"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" by Edmund Burke.
I had heard it before but it really hit home after watching this movie. Not just in the context of the movie but, of course, in the spirit realm. What is our responsibility in fighting evil? What does it mean to not allow evil to triumph? What does it mean for good men to do "something".
This scripture came to mind. Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good."
The quote above suggests action, as does the scripture. However, there is much to be considered regarding the word "good". You see, in Tears of the Sun, the soldiers, led by a character played by Bruce Willis, wrestle with how best to handle injustice that they encounter in Africa while on a mission to save a doctor. Along the way they kill quite a few rebel soldiers that are massacring other Africans. They defend themselves and those in their care as needed. However, at one point they come across a village of people whom are not their direct responsibility. These people are being raped and murdered just because. The soldiers are indignant and engage the enemy to enact justice on these rebels committing this heinous crime against humanity. In all honesty, if I was in their position, I am not sure I would not do the same. As I was caught up in the story line I found myself empathizing deeply with everyone involved and wanting to see justice served.
My dilemma comes in considering what the bible teaches regarding the idea of taking justice into our own hands not just legally, but spiritually. Certainly the idea in the movie is that the U.S. soldiers were assisting citizens of a country in which there was no true governing authority so utilizing Romans 13:1 may not have been most appropriately applied here. However, Romans 12:21 does seem to suggest that revenge, whether personal or governmental in nature, is not generally ours to enforce. I realize that this could be another discussion entirely so I will be striving to apply this more to personal action rather than getting heavy into a debate on wartime actions. Please understand, that I am not speaking to the idea of self-defense or the defense of another, physically or otherwise, in the moment so much as I am to the idea that harm has already been done and now we must choose how to respond after the fact.
This scripture teaches that we are to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, etc. Basically, the most selfless and sacrificial love that can be shown, we must show to those who may have done horrible things to us or those we love. How contrary to our nature is that? I have heard many a person make statements that suggest the revenge that they think they would take if something was done to a family member. I confess that I empathize entirely with those thought processes. However, if we are to be obedient to God's word we must prepare our hearts and minds well before anything horrible ever crosses our path. Whether it is happening to us or we observe it happening to someone else, our job is not to play God, but to put God first.
God Our Avenger
I will not pretend that if I were in the position of the soldiers that I would not have done what was necessary to stop the evil that was being observed. To be honest I am not sure that their actions were wrong in that scenario considering that they were in a particular position that, it could be argued, had the authority to enforce justice at that moment. Wartime is a very particular circumstance when thinking through these things.
But, when we work through this in our day to day lives we must remember that as Christians, it is not our job to avenge every wrong, whether done to us or someone else. God is our avenger. He retains for himself the right to enact justice as he sees fit. Our sinful nature will be to destroy that which has harmed us. However, time and time again in history, we see God using the very destructive acts of sinful men to save those very individuals responsible for the destruction. It is not our right to harm or take the life of those whom God may desire to provide eternal life. His plans are always bigger and better than ours. Even if we cannot see it in the moment.
Our Sovereign God is in Control
What we must remember is that God is in control. However, his control does not mean that he reacts to bad circumstances, but that He is actively involved from the beginning, planning all things with a purpose in mind. Much could be said of this but I will give just a quick couple of examples for consideration.
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is a good example of this. I will not strive to recap the whole story but if you read it you will observe that in all of Joseph's seemingly tragic circumstances, God has a plan. In Genesis 45:5-8, Joseph actually gives God credit for sending him through his circumstances to put him where he needed to be for the benefit of his entire family and the nation. Even though his family was responsible for his harm. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph understands that God intended the evil of his brothers for good all along the way. His brothers were responsible for their sinful, hateful actions and humanly speaking Joseph would have been entirely justified in destroying them as revenge. He was in a position to do so. However, Joseph understood that God had a bigger plan, that He knows what is best, and that He is always in control, sovereignly ruling over all circumstances. His love and submission for and to God and his understanding of God's sovereignty allowed Joseph to be forgiving and selflessly loving to his brothers. This is the perspective we must learn to have in all things.
The other example, of course, is the selfless life and death of Jesus. The very Son of God came down, took on flesh, did everything right in the sight of God the Father and yet sinful man despised Him, rejected Him, and killed Him(Isaiah 53). We understand this as the heinous acts of evil men and that they are responsible for their actions. We also understand that God planned this from the beginning. He ordained that it would happen(Acts 2:23). He determined it from the beginning as the only way by which sinful humanity might be saved.
Overcome Evil With Good
And so I believe that we must be very careful what we call "good" as it relates to overcoming evil. You see When Paul speaks to revenge in Romans 12:9-21, it is in the context of selfless love. And lest you be inclined to reject this teaching, you need to realize that Paul is simply reapplying what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-48.
The application of these teachings need not be applied simply in the most extreme of circumstances, as in the horrific scenes from Tears of the Sun. They need to be applied in the simplest of circumstances. Such as when your spouse is not handling your heart appropriately. When you find it difficult to even be in the same house with them, much less actually show love and care for them. Or, when your coworkers or neighbors are behaving in ways that hurt you or annoy you. How about when your children are rebelling and disobeying more often than not. When everything in you wants to scream at them and beat them senseless.
These are the moments when we must realize that any "evil" that we feel is being visited on us by someone else, WE have actually visited on Jesus at the cross. In instructing us to be sacrificial in our response to our "enemies", He is not asking us to do anything that He did not do for us on the cross. His amazing sacrificial love is being poured out on us continually as he gently leads us into becoming more like him, even as our sinful clay flesh still rebels against this peaceful potter.(Romans 5:6-11)
So when we think we want to respond out of anger and an attitude of vengeance toward those whom have brought us pain in one form or another, let us not forget the cross. We must understand that this gospel of sacrificial love is the "good" that both Paul and Jesus want us to respond with when we are striving to overcome the evil of this world.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that has the power to truly overcome evil. We must share this good news to a lost and dying world, even if their sins are directly impacting our lives in a negative fashion. So let your light shine and live a life worthy of that gospel that God may be glorified(Philippians 1:27, Matthew 5:16).
Love in Christ,