional, it’s their DNA. I read an article recently that says the reason people are so violent, so evil, it’s because they have this selfish gene inside of them that causes them to do it. I don’t know if you saw this. but right after the Columbine shootings, headlines about one of the local papers said, “Littleton’s Shootings Are Symptomatic of Male Identity Crisis.” See guys, the reason these two young men went and shot up and killed 13 people was they had a “male identity crisis”.
One of my favorite authors is a guy by the name of Dallas Willard. He wrote a fabulous book called, Renovation of the Heart. Willard is quite a scholar. He’s a philosopher. He headed up for years the philosophy department at USC and he tells in his book of this high-level conference, which I think was right after the shootings at Columbine High School, and he said where scores of scholars came to Aspen Colorado to discuss the topic of evil, and Willard says, ironically, at this conference, with all these brilliant people, he says, only one or two of the scholars present believed there was such a thing as evil. He said, “They simply could not conceptualize the evil to be seen flourishing abundantly around them in the 20th century.”
Right after 9/11, there was a piece in Newsweek Magazine, maybe you saw it if you read Newsweek. It was written by Alice Hornstein, a student at Yale, and she said, “You know, soon after the attacks on the two World Trade Center buildings, it seemed like in every class, instead of covering the normal curriculum, we talked about what had taken place in New York,” and she said, “I was appalled that there was no moral outrage among my fellow students, there was no moral outrage among our professors, no one was willing to admit that this act of terrorism was evil. In fact, so many of my professors and even classmates wouldn’t agree that it was wrong.” It makes you think what is this world coming to you know even when President Bush called those acts “evil acts” he was criticized. They said he was too naïve, he was self-righteous to call it evil, but, you know, if you think about it, the modern secularists are right in this regard if there is no God, there really isn’t such a thing as evil, because first and foremost, there’s no heart or soul to a person and therefore, cruel and violent behavior can only be attributed to psychological dysfunction or problems in your genetic makeup. But the problem is, when you endorse and embrace this view of life, I contend you’re opening the door for evil to flourish, and let me tell you why. In a Godless universe, the laws of nature must rule. As Charles Darwin objectively pointed out, nature is intrinsically violent, and therefore, all of life is guided by natural selection, a constant struggle for survival, where the strong prey upon the weak. In fact, if you think about it, it logically leads to violence and what we call moral evil. It should be expected.
Listen to the words of Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist. He survived Auschwitz, and listen to what he says. He says, “If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as merely a man-machine, as a bundle of instinct, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequences of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment, or, as the Nazis like to say, of blood and soil. I’m absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Majdanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” Do you hear what he’s saying? The Holocaust was not part of a military strategy, but it came from the educated elite who believed it morally permissible to prey upon the weak and bring about a master race.
Recently, I found fascinating a case, I remember seeing a movie on this years ago, it was the first case of the century. You know, we’ve had a number of those it seems recently – the OJ trial and whatever, but this happened back in the 1920s. It was called the Leopold and Loeb case. It’s two young boys – an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old from very wealthy families in Chicago. One of them was named Richard Loeb. He was fascinated with crime and mysteries, and he was brilliant, and he had this deep yearning to commit the perfect crime. His best friend, a guy by the name of Nathan Leopold, was equally brilliant, and was headed to Harvard Law School. But he was fascinated with philosophy, particularly the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and he believed that legal obligations didn’t apply to superior beings. And so, when Loeb discussed with him the possibility of trying to commit the perfect crime, he went with it. And so, they took a young boy in their neighborhood, and they bludgeoned him to death in the back of their car. They took him to a site and they poured acid all over him, so he wouldn’t be recognizable and dumped him. And, of course, they eventually were caught, and they confessed. And what did their families do? They hired a superstar legal team headed by Clarence Darrow. And I share all this with you because Darrow said they were not guilty and he saved them from the death sentence, but ultimately one of his main arguments that he made to the judge and the jury was this, and I must quote from him, from the transcript. “Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life on it? Your Honor, it’s hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the University.” In other words, he’s saying, you can’t execute these boys they were merely following the beliefs they learned in college.
