Evil in The World

About these essays:

Even 6 years after I worked on my Doctrinal Exam, I return again and again to the theology I internalized and made my own during this process. I am still very grateful for the opportunity to discover my answers to these questions. The denomination’s requirement that we wrestle with and answer these questions is a blessing to us, to our ministry, and to the communities that are transformed by the words we put down on paper. If you are in the ordination process, or hope to be, I hope you take your writing seriously because this work matters.

Looking at others work was very helpful during my process, so, I am returning the favor and sharing mine. You are welcome to use what you need to, but make your work your own, because it really does matter.

¶324.9.b:  What is your understanding of evil as it exists in the world?

John Wesley believed that humanity is evil and that there is no “light intermixed with the darkness.”[1] In his sermon, Original Sin, Wesley goes farther than the belief that humans are sometimes evil, he says that humanity is continually, “every year, every day, every hour, every moment” evil. He says we have no knowledge of God, nor do we have love of God. We are prone to idolatry and self-deification, ascribing to ourselves what is due to God alone. Evil, for John Wesley, is at the core of humanity and he is unapologetic about this belief, even if many Methodists today find his words uncomfortable.

As I contemplate whether I believe John Wesley is right or not, two things occur to me, first evil is systematic and second, evil is personal; I believe the church acknowledges both. “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners.”[2] The social structures in which we find ourselves oppress and marginalize; there is systematic evil. Our world allows poverty, racism, child labor, human trafficking, and other injustices and forms of oppression to occur. Jesus spent much of his time with those on the edges of society:  prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and other marginalized people; he also spent much of his time with those that held power within his culture, including the Pharisees. He calls on us, those on the margins of society and those that hold power, to act in the face of injustices, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NRSV). We live in a world that falls short of the Kingdom of God because of social structures and systematic evils.

Evil is also personal. As individuals, we are broken and fallen, short of the full human beings that God created us to be. We do not do what we want to do, but do what we hate (Romans 7:15). We try to do no harm, do good, and attend to all the ordinances of God, but instead hurt the ones we love, walk away from doing good, and boast about how good we are at attending to all of the ordinances of God. As individuals, we say we know that God loves us, but with Wesley, we spend many hours working for love, hoping to earn what we claim we already have. With the Book of Discipline, I believe we stand in need of redemption because humanity has become “estranged from God, wounded ourselves and one another, and wreaked havoc throughout the natural order.”[3]

[1] John Wesley sermon, Original Sin

[2] ibid

[3] Book of Discipline, ¶102

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