.It’s always a point of great interest to me that my father once interviewed Mahatma Gandhi. He was with the British forces in India between 1945 and 1947 as part of the military transition team as India moved into independence.He was seconded to work as a journalist with a forces newspaper, and so in that guise came to meet the great man.
Gandhi (who was assassinated almost seventy years ago) once said:
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it- always.”
But my father’s thinking had followed a different trajectory. He had grown up with pacifist views (in a working-class London household) but then become convinced by Churchill’s speeches of the late 1930s that Hitler represented an evil that must be resisted by military determination.
He added a year or so to his age and promptly joined up, and for the best part of a decade fought with vigour all over the world until the evil was crushed. I’m proud of him.
And now, all these years later, I wake to the news of yet another horrific terrorist attack, and turn to my morning Bible reading, which includes the phrase “Alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,” (Colossians 1:21) and I wonder who was right, my father or Gandhi.
Paul’s point, if I understand it correctly, was that evil is as evil does, that when you are estranged from the God of all good, then you will do bad things; you live out of the person within.
Yes but, as they say, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And I think it was Einstein who expanded that slightly, saying, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
So what do you do? Do you rise up, gun in hand to put things straight? If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The truth is that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between religions either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.(Solzhenitsyn)
When Jesus died on the cross he was exposing the truth of what evil is, what it looks like, and what it does. He was experiencing in his own body the total alienation from God that evil represented. And evil does not stay static or neutral: it is a living cancer that grows through alienation to hostility to evil deeds, “Alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.”
All this is there in the “blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). It was as if all the evil of the world had been constricted to one fine point, to a point of decision, a cross-roads of choice, God and Man locked together into the complete expression of both Evil and of Good at one precise moment of history.
Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.
But love won.
Christ broke the stranglehold of evil and created the new reality of reconciliation:
“For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” (Colossians 1:19-22)
It’s fitting to conclude with the words of Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980, just thirty-three years after Gandhi.:
“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”