Evil wins only the moment

We are in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings, still dealing with the pain and working to understand the ‘why’.  We have been here before, too many times, with a church in Charleston, the Boston Marathon, in Oklahoma City, an Orlando night club, Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School just to name a few. This is not a recent phenomenon. There was the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the 1991 Luby’s shooting in Killeen, TX, and the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history, the Bath School bombing in 1927.  It is also not limited to the USA. In China, a man stabbed eight children to death as they were waiting for their parents outside an elementary school in March 2010 and there was the horrific 2011 Norway attack that claimed 77 lives.

Evil is always ready to show itself in daily life.  It comes in the form of violence and the taking of another person’s life.  It can also be as simple as a comment made to injure one’s self-esteem or wound their resolve.  The recognition is that evil has always been at work to harm innocent people.  

However, evil wins only the moment, that’s it. When that moment has passed, a flood of goodness appears. Children’s hero, Mr. Fred Rogers, said that when he was a young boy and would see disturbing things on the news, his mother would tell him ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ In every instance noted above, there was an immediate and overwhelming outpouring of help followed by a sustained period of unity. Two scripture references from the Old Testament even note how evil is short-lived. In Job 20:5, “The triumph of the wicked is short and the joy of the impious but for a moment” and in Proverbs 12:19, “Truthful lips endure forever, the lying tongue, for only a moment.”

The propensity toward increased solidarity and kindness in the face of tragic events has its basis in human nature. MRI studies reveal that the action of volunteering and making charitable donations triggers the parts of the brain associated with pleasure and reward. Humans are wired with a natural inclination for altruism. These tragedies are horrible, but if we act with the altruism that God has built into our psyches, we can advance the cause of good in the world. In the face of horror, we discover how decent we really are.

In the wake of an awful event, some will issue dire predictions that the motives of the evildoers will lead to more events. Still others predicted violent acts of retribution. However, what happens is that we recoil in horror, we reflect in sorrow and then we begin the process of healing.

St. Augustine defined evil not as a thing in and of itself, but something that is lacking. For instance, if you have a hole in your jacket, the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking. Similarly, Augustine defined evil as a lack of something – goodness –  rather than a thing or substance.  Tennessee Williams, the great playwright, once said, “I think hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding.”

President Calvin Coolidge said, “Little progress can be made by merely attempting to repress what is evil; our great hope lies in developing what is good.” How do we repress something that is not a thing in and of itself? The focus needs to be patching the hole, creating an understanding and developing goodness.

At the end of the day, it is people and not the government that must take responsibility for setting the moral course for our country. Building the kind of America that we want and deserve starts at home. Moms and Dads must be the ones who create the conditions for tolerance, and they have a crucial role to play in guiding the next generation not toward violence, but instead to a place of greater understanding, enhanced compassion, and respect.

It is up to us to do more than just look upon the evil and hate on display with disapproval. There is serious work to do in our nation. Condemnation is expected. Anger is understood. But only action, work, sacrifice and struggle will yield progress. The focus should not just be about what “they” did, but what we will do to advance our nation.

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. Martin Luther King, Jr., aptly said, “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.” Albert Einstein said, “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.”

No matter how dark or evil the world may seem at any given time (and especially as of late), it is so vital to remember that love will always conquer hate. You can’t fight hate with hate, you can only overcome it with love. Another great well-known quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  Over 100 years ago the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote, “Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.” May we all rise to meet the urgent demands of our moment in history. May we all love.

I believe in love. I believe that love can indeed conquer hate. But love is not passive. Love doesn’t just sit back and hope that things will change. Love demands us to confront our own ignorance or complicity in injustice or our own biases and humbly working to change ourselves and our community. Love is courageous and relentless and it is indeed what our nation needs now. I believe in love. I believe in us.

You can’t change a nation but you can change your little slice of the world, by creating and spreading peace and kindness in your neighborhood. Little things can make a difference.  I changed my signature line on my business email from “Best regards” to “Kindest regards” as a subtle reminder to myself and, hopefully, to spark a thought in the minds of others.

Jesus was condemned as an innocent man.  They could find no fault with him, yet he was still killed.  And look at what God did in that.  He took an act of evil and used it as the centerpiece of his plan to bring a sinful world back into relationship with Him.  Evil had its moment in the spotlight, but God overcame it when Jesus walked out of that tomb. 

As the song said: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Start with love. Let’s eliminate the opportunity for moments where evil can win. 

Scroll to Top