We were young, naive and idealistic and thought we had a good handle on biblical truth. We had read the Bible through several times, amassed sets of Bible study tools and commentaries, and had much confidence in our ability to know “what the text really means.”
Oh yes, how easily we told ourselves we were doing such good — and how little we understood how evil can masquerade as good.
So, armed with such extensive knowledge, our small group set out to straighten out the world and be a part of a “real, New Testament church.” The plan? We would sit around, loving and teaching each other, sharing gifts as we had them, everyone stepping up at just the right time, and would show the world with our perfect marriages and well-reared children and financial successes just what a real, Bible-believing Christian looked like.
Minor blips surfaced, of course. Misunderstandings arose, occasionally leading to extended fights about the indisputable meaning of a certain section or detail of the biblical witness. Some of us formed closer bonds than others, leading to accusations of in-groups and out-groups.
Those with marital problems hid them well. If problems did surface, it was assumed to be the wife’s fault for not acting in adequate submission to the head of the household, the husband. Permission would be granted for him to be more forceful in exercising that God-given authority.
The occasional straying husband would be chastised but generally, he dropped from sight. Eventually, so did their estranged and saddened wives — clearly sexually inadequate to hold their husbands, after all.
Rebellious children simply didn’t exist because parental discipline removed all ideas of rebellion and induced subdued cooperation. The occasional teen pregnancy or drug use was discreetly ignored, the parents given sympathy — but criticized thoroughly behind their backs.
We did this all for the greater good of forming a more Christian society. We also freely condemned others who thought differently “for their own good.”
These memories flashed through my mind when I read about a male physician and his female patient who were stoned recently (stoned: not high on drugs but had stones thrown at them with the intention of killing them) in Afghanistan. From the news report:
In many parts of Afghanistan, particularly in remote areas, women are customarily not allowed to be examined by male doctors except in the presence of close male family members as their chaperons. Stoning is the punishment for adultery under Shariah law, and many Afghan clerics approve of it, although it is officially outlawed here.
That just got me, “Many Afghan clerics approve of it.”
Clerics, people who are supposed to interpret the nature of God to those under their care, approve of these barbaric, evil acts of extreme cruelty. But, of course, it is “for their own good.”
Frankly, the phrase, “for their own good” has justified evil since the beginning of time. We use it to justify our own actions when those actions hurt others.
That which is evil has nearly unmatched ability to disguise itself as good. Evil deceives. And all of us are also capable of immense self-deception. All of us paint ourselves with good motives even when they are not so good. That is human nature.
Maybe we should consider that the phrases “for your own good” and “I’m going to do this for the greater good of society even though people will be hurt in the process” actually open the doors to a lot of self-justified evil, wrapped in our own sense of self-righteousness.
Maybe then we’d drop the stone instead of throwing it.
Maybe we would be able to pull ourselves back from evil.
Maybe we wouldn’t stand and cheer when others are doing evil.
Maybe there would be less self-righteousness in the world.
Maybe people would choose humility when deciding they have the responsibility to interpret the nature and words of God to the world.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .