Every age has faced its global demons, whether the holocausts of the 20th century, or the Mongol invasions of the 1200s that resulted in the conquest of much of Eurasia. Somewhere in between, in the 17th century, Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Good men must have done something. We survived.
But a new global demon has risen from the ashes. With Islamic jihadists spreading their terror near and far, many Americans are fearful and uncertain. With the recent horrific massacre in Paris, anxiety is now a daily part of our ‘new normal.’ It’s hard not to be anxious when every Western nation is now on high terrorist alert.
When I recently heard that King Abdullah of Jordan has proclaimed that we are entering World War III, I thought of Edmund Burke’s quote again. Evil will triumph if good men do nothing. But what can we do? Sure, we could increase the budget spending for the Department of Defense, and launch more airstrikes. And, yes, NATO could play a leading role in a new coalition of nations.
But if the jihadists are, as they insist, targeting Western civilization, it involves more than the Pentagon. Much more than “boots on the ground.” This new and terrifying battle against civilization involves you and me. Western society isn’t a bunch of people “out there;” it is individuals like us. A civilized society is comprised of people who, through their actions and choices, make up the foundation upon which our civilized institutions are built. The good men – of which Burke was speaking – are you and I.
Evil may seem to have the upper hand right now, but humanity has always triumphed when people simply act humanely toward one another.
So what can we do to ensure that evil will not triumph? One response came from an unlikely source – during her concert after the Paris massacre, Madonna paused in between songs. She may have been dressed like an alien, but her words were, I believe, sincere, and from the heart: "The way we change the world is that we change the way we treat one another on a daily basis," she said. "We must start treating every human being with dignity and respect."
Madonna got a lot of heat for that comment, and I'm not sure why. Maybe most news outlets thought it too simplistic. But I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s the simple statements that ring the truest.
But no truer words on this subject were written than by the apostle Paul more than 2,000 years ago. Paul and his friends were facing their own global demons – Christians were being crucified, torched, thrown to lions, and dragged from their homes to be stoned to death. (Sounds like The Economist commenting on the latest ISIS atrocities against Syrian and North Iraqi Christians).
Civilization was crumbling within and beyond the borders of Rome, yet, inspired by God, Paul advises his friends, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17,18, 21).
What a great summary on our responsibility to each other. It means thinking the best of others. Always telling the truth. Forgiving even when you don’t feel like it. Not cherishing inflated ideas of your own importance. Defending the reputation of a friend. Speaking out on behalf of the abused, the poor and the elderly. And praying for your enemies.
With Thanksgiving upon us, I am grateful that Paul’s timeless words are as good a guide to us today, as they were to early Christians. For these words transcend religious distinctions and denominations – they counsel everyone on how to heed Edmund Burke’s warning. Evil may seem to have the upper hand right now, but humanity has always triumphed when people simply act humanely toward one another.
As crazy as this world is; as much as it seems to be spinning out of control, I believe in the apostle Paul’s words. I believe that God has not taken his hands off the wheel for a nanosecond. And every time we overcome evil with good, we deflate demons, shore up civilization, and reflect the God who inspired Paul. We end up living as he intended us to live. After all, “The glory of God is man fully alive."