Be not overcome of evil
In my devotional reflection this week, I re-read the part of Paul’s epistle to the Romans in which he advises the community of the faithful, ‘be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ One of the distinguishing features of our Christian faith is the repeated nature of this type of exhortation throughout the Gospels and much of the rest of Scripture. We all know well Christ’s commandment to love our enemies and to pray for those who would persecute us. Often, however, our responses might fall short of that vision, and do so in two primary ways. Either we neglect in our anger or hurt to even begin to practice Christ’s commandment, or we imagine that a bland posture of benignity towards our enemies suffices for real love.
Paul’s vision of what it means to love is both startling in its instruction and implication. ‘Dearly beloved,’ he writes, ‘if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in doing so thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.’ Paul insists that we must do real, tangible, and active good towards our enemies, whomever they may be, and yet at the same time maintains that there is a destructive element to these actions. At first, I balked at the apparent Machiavellian nature of Paul’s instruction, with the implication that goodness only works condemnation and not redemption. Yet they also put me in mind of the words of a dear friend, who believed the only worthwhile spiritual, political, and social work in the world to be literally ‘loving the hell out of people,’ acknowledging the reality of confronting evil in each other and in ourselves and with the tribulation and frustration and tortuousness that accompanies such love. It is one of the great mysteries of life with Christ that this kind of love cannot be adequately described or prepared for in advance, but must be lived each day, in spite of ourselves. What kind of love might God be calling us to in this time?