While watching a few football games last weekend I noticed that there is yet another Exorcist movie coming out and Hollywood is sure hyping it up! Exorcist 30! …or something like that. I remember when the first one came out while I was in high school, and a buddy and I went to go see it. I have to say it scared the crud out of me. So much so that at one jolting scary point in the movie my Micky’s Big Mouth beer in a glass bottle which I snuck into the theater dropped out of my hand and you could hear it roll down the concrete floor from the back row all the way to the screen. “Dink, dink, dink, duh, dink”…all the way down Doh!! The movie sure got people thinking and talking about demon possession, evil and the Devil.
Evil is a strange thing. I’ve always attributed the most awful acts of violence that humans commit to “evil,” whether it be “evil” the adjective or “Evil” the noun as in the work of Satan. Apparently, he is the ruler of the world. So we’ve been taught. As I’ve gotten older, not necessarily wiser, I find that it makes more sense to pin acts of evil on us human beings rather than a mysterious force or embodiment of evil in a supernatural being. I’m not saying there couldn’t be such, or there isn’t a realm where an evil force might exist. I’m just saying here that human beings are very capable to carry out acts that are extremely “evil,” which as an adjective is defined as “profoundly immoral or wicked.” Profoundly. I think the more profound an act of evil is, the more likely we want to blame a force or an entity outside the sphere of human decision making. The New Testament mentions the “Evil one” quite often. In the Old Testament we simply see humans committing acts of violence and evil on their own accord.
When it comes to acts of evil, I wonder if it is OK to suggest that maybe we allow what the Bible blames on the Evil One, when it comes to acts of evil, to sometimes cause us to think less about what humans are capable of on their own? If we would prefer to give Satan the credit for evil acts, that’s fine but let’s remember, God didn’t excuse Eve in the garden because of the serpent or lay the blame solely on the serpent. One little nibble of an apple apparently opened the floodgates of our capability to commit evil. For Adam and Eve there was no need for an exorcism due to demon possession, just an obvious ability and propensity to do bad things already innate within.
A few months ago, I was called to a scene where a father murdered his 11- and 13-year-old daughters then killed himself. Evil? Talk about profoundly immoral and wicked. Who can begin to explain? Yet it happens. What goes on in the human brain is still a mystery. Was this man possessed by Satan and couldn’t help himself? Or is the human mind and the mental health that ensues a complicated matter beyond our understanding? A brain injury or surgery can often change a person’s personality, not always for the better. What I do know is that at the other end of the spectrum of evil acts is the potential each one of us has to at least “think violence” or do hurtful or bad things. David, in a Psalm, states, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle.” Apparently, throughout all the Psalms and the Old Testament, there is a dependence on God to carry out acts of righteous war and violence. I confess, it is a mystery to me how or why God involves Himself in violence and war. All humans have at least some potential to commit an evil deed even if most never act on that potential to do something terrible beyond hurtful words or selfish acts.
Netflix has a one episode special titled “Ordinary Men: The Forgotten Holocaust” that focused on the German soldiers who carried out executions by firing squad during WWII shooting millions of mainly Jews and Russians. They examined one of the many Companies of soldiers who were tasked with carrying out the executions. The episode revealed that these men where often older men who did not want to fight on the front lines and enlisted to be on a “security” detail behind the front lines. They had no idea what they were signing up to do. These were ordinary men, many with one or two college degrees, some with doctorates. Career men. Family men with a wives and children. The show’s intent was to dig into how these men could carry out such an evil task. These men were not what our society today would call evil men, monsters capable of such acts. But act they did.
The best explanation was that most were certainly indoctrinated as Nazi sympathizers, but that they were also incapable of saying “no” in the context of peer pressure, carrying out orders, and being unable to decide. Interestingly, a small percentage of men, given the opportunity to not be involved in executions without repercussions chose to excuse themselves. Early on, many of the others who carried out executions suffered some level of adverse reactions and post-traumatic stress. Still, they were able to continue executing not only men, but as many women, children and infants that were presented to them. All this to say, we can sometimes blame “evil,” which I’ve done most of my life when it comes to the dastardliest of deeds, but perhaps that somehow takes away the responsibility of terrible acts from the perpetrators and causes each of us to think humans are not capable of such acts unless “the devil makes them do it.”
I can’t imagine that there was any other time in human history when prayers of the innocent for rescue went up to God for rescue from captivity, malnutrition, abuse, torture, the gas chambers, and the execution ditches as during the Holocaust of WWII. Was it Satan that had his way and not God? Or can the human mind and soul trump any desire God has for the actions of a man or a woman to do good (think "Eve")? The last few days we have been watching terrorists storm through Gaza and Israel executing innocent men, women and children all in the name of God (Allah). History repeats itself. Ukraine is a hotbed of evil.
One thing is for certain. We only know evil is so wrong because we know God is so good. God is love. Some day he will win the day.