Evil and Good in the same person

first-knightThere is a scene in the movie First Knight where King Arthur (played by Sean Connery) is talking with Lancelot (Richard Gere).  The words below have echoed in my mind for the past few weeks – as I find them to be very illustrative of the lives we live:

Arthur: God uses people like you, Lancelot. Because your heart is open. You hold nothing back. You give all of yourself.
Lancelot: If you knew me better, you would not say such things.
Arthur: Oh, hey, I take the good with the bad, together. I can’t love people in slices.
 

One of the reasons I have been thinking about this is that someone I know has been accused of a horrible crime – something deeply disturbing.  This was a person I would never have suspected of something like this – someone that played in the worship band at his church.  I’ve spent time with this person (not as much lately) – enjoying each other’s company – and never suspected this darkness.  I still shake my head trying to reconcile these items together – to fully believe that this is real.

This morning I was reading from the Book of James and found the some of the same thoughts from the movie echoed in the scriptures:

7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.[c]  James 3:7-12 (emphasis mine – NLT).

James says that out of the same mouth comes both evil and good – that same person can be praising God one day and the next cursing someone out.  It’s a sad reality that we are really like that – literally going from drawing near to God in one moment to being cruel to someone in the next.  James is pretty blunt in much of what he writes – so he’s calling out the audience on their hypocritical behavior.

The problem for us is how to do we fix it?  If we’re all like this – and often unaware of how we act – how do we deal with it.  Jesus, in Matthew 15, tells us what really is the problem:

16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

While controlling your own behavior is admirable and right it has it’s limits.  Jesus tells us what the real problem is – our hearts.  This evil that comes out of us – hurting others and ourselves – comes from deep within us.  What we need is heart surgery – God replacing our evil hearts with his holy one.  But this takes time – as we cling to the familiar disease that’s within us – for this work to happen.  It’s one of those odd things where we can’t make it happen – but requires deep and painful surrender to change us.

So like King Arthur said – we can’t love people in slices.  God doesn’t love us in slices – but continues to work on us – patiently and lovingly – replacing the evil with the bad.  The reality is that we can have both immense goodness and evil within us at the same time – as we are not a consistent whole.  There is a battle raging within us sometimes – where we do have decision to make – but ultimately need God to win it.

In Romans 7  Paul writes about this own struggles in this area:

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

 Paul himself – one of the leaders of the early church – talks about the war within himself.  This is the guy who wrote a lot of the New Testament – and he still struggled.  I think he’s saying our willpower alone isn’t enough – we can’t do it ourselves.  Fortunately he does provide us an answer for how to win the battle:

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

We need Jesus to change us – deep inside – change our hearts.  That change may be painful – as we’ll have to let go of some things we may not even want to acknowledge are there.  But there is hope – hope in the one who died to save us and lives in heaven.

 

 

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