January 30, 2003

“A major television network recently aired a documentary featuring the music of bands formed behind the bars of maximum-security prisons. The producers actually went inside the prisons to film the videos that featured the inmates.

Now this is hard to take in on many different levels. But one thing is more obvious: It is absolutely clear that the great modern crime is to prevent people from doing whatever it is they want to do. One reviewer mentioned the rights of the inmates to get their music heard. Another cited the rights of viewers to know what goes on inside those walls.

But now listen to a comment made by the producer after the filming: ‘The first thing that surprised me,’ he said, ‘was the air? Floating in the air, palpable and just out of reach was the unmistakable stench of evil.’ (Footnote 1: VH1 News, Oct. 23, 2002) What he did not specify was whether that stench of evil came from the inmates, the music, or the producers.

When morality is carelessly sacrificed on the altars of art and information, mention of evil seems strangely out of place. Ironically, before terrorism became a household word, mention of evil on national programming would have seemed out of place, too. As a country, we have grown far more comfortable using the word evil, and with due reason. And recognition of evil is good, in that it leads to a knowledge of the Good, for how could we recognize evil if good did not exist? This is why Lewis called evil a parasite: Evil cannot exist without good.

But there is a danger in labeling evil without understanding our need for the Ultimate Good. When God is taken out of the picture, evil is misunderstood. Apart from God, evil becomes reasonable. You see, Lewis also reasoned that wickedness is the pursuit of some good in a wrong way. You can be good simply for the sake of goodness. But you would not do something wrong simply because it is wrong, but because it was in some way satisfying or useful. The lesson in this must be clear: Apart from God, we readily forget that this same evil, prevalent in the hearts of prison inmates, is present in the hearts of all.

I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s ripe warning: ‘The final enigma of history is therefore not how the righteous will gain victory over the unrighteous, but how the evil in every good and the unrighteousness of the righteous is to be overcome.’ (Footnote 2: Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, Volume II. Human Destiny (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1964), pp. 43.)

God has done what we cannot do. Jesus Christ is the only man ever to live a perfect life. As a stream becomes stagnant when it is cut off from the spring, good things, like morality, apart from the Source of Goodness become something less. He is our righteousness. In Him alone can we overcome.”

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