Now, I want to pull this all back together. Remember what we just said earlier? Your view of God, whatever that view might be, becomes the foundation of your thinking. It determines the way you view the world and it impacts the way you live your life. Now, with that in mind, I want you to listen to these brilliant words by an English journalist by the name of Steve Turner. And what he does, it’s a satire, but what he does is lays out, he says, this is the way modern people think today, and the name of this little piece, the satire on the modern mind, he calls it “The Creed”. And if you know, a Creed is a set of fundamental beliefs, it’s a kind of guiding principles. It’s kind of like, as Christians today use the Apostles Creed. Listen to “The Creed of Modern Man”.
“We believe in Marx, Freud, and Darwin. We believe everything is okay, as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your knowledge. We believe in sex before, during,
and after marriage. We believe in the therapy of sin. We believe that adultery is fun. We believe that sodomy
is okay. We believe that taboos are taboo. We believe that everything is getting better, despite
evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated, and you can prove almost anything with
evidence. We believe there’s something in horoscopes, UFOs, and bent spoons. Jesus was a
good man, just like Buddha, Muhammad, and ourselves. He was a good moral teacher, although
we think his good morals were bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the
one that we read was. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, Heaven, Hell, God, and salvation. We believe that after death comes the nothing because when you
ask the dead what happens, they say nothing. If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s
compulsory heaven for all, excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan. We believe in
total disarmament. We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. Americans should
beat their guns into tractors and all other countries would be sure to follow. We believe that man
is essentially good. It’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society, society’s
the fault of conditions, conditions are the fault of society. We believe that each man must find the
truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe there is no absolute truth, excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in
the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.” And then he adds this PostScript.
“If chance be the father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear,
“state of the emergency”, “snipers kill ten”, “troops on the rampage”, “whites go looting”,
“bomb blasts school”, it is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.”
You see what Turner’s pointing out? He’s pointing out the ramifications of modern belief. That we should expect violence and evil.
What about the other view? What about the Judeo-Christian view? You know, it’s really not a complicated view, and really, it involves three simple elements. And they make sense. The first is one that you’re, it’s been written on widely, and I’m sure you’re familiar with, and it’s just the idea that God gave us freedom. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at both Villanova and then Boston College, who has written extensively on the problems of human suffering, is asked, “Is God the creator of evil?” And this is his response. “No. He created the possibility of evil. People actualize that potentiality. The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom. Even an all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people had genuine freedom and yet there was no potentiality for sin, because our freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning. It’s a self-contradiction, a meaningless nothing, to have a world where there’s real choice, while at the same time, no possibility of choosing evil. To ask why God didn’t create such a world it’s like asking why God didn’t create round squares.” He’s then asked, “Then why didn’t God create a world without human freedom?” “Because that would have been a world without humans.” “Would it have been a place without hate?” “Yes.” “A place without suffering?” “Yes, but it also would have been a world without love, which is the highest value in the universe, the highest good never could have been experienced, real love our love of God, and our love of each other must involve a choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate.”
That’s the first element. The second element explaining evil is what Philip Yancey says, “Is a world that runs according to constant fixed laws.” He says, “God built into creation a physical world that runs according to consistent natural laws. For example, water proved useful to us and all creation because of its softness, its liquid state, and its specific gravity, yet those very properties open up in rather disagreeable capacity to drown us, or an even more alarming possibility that we might drown someone else. Take another example from wood. It bears the fruit of trees, it supports leaves to provide shade and shelter birds and squirrels. Even when taken from the tree, wood is valuable. We use it to fuel or warm ourselves, and construction material to build houses and furniture. The essential properties of wood, hardness, unpliability, flammability, make possible these useful functions, but as soon as you plant a tree with those properties in a world of people, by free human beings, you introduce the possibility of abuse. A free man may pick up a chunk of wood and take advantage of its firmness by bashing the head of another man. God could, I suppose reach down each time and transform the property’s wood into those of a sponge so that the club would bounce off lightly,” listen to this, “but that is not what He is about in the world. He has set into motion fixed laws that can be perverted to evil by our misguided freedom.”
So, human freedom, a world that runs according to consistent fixed laws and most significantly, the Biblical view teaches that man does have a heart. He does have a soul, and that we live from our hearts, and instinctively, we all know that’s true, but the Bible says the problem with the human heart is that it is depraved. As Jeremiah says, it is sick. You know, we’re told in Proverbs 27 that just as in water, face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. We do, we live from the heart, and, as Jesus says, out of the heart of man proceeds evil.
