There Is Spiritual Evil in the World

Newtown ShootingSince the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut there have been numerous explanations offered to account for what happened. Television reporters and commentators have spoken about evil. One said that “evil rolled through” Newtown.

It does not take particular genius to see that mass murder is evil but it is important that we understand that evil is not something that rolls or just appears in otherwise innocent bucolic places. Evil is something that fallen creatures do. Scripture explains that the Evil One had already fallen. The Evil One made use of the serpent in order to tempt the first image bearers. As the Reformed theologian Caspar Olevianus said, Adam made a false covenant with Satan and repudiated the covenant the Lord had made with him. Adam accepted the Liar’s offer but instead of eternal life and glory through obedience Adam earned death and corruption through disobedience. He is our father and we are his heirs.

At the birth of Jesus, the Evil One sought to destroy him in his infancy. In his attempt to eliminate the One who could destroy him, he waged war on infant boys through King Herod. Our Lord Jesus confronted the reign of the Evil One in the world through weakness. The Evil One attempted to seduce the Second Adam as he had the first. Again he offered The Man that which was not his to give on condition that the Last Adam should make covenant with him. Jesus rebuked him,

Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and lhim only shall you serve’ (Matt 4:10; ESV)

In response, the Evil One unleashed a sort of hell on earth. Compared to the rest of redemptive history before and after the advent of Christ, there was a dramatic spike in demonic activity during the last three years of Jesus’ earthly life. It seems, in the gospels, as if demons were everywhere. Apparently they had been present prior to Jesus’ arrival, almost as if they were waiting for his, expecting him but we see him in the gospel confronted and confronting real, spiritual evil.

The Evil One does not always operate through serpents, demons, and politicians. He also operates through respected groups and noisy crowds. Even though Jesus did only righteousness through his entire life, bringing deliverance to the captives, healing to the lame, and bringing life to the dead, the respected Pharisees sought to murder him. After his trial, the crowd, largely the same that had just hailed him as a hero and conquerer, shouted for the release of the criminal Bar-Abbas and cried for Jesus’ blood. That was evil and the work of the Evil One.

After the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Evil did not disappear. Defeated decisively at the cross, he continued to lash out. Jesus being no longer available he attacked him in absentia by attacking his body, the church. He operated through Caesar and through the Pharisees, and heretics. After the close of the apostolic age, with the death of the Apostle John in the 90s, the Evil One continued his assault upon Jesus, shedding blood, demanding outward conformity to Roman society upon pain of death.

The Revelation to the Apostle John is the story of the vain, bloody attempts of the Evil to undo what was accomplished on the cross. The clock is running. The length of the chain is fixed. The heavenly city has received her king and his day of glory approaches.

Until then we live in world where humans continued to be animated by the Evil One, where death and destruction follow in his wake. This fact does not absolve the human actors. They, even the mentally ill, make free choices. Those choices are comprehended within the good, if inscrutable, providence of our good God. When, in the face of evil acts, we doubt his goodness we need only look at the evil of the cross. The righteous Jesus took it up for us. We have no place to shake our fist at him.

There are any number of proximate causes of and responses to the evil acts we saw this week in Newtown. Instead of de-humanizing people by refusing to hold them responsible for their actions, we can go back to treating people as human beings made in the image of God by holding them responsible for their actions. It wasn’t all that long ago that children went to school, people went shopping, and movie goers sat in relative safety. These outbursts of violence need not become the new normal. We can choose to face difficult truths and react responsibly.

As we analyze horrible actions like the one in Newtown, we need to reckon with the unseen spiritual power that animates them. We need also to remember that there is a profound response to evil: prayer. One of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is “deliver us from [the] evil [one] (Matt 6:13). In the end it matters not whether we say “evil” or “the Evil One.” They are the same thing. There is no vague force “out there” called evil. Evil is what the Evil One brings and it’s what we do when we ally ourselves with him instead of allying ourselves with the Second Adam, King Jesus.

