As the world remembers the Holocaust, the word evil has been used often to describe the genocide of Jews and other people at the hands of Nazi Germans.
Regular folks like us usually associate evil acts with equally evil and savage peoples. The reality is quite different; a picture I saw recently convinced me of that.
Some months ago I saw a very disturbing picture in a World War 2 book. A mother was clutching her toddler tightly, she was slightly bent and had an expression of anticipated pain. Behind her stood a Nazi officer with his gun pointed at them, ready to fire hot lead into their bodies. What was their crime? They were Jews. Simple.
What about her executioner, did he look wicked or savage? Not at all! In fact he was a well dressed handsome young man probably in his late twenties or early thirties. He was probably a dad and a husband. He had people who cared about him, he probably went to church regularly and celebrated Christmas. But he was evil!
It’s the same evil we see in the ordinary citizens of Rwanda, who in a moment of rage hacked babies and pregnant women to death. These people lost all human feelings as they defied the frantic pleadings of their victims who were often neighbours and friends.
As I read about these acts of barbarity and evil from ordinary people, I began to question what causes it. What makes ordinary people wicked? Some scientists carried out experiments to find out this answer. And in two cases, they concluded that external conditions are responsible. These conditions could be propaganda like what the Nazis used to dehumanise the Jews, Rwandan Hutus also used the media to paint Tutsis as cockroaches who were sub-human. Other conditions were a strong leader who forces his followers to commit evil.
As great as these reasons are, they are not entirely true. Some Germans did not participate in the Holocaust and actually helped some Jews to escape, same thing with some Rwandan Hutus who protected Tutsis at great cost to themselves.
So what is different? To answer this question, imagine you expose butter and mud to sunlight. The butter would melt, but the mud would harden. Why? Their character reveals itself in the face of an external condition. The people who went on to commit evil in the face of propaganda and even provocative acts, were evil all along, the right external conditions only revealed their true nature.
And guess what? Each of us, you and I are capable of being evil when the right pressure is applied.
That’s why we need to continually look inwards and study God’s word to reveal any roots of bitterness, anger and hatred we may have towards others.
As Islamists continue to wage war against innocent people, it is natural to react with anger, fear and suspicions against all Muslims. I know I have, but that is not the way Jesus calls us to live. We are called to love those who hate us and do good to them. If we don’t, we allow hatred to become rooted in us, and when the right situations arise, we will discover we are no better than those who actively participate in evil or justify it.
It will take active efforts to guard our hearts from becoming evil. Passivity and dishonesty about our feelings will not help. Like C.S. Lewis said, “ the safest road to hell is the gradual one… without sudden turnings…without signposts.” I suggest that we do the following to help us keep our hearts/minds in top condition:
Guard your heart with all diligence by studying the balanced truth in God’s word for yourself. Read the news, which is sometimes masked propaganda, through the eyes of God. Remember that the media is not always objective, but also try to see things from the perspective of the other person/religion/tribe/race.
It's good to see people from God’s perspective: Each person regardless of tribe, nation, race, economic class, education, religion, etc is God’s most precious child. God loves us unconditionally, not because of what we do but because He made us. We must appreciate others who may not agree with us, for God’s sake.
Finally we need to be humble to the Truth of God’s word especially when He corrects us about the deceit, bigotry/pride in our hearts that blinds us to our own failures and evil desires. And we can receive help through honest prayers about our feelings and deficiencies, knowing that He will repay those who hurt us and others.
My earnest prayer is that with God’s help, we will be purified regularly so that whatever circumstances we face, we will shine brightly as the light in this dark world. Amen.