The United Methodist Reporter is offering the latest headlines in the RSS format.
REFLECTIONS: Lent—a time to confess evil and sin are realities Bishop Woodie W. White, Feb 23, 2012
Bishop Woodie White
By Bishop Woodie W. White UMR Columnist
There really is evil in the world! So many Christians do not have a healthy respect for it. Perhaps we clergy are among the worst offenders. We have theologized evil and sin, if not away, at least to a realm that we believe does not merit our constant vigilance.
For many people, the dualism of accepting both the power of God and the reality of evil places their faith in a precarious situation. How could a God of good allow evil to exist?
However, whatever the origin of evil—and of sin—both are real and ever present. Every day there is evidence of their residing in the world at large and even closer, in and among the human family.
Many years ago the book Whatever Became of Sin?, by the acclaimed psychiatrist Karl Menninger, was published to considerable attention. His suggestion that much of society had lapsed into complacency about sin prompted serious consideration of sin’s existence— or, at least, recognition of its destructive nature.
A theology that does not take seriously the power of evil leads its adherents to vulnerability and a false sense of security.
Perhaps one of evil’s first goals is to convince the world, and especially people of faith, that it does not exist! Or equally as effective, to conclude that we are beyond its reach!
I witness such horrific acts perpetrated by individuals upon others, not easily explained by social theories or rationalizations.
One wonders aloud: How could he, she or they have done such a thing? From where did such an idea come? Was there no conscience that told them to stop? Or shame?
So often “good” people do “bad” things. It confounds us. Sometimes, dastardly deeds seem not only incomprehensible but also unthinkable. What happened to “consequence”? Or morality? Or ethics? Or a sense of right and wrong?
We have seen peoples slaughtered, groups annihilated, individuals trampled upon, and even hopes and dreams dashed. Individual and collective evil. Personal and corporate sin. Each of us of can make specific the general litany of evils we see.
I wonder if acknowledging that we are capable of evil (doing the very thing that we hate, as St. Paul described it) is the place to begin. We are all sinners!
In the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, members introduce themselves by giving their first name, followed by “I am an alcoholic.” The person may not have had a drink of alcohol in 10, 20, 30 years or more, but still acknowledges the vulnerability.
In the Christian tradition we never say, “I used to be sinner.” Rather, we acknowledge that we are sinners, saved by grace.
It is a constant reminder of our vulnerability to temptation. We acknowledge what we are capable of saying, doing or being without allowing Christ’s spirit to manifest itself totally in our lives.
As we enter the season of Lent, we might start by acknowledging the power of sin and evil to take over our lives in small and great ways. We ask forgiveness when we know evil has ruled our actions, and promise to be vigilant to ensure it does not continue. We thank a good God, for the grace and mercy shown to us.
What is remarkable about Lent is that the whole Christian community has the opportunity to engage in this corporate act of confession, penance and restoration.
And evil and sin shudder!
Retired Bishop White is the denomination’s Endorsing Agent for Chaplain Ministries and bishop-in-residence at UMC-affiliated Candler School of Theology, part of Emory University in Atlanta.