Jesus has Authority Over Evil

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ first miracle is casting out an unclean spirit. He had just been
in the desert facing temptation by Satan, then He started preaching, called the first disciples,
and now this. It was the first blow in a battle that would culminate on the cross. He did not
come merely to fight this evil or that evil, but evil itself. Ultimately, our enemy is not
people who do evil, but evil itself. How much the devil is personally involved and how
much is just human sinfulness is not a question to spend time with (too much interest in the
devil is a bad idea: he is the greatest of all seducers).
There is no doubt there is much evil in our society today, and that we are broken into
factions that are getting farther apart, more hostile and more suspicious of each other as
time grows on. How can we fight this evil? How can we bring healing? How can people
who disagree have constructive and fruitful dialog? I have some thoughts.
Our greatest weapon against evil is our relationship with God (Ephesians 6:10-17). If we
want a better world, the first step is to fall more deeply in love with God.
It is very human to believe that what seems obviously true to me is obvious to everyone
else, if they will only admit it. Until we recognize (and keep reminding ourselves) that
intelligent people of good will can see things differently from us, we cannot have good
dialog, and we will tend to get louder and angrier instead of increasing understanding.
It is easier to see faults in others than in ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5). This is an unconscious
thumb on the scale. If we do not remember that and compensate for it, we will keep talking
past each other. When we call out the faults of people on our side more energetically than
the those on the other side, it will be a great step forward for dialog and healing. Also, we
are not called to judge the state of their souls but call out bad ideas and bad
behaviors. Arguments that support our point of view seem stronger. Arguments against
our point of view seem weaker. This is another unconscious thumb on the scale. We can
have better dialog if we keep it in mind.
It is easy to look back on atrocities committed in the past and say with hindsight we would
not have participated; we would have resisted. Oh really? We have the advantage of
knowing what we know and being raised by and surrounded by people who support our
point of view. How do we know that if that were different, we would not be different? Dr.
Philip Zimbardo was involved in the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which they simulated a
prison setting and observed people’s behavior. Many behaved quite differently from how
they expected. Dr. Zimbardo came to Aquinas College and talked while I was there. I
remember his final comment was that the more people thought they were immune to being
influenced, the more easily they were influenced, and the more concerned they were of
being influenced, the better they could resist. Humility is called for.
I strongly recommend the book “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save
America From the Culture of Contempt” by Arthur C. Brooks. He reminds us that dialog
with people who disagree with us is a gift. It helps improve our ideas and sharpen our
perspective. I know I have failed many times: I have spent most of my life picking up bad
habits. I suspect I’m not alone. If we work together, we can do great things.
Part 2 Next week.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

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