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Free will and Evil

Jesus:  A Man of Sorrows with Joy Beyond His Companions?

From early on in my Christian walk, I’ve pondered the idea that Jesus is called a “man of sorrows” whilst also being described as having “joy beyond his companions.”

God is ever present and all knowing. In a single moment he sees humanity at its greatest depths of despair and abomination as well as its greatest heights of achievement and satisfaction. Mere mortals, such as us, would be consumed by these extremes.

In the naivety of my early walk I constantly prayed “God let my heart feel as yours feels, let my eyes see as yours see, let my ears hear what yours hear.”   One day He spoke to my heart and told me that such knowledge would destroy me.  I realised I was not made to be able to bear the burdens of humanity, that task is reserved for God alone.

I believe that God is a God of strategy and He positions His people in every dark place in the earth and also that it is imperative that we, the Church, identify and undergird them with whatever resources we have at our disposal … especially prayer.

Groups like the International Justice Mission (http://www.ijm.org/ ) comes to mind when I think of these strategically placed Frontliners. They confront violent and aggressive evil, not only rescuing those enslaved but also ensuring that the perpetrators and supporters of slavery are shut down and imprisoned.  I also think of “Empower” an  evidence-based Trauma Rehabilitation Program created by clinical psychologist, Dr. Robi Sonderegger (http://www.thefrontline.org.au), that seeks to break generational cycles of violence and evil by restoring emotional resilience and enabling victims of violence to forgive those who harmed them.

There have been times in my life when I have become overwhelmed by the magnitude of evil in the world, feeling only helplessness and despair as a result. As a young Christian, I over indulged a fascination with the stories of martyrs, especially those in the former Soviet Union.

In later years I sought to understand the agonies of historical traumas, in particular the Nazi Holocaust and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. I learned a valuable lesson after reading “Cambodian Witness,” written by Someth May from the Khao-i-Dang refugee camp in 1979. He relived the transition from a normal family life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, before Pol Pot’s reign of terror, and the journey into hell that descended upon his family and untold others as the despot grew in power.

It was too much for me and clouded my mind for many weeks; I could not fathom the depth of the horrors and evil that man is capable of and reeled with mental images of pain and torture. Sometime later, I discovered another book, “From Phnom Penh to Paradise” and read of a Christian family who witnessed many of the same horrors and travelled the same roads as Someth had. The stories of their devastated lives were heartrending also but the miracles, deliverances and provision they encountered along the way gave me hope. God is always present and at work in the midst of evil even though He is powerless to change the cycles of evil that men initiate.

It is clear to me that the greatest evil is that which man allows to develop within his own heart; hearts that were formed in the womb by Almighty God have the potential to achieve great things for humanity if they choose paths that will allow goodness to grow in them. They also have potential to create hells on earth if they allow themselves to be incubators of evil.

Mao Tse-tung was a perfect incubator for evil. He was consumed with selfishness to the extent that he cared nothing for others and was ruthlessly ambitious. This twentieth century Chinese ruler, responsible for over 70 million deaths, was born to a peasant family in 1893. His early years were shaped by the China’s dramatic transformation. By the time Mao was nineteen, two thousand years of Imperial rule had come to an end; the 260 year Manchu Dynasty had fallen and the creation of a new Republic was being celebrated.

Sons of peasants were able to dream of high positions in China at the end of the 19th century and amazing educational opportunities were offered them. Mao’s father, who had worked hard all of his life, was able to pay for him to have a modern education. He was exposed to subjects like science, world history, geography, music, English as well as to biographies of the likes of Napoleon, Wellington and Lincoln. In his late teens, Mao was one of the many who cut off their pigtails, a symbol of Imperial rule, and immersed themselves in studies of anarchism, nationalism and Marxism. He had little time for peace.

“Long-lasting peace,” he claimed, “is unendurable to human beings, and tidal waves of disturbance have to be created in this state of peace … When we look at history, we adore the times of [war] when dramas happened one after another … which make reading about them great fun. When we get to the periods of peace and prosperity, we are bored … Human nature loves sudden swift changes.”

 Biographer, John Halliday, made the observation that Mao “simply collapsed the distinction between reading about stirring events and actually living through cataclysm. He ignored the fact that, for the overwhelming majority, war meant misery.”

 On his journey to power, Mao discovered within himself, a lust for blood and consequently his rule was characterized by sadism, thuggery and a complete indifference to the pain of others. He approved of torture; one particular province was famed for having 120 kinds. With regards to his own life however, “he was obsessed with ways of thwarting death, doing all that he could to perfect his security and enhance his medical care.”

 Needless to say, Mao had no concept of living a life that would benefit others, “People like me want to … satisfy our hearts to the full and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes. Of course there are people and objects in the world, but they are all there only for me.”

Mao is dead, but there are many other predatory leaders that have given the ruler ship of their life to evil today. I think of Uganda’s Joseph Kony, head of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a vicious guerrilla group, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, the predatory and merciless Warlords of Somalia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka … and perpetrators of human trafficking (sex and work slaves) around the world.

 As a young born-again charismatic, fundamentalist, I was taught that believers have power over demons, principalities and powers and thought that we had only to cast them out to see lives freed and healed. I did not realize then, however, the implications of God’s gift of free will to mankind and the fact that we are able to choose evil or good.

 A believer can exercise authority over spiritual beings but he cannot stop man from entertaining them. At this point in time man is a free agent, free to choose his own path. In the light of the atrocities we currently encounter it is comforting to know that this will not always be the case and that there will be a time when the choices we have made will define our eternity.

I am more discerning about what I read nowadays and deliberate in my actions. When I read about evil and cruelty I look to see who God has placed on that frontline. I truly believe He has Joseph’s, Daniels and Esther’s in place or in training in every dark place in the world.

I counteract my current limited ability to bring change by supporting God’s Frontliners through prayer, financially or by promoting their work whenever I have the opportunity. There are, of course, many Frontliners who will never achieve national or international status; the nameless faceless heroes who care for the downtrodden in our communities, feeding the homeless, clothing the poor and providing medical treatment for those in need. These are also a vital part of God’s overall solution for change. If we do not challenge the lion’s and bears in our own communities, how will we tackle the Goliath’s in our nations?

Jesus is at once a man of sorrows as well as a man of joy. As an omniscient, omnipresent Being He is able to mourn our devastation whilst also celebrating our victories.

The battle against evil helps us identify with this aspect of His character and nature in very real ways. We celebrate the liberation of slaves whilst also aware of the millions yet to be freed. We rejoice with those restored to their families and mourn with those who will never see their loved ones again.

Praise God that He has already defined eternity and life and that we are able to choose to spend it with Him … life now is just a shadow of what is to come.