Assemblies of God Theological SeminaryMay 2015
Tsunamis of Evil are Nothing New

I recently heard a phrase used to describe our current global experience that caught my attention. The statement was made that we live in a tsunami of evil that leaves hopelessness in its wake. It is hard to avoid some version of that tsunami regardless of the part of the globe in which you find yourself.


 

By nature, I am somewhat of a cynic. I can easily see dark shadows even where good vibes predominate. But because I am prone to pessimism, I have disciplined myself to regard alternative perspectives on the issue or event that is, all too often, seen only through my cynical lenses. One of the alternatives to the tsunamic of evil motif is to acknowledge that we are not the first to face such tsunamis; other eras of human history have also had such dark episodes. Insurmountable, overwhelming, and unjust human structures, which strangle the life from people with an oversized reach, are not new.

 

When I look at snapshots of light in the middle of darkness, I am heartened. Several years ago, I climbed through the hewn out caves of ancient Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and saw the circumstances in which early Christians lived and thrived in the face of violence. I am amazed at the perspective of church leaders like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, or Basil the Great who lived in that day. They created safe communities in the depths of those rocks, even seminaries to train leaders for the church. They did this in a landscape that looked like a moonscape while they offered deep and abiding perspective to thousands of people who daily lived in an ancient version of a "tsunami of evil." The tragedy of their violent living conditions cannot be overstated, yet the eternal perspective of hope that these Church Fathers generated undergirds my awareness that we are not the first to pass the way of hostility to the gospel.

 

Consider Martin Luther whose reformation activities occurred while Europe lived through horrific and constant wars. Those wars had brought about the death of 50 percent of the adults living in parts of war-stricken Europe. Literally thousands of children were left on streets to fend for themselves as no adults existed to care for the young. Luther boldly observed that civil governments ought to spend as much money caring for these abandoned children as they spent on weapons and munitions for the ongoing and constant wars of the day.

 

Or, what about the modern-day "Back to Jerusalem" movement by Chinese believers who believe their calling is to migrate toward Jerusalem while presenting the gospel on that journey? This little known and under-reported movement of courageous Chinese leaders is living out the gospel in the most dire of circumstances. When asked if they fear for their lives, they will respond with the observation that where they came from in China, they already faced persecution for their faith. They had suffered violent persecution, imprisonment and, at times, death. Their experience in obeying Jesus' command to take the gospel to all nations is only the latest version of their similar experience "back home in China."

 

A significant caveat is implicit in the historical examples I have mentioned: each acknowledged that evil really exists in the world and, more specifically, individual sin is a reality. David Brooks, op-ed writer for the New York Times, recently observed that the word sin has lost its power and awesome intensity.[1] It's used most frequently in the context of fattening desserts rather than the individual human experience. Brooks observes that sin is a necessary piece of our mental furniture because it reminds us that life is a moral drama. No matter how hard we try to reduce everything to deterministic brain chemistry or strive to replace sin with non-moral words like mistake, error, or weakness, the most essential parts of life are matters of individual responsibility and moral choice.

 

The truth is that modern culture often attempts to replace sin with ideas like error or insensitivity and even attempts to banish words like character or evil altogether. Brooks correctly observes that such avoidance of terms doesn't mean life has any less moral qualities at stake. Even when we think and talk about these moral choices less clearly, we increasingly experience a blindness to the moral stakes of everyday life.

 

Whether it is the ancient Cappadocian fathers, Martin Luther, or the unnamed Chinese believers in the "Back to Jerusalem" movement, they all recognized what David Brooks so clearly articulates-evil doesn't disappear because we call it a different name. Individual sin is a fundamental reality of life that we ignore to our own peril. Tsunamis of evil are historical occurrences; only those who recognize them as such can respond with redemptive activity and sturdy confidence that faces daunting realities. We are in good company as we face our contemporary tsunamis. The song of the ancient prophet Zephaniah rings true, "Fear not, O Zion, let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save: he will exult over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing" (Zeph. 3:17, ESV).

 

Byron D. Klaus, President

ASSEMBLIES OF GOD THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY



[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York, NY: Random House, 2015).


 

 




Coming Soon! 

And That's the Way I See It! Volume 2
by Dr. Byron D. Klaus

Electronic edition will be available in June.


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