Finally, King Jesus is a Savior who answers such prayers and rescues the helpless from the kingdom of the Evil One. Jesus’ is a kingdom of those, who, by God’s grace and Spirit, have been led to recognize the evil within themselves, who have named it, turned from it, and turned in trust and hope to him for deliverance and free acceptance with God. There is only one alternative to evil and it is not “good” but the Good One, who did righteousness for his people, who faced down the Evil One at the cost of his own life. Let Newtown be another reminder of our need for a Savior before the kingdom is consummated and the time of salvation draws to a a thunderous close.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this. In my interactions with all different stripes, the greatest question is of course, “was this God’s plan?” We see outlets such as the Huffington Post running articles soundly rebuking anyone who would suggest such, and the Roman priest in Newtown on TV assuring all that this was surely not His plan.

    The temptation, at least for me, is to hold back from speaking contrarily here, yet shouldn’t we? If indeed we find an appropriate time and place to explain this issue, how would you or others phrase it?

    My inclination is to point to the cross as you did here – that according to Acts 2:22-3 the greatest injustice man ever committed was done so under God’s foreknown and determined will. Man chose to do so against God’s command, God determined it would happen according to permission. God hems in the evil into a course of activity from which ultimately good is brought, and evil is destroyed.

    That would be my take.


    • Justin,

      It is fashionable to speak as if God were somehow unable to be involved in the world or as if he has voluntarily removed himself from it but that’s not what Scripture says nor is it what we confess. We say, with Joseph, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for God.” We say with Peter, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it….”

      These passages reflect the biblical doctrine of concursus. God ordains ends and means such that the instruments free, un-coerced acts by humans are comprehended in his providence and for which he (God) is not morally liable. How this can be is a mystery but it is the clear testimony of Scripture. He works through agents even as they work voluntarily and freely. Of course there is great mystery here but what Scripture says (e.g., “Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart” Exod 10:20) is plain enough that we must confess it.

  2. It will not get better. Things are degrading with the lack of morals and throwing God out of the home and schools.

    And the media is very much to blame for plastering the photos of the murderers all over the place and telling their life stories. The next sick kid or whomever is probably already thinking about how to outdo this killer and make a name for himself that will last for years and years.

  3. The media also helps to spread a climate of fear which causes people to rush out and buy more guns, among other things. There are a lot of fearful people out there–even in the church.

    • We also have a different ethic as Christians. I get a little nervous when Christians yell about their rights and arm themselves as if the Second Amendment answers all their problems. You could also argue many lives would have been spared if we had some sensible limits to the possession of semi-automatic weapons.

  4. The bad guys will always get weapons. As Christians, we have an obligation to “love our neighbors”. That means that we ought protect them from evil and harm, wherever possible.

    It is that principle that enables million of Christians from taking up arms and fighting all maker of evil all throughout the world, and in many wars against aggressive regimes.

    In Israel, schoolteachers (many of them) are armed. We don’t hear about these mass murders over there. In Switzerland, every household has to have automatic weapons, by law. We don’t hear of these mass murders over there, as well.

    • I’m not disputing that “bad guys will always get weapons,” Steve. I’m saying that some type of limitation on possession of semi-automatic weapons might be a sensible policy. I have worked for years with the U.S. Army and the Air Force; I’m familiar with taking up arms against evil. I have a real concern that fear is driving many Christians to take foolish positions on a real problem.

  5. Eric,

    I agree there maybe some limitations might help. But a much greater help would be to get arms in the hands of the good guys who are charged with protecting our kids and other citizens.

    Just a side note; during the war of 1812, schoolboys held off the British invaders at a bridgehead using the state of the art rifles of the day.

    There’s much upheaval in the world. We are headed in the general direction of Europe. The time may come when we need more than popguns to protect ourselves from our own people, and or government.

    If the Jews in Nazi Germany had access to guns, the Holocaust may not have been nearly so costly.

  6. YES!

    There are a lot more of us good people out there than the bad guys. In states that have more access to guns there is far less crime and far less shootings.

    New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Wash. D.C. all have very strict gun laws and lots of gun crime and sky high murder rates.

    Reas John Lotts, “More Guns, Less Crime”.

  7. For those interested in gun owners’ rights, there’s a very provocative article in the Economist about how the intent of the Constitution was to enable private citizens to be able to check the power of the government. But do we support citizens having missles?

    “If the purpose of the second amendment is to enable citizens to resist the government, then the entire regime of current gun restrictions needs to be overturned: citizens need to be able to buy fully automatic assault rifles, rocket launchers, military-grade explosives, remote detonators, armoured vehicles with mounted artillery, surface-to-air missiles, light bombers, armed drones, everything. If some citizens want to keep and bear arms in order to take on the power of the federal government, that’s what it’s going to take.”

