Can Evil Drive Out Evil?
"Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: How can Satan drive out Satan?"
June 29, 2018, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: “Will You?” Jasmin Rogers
You may be familiar with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote which I think sheds light on the above passage:
“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
In the spirit of Dr. King’s quote, I would add this: Evil cannot drive out evil—only justice and righteousness can. Violence cannot drive out violence—only forgiveness can.
Jesus’ question was rhetorical. Of course, Satan cannot drive out Satan. So…what can?
Or, if we phrase the question more narrowly for our times, how does God, through the activity of the Church, drive out Satan? How does the Church’s spiritual formation embody the love, light, justice and forgiveness of Christ in a way that drives out evil?
I was having that exact conversation tonight with a small group as we wrestled with the topic of spiritual formation—particularly for millennials. One young adult said she feels most spiritually alive and grounded when she is able to connect God’s heart to her work in community.
For her, and many others, the light, love, justice, righteousness and forgiveness of Christ are formed and matured through their work in community. This is spirituality formed in practice.
AMEN. A LOUD, EXTENDED, and Heartfelt AMEN.
Let me explain…
I’ve been curious about a baptismal vow that I ask people as they are being christened:
“Do you denounce evil in all of its forms?” The correct answer, in case you were wondering, is “I do.”
Recently, I’ve been imagining a revision of that same vow: “and…will you be active with the Church, working to cast out evil in all of its forms?” Satan cannot cast out Satan. Perhaps God wants the Church involved?
Of course, being able to denounce evil requires that we are able to see it—not just in the world, but in our own hearts. Let’s be honest here…there is evil within us, individually AND within the Church that needs to be “cast out” and “denounced” too. This requires that we look at our OWN complicity in perpetuating the evil we see every day. Our silence, our clinging to power, our unforgiveness, and the claims to privilege based on whiteness are all examples of being complicit in evil. And we could name many more.
So what do we do?
The last two weeks, our congregation participated in a discussion about the “Persistent Widow.” from Luke 18. Jesus intentionally lifted up one of the most marginalized, powerless people in the community. She was the example of persistent prayer AND action. She was tireless. She was unashamed. She was unapologetic. She was focused. She was unafraid to go to places of power to get what she needed. She was FAR from silent.
It was almost as if Jesus was saying, “Dear Church, in case you missed it, YOU are the persistent widow.”
What if we were tireless in our prayers and actions to find justice on behalf of those who desperately need to know that God has not forgotten them? Whether they are immigrant parents who have been detained and separated from their children, or families who are being discriminated against and displaced due to unfair housing policies, or kids in a broken school system that continues to operate in inequitable ways, or brown and black communities being unfairly targeted and policed.
We see every day how evil and violence flourish in marginalized communities in abundant ways. Their vulnerability makes them both easy targets of evil and scapegoats for it. And, it creates in all of us the potential to “blame” them for their own plight. Please, let’s not do that. Literally, for God’s sake, and in the name of Christ, let’s not do that.
Rather, may God, in his mercy, make us more like the powerful widow—persistent in prayer and action.
Street Psalms Fellow
Pastor | Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Seattle, United States