The other day, two very different news stories caught my attention. The first was the news of a young man shooting people at a mall in Oregon, killing two shoppers and himself. The other was news that the mother of football player Jerry Brown extended forgiveness to the teammate whose drunk driving caused her son’s death. I was struck by the contrast the stories presented. But also by the likelihood that the way we think about these two very different events reveals how little we understand the nature and power of good and evil.
It is seen as almost a given these days that these are dark times we live in. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and may never fully recover. Pessimism about the state and trajectory of things is practically the default position. However, a proper understanding of the power of good and evil reveals something entirely different going on. For example, which event will have greater impact: the shooting at a mall or the mother who forgives? The mother’s forgiveness. By a long shot.
Odds are excellent that you are familiar with the bible verse which says that God will visit the sins of the father onto the sons. I had always heard it was to the 7th generation, but in scripture it says to the 3rd or 4th generation (Exodus 20:5). However, not nearly as much attention is paid to the fact that scriptures say that when we are loving and obedient to God, those blessings will be passed on through 1000 generations (Deuteronomy 7:9, Exodus 20:5). That is why no matter how dark the times appear to be, good is guaranteed to prevail. It is so much more powerful than evil. When evil enters into the system of humanity, if you will, it will do several generations worth of damage. But when good enters into the system, its benefits will remain pretty well indefinitely. And that is why despite all the attention paid to evil around us, it is not only rational to be hopeful about our world, but it’s irrational to be as pessimistic as we are.
I think it’s really important for us to orient ourselves to this reality. As I’ve been writing lately, being good and enjoying a good, secure, comfortable life often seem to have no relationship with each other. It’s easy to become frustrated and discouraged. But the reality is that suffering and evil are temporary. We know that, but being finite creatures for whom a year can sometimes feel unbearably long, the reality of good that lasts through 1000 generations can be nearly impossible to see. When you’re stuck in the valley, the view from the mountaintop can be next to impossible to imagine. But when we know deep in our marrow that no good action is wasted and every evil is relatively short-lived, this can help us continue on even if we never do get out of the valley this side of the grave.
It’s also important for us to know that good is infinitely more powerful and lasting than evil, because we do live in times with an abundance of evil on lurid display. And odds are that’s only going to get worse before it gets better. Last week regular commenter treegestalt observed: “I also have a suspicion… just looking at the Karmic Weather Reports — that things could go very rapidly much worse overall. . . (I’m not predicting, just looking at the Signs of the Times & wondering if “Beware of Cliff” means something I should be worrying about…)” Someone else I know has a long history of what is called “pre-cognition” in the wacky-world trade (that is knowing about things before they happen). He has told me several times that he’s had repeated, terrible visions of extreme unrest, rioting and suffering that he believes we are entering into. Add in the prophecy fanatics and their growing list of signs that end times are here and the oddity of the Mayan calendar and it does give all but the most ardently skeptical soul at least a little sense of foreboding. Even if you are an argent skeptic who is immune to all the woo-woo nonsense, staid, scholarly reports about the nearly inevitable food shortage the world is facing and the government’s just released report on Global Trends 2030 should be enough to give you pause. If any of these ideas, predictions and observations have merit (and I’m guessing that they do), we will all have ample opportunity to wonder if the world really is in the process of destroying itself. Again, if we don’t understand deep in our marrow that this evil is limited in power and duration and that even relatively limited amounts of good are adequate to overcome it, we can easily give way to despair.
The other thing which I think we ought to keep in mind is that the only reason we know about Jerry Brown’s mother’s act of forgiveness is because he’s famous. It seems to be the nature of goodness that it happens out of sight while evil tends to be blared from the ramparts. Loving parents don’t make the news. Survivors overcoming their pain and helping others rarely become the subject of national attention. Foster parents are unknown to most of us unless they do something awful. Someone who gives their buddy a few bucks to tide them over until payday don’t get interviewed on cable. Because of this, it’s easy to read the papers and watch the news and think that we are being overrun by evil. But we need to remember that under the surface innumerable acts of kindness, love, forgiveness, generosity and compassion taking place. Evil is like a weed – fast growing, obnoxious and obvious. But anyone who garden knows that thriving grass, perennials and trees are the best weed control. So, no matter how dark things seem to you, take heart. Plant your seeds. Don’t be discouraged. The day of harvest will come.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”