    I have no agenda here, but this whole area is pretty problematic.

    • But, Eric, the various modern lunatic-killers are people who have no regard for the law. So making guns illegal tends to take guns away from law-abiders and reserves them for the outlaws, for whom there will always be a way to get a gun. I don’t see that as a remedy.

      I’m not an extreme partisan here, but just pointing out that simple solutions aren’t necessarily efficacious solutions.

      BTW, at different times Jesus once told his disciples to put down the sword, and to carry a sword.

  8. ” The idea that, in the modern world, a country full of people with private handguns, shotguns and AR-15s in their households is more likely to remain a liberal democracy than a country whose citizens lack such weapons is frankly ridiculous. Worldwide, there is no correlation whatsoever at the country level between private handgun ownership and liberal democracy. There are no cases of democratic countries in which nascent authoritarian governments were successfully resisted due to widespread gun ownership. When authoritarian governments come to power in democracies (which is rare), they do so at the ballot box or with heavy popular support; where juntas overthrow democratic governments, as in Greece, Brazil, Chile or Iran, popular gun ownership is irrelevant. Once authoritarian governments take power, if they decide they don’t want citizens to own guns, they take them away, easily crushing any isolated attempts at resistance. When, on the other hand, authoritarian governments are overthrown in military uprisings (as opposed to peaceful revolutions, which are more common), the arms that defeat them come from defecting soldiers or outside aid. Widespread gun ownership among the common folk may conceivably have been an important obstacle to centralised government control in 17th-century Britain, just emerging from feudalism; but since the universalisation of the modern nation-state in the 19th century, the degree of force that governments can bring to bear has overwhelmed any conceivable popular defence of localised rights and privileges by companies of yeoman musketeers. To stack up against police, the National Guard or the US Army, private gun enthusiasts would, at a minimum, have to be packing an arsenal that would be illegal in any state in the union, even Arizona.” from “The Economist”

  9. Mr. Mann,

    I’m not arguing for any solutions here, but I really get nervous when Christians start talking about stockpiling weapons as if that is a solution. That sounds counter-intuitive to what the Apostle Peter commands or what our Savior commands in the Sermon on the Mount.

    • Eric,

      Doesn’t it help to distinguish for what purpose and under which sphere of our existence we consider owning weapons? The Reformed have never been pacifist. We’re not Anabaptists and neither were the Apostles. Peter did carry a sword. He shouldn’t have cut off Malchus’ ear but he it was morally appropriate for him to carry a sword. Jesus didn’t tell the centurion to leave the military. Surely we may, as citizens of the kingdom of man, own weapons for the purpose of protecting our families?

      If Christians were talking about using weapons to advance the kingdom of God, then we should be greatly concerned but I don’t see any of that. American citizens are justifiably nervous that an administration that has long threatened to use executive orders and acts of congress to restrict our civil rights may now use this episode and the hyped, emotive, TV coverage in order to fulfill campaign promises made in 2008.

  10. Brother Clark,I read your response to the evil performed last weekend in the elementary school. Your words were true. I can only respond with two more –



    • Richard,

      The difficulty I have with his argument is that constitutional liberties would then be negotiable or subject to majoritarian tyranny.

      I wonder about his premises. Do we really know that the citizens of DC really wanted the previous gun policy? People elect local government for a variety of reasons. I don’t know that I would draw the inferences he does.

      The DC council isn’t really an 18th-century New England town council.

      Which gets me back to the limiting function of the constitution.

  11. Thanks for responding, Dr. Clark. I think the author’s main point though is that part of the response of NRA-types is impelled by a “rights culture” which is problematic whether it comes from the right or the left.

    • I understand but disagree with his premise. There are “rights” and there are rights. Not everyone who invokes “rights” is equally just or unjust. Not all claims of “rights” are valid. The author doesn’t distinguish and attempts to turn a frequent conservative criticism against the NRA. It’s a clever move but fails because he doesn’t distinguish between genuine rights, grounded in nature and codified in the constitution and false claims that lack such a ground, e.g., the “right” to terminate a legally innocent human life.

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