Or is evil more like an intangible force that prompts a young man to steal a car at gunpoint or a girl to lie to her mother when she knows what she is doing is wrong?
To speak to the issue of evil, Jesus told one of his many incomparable stories. In it, evil is an invisible, intelligent, destructive power.
Here’s the story: A house is indwelt by an evil spirit. But the spirit leaves it and goes into the desert where evil spirits are believed to dwell. There this unclean spirit feels homeless so returns to the house previously lived in. It finds the place thoroughly cleaned, all swept and returned to order — but vacant.
This vacancy prompts the evil spirit to round up seven other spirits even more wicked than itself and they take up residence. The consequences are horrible! The house is then more defiled and disordered than ever (Luke 11: 24-26).
Evil is such a pervasive force in the universe that one story is not enough to fully account fo it. Philosophers and theologians have divided evil into two categories: natural evils (like tornados) and moral evils (like bank heists, murder or even hatefulness).
But they both represent something that does huge damage to those in its grip. We consider hurricanes and tsunamis that kill thousands to be the result of evil loosed into the world by the Fall. We think of cancer that way too. But theft, murder, deception, and greed are also evils of a more personal, human sort.
Elsewhere, Jesus gives a catalogue of the elements of evil that dwell in the human heart (Mk 7:20-23). And, under the heading of “the flesh,” the Apostle Paul presents an incomplete list of the acts or influences that flow out of this evil (Gal. 5:19-21).
The story Jesus told suggests that personal evil is a dynamic quasi-personal influence that resides inwardly in people and defiles their lives. It makes life chaotic. Its results are likened vividly to an abandoned house that breeds mold and cockroaches and mice and also throws furnishings, dishes, and knick knacks into disarray. Personal evil makes a mess of things inwardly.
Here’s what we can draw from this story: We are only authentically Christian and safe from evil when Christ lives in us. Being under Christian influences is not enough. That may help us to be nice, and to develop good church manners. But that niceness is not the bona fide evidence that we are Christians.
The evidence needed to show we are people of genuine faith is that Christ has not only cleaned us up but has taken over our lives as our resident Master.
The Scripures make this abundantly clear. The Apostle Paul notes that “Christ in you” is our hope of a glorious future (Col. 1:27). Of the Corinthians he asks, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 5:5).
Elsewhere he writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
But here’s the most telling word of all, spoken by Jesus to his followers during his closing hours before his crucifixion. He said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” John (14:23).
Is your inner state regulated and ruled by the presence of the Living Christ? By faith does he live in you? And is your respect for the force of evil in the world so clear that it is easy to pray regularly, as Jesus taught us to do, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one?” (Matt. 5:13).
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