RELIGION: Are we immune to the effects of evil

By Canon Gerry Conroy

I am unsure of whether it is a new phenomenon or if it is simply that I have become more aware of it, but it seems to me that writers of novels seem increasingly ready to point out the evil that lurks in everyone, even heroes have a broken nature and are capable of as much evil as the villain.

It is not quite a justification of the evil the villain does, but it is a view of human nature that is less positive than the old idea of goodies versus baddies. I remain uncertain if it is a warning that we are all capable of evil or a kind of justification of the hero’s use of excess violence in response to the evil that seems to dominate our world.

I wonder if it might be the beginning of a reappraisal of the value of the virtue of humility; a recognition of the brokenness of our nature and of its limits. It reminds me of the Bible story of Cain and Abel that speaks of evil crouching at the door ready to eat us unless we master it. A warning not to think we are immune to the effects of evil.

I think that is probably something with which we can all associate, maybe not necessarily in terms of extreme violence, but we can all recognise that moment when we all become aware of a choice we face to do something we know isn’t good or to step back from our impulse.

We recognise the evil welling up within us and we need to master it. Perhaps writers are a bit extreme in suggesting that the only thing that separates us from those who commit horrendous acts is the circumstances which have overtaken us and over which we have no control; as if we are all hostages to circumstances.

Yet there is a truth buried somewhere in all of that: sin is real and we are never free from its effects in our lives. But we still have the freedom to choose how to react too evil. That is where God comes in.

On the face of it the Pharisee thanked God that he was not a sinner; I wonder if he recognised that it was God who had done this for him, or if God was now no more than an idol, an echo of some past belief that persisted in his mind. As far as he was concerned he was doing everything right; he was a good person, and everything about him was good because he kept all that the Law required of him.

In whatever manner he related to God, one thing was clear: he was blind to the fact that he was a sinner; it was not within his horizon that sin was endemic to his nature; that was a reality to which he was blind.

That can be a rather dispiriting thought, especially I’m sure it could have been devastating to the Pharisee when he did sin, if he ever recognised it. Thinking of himself as sinless would have made his sin even more devastating to his idea of himself, to the picture of himself he had built up. It may even have been enough to prevent him seeking forgiveness, thinking himself beyond salvation. Funny how the devil works in us.

Humility preserves us from such despair because we are already focused not on our own sinlessness but on the mercy of God from which we draw strength and find freedom from our history; And that is a much more joyful way to live our life. It is filled with much more hope and hope doesn’t come from what we do but is a gift given to us.

Humility is a key both to our hope and our freedom because it helps us see that it is God who guarantees both our hope and our freedom.

Top picture: St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton have a new assistant priest. Late vocation  Father Douglas Green, pictured top of page with Archbishop William Nolan, will be working in both parishes alongside Canon Conroy.

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