In considering the good and evil in the world, it is not apparently obvious that the wicked actually play a role in our salvation. I was set to pondering this concept after reading a meditation in one of my favorite books. The meditation for day 20 in “A Year With the Church Fathers“, asks the following question about evil,
Why doesn’t God just get rid of the wicked now and let the righteous live in peace?
As we are exposed to more and more news of evil around the world, this question seems particularly pertinent. We hear some version of this question daily as the continual reports of church shootings, unlimited abortion, and other violence streams across the news cycle. Although the just man will certainly turn to prayer, there is a temptation to ask God to simply resolve the disproportionate evil of today, once and for all. However, that is not the answer.
Evil As An Opportunity
What, then, is the proper attitude and response? Do not let the wickedness of the world get you down. For, according to Saint John Chrysostom, “The wicked are doing you a favor“. The dark of their wickedness offers a contrast to the light of those who do good. In return, the light of goodness causes the wicked to hide their sin. The mere existence of the righteous brings out guilt to the heart and conscience of the evil doers. Saint John Chrysostom asks,
So do you see how much the good gain from the wicked and the wicked from the good? This is why God has not set them apart, but allows them to be mixed together. Homily 3 on the Power of Demons
In contemplating this surprising thought, we begin to see evil as an opportunity to “exercise Christian virtue”.
Virtue In Response to Evil
So how do we exercise virtue in response to evil? One concrete goal should be to prevent evil from darkening our spirit. Longanimity or long-suffering, a Fruit of the Holy Spirit, provides us with “extraordinary patience under provocation or trial”, according to the Catholic Dictionary. When we are able to tolerate “something painful that deserves to be rejected or opposed”, we allow our love of God to temper us.
Giving in to despondence is to lack faith in God. The just will always turn to God in hopeful praise. “Through God anything is possible.”
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Results Come From God
As foolish humans, we often think our action is what brings forth change. However, we must acknowledge that although the effort may be ours, the result is always the work of God. Instead of distress, it is good to stop frequently to contemplate the greatness and goodness of God. Through Him, perhaps in response to our faithful petitions, evil members of the body of Christ may turn from their wicked ways. In turn, the just may shine all the brighter.
In this way, a man works in tandem with God. God provides the basics – the beauty of the earth, fertile lands, and the seasons. In turn, a man provides the labor, tending the flocks and the grain. God enlists our cooperation and the result is beautiful. Man and wife beget children. Farmers produce food. Scientists and doctors discover and heal. All of these great accomplishments come from a cooperative effort between man and God.
Cooperation In Salvation
Our salvation, too, requires cooperation. Jesus died for our salvation, “once and for the many”. Yet we must also play our own part. Identifying wicked acts, we must seek to live in opposition to them. Not as the Pharisee did, by comparing ourselves to others, but by comparing our actions to those actions that are opposed to God‘s will.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. Luke 18:11
On the other hand, the sinner sat in the back and simply apologized to God for his sinfulness saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ God knows our sinfulness, yet it is up to us to clearly admit it. Contrary to popular belief, sinning is not acceptable. As it wasn’t in the past it is also not in the present. Whether our sins are hidden or brought to the light of day, our guilt is the same. They do not escape God’s notice.
God, you know how sinful I am; my guilty deeds are not hidden from you. Psalm 69:60
Acknowledging Our Sinfulness
In bringing out sinfulness and exposing it to light, we are able to provide a beacon for those who are also seeking goodness. Then those who are also struggling will find the path as well. In cooperation with God, we can lead others to heaven, even as we ourselves are led. This holds true for our loved ones as well as any others we encounter on our journey toward eternal life.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10
Therefore, our duty is to resist the temptation of despondent thoughts. Instead, we have the duty to hold fast to hope, just acts, and a sense of community within the Body of Christ. In this way, we have found the usefulness of the wicked in the world. Through them, we can become better. Through us, they can become just. And in a cooperative effort between God and man, salvation will come to many.