This summer we have been looking at the fruit of the Spirit and having tough conversations about their opposites. Last week at Campfire Church we talked about what evil looks like, what goodness is, and what God says about it.
What comes to mind when you think of evil? Most of us don't have to think too hard to find examples of what we'd all consider to be evil. For starters, there is an abundance of war, terrorism and random shootings that have no explanation.
Proverbs 28:5 says that "evil men do not understand justice." Usually we think of justice as the punishment of wrongdoing, but justice is simply doing things according to the way they are supposed to be, as God intended. When we see acts of evil, of one person committing some unexplainably awful thing against another, we see no understanding of God's intended order.
The fruit of evil isn't seen just in a person's actions toward another. Sin has turned not only people's hearts but also the natural world away from what it was intended to be. Think about sickness we don't understand or can't control, like cancer or mental illness. Our bodies, minds, thoughts and lives are all affected. As we talked through some more subtle examples of evil, such as the idea that we need to do what makes us feel right. Focusing on ourselves at someone else's expense is not the good that God intended for us.
Another very subtle example is the deliberate misuse and misinterpretation of Scripture. God's Word is truth. Intentionally taking what He has declared to be true and using it manipulate others is evil.
Perhaps one of the things that we struggle with is when we see someone do something bad and they seem to get away with it. I've wished sometimes that I could get away with things like some people. But Psalm 37:1-2 says that we shouldn't be envious of those who do wrong. Why? Because they won't last. Eventually there will be consequences to every evil act. When we turn to John 8 we see that when we sin, we are in slavery to sin and according to Romans 3:23, no one has escaped sin. Every one of us have sinned and is a slave to sin without God.
We could keep discussing examples of evil, and maybe you can think of others that you could add to our list. But at some point we need to move from that and think about goodness.
Let's talk about goodness
Now, let's define goodness. A basic definition of goodness (aside from an exclamation) is perfection of character. Google defines character as "the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual." Character can be either good or bad, but goodness is the perfection of that character. It's not a passive quality. We know someone's character (and thus their goodness) when we see what they do.
Can you think of a time when someone performed some act of goodness to you? For some of us, it was the offer of patient friendship or watching stepparents treat their step kids kindly and lovingly. Or it is seen in the gathering of God's children as they do life together around a campfire.
Only God is good. He doesn't take pleasure in evil; evil can't even be in his presence (Psalm 5:4). He sets the standard of goodness and then calls us to be that. It kind of seems impossible, but that's where the Holy Spirit comes in. Goodness is a result of God's work in us. When we encounter an action that resembles God's character, we are seeing goodness. It is holiness in action.
So...Does God hear the wicked?
At the end of our conversation, someone raised a tough question: does God hear the wicked (see Proverbs 15:29)? If evil cannot exist in His presence, and if each of us start as sinners, how can we pray? God hears every prayer and He will not ignore a prayer of repentance. He doesn't want anyone to be separated from Himself (see 2 Peter 3:9). But God does delight in the prayers of the righteous. And we also know that as we follow Jesus, God will change our desires to be more like His.
How do we respond?
There's a lot of evil in the world. When we encounter it and work through it, remember that God isn't afraid of the question, "Why did this happen?" He can handle it. His plan is to restore all things to what He intended them to be, in all goodness. As we learn to be more like Jesus and learn how to show goodness in our lives, we present a contrast to the world that is amazing and beautiful.