I have been reflecting this week on the Apostle’s admonition to “avoid evil.” Heady stuff for a vacation, I admit! My need to more fully understand this concept arose as I wrote about movies and the Christian obsession with watching and enjoying them regardless of their content. It took me some time, but I realized that I had reflected on this in the past, though it was several years ago.
The last time I remember writing about the importance of avoiding evil was after reading an article about Jeffery Dahmer. I assume that most North Americans are familiar with him, as he gained great notoriety in the 1990’s as one of America’s most vile serial killers. Over a two-decade period he was responsible for the murder (and sometimes cannibalization and other unmentionable acts) of seventeen men. The usual American media circus accompanied his trial and sentencing. His life came to a violent end when, shortly after being sentenced to life imprisonment, he was murdered by another inmate.
I read the story of his life, from his upbringing in a normal family to his gruesome death in prison, with a kind of horror, but also with a kind of fascination. Though the article was, thankfully, short on specifics, it certainly provided enough detail to show just what a depraved individual Dahmer was. And despite the depravity, I lapped this story up like a dog lapping up his own vomit.
Later in the evening I reflected on the fascination I had felt when reading the article. Why is it that I could be absorbed with something so vile and so unnatural? Why would I even want to know the details of such a life? A couple of possibilities came to mind.
Perhaps it could be that it is simply inconceivable to me that such evil could exist in a mind and body just like mine. In many ways Dahmer was little different than me. He was raised in the same society (albeit a few years before my time) with many of the same values, had a job and paid his taxes. Yet within him lurked this terrible evil. So perhaps my fascination was simply my mind crying out in disbelief that this was a man not too terribly unlike me.
The second possibility may be easier to explain by analogy. I was reminded of a recurring theme within that timeless story Lord of the Rings, a story that most people are now familiar with. Frodo Baggins has been bequeathed a ring of immense power. Though at first he does not realize it, this ring is actually a source of incredible evil. It contains within it the wrath, fury and evil of the sorcerer Sauron, who represents the source of evil within Middle Earth. As the story progresses, we see that Frodo has begun to fall under the ring’s power. The ring has a kind of mind of its own and desires to return to its master. As Sauron’s minions search for this ring, Frodo finds himself drawn to them. The ring, which he wears on a chain around his neck, pulls him towards the power of evil. This evil ring around his neck, desires to return to its wicked master.
Within every human there is an evil nature. The Bible, in Jeremiah 17:9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Anyone who denies that he has these sinful inclinations is in defiance of the obvious. So perhaps the fascination I felt in reading about someone so vile as Dahmer is simply the evil within me drawing me to an even greater source of evil. Perhaps the evil within me is just crying out and pulling me to allow it to return to its master. It is a daunting thought, that lurking within my heart, just barely beneath the surface, is an evil that is fighting to escape.
The third possibility is that my fascination was based on a combination the other two reasons. The side of me that is appalled by wickedness recoiled at the thought of such evil. At the same time, the part of me that delights in all manner of wickedness was drawn towards more and greater evil. One thing that is certain and is beyond possibility is the wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 5:21-24. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
While I may be drawn to evil, and in fact, am willing to admit that I am drawn to it, the fact remains that God commands that I avoid it. And not only am I to avoid evil, but I am to avoid every kind of evil - the mere possibility or hint of evil. God’s standards are high. So is my propensity towards evil. Evil has a magnetic pull that draws me towards it. Thankfully God, in His great wisdom, has placed within me the Spirit who graciously allows me to see this evil, to hate it, and ultimately to avoid it.