FROM THE PASTOR
The intersection of Hope Street and Fremont Avenue is not a happy place. The small street is controlled by a stop sign. There is no direct control on Fremont. The intersection is complicated by being 200 yards south of a railroad crossing and one block north of a street light. Traffic can switch from a total standstill to rushing well above speed limit in a matter of seconds. Frustration and near accidents are a constant occurrence. I am fortunate to walk it much more than I drive it. Many days I pass the intersection six times, so I know how it operates.
The other morning I was approaching on Hope St. The crossing arms were down so there was no traffic moving south on Fremont and the vehicles on the north side of the street were all stopped. A single van came up beside me and stopped at the sign. It was obvious that the driver wanted to cross Fremont and continue on Hope. (A questionable choice in itself.) There appeared to be a van-sized break in the stopped traffic on the other side of the street. The van driver inched cautiously out to see if she could fit through the opening. As I watched, the vehicle partly in the intersection deliberately pulled ahead and blocked the opening. The van was now stuck sideways in front of the rush of traffic released when the crossing arms went up. She sat there a moment and then backed safely into the side street.
I was appalled at that action. I would go so far as to call it evil. The north-bound driver had nothing to lose by letting the van driver sneak through ahead of him. He simply chose to impede her progress. Why did he do that? Why would anyone even think to do it? But they do. He was not even supposed to be blocking the intersection. The law says not to enter any intersection that you are not able to clear. It was a deliberate choice to take rights away from another person.
We tend to think of evil as big and ugly. We expect it to be like the Taliban or Planned Parenthood. Somehow we feel safer if it is “Out there” someplace. We can mark it as dangerous and keep it at a safe distance. Yet, the vast majority of evil is just like the incident at the corner. The Bible means it when it says that each person is born controlled by sin. The line between good and evil is not some international boundary. It is not the no-man’s land between warring armies. It runs right through each human heart. Every human being contains the capability of despicable acts.
The Bible also says that the only cure for evil is death. We work hard at controlling it. Parents struggle to teach children to do right and reject wrong. As a culture, we shame and punish those who publicly act in unacceptable ways. Almost all of our laws are attempts at controlling the evil within us. But, laws, shame, and culture are not enough. The only sure remedy for evil is death. Dead people do not violate others.
This is why we need to understand death. It is not hard to understand physical death. Dead men do not have the power to act on evil impulses. Until recently, most believed that there were crimes worthy of the death penalty. That position has become decidedly unpopular in the last decades, but still needs to be considered when we discuss the reality of evil.
The death that everyone can experience is death to self. This is the spiritual reality that frees us from the oppression of the sin nature. The person who is dead to self is not compelled to move forward a couple feet and block the progress of another vehicle. Instead, those who are dead to self are free to release their energy and creativity in ways that benefit others.
Death to self is the only way to eternal life. As long as I am protecting myself, as long as I am demanding my rights, I am trapped by the evil that resides within me. Only when I deny myself and accept the judgment of death on my old nature can I be free to live the life God intends.