More about the Christian life

When Evil Seems to Prevail

One night after church, I ran into a woman who somehow had the impression that I was walking home. She warned me to “be careful out there,” because “all sorts of bad things are going on nowadays.”

I smiled and told her that I wasn’t afraid. After all, I’m on good terms with the Management of the Universe, so even if something bad happens to me, it will eventually turn out all right.

I am no stranger to hard times. I have faced some pretty scary adversity, and so people who suffer hard times find me a helpful person to talk to—and indeed I now realize that God grants me hardship as training so I can serve His people who are in distress. Right now these are good times for me, which I admit isn’t normal; but even in hard times, if I have my wits about me, I am confident in God’s providence. So I find it especially comforting—almost electrifying—that Psalm 37 would say:

The LORD cares for the lives of the godly,
     and their inheritance shall last forever.
They shall not be ashamed in bad times,
     and in the days of famine they shall have enough.
—Psalm 37:19-20, from the translation in the Book of Common Prayer

This passage says that the godly will have bad times and suffer days of famine, which I find very reassuring, because if I do face adversity, trial, and hardship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have fallen out of God’s favor. God will not grant me an exemption from hard times, but He will grant me dignity in them. God will not grant me an exemption from times of privation, but He will provide me enough to get along. And I bear witness in my life that this is true: for at no time during any adversity in my life was I ever debased by anyone other than myself or did I lack anything that I truly needed, except in my imagination or my lust.

Another thing that used to perplex me, but doesn’t bother me any more, is when a person triumphs through evil. You all know what I mean: A competitor is convicted of fraudulent trade practices and still is able to win a sale from under your nose. An office adversary stabs you in the back and is rewarded by a promotion. A thief breaks in and steals a gift you gave a loved one and cannot now replace. You work and slave behind the scenes, while the lazy loudmouth gets public credit for your work. A beloved friend is gruesomely murdered and the confessed killer gets a light sentence. These things have all happened to me, too.

I used to be furious with God about such things, and we used to have it out in loud fights. You see, a former nun once told me that if I was mad at God, I should find a place where I cannot be overheard and have a good knock-down, drag-out fight with God. Yell and scream at God, she said, give Him a piece of your mind and don’t let Him off easy. She said that if my relationship with God was so fragile I couldn’t have a little argument now and then, my spirituality was too weak to do me any good anyway. At first, I thought this was crazy and dangerous, but in a time of great stress I tried it. Now I can bear witness to you that even though I have lost every single argument with God, God has a marvelously edifying way of winning arguments! He returns every distress and care with a deep, abiding peace. I used to laugh at how silly it was for Adam to wear a fig leaf in God’s presence in Eden; now I realize how silly it is to wear a fig leaf of propriety before God in my private prayers.

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
     the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
     do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
—Psalm 37:8-9, from the translation in the Book of Common Prayer

So if I am overwhelmed by anger and rage, I try to take it out on God rather than people, because unlike people, God can handle it, defuse it, and remove it. If I am vexed and troubled, I talk it out with Him. If I discuss distressing rumors with people, the rumors grow and lead me to evil, but if I discuss my troubles with God, no ill can befall me, for nothing I give over to God can succeed in leading me to evil.

I don’t pretend that I have mastered this in my daily life, but I strive to submit all things to God.