Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Exiles Part 3

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the third in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the life of the biblical exiles. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.



Deliverance from Evil: Evil from Good

You intended to harm me (by selling me into slavery in Egypt), but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.[1]
(Joseph to his brothers)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.[2]
(Jesus to his disciples in teaching them how to pray)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[3]
(the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome)

While the contest with evil is a feature of the Christian experience no matter what our environment, its institutionalization and dominance is more likely to occur in societies that deny its existence and spiritual roots. It is therefore particularly important that believers living in exile in environments and societies hostile to faith and the things of God have a thorough understanding of the nature of evil, how it “works,” and God’s provisions for deliverance from its tactics and stratagems.

The Twisting of Good to Evil Ends

I once read a commentary on the nature of good and evil by a German pastor who had survived the horrors of the Second World War.[4] It is deeply relevant to any Christian believer but especially to those involved in and active at the interface of faith and politics.

He was reflecting painfully on the evil of the Nazi regime—its capacity to amplify and give license to mankind’s tendency toward prejudice, hatred, cruelty, brutality, and violence. But in retrospect what horrified him even more was its capacity also to take that which was good and admirable in human beings—the industriousness of the German people and the idealism of German youth, for example—and twist even those elements to diabolical purposes.

The twisting of that which is good into something evil and destructive of human life is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. For example:

  • In the Old Testament story of the Fall that which was pronounced by God himself to be “good” becomes cursed when the first human beings succumb to the temptations of the Evil One.[5]
  • In the New Testament record of the trial of Jesus, the Law of God, given as an instrument of righteousness and justice, is cited by Jesus’ accusers in support of their demand that He, the Son of God, be crucified.[6]

If as Christians we find ourselves in the presence of such a transformation—evil fastening itself to something good and twisting it to destructive ends—it is no exaggeration to say that we are in the very presence of the Devil (evil in its most virulent form) and need to be not only on guard but also in the forefront of resistance.

From Good to Evil in the Life of Joseph and Israel

Joseph, for example, was a son much loved by his father Jacob—a good thing. But this good thing was somehow seized upon by the forces of evil and twisted, only slightly at first, into favouritism, which in turn begat jealousy and resentment among his brothers.  Joseph at an early age also had a gift for prophetic dreaming—a good thing, a God-given gift which would later commend him to the Pharaoh of Egypt. But while he was an adolescent the forces of evil were able to take two of his prophetic dreams that predicted that he would some day rule over his family and induce young Joseph to share them unwisely and arrogantly, further feeding the smoldering fire of jealousy and resentment among his brothers. Eventually that fire blazed out into hatred, attempted murder, and the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Evil affixed itself to that which was initially good in the life of Joseph and twisted it to evil and destructive ends – his life as a slave in exile in Egypt.

Israel and Judah were once part of a united kingdom, worshippers of the one true God and heirs to his promises. They were ruled by David, a man of God, whose two greatest desires toward the end of his reign were to be succeeded by a God-honouring son (Solomon) and to build a great dwelling place (the Temple) for God. These were good things—noble, spiritual, and conducive to life and happiness. But once again the forces of evil insinuated themselves, subtly at first but shrewdly and tenaciously, into the religion and politics of the kingdom.

The desire and willingness of human beings, and the Israelites in particular, to “worship” made them vulnerable to the attraction of the gods of those around them. Not only did the people succumb to this attraction but Solomon himself was eventually led astray to worship the gods of his many wives. In addition, Solomon’s desire to bring glory to God by building a magnificent temple soon morphed into a desire to build magnificent palaces for the Lord’s anointed—Solomon himself. The location of the Temple and Solomon’s palaces in Jerusalem, in Judea, and the onerous taxes levied on the whole kingdom to pay for them, then led to charges of favouritism and resentment among the northern tribes. This in turn blazed out into open rebellion and civil war during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. It also led to religious apostasy as the leaders of the northern tribes sought to provide an alternative place and form of worship to that provided by the temple and priests in Jerusalem. Thus the kingdom of God’s people became divided and weakened spiritually, politically, and militarily—easy prey to the Assyrians and Babylonians who eventually conquered both Israel and Judah and led their people into exile and slavery. Evil insinuated itself into that which was initially good, and redirected it to evil and destructive ends.

