Our Capacity for Good and Evil

Yesterday, Fr. Warren Sazama, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in St. Paul, preached about original sin.  Taking his cue from the line in yesterday’s Gospel where John the Baptist instructs his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” Fr. Warren spoke about the evil we observe in the world as well as our capacity to participate in that evil.  Indeed, the temptation to make choices contrary to the good can be quite strong at times.

Today the United States observes Martin Luther King, Jr. day that in the words of Coretta Scott King “celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America” and that commemorates “the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and of : “universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence.”

Like Fr. Warren, King reminded us that each of us possesses both evil as well as good.  We like to think that we are the good guys and that evil is out there somewhere.  Other folks are bad guys but they are not us.  That creates a nice binary that is easy for us to accept; we can line up some people on one side of the line and put others on the other side – and, although we might not say it out loud this way, feel justified in loving the one side more than the other.

In his Loving Your Enemies sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1957, King preached

Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation who hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every person and see deep down within what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love in spite of. No matter what the person does, you see God’s image there.

We have the capacity for evil, yet we are created in God’s image.  We need to recognize that tendency in ourselves, and not think we are somehow removed from the sin of the world. Equally importantly, we need to recognize that those we label the bad guys – those whose capacity for evil is sometimes easier to see –  also have the capacity for good.  Our challenge is in seeing the good in them, for they too are created in God’s image.

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