One of my favorite new authors, a real unusual guy, and he’s a young man. He lives out in Oregon. His name is Donald Miller. Donald operates out of the box, but look, and so many of his books are just conversations with he and his friends. I mean, these are young guys. They sit around, they drink beer, they watch the Portland Trailblazers play and they talk, and he records and writes out a lot of their conversations, and he says, he’s talking to his friend Tony, and he says:
‘It’s funny how we think about the meaning of the universe isn’t it? Or how little we think about the meaning of the universe isn’t it?’ Tony shook his head. ‘It really is everywhere isn’t it?’ By this, we were talking about the flawed nature of our existence. Yeah, Tony started in, and some friends were over at the house and they have a kid about 4 or 5 years old or something, and they were telling me about all about child training. They said their kid had the slight problem telling them the truth about whether or not he had broken him something or whether or not he had put away his toys, you know, things like that. So, later I started wondering why we have to train kids at all. I wondered, you know, if I ever had a couple of kids and I trained one of them, you know, taught them right from wrong, and the other I didn’t train at all, I wonder which kid would turn out better. ‘Well, the kid you teach right from wrong.’ ‘Of course,’ I told him. ‘Of course, but that really should tell us something about the human condition. We have to be taught to be good. It doesn’t come completely natural. In my mind, that’s a flaw in the human condition.’ ‘Here’s one’, I said, agreeing with him. Why do we need cops?’ ‘We would have chaos without cops,’ Tony said matter-of-factly. “Just look at the countries with corrupt police. It’s anarchy.’ ‘Anarchy, I repeated.’ ‘Anarchy,’ Tony confirmed with sort of a laugh. Sometimes I think, you know, if there were not cops, I’d be fine, and I probably would, because I was taught right from wrong when I was a kid, but the truth is, I drive completely different when there is a cop behind me than when he isn’t. And what Tony and I were talking about is true. It’s hard for us to admit we have a sin nature, because we live in this system of checks and balances. If we get caught, we will be punished, but that doesn’t make us good people, it only makes us subdued. Just think about the Congress and Senate and even the President. The genius of the American system is not freedom. The genius of the American system is checks and balances. Nobody gets all the power, everybody is watching everybody else. It’s as if the founding fathers knew intrinsically that the soul of man unwatched is perverse and evil.”
You know, I think one of the most fascinating things that I read in all the research that I’ve done, and I realize I’m throwing a lot at you, but this is maybe the most fascinating. It’s about a guy by the name of Hobart Mowrer. Mowrer was not a really a famous person. I Googled him and there wasn’t that much on him, but a number of years ago, he was a well-known psychologist. He received a PhD from Johns Hopkins and taught for years at both Harvard and Yale in their psychology departments. One year he served as president of the American Psychological Association, and I mention him because he wrote a very important, but controversial, article in The American Psychologist, and I’m going to quote from this article. He says, “For several decades, we psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and claim that our liberation from it was epoch-making. But, at length, we have discovered that to be free from sin is also to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful. It is to court the danger of becoming lost. The danger is, I believe, betokened by the widespread interest in existentialism, which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral and ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being and have lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity. What’s ironic, our patients who come to see us eventually realize we, their psychologists, are asking the same questions they are. Who am I? What is my deepest longing? What does living really mean?” He says he got an unbelievable amount of hate mail from this article because he had, in one sense, exposed his profession. And what’s sad is, he never came to any religious belief, and eventually, he took his life.
Now, this is really interesting, too, and I think it’s important, and it really buttresses this Biblical view. I think this is important to point out. I considered whether to leave this in or out, but it’s really crucial. I think most of us believe that people in history who have committed the most vile and evil deeds are in one sense, monsters. You know, their hearts and minds are really just warped, but I read a number of accounts of people who witnessed, studied, the actual events of the Holocaust, and who were there for all of the Nazi war crimes, and they said this. Most of the perpetrators of the Holocaust were ordinary German citizens, they weren’t the monsters that we thought they were. In fact, in Hannah Arendt’s famous work, The Banality of Evil, where she studied, or wrote about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was in charge of deporting all the Jews to the death camps, and she was there for all the trial, and she even interviewed him, and listened to him, and she concluded he was not a monster as the world thought. She said he was nothing more than a boring little old man.