Good to Evil in Our Day

In our own day, examples of this phenomenon also abound. The search for truth, meaning in life, and harmonious relationships through the search for God—genuine “religion” in its broadest sense—ought to be a boon and a blessing to mankind in the here and now as well as in the world to come. In Canada, for example, many of the foundation stones of our health, educational, and social welfare services were laid by people whose faith led them to self-sacrificial service to others. And it was faith in God which enabled many of my parent’s generation to endure the hardships and terrors of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

But far too often the search for meaning and meaningful service in life through faith has been perverted and twisted to become a force for evil—a source of tyranny, persecution, religious wars, and the present-day jihads of religious extremists. From good to evil on the religious front—terribly discouraging to the sincere believer and driving millions away from God rather than toward him.

In the political world, the pursuit of freedom down through the ages has brought the blessings of religious, intellectual, political, and economic liberty to millions in what are now regarded as free societies. But it is also true that freedom, especially freedom exercised without responsibility, can be carried to extremes so that liberation movements—from the renaissance, the reformation, and the French revolution to the sexual liberation movement of the twentieth century—can also be transformed into new tyrannies and new sources of suffering.

Science and technology, benevolently developed and used, have been enormous forces for good—increasing the life span and improving the health and wellbeing of billions of human beings. But it is also a sad reality that virtually every major scientific and technological advancement—from the discovery and harnessing of fire and gunpowder, to nuclear fission and fusion, to the discovery and manipulation of the genomes of living organisms—can also be harnessed to the science of warfare and the destruction of human life.

And with respect to the provision of health care, education, and social services—vital to the wellbeing of millions of people—bureaucracy is the predominant organizational structure adopted for their management and delivery. But that very same organizational form can also become an instrument for harm—stifling freedom and initiative, reducing human beings to mere names or numbers in a file, and dividing responsibility among so many levels and agents that no one accepts responsibility or can be held accountable for the effectiveness or morality of outcomes.

It is as if Great Good—through faith, freedom, science, and bureaucracy—and Great Evil—through the abuse and perversion of the same—are opposite sides of a very thin coin often balancing precariously on its edge. And depending on the intentions and strength of those in positions of influence at a particular point in time, just a small nudge is all that is required for that coin to fall Good Side Up or Evil Side Up with great blessing or great tragedy as the inevitable result.

Evil to Good

The most striking example of this phenomenon in the Christian narrative is the transformation of the cross—a cruel instrument of torture and death—into an instrument for achieving the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of mankind through Christ’s sacrificial death upon it.

When we find ourselves in the presence of such a counter-transformation we are in the very presence of God—goodness personified and in its purest form.

Thus the good news of the Christian gospel writ large is that there is a counter-balance for “good into evil.” In the providence of God “where sin increased, grace (the unmerited favour of God) increased all the more.”[7] Evil can be overcome with good, even transformed into good, and God’s servants have an integral part to play in working with Him to bring about such transformations.

Application

More on this in the next article in this series. Before proceeding, however, it is worth taking the time to identify and examine the instances in our own lives and work where the forces of evil may have fastened onto things which are inherently good and twisted them into something bad. Perhaps it is our conviction of sin turned into depression and paralyzing feelings of worthlessness; our passion for the things of Christ morphing into intemperate zeal that repels rather than attracts others; our desire to succeed and set a good example twisted into self-promotion and workaholic behaviours; our desire to do and see others “do things right” pushed into obsessive perfectionism and criticism of others.

The challenge is to be alert to the possibilities and realities of good being twisted into evil so that we seek God’s help in guarding against and resisting such transformations. We truly need to pray frequently and earnestly, as Jesus taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”[8] The good news, to be explored in the next article, is that it is at these very points of spiritual vulnerability—in ourselves, our work, or the institutions of which we are a part—that God’s grace can begin its work of prevention and counter-transformation.

Footnotes


[1] Genesis 50:20

[2] Matthew 6:13

[3] Romans 12:21

[4] I read this commentary many years ago, and cannot today recall its exact source or author. It would be appreciated if any reader who can identify the source and author would advise me so that proper reference can be made and credit given. 

[5] Genesis 1-3

[6] John 19:7

[7] Romans 5:20

[8] Matthew 6:13

Source: Marketplace Institute



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