Protection from the Evil One

The Evil That Men Do - Michael Todd KerrWhether Jesus believed that there was an evil entity which is the source of all evil, or simply that humans are capable of evil, it seems that evil was alive and well in his world and in his worldview.  We are naive to think otherwise in ours.

I am aware that John’s gospel reflects the worldview and concerns of his community, perhaps as much as a century later than Jesus. At the same time, my view is that he reflects the spirit of Jesus, that as a devout human who chose the path of Jesus, the author participated in the field of Jesus’ spirit or consciousness.

I find this text quite moving in the way it reflects the concerns of a man (in the form of a prayer) who is facing execution by a world that “hates” him, and by extension, could well hate his disciples. Hate is not too strong a word to describe a world that is perfectly willing to execute an innocent man for the sake of good order. This is the “world” Jesus is referring to. He is not portrayed as anti-world in John’s gospel – “for G_d so loved the world…” (John 3:16). But the world that G_d loved was, and continues to be, capable of great evil.

In the Jesus prayer, we are entreated to pray to be saved from evil, or the evil one, depending on the translation.

I recently listened to an interview featuring psychologist, Andrew Feldmar, on the subject of evil, with Dr. Mia Kalef (my partner).  He reminded me that evil is live spelled backward. Evil is anti-life. Life is exploited to serve ends other than the sheer joy of existence, the love of others, and the beauty of the world. All life, beauty, love become means to a sinister end, which is ultimately death—specifically, the cessation of the life force in others to illustrate one’s dominance by the perpetrator, whether state or individual.

The alarming instances of police brutality against blacks in the U.S. which have come to light over the Police Brutalitypast year. The recent murder of Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old Baltimore black man, while in custody is only the latest. One officer has been charged with “depraved heart” murder. This reflects a much larger systemic evil, in which a prison system has been privatized, with most of its prisoners being young blacks. (12-13% of the population is African American, but black males make up 40% of the almost 2.1 million inmates.)

While there are no convictions, and the principle of innocent until proven guilty must be upheld, it is a characteristic of other murders of this kind that they are enacted because “they can be”, as Andrew Feldmar puts it.

This is the case as well with the crimes of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse that are enacted against defenceless children by parents. These crimes represent parents destroying the life force of their own children, for no other reason than “they can”. There is, says Feldmar, a sadistic element to it. They can get away with it in the secrecy of their private lives, or from behind “the blue veil of silence” in the case of the police. And so they do it. And it is evil.

It is evil in part because it is hidden. It is evil because these parents carry on, acting like parents, in the world and toward the child. But the child knows unconsciously that s/he is hated, and the parents are hateful creatures. But it all forces the child to collude in the charade. S/he is required to live within the lie, and with “the people of the lie”, as Scott Peck described the perpetrators of evil. S/he lives in a state of death.

Jesus prayer in John’s gospel shows him praying that his disciples will be spared the evil one:

17:15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

It’s a very touching prayer in that Jesus knows first hand the hatred of the world for him, and through prayer he is asking that his disciples be spared this hatred. Or perhaps his prayer is that they be protected sufficiently that their inevitable run in with hatred and evil will not steal the life from them.

The Banality of the Banality of Evil-BanskyFeldmar himself was three years old when the Nazis sent his mother and father to the death camps. Through a courageous act, a Catholic woman took him in as her own. But a Nazi detective spotted somebody carrying a gift to the house, and surmised that a Jewish child was being hidden there. He came to her house and confronted her. His conditions were that either she had sex with him or he would take the child away. She was forced to choose between whether she could look at herself in the mirror after having had sex with this evil man, or look at herself in the mirror after giving up the child. She decided that she couldn’t have lived with herself if she handed him over to the Nazi. In the face of evil, she needed to decide how best to retain her humanity—how to live in the direct experience of evil.

My hunch is that Jesus was concerned that his disciples be able to retain their humanity in the face of the evil that was about to be enacted on him. Would they themselves resort to the anti-life behaviour, and the violence of his executors. Or would they follow Jesus and witness to life in a world that was hell-bent on death?

Part of how we protect ourselves from evil is to acknowledge that it lives in us. That is, knowing what is the right thing and choosing to do the wrong thing is not restricted to Nazis. It is a principle of an evolutionary worldview that we are concentrated amalgams of everything and every form of consciousness that has preceded us as humans. Evil, therefore, is in the field, or as Jesus put it, in the world, and the world is in us.

The vocation of living ethically requires on-going discernment of what our intuition is telling us. It’s when we’ve lost the capacity to shudder that the evil that is in the world finds an opening in our own souls. This is why for Christians it is so critical to be “in Christ”, that is to so live in the world of love that is Christ consciousness that we become deeply sensitive to what is not-love, not-life. And this is not easy. Evil is insidious. It creeps its way incrementally into our social, political, and economic systems.

We come home from an afternoon having been processed by a medical system that is more concerned with technology, litigation, and efficiency than the condition of our soul, a medical system that by and large sees us as a collection of physical parts, but has very little understanding of the role of consciousness in health, and something tells us that what we’ve been confronted by is anti-life. You’ve been hypnotized by a materialistic worldview, that is pouring through every procedure and every word coming out of the system’s representatives, who have themselves been hypnotized away from soul, and you wonder what hit you. You feel like a twisted piece of scrap metal. It’s not the people who are evil, but they have unwittingly been conscripted into view of the world in which the human is treated as an object in order to be processed efficiently.

I find it interesting that Jesus’ prayer begins with the affirmation of unity between G_d, him, and the disciples, and his prayer is that “they may be one, as we are one”. Evil is bred in the dark room of separation consciousness, the felt sense of isolation, of not being known (as Jesus knew the disciples, and the “Father” knew Jesus). The individualism of modernity establishes the context where evil can breed, in secrecy and lack of accountability. In a village, for example, there is the same potential for evil, but not the sense of alienation. You are known. The women in the village are the aunties of the children, and the men are the uncles. You may act out, but you will be called to account and called back into participation.

We must not be naive about the presence and power of evil in our world. Neither should we be afraid. Our focus needs always to be on completing the joy that Jesus radiated (17:13), but when confronted by evil within ourselves, and the world, we must be prepared, first to feel it (that is, cultivate the capacity to shudder in its presence), and to confront it.


John 17:6-19
17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

17:12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

17:13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

17:14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

17:16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

17:19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

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