In fact, 60 Minutes, years later, did a special on the trial of Adolf Eichmann. And Mike Wallace, this was his story. Eichmann had fled to Argentina for ten years, he’d escaped, and then he was captured and brought into trial in Israel in 1960. And Wallace asked his viewers this. How is it possible for a man to act as Eichmann did? How’s that possible? Was he a monster? Was he a madman, or was he perhaps something even more terrifying? Was he normal? Wallace followed this question with an interview of Yehiel Dinur, a concentration camp survivor who had testified against Eichmann at Eichmann’s 1961 trial. A film clip showed Dinur walking into the courtroom. He began to weep uncontrollably, and then he collapsed on the floor. Dinur explained to Wallace, “When I saw Eichmann, I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable of doing this myself. I am exactly like he is.” You see, he was saying, Eichmann was no longer that powerful Nazi who had orchestrated the Holocaust, but he was a simple ordinary man. And then Wallace closed the segment with this conclusion, and listen to this, it’s crucial. He says, “Eichmann is in all of us. Eichmann is in all of us.”
You know, this is the Biblical message. We may not like the message, but that is the message. Now, real quickly, how do you how do you respond to evil? How do we, as a people, respond to it? Is there a way to deal with it? Is it possible to rid the world of moral evil? I mean, you know, there are those who believe that we can create utopia, and eliminate evil from our midst, but how do you do that? The modern secularists, who, they don’t believe in evil, would acknowledge that we have a real problem with violence. You know, the United States leads the world in all categories of social pathology, and so they would agree, something needs to be done, and of course, the natural thing is to look to the institutions that we normally look to. Our government. Think about that. You know, our government is, they do play a crucial role, but you know, the government is limited to what they can do. You know, they can they can uphold the law, they can keep looters off the street, and hopefully they can continue to thwart terrorist plots. But the problem is, the government generally throws money at problems and never deals with the root issues. But more specifically, our government can alter people’s behavior, as Miller talks about policemen, but they can’t make people morally good. I mean, you take racism, for example. Racism, you can pass all kind of laws, you can do that, but the government can’t change the way people treat each other, and for that reason, I think this is where the government is powerless. And then you have education. You know, the problem with education, and I don’t have time to really get into this in detail, the problem with education is generally we end up with brilliant people, but often, their hearts are corrupt.
I mean, you see that in the business world. Some of the most brilliant business people have ended up corrupting their companies themselves and ended up in jail. You know what the problem is? Even if we could agree, and even in the public schools, to teach children about character, and virtue, and honor, what standards are you going to teach them? Whose moral code will we use, because everybody has an agenda? I don’t know, if you read it, but back in the early 90s, Harvard Business School was given thirty-five million dollars to set up a program on business ethics. But for years they could never agree with what ethics should you teach. I’m not sure whatever happened there. I’m sure they figured a way to spend that thirty-five million dollars, but they had a struggle or problem, what do you teach? Whose values do you teach? And even if you found something to teach in the public schools, there’d be some civil libertarian that would come up and object to it.
