Evil and Love

One of the perpetual challenges that modern, western theologians and Bible readers face is the way that scripture assumes a world where not only injustice but true evil is active. We probably wrestle with the wrong issues, for example, when talking about justification, because we don’t experience the need to be vindicated by God in the face of perpetual persecution for doing what is right.

Ours is a world where we can claim that people are inherently good–and actually believe ourselves.

But Miroslav Volf does not sugar coat the world and he perpetually summons us back to reality. Having experienced a measure of persecution during his years in Serbia and Croatia, he demands of Christians that we recognize a moral duty to call evil evil–even while summoning us to the sacred duty of loving all our neighbors (even the evil ones).

His book Against the Tide is a series of short reflections on what it means to love in the world that we actually inhabit.

The book is a collection of articles that range widely while pushing us to have our imaginations transformed afresh by the Christian story of a God who loves us and calls us to be agents of God’s love in the world.

Volf is bold. He wrestles with the story of the flood. He demands that we learn from it that God will not rest content with a world full of evil. And, he draws on the flood imagery from 1 Peter and suggests that we can read the washing of the flood as a symbol not of God washing away the evil doers, but washing us up so as to stand pure before our God.

He also insists that we call evil when talking about the actions of people. The alternatives are to deny the evil that destroys the world or to demonize perpetrators. Demonizing the evil doer makes the person an object to be exorcised, expelled, destroyed. Calling a person evil maintains their humanity: yes, he is evil, an evil neighbor I am called to love so that I might overcome evil with good.

For short daily devotional reading, you could do no better than Against the Tide.

Disclaimer: I don’t need to provide a disclaimer because I actually paid $10 for my copy of the book. So the Fed won’t come after me for this one. But on the other hand, Volf and I are Facebook friends, which, of course, makes him my BFF. I was even in the same room with him once at a reception!

5 thoughts on “Evil and Love”

  1. You may blame Miroslav Volf’s “Love’s Memory” lectures and his book Exclusion and Embrace for the fact that I am now engaging theology and ethics. I heard his lectures at a PTS youth forum, and was transfixed by the possibilities he offered. Went home and read Exclusion & Embrace: my first theological text. Took me a year to read that book, but it was completely worth it.

  2. I appreciate Volf’s insights from his experiences & walk with Christ. Thanks for bringing attention to this book, Daniel. Naming evil for what it is bothers folks because of a fundamental mistake: merely identifying actions or behavior as good/evil is considered “judgment.” That’s not, AFAICS, the Biblical definition of “jugdment.” That seems to me to be a major reason why the naming, in and of itself, is “against the tide.”

    Another aspect I’ve noted of the reluctance to name good/evil is that many folks cannot rightly discern them. Scot McKnight had a post where he called evil the breaking of shalom “in the name of God”, IIRC. Proverbs 17:4 came to mind, here; this verse struck me strongly in recent years — that liars, in effect, are the ones who believe liars. In a church where many folk cannot be differentiated from the world by any transformation in their lives, should we be surprised that believers cannot discern good/evil when God’s Holy Spirit hasn’t yet penetrated their own lives & hearts?

    If he makes such a distinction, how does Volf distinguish from created good by God & acting evilly? Your last major paragraph looked to take 2 tacks: 1) calling actions evil and, 2) calling people evil. Do I need to get the book to find out his answer? :) (I will, anyway. I’ve been persuaded!)

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