What we mean for evil

Reflections on change, on injustice, on things I don’t understand, on the unfolding of my life as it unfolds…

Brings me to a delicate space in my mind.

I write this clad in a conservative black dress on my way to a funeral to a peer, a fellow young woman with whom I went to high school. It humbles me, even puts me to shame to think of the plans we meant to make upon two chance encounters at Theology on Tap in the last couple years. Isn’t that the way it goes though? No one is ever ready for death, let alone the death of a beautiful, vibrant peer. I find myself more open to the existential crises thrust into my consciousness, as I start to accept that my life will always be peppered with them.

Untimely deaths, imminent transitions, and one mere glance on the internet makes known the overwhelming suffering of the human experience. I find it so daunting lately that I am more tempted to stay in my low-paying, comfortable coffee barista job rather than actually use my Master’s degree and place myself within Cynicism in professional “Adulting”.

For some reason, this has also been a weird season of deliberately exposing myself to things I find unpleasant or uncomfortable. Maybe preparing myself in some way? Whether it is watching documentaries on Netflix about horrendous 1960s cults who abused children in the name of “God”, going to churches outside my own faith tradition, seeing the wealthy misuse their blessings, watching debates on the existence of God, or reading posts on Facebook on election day, I feel exposed to the confusion of our culture in a big way. My heart is saturated and swollen with the pains and injustices of the world. As someone already on the precipice of entering into this world, these societal pains are amplified in my mind. What a scary time. I am faced with the all-too ubiquitous million-dollar question, “How do I make sense of all of this?”

I hear the canned answers just like anyone else: “Turn to the Lord”, “Pray your rosary”, “We just to accept there is evil in the world”, “It’s all the fault of (insert person’s biases here)”, “F*** this, I’m moving to Canada”. While all of these have made sense at one point or another, I find myself yearning for an answer that is more universal, more hopeful, more honest, more human. Which, as I write it, sounds impossible. Maybe it truly is, but I am a believer in God and so I reflect on a possible answer from Scripture:

“Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people”. -Genesis 50:20

I often think lately that I use my faith to escape into a bubble where everything makes sense, everything feels safe. But what I love about this verse (among other things) is that it goes against this “comfortable faith” in acknowledging the evil and danger in the world. It does not suggest that the way to live a “Godly” life is to simply do good and avoid evil. It displays to me the inevitability of encountering and dealing with evil. The solution, I think, is what I love best. This verse suggests that the way to look at evils done to us (whether individually or societally) is to see where evil can help God do His job. It effectively answers the pained “Why me, God?” question. According to this verse His answer to this question is, “To help you grow, to make you stronger, to make you humble”. It is looking at suffering in this way that makes it meaningful. It assures that we do not suffer in vain, but to improve ourselves and the human condition if we choose to accept suffering faithfully.

I watched a documentary on Netflix called “The Children of God” that exposed the inner workings of a 1960s cult in the United States. This cult was part of the Jesus Movement subculture within the counterculture environment at the time, and they effectively blasphemed every aspect of the Christian faith. The true meaning of sexuality was warped as the leader of this cult permitted any and all sexual activity in the name of Jesus. Children were abandoned and brutally sexually abused in the name of religion. I understood my atheist/agnostic brothers and sisters a little better after seeing this documentary. I was left so disillusioned by human capacity to rationalize evil. Not long after viewing this, however, I came across a book written by this cult leader’s daughter who participated in all atrocities associated with her father’s cult. This woman preached such truth about sin and humanity and hope in the face of evil that it left me floored. To think someone could believe in forgiveness and hope despite her own father’s sexual advances and sins towards her PERSONALLY! If someone like this woman could forgive her own father who hurt thousands, there really is no excuse not to believe in good even in the face of such grave evil.

My boyfriend and I both have tumultuous sexual pasts but have recently tried (after failing many times) to embrace chastity. Our pasts have educated and helped us practice compassion and forgiveness towards each other in a way I didn’t think was possible. Again, what we meant for evil, there was a supernatural force who used even that for our good.

The election led to piercing negativity within my age group. Many were so dismayed by the state of our country to elect who we did, to allow such “misogyny”, “bigotry”, “anti-Muslim” rhetoric in our already-flawed political system. But, a couple days after this all set in, I was surprised and please to see recants and changes of heart explaining how we should support each other and move forward together in the face of results we may not like. Such positivity despite “evil” results.

Seeing suffering in its larger context of meaning, seeing “what we meant for evil” as “what God meant for good” lends to a mindset of resilience. Bad stuff that inevitably happens is not the result of a cruel and unpredictable world, but an opportunity for us to be humbled, relinquish expectations, and grow. Even if for some reason God doesn’t exist, I like to hold on to the hope that suffering and evil not only purifies our hearts, but helps us to love each other a little better every day.

 

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