Most modern people believe that the real Savior of the world is science, and that only makes sense because if moral evil is of just a psychological dysfunction, then psychology and psychiatry will save us. If the problem is DNA, then genetic engineering will save us. You know, there was an interesting article a couple of years ago in Time Magazine that says that, the title of the front cover was, in fact, I brought it with me, “What Does Science Tell Us About God?” And what this article was implying was that eventually, science will explain away our belief in God. We won’t need God anymore. And it goes, in one part, it talks about you know, we think we understand the mystery of love. The Bible says, love is of God, we love from the heart, you tell me about your heart being broken, but they’re saying, we think we know what love really is. It’s not a mystery. It’s a chemical in your body. It’s a chemical that they believe is called Oxytocin, because they’ve been able to isolate this little chemical in our bodies, and when you inject it into a rat, they start cuddling. That must be what love is. It’s a chemical. Now think of the ramifications. You know, if you can isolate this, and put it in a pill, just think what you can do. You have a child that’s violent, or out of line, just give them give them Oxytocin. You know, you have a couple that they just can’t get along, you know, you give them a pill. Why don’t you just, I guess you could just put it in the drinking water. We’d all get along. We’d all love, because it’s a chemical. It’s an incredible thought, but, you know, this has the chilling reminder of Huxley’s Brave New World, where they control the people with Soma, a tranquilizer. Now, I have to admit, I am by no means really knowledgeable in the social sciences, and I really have no idea what’s out there to help people. I know there’s all types of medication, but when it gets right down to it, in this article, there was one scientist that was mentioned often, and he’s considered probably the greatest physicist to live since Einstein, and you’ve probably heard of him. His name is Stephen Hawking. He wrote that famous book, A Brief History of Time. He’s got Lou Gehrig’s disease and he speaks through a synthesizer, and several years ago, he gave a speech at Cambridge University, and in this speech, he shared his hope of what science could bring to humanity. He said, this is the hope that I believe science brings to us, particularly as it relates to the issue of evil. Now, I want you to listen to this. This brilliant scientist. Listen what he says. This is how he closes his speech. “Yes, man is determined, but since we do not know what has been determined, he may as well not be. One of my biggest concerns for us as human beings is this. Natural selection has brought us so far and we tend to forget that it came about by virtue of natural rejection and aggression. My only hope,” and let me underscore that, he says, “my only hope is that we will keep from eating each other up for another 100 years, because I am confident that within a hundred years, we will find technology able to move us to different planets, and then no one great tragedy or atrocity will devour all of us at the same time. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.”
And that’s how he ended his speech the question is, is this the hope science offers us? And the question I would ask you, does it make you feel hopeful? I personally believe, men, the only one solution out there to the problem of evil is the transformation of the human heart, and there’s only one person that can transform the human heart.
Let me read to you what God desires to do in every one of our lives. This is from The Book of Ezekiel. He says, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and I will cause you to walk in my statutes.” You see, when a person submits his or her life to Christ in contriteness and humility, the Bible says, He sends His spirit into our hearts and begins this process of regeneration and transformation.
You know, this is interesting. Over Christmas, I don’t know how many times you hear the Christmas story read, if you’ve heard it as many times as I have, you, I think, sometimes it just kind of bounces off of you but for some reason this Christmas, these words were read in our service. It was the angel coming to speak to Joseph. Listen to this. “And Joseph, Mary’s husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her when he found out she was pregnant, planned to send her away secretly, but when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’,” and listen to this, he says to Joseph, “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
This was God’s intent before He was even born. Now, you know, if you think about it, we don’t like to use that word “save” very much. I heard a theologian, very fine theologian, from one of our mainline denominations say, you know we don’t like to use the word “save” very much in our churches. We like the word, we’re “redeemed” or we’re “forgiven”, but we’re this idea of being “saved” is not very sophisticated. It’s not very fashionable, and yet, you know, what I looked up, every time that word “saved” was used, particularly in the New Testament, and you would be stunned. Jesus uses it all the time. He says I didn’t come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. I’ve come to seek and save that which was lost. I didn’t come to judge the world, but to save it, and then, the famous words of Paul. We are saved by grace through faith. You know, where do you think we get the word “Savior” You know, after I heard those words in church, at lunch that day at home, I read that to my children, and I asked them, I read the words to Joseph, and I asked them, when someone comes to save you, what does that make you think of? And my seven-year-old daughter said it sounds to me, Daddy, like we’re in big trouble. You know, out of the mouths of babes, you know, we are in big trouble. We are in big trouble, because all of us are sinful. All of us are depraved, and our sinfulness causes a separation between us and our God, and we are eternally separated from Him. We are truly condemned, and yet, as the Scripture says, Christ comes to save us from that, but more significantly, what’s pertinent to this morning’s topic, He also came to save us from ourselves.
I read while preparing this about the life of Prime Minister Konoye of Japan, who committed suicide after his role in the Second World War. Douglas MacArthur announced that he was going to be tried for war crimes, and he killed himself, but when they found him, right there on his bedside table, they found a book that he’d been reading. It was Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, and he had underlined these words. “As terrible as it was, what I had done to others, nothing was more terrible than what I had done to myself.”
You know, in the book of Isaiah the third chapter, it says we bring evil on ourselves, and you know, it is amazing what we are capable of doing, not only to others but to ourselves.
