Monday, February 27, 2012

The Face of Evil

When I was a kid, it was easy to know who the villain was in a TV show or a movie.  It was the ugly guy.  It was the gunslinger with the black hat.  Or the supervillain with the evil laugh and /or the cartoon character with the pointy ears.  It was hardly ever the ravishingly beautiful person.  Or the one who seemed to be so nice.  

But real life isn't like that.  The old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover," is a double-edged sword.  Sometimes the most beautiful people are those who seem to be unapproachable on the outside, yes.  I know a few people like that and am glad that I have taken the time to get to know them.  But the opposite is also true.  Just because someone is attractive or seems nice ... doesn't necessarily make it so.  Appearances can indeed be deceptive.  

I got to thinking one time recently about what the worst kind of evil, what the purest form of evil, looks like.  I know that evil is, in a sense, faceless: it is no respecter of appearances.  I'm not talking about appearances, but about attitude.  After examining several options, I believe that the purest and most dangerous form of evil is that which truly believes itself to be good.  

The most obvious form of that type of evil would be someone like that guy called Adolf that was rattling around Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s.  He was an impressive guy, a consummate leader - and truly believed he was doing the world a favour by committing genocide.  One religious organization even called him "the defender of the faith" for that stance.  Of course another guy named Winston kind of took exception to Adolf's "vision" for a brave new world - and stood up to him the way you'd stand up to any bully.  He got some folks to join him and stop Adolf. Thank God! 

But we don't have to come face to face with a Hitler to be exposed to pure evil.  It is so rampantly wide-spread that we could rub shoulders with it every day and not be aware of it.  

Rarely is it ever up-front about its agenda; sometimes it is not even aware that there IS an agenda (and would be righteously indignant if you even suggested it)!  And the agenda always boils down to the same thing: power.  

Evil is power-hungry.  And if it can achieve its purpose (and thereby gain that power for a longer period of time) by putting on the face of a saint, it will.  Confronted, it may act injured, longsuffering, or bewildered.  Only when it's unequivocally exposed for what it is, will the claws and fangs come out.  

This story is repeated so many times throughout so many generations.  Power-struggles are so common in relationships, whether husband-wife or parent-child or boss-employee or teacher-student.  And it could be the seemingly submissive one who actually wields the most power.  I remember being close friends with one couple early in our marriage where the husband seemed to rule the roost ... to the casual observer ... yet it was the wife who manipulated, wheedled, and controlled what happened in the everyday.  

At first subtly, then more and more as the children came along and grew, this woman - with a sweet smile, happy-go-lucky outlook, and syrupy voice - undermined her husband's reputation with his children, drove a wedge between him and them, and took their side in parental decisions against him and in front of the children ... every time.  The children grew up disrespecting him, openly criticizing him, and rebelling against him.  And all the while, she decided what happened, how it happened, who went where and what they did.  Finally when the husband died early - of a stress-related illness (who knew?) - the whole family did a flip-flop and talked about him as if he was some sort of saint - which he would have been the first to admit he wasn't.  

Not long after, the wife looked around for someone else to control (oops, HELP) - and found a new target in the husband's mother.  And everyone looking on from the outside thought that she was such a brave soul for facing life without her husband, for carrying on, and for being so nice to her mother-in-law and carrying on her husband's memory.  But in essence, she had lived her life without her husband from the get-go.  His feelings, his opinion, his input was never listened to or asked for - and when he gave it anyway, he was belittled in front of his children.  Now that he is gone, it has made little difference in her life except to remove the little bit of resistance he provided. She is actively feathering her nest and taking advantage of her mother-in-law, using her visits and her children as weapons to get what she wants: the family heirlooms, that is.  And most people still think she is so sweet.  The saddest part of it is ... so does she. 

It's so very tragic.  Yet this is only one example of so very many similar situations in so many families world-wide.  This is where pure evil thrives - not so much in despots and political parties and institutions like the film industry (or whatever is the most recent target of the moral majority) ... but in homes, churches, schools and workplaces all around the world.  

It makes me all the more determined to examine my own motivations - to pray and ask God to reveal the secret places in me where I hide from my own agendas, where I have myself convinced that I'm doing the right thing, where I still try to gain the upper hand at the expense of my husband's and/or my children's self-esteem or their freedom to choose.  I remember living that kind of life for decades, and thinking it perfectly normal and "right."  What it really was, was the natural result of the original curse: "Your desire will be to rule over your husband...." (Genesis 3).  And I had fallen for that hard-wired obsession to rule it all: hook, line, and sinker.  It took a great deal of Life beating me down into submission, for me to understand just what I was doing and to ask for help in letting go.  It's only by the Grace of God that I can even see an inkling of that compulsion in myself.  And it's only by His Grace that I can be free of it.

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