As I listened to the Psalm in my church’s Lenten devotional for today, there was one phrase that penetrated my ears more than the others. In speaking of those he or she sees as “wicked,” the Psalmist writes these five powerful words:
“…they do not reject evil.”Psalm 36:4 (NRSV)
I am not one that spends as much time as I perhaps should reflecting on evil in the world. This is probably much to do with the privilege I have been afforded in my life – I am an educated, gainfully employed, reasonably healthy, middle class, white European and have never wanted for anything. When I have needed food, it has always been there. In fact, even when I don’t need food there is an abundance of it there and I have always enjoyed partaking of it. When I have needed access to healthcare, it has always been there either by the universal healthcare provision of my home government, or, more latterly, because I have been able to afford healthcare here in the United States. I have come through third level education to doctoral level and I carry no student debt – my education has been provided for me and paid for by employers or parents for my entire life. I live in a good neighborhood and always have. The evils of this world have rarely, if ever, come knocking at my door, hence my lack of reflection on them.
This is not to say that I am unaware of evil in the world. I am. I just don’t have it in my sights round the clock in a way that someone who is living with evil on the doorstep of his or her life might.
But these five words leapt out at me as I listened to Psalm 36 being read this morning, as they should have, because rejection of evil is 100% a foundational component in the life of a Christian.
In my own tradition (United Methodist) we hold high our understanding of baptism and what it is to be baptized. We understand that in our baptism we are called to a life of discipleship. Our baptism liturgy asks the following question (as the first of three that are asked) of those who are seeking baptism/bringing a child for baptism:
“On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:United Methodist Baptismal Covenant I
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?”
Right there in the beginning of this holy and sacred moment is the emphasis on rejecting evil. The question follows as to what evil actually is. For many, a rejection of evil boils down to the individual rejection of personal sin. But this question is asking more than whether or not an individual is behaving themselves in life or not. Read it again: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? This is about more than individual rejection of a sinful lifestyle that is distracting one from God. This is an invitation to reject evil powers in this world, and to reject them is both to refuse to participate in them AND to seek to dismantle them in whatever ways we can. This is why the work of anti-racism is currently front and center in the United Methodist Conference in which I serve – it is seen as a central part of discipleship in our present age and context to reject and dismantle the stronghold of racism and racial injustice in our nation and world. Of course, this is just one example of evil out of multiple examples I could land on in our times.
So when I read the Psalmist complain about the wicked in his or her world, and that they do not reject evil, I recognize that this is not a new aspect of discipleship. Rejection of evil in the world has always been a central aspect of being part of the family of God.
So how will I respond today? I can go on enjoying the privilege I have in this world and thinking very little of the evil that I quite blindly and blissfully participate in and which surrounds me each day OR I can let this word speak to me; let it call me into a new way in which I take steps forward in rejecting evil.
I think the most important thing I can do today is to read/hear this word, begin to open my eyes and recognize the evil in this world, and start anew to live into my calling as a baptized member of the household of God – to reject evil outright and work to dismantle its stronghold in my world.
How will you respond today?