I want to close our time together, and wrap this up and tie all this together with a very powerful story. It’s a true story, and it’s about the life, it comes from the life of Dr. Ernest Gordon. Gordon became a Christian in a Japanese death camp and he tells all this in his biography, Through the Valley of the Kwai. After the war, he came back, and for years, he was the chaplain at Princeton, but listen to this story he tells.
“As prisoners of war, death called us from every direction. It was in the air we breathed. It was the chief topic of our conversation. As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion, and disease took an ever-growing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived was increasingly poisoned by selfishness, hatred, and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the scale of degradation. You could say we lived by the rule of the jungle – I look after myself and to hell with everyone else. Consequently, the weak were trampled underfoot, the sick were ignored and resented, and the dead were forgotten. When a man lay dying, we had no word of mercy for him. When he cried out for help, we averted our heads. Men cursed the Japanese. We cursed our neighbors. We cursed ourselves, and we cursed God. We had no church, no chapels, no services. Some had turned to religion as a crutch, but the crutch hadn’t supported them, so they threw it away. We had long since resigned ourselves to being derelicts, and we were motivated by hate. Now, let me just stop here and say, isn’t this the law of nature? Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to work? You know, natural selection and progress. Isn’t that what this is? You know, the strong are those, at the end of the war, the strong will survive the weak. They get stepped on, they’re eliminated, good riddance. That’s the law of nature. That’s the way it works. Then two incidents took place that completely transformed this death camp. One of the men in the camp, a very devout Christian by the name of Angus, sacrificed himself for one of his friend. His friend and contracted a disease and was surely to die. Someone stole his blanket, and Angus gave him his own. Every meal time, Angus would draw up his ration, but he wouldn’t eat it. He would take it to his friend and make him eat it, and over time, the friend got better but Angus finally collapsed, slumped down, and died from starvation. During the next few days, on my visits to the latrine, I heard others, prisoners, discussing this sacrifice. The story of what he had done was spreading rapidly through the camp. Evidently, it had fired the imagination. He’d given us a shining example of the way we ought to live, even if we didn’t live that way.”
“One that went the round soon after concerned another Argyll who was a Scottish soldier. He was in a work detail in the railroad. The day’s work had ended. The tools were being counted. When the party was about to be dismissed, the Japanese guard declared that a shovel was missing. He insisted someone had stolen it to sell to the Thais. He strode up and down in front of the men ranting and denouncing them for their wickedness, their stupidity, and most unforgivable of all, their ingratitude to the Emperor of Japan. Screaming in broken English, he demanded that the guilty one step forward and take his punishment. No one moved. The guards’ raids reached to new heights of violence, that all of you are gonna die. All of you are gonna die, he shrieked. To show that he meant what he said, he pulled back the bolt, put the rifle to shoulder, and looked down the sights ready to fire at the first man he saw at the end of the line. At that moment, the Argyll stepped forward, stood stiffly to attention, calmly said, ‘I did it.’ The guard unleashed all his whipped-up hatred. He kicked the hapless prisoner. He beat him with his fist. Still, the Argyle stood rigidly at attention. The blood was streaming down his face, but he made no sound. His silence goaded the guard to an excess of rage. He seized his rifle by the barrel and lifted it high over his head, and with a final howl, he brought the butt down on the skull of the Argyll, who sank limply to the ground and did not move. Although it was perfectly evident that he was dead, the guard continued to beat him, and stopped only when he was exhausted. The men of the work detail picked up their comrade’s body, shouldered their tools, and marched back to camp. When the tools were counted again at the guardhouse, no shovel was missing. News of that type of conduct, and this example, begin to reach our ears from other camps, and then one evening, an Australian sergeant whom I had never met before, came to me. We squatted on the ground in front of my shack and talked of this and that. He had something on his mind, but it took him a little time before he could bring himself to speak of it. Finally, he said my cobbers, my men and I, we’ve been talking things over. We’ve got to wondering if maybe there isn’t something in this Christianity business after all, something we have is haven’t understood aright in the past. Yes sir, my cobbers and I’ve given this a lot of thought. We’ve seen the worst there is, right? Now we feel there must be something better. Somewhere. So, we want to have another go at this Christianity, to find out if it’s absolute dingo or not. Well, the logical place for me to begin now, I reflected, is with the New Testament as the only record of the life and teaching available. I