You Can Resist Evil
With the rise of global terrorism, world leaders have spoken a great deal about vanquishing evil. But, as one writer in the Guardian pointed out, ‘Their rhetoric reveals a failure to accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits.’ As Albert Einstein said, ‘I do not fear the explosive power of the atom bomb. What I fear is the explosive power of evil in the human heart.'
Why is there so much evil in the world? Why is there such a battle with evil in our own lives? How can you resist the devil? What will happen to the devil at the end of time?
7 A discerning son heeds instruction,
but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.
8 Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor
amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.
9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction,
even their prayers are detestable.
10 Whoever leads the upright along an evil path
will fall into their own trap,
but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.
11 The rich are wise in their own eyes;
one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are.
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation;
but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.
13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,
but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.
15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.
16 A tyrannical ruler practices extortion,
but one who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long reign.
17 Anyone tormented by the guilt of murder
will seek refuge in the grave;
let no one hold them back.
Confess and renounce evil
Here is the answer to evil in our own lives: ‘Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy’ (v.13).
The writer of Proverbs speaks of different types of evil: murder (v.17), leading the upright along an evil path (v.10), developing selective hearing towards the law (v.9), charging exorbitant interest (v.8) and hard-heartedness (v.14).
He also speaks about evil rulers: ‘When good people are promoted, everything is great, but when the bad are in charge, watch out!’ (v.12, MSG). ‘Among leaders who lack insight, abuse abounds’ (v.16a, MSG). We’ve seen this in recent years in, for example, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Sudan and so on. Good leadership is so important.
He says that an evil leader is ‘like a roaring lion or a charging bear’ ruling over a helpless people (v.15). The apostle Peter describes the devil as ‘a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).
When you confess your sins, God offers mercy. ‘You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them’ (Proverbs 28:13, MSG). Or as St John puts it, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
Submit Yourselves to God
4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?
Boasting About Tomorrow
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Resist the devil
Why is there so much division in the world? James gives us an uncomfortable answer: ‘Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves’ (v.1, MSG). The Bible acknowledges the human sources of evil, but also points to a deeper source.
All human beings have evil tendencies. This chapter is focused on the key battle ground in the fight against evil – ourselves. Evil must be resisted. How can you win this battle?
The first problem that James identifies is that when we want something, we go out there and fight for it, rather than asking God: ‘You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it’ (v.2, MSG).
The lure of the pleasures of this world is so strong. But God wants us to be faithful to him. When we pursue the pleasures of this world we become adulterous in our relationship with God: ‘When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures’ (v.3).
He goes on to say, ‘You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way’ (v.4, MSG). This upsets the Holy Spirit: ‘Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?’ (v.5). We grieve the Holy Spirit when we go after other gods.
It is also possible to sin by not doing something. Sin is not just doing what we know is wrong, it is also failing to do what we know is right: ‘In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil’ (v.17, MSG).
You cannot overcome evil on your own. Yet, here is the remarkable thing: ‘he gives us more grace’ (v.6a). God does not condemn you. ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (v.6b). He gives you more grace to overcome evil.
Submit yourself humbly to God: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you’ (vv.7–8a). These are wonderful promises worth learning by heart. ‘Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time’ (v.7–8a, MSG).
How do you do this? He goes on to explain, ‘Quit dabbling in sin’ (v.8, MSG). It is no good thinking you can live a holy life and hang on to just a little bit of sin in your life. ‘Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field... Get down on your knees before the Master.’ God does not leave us there. Getting down on our knees is the way to get back on our feet! (vv.8b–10, MSG).
As we recognise our own shortcomings, we realise we are in no position to judge anyone else. The best way to forget the faults of others is to remember our own. As we ourselves are law-breakers, who are we to sit around judging other people (v.11)? There is only one who is qualified to be the judge: ‘the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?’ (v.12).
Another evil is self-importance, to be ‘full of your grandiose selves’ (v.16, MSG). We ‘brashly announce, “Today – at the latest, tomorrow – we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money”’ (v.13, MSG).
It is good to plan ahead but, at the end of the day, ‘You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow’ (v.14, MSG). You are totally dependent on God. ‘Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”’ (v.15, MSG). The expression ‘God-willing’ should not be a formality. Rather, it should express the reality of a heart that recognises that God is ultimately in control, and you are not. The prayer of your heart should be, ‘your will be done’.
The Lord’s Great Victory Over the Nations
38 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal; prophesy against him 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. 4 I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army—your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. 5 Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, 6 also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops—the many nations with you.
7 “‘Get ready; be prepared, you and all the hordes gathered about you, and take command of them. 8 After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety. 9 You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land.
10 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. 11 You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people —all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. 12 I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land.” 13 Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages will say to you, “Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder? ”’
14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? 15 You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. 16 You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
17 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel. At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them. 18 This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign Lord. 19 In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20 The fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 I will execute judgment on him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. 23 And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord. ’
39 “Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. 2 I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. 3 Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. 4 On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. 5 You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. 6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, and they will know that I am the Lord.
7 “‘I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. 8 It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.
9 “‘Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up—the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.
11 “‘On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east of the Sea. It will block the way of travelers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog.
12 “‘For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. 14 People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground.
“‘After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. 15 As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in the Valley of Hamon Gog, 16 near a town called Hamonah. And so they will cleanse the land.’
17 “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: ‘Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls—all of them fattened animals from Bashan. 19 At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. 20 At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.
21 “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. 22 From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. 23 And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offenses, and I hid my face from them.
25 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord. ”
Be confident in the triumph of good
Evil will not have the last word. Good will ultimately triumph. God is sovereign – even over a global pandemic! As St Thomas Aquinas put it, ‘God is so powerful that he can direct any evil to a good end.’
Ezekiel prophesies against ‘Gog, of the land of Magog… I am against you, O Gog’ (38:2–3). The identities of Gog and Magog seem to be deliberately mysterious, but Ezekiel uses them to represent the archetypal enemies who ‘cook up an evil plot’ against God’s people (v.10, MSG).
This identification becomes clearer in the book of Revelation (Revelation 19:11 – 20:10), which describes the end of the world and the destruction of Satan. Gog and Magog are identified with Satan and used to represent all the evil forces and people of the earth. The message of both Revelation and Ezekiel is clear: God wins!
This is essentially a message of hope. God says, ‘I will execute judgment \[on Satan\]... so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord’ (Ezekiel 38:22–23).
The context in Ezekiel is that the people were exiled because they were unfaithful to God. So he hid his face from them and handed them over to their enemies (39:23–24). Now he promises that a day will come when evil will fall (vv.4–5). God will be glorified: ‘The day I am glorified will be a memorable day for them’ (v.13).
He promises that he will have compassion on them: ‘I’ll be compassionate with all the people of Israel... I’ll use them to demonstrate my holiness with all the nations watching... After I’ve poured my Spirit on Israel, filled them with my life, I’ll no longer turn away. I’ll look them full in the face’ (vv.25–29, MSG).
These are amazing promises. Satan is a defeated foe. His end will come. You can begin to experience that victory right now. You can resist evil.
James 4:7-8 says:
‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.’
These are powerful verses that I have recited many times when I’ve been feeling under attack by fear or discouragement.
Verse of the Day
‘Come near to God and he will come near to you.’
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John Gray, ‘The Truth about Evil’, The Guardian, (21 October 2014): http://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/oct/21/-sp-the-truth-about-evil-john-gray \[last accessed November 2015\]
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.