had a Bible. It was an old one that had been given to me by a kindly other rank who wished him to lighten his pack as he set out for a trip farther up country. The Bible was all I had to draw when I faced the group of men the next evening in the bamboo grove. I was not a little dismayed to see that there were several dozens of them. They were waiting for me in respectful silence, but their faces held a look of warning which plainly said, we’ll tolerate you, chum, so long as you don’t try waffling. Waffling is a gentle art of evading the issue or of making a half lie take the place of the truth. They were very kind, these men. When they began to talk, they spoke freely of their own inner questioning. They gave their honest views about life on earth, its object, and the life hereafter. They were seeking a truth they would be able to comprehend with the heart, as well as the mind. When the meeting ended, I knew that I could go on. At each successive gathering, the numbers grew. There were new faces, more and more pair of eyes, to look questioningly into mine. I expounded the New Testament in their language, keeping one lesson ahead of them. Through our readings and discussions, we came to know Jesus. He was one of us. He would understand our problems, because they were the sort of problems He had faced Himself. Like us, He often had no place to lay His head, no food for his belly, no friends in high places. The doctrines we worked out were meaningful to us. We approached God through Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word. Such approach seemed logical, for He declared Himself, by His actions, to be full of grace and truth. We arrived at our understanding of God’s ways, not one by one, but together. In the fellowship of freedom and love, we found truth, and with truth, a wonderful sense of unity, of harmony, of peace. We were developing a keener insight into life and its complexities. We were learning what it means to be alive, to be human. As we became more aware of our responsibilities to God the Father, we realized that we were put in this world, not to be served but to serve. The truth touched and influenced many of us to some degree. Men began to smile even to laugh and to sing, and the leaven was spreading. We were spiritually armed. We had a will to live, rather than a will to die. The First Communion which I attended was memorable. With expectant hearts, men had come to receive the strength that only God could give. The elements were of our daily life, rice baked into the form of bread, and fermented rice water. The solemn words of reflection were said. ‘Who, on the same night on which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had blessed and given thanks, He broke it, and said, take, this is My body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of Me.’ We broke the bread as it was passed to us and then passed it to our neighbor. The elements were returned to the table. A prayer of thanksgiving said, a hymn sung, and a blessing given. And then we slipped quietly away into the singing silence of the night, cherishing, as we did so, our experience of the communion of saints. The Holy Spirit had made us one with our neighbor, one with those at home, one with the faithful in every land, in every age, one with the disciples, and all the while, our future was unpredictable. We didn’t know what the Japanese might have in store for us. We had no assurance that we would ever again see home, or those we loved, but whatever happened, we knew that Jesus, our leader, would never fail us. As He had been faithful to the disciples in the first century, He would be faithful to us in the 20th.”
You know, guys, Christ came to save us from eternal condemnation, that we might have eternal life, but He also came to save us from our lust, from our greed, from our pride, from our anger, from our fear, from our self-centeredness. He came to set us free from these things, but know this. He brings salvation only to those who really desire it. He brings it only to those who come to Him in humility, in contriteness, and confess, Lord, I’m a sinner, I pray that You would have mercy on my soul. I pray that You would have mercy on my life, and that You’ll come into my life, and that You’ll transform me and make me into the man that you want me to be, and guys, He tells us, this is the only way that we can approach Him. It’s the only way we can approach His throne of grace. And so, I leave you with these parting words from the Apostle Paul, and I think they’re very appropriate for everything that’s been said this morning, and I’ve said a lot, and you’ve been a terrific audience, but I’ll leave you with this one sentence. The Word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
Let’s pray. Oh Lord, we do thank You that You are a God of mercy. I pray Lord that You would have mercy on each one of us as we acknowledge our sin before You. I pray that You would come into our lives, that You would touch each one of us, that You would make us the men that You desire to be, and that You would deliver us from all the self-centeredness, and the greed, and the anger, and the envy, and all that’s in our lives, in our hearts, we acknowledge that we’re needy men, and Lord, I just thank You for every person in this room. We thank You for all the friendships that exist. We thank You for the lives that You’ve given us and most significantly, we thank You for the Gospel. We pray these things in Christ’s name, Amen.