Psalm 36 – A Question of Evil

From whence comes our fascination with serial killers? Every week the TV series, Criminal Minds, gives us yet another psychopathic killer, each competing with the last weeks to be even more devious and deadly. And now with the addition of the TV series, The Following, we have the “ultra” super villain, one who not only kills, but actively recruits followers to widen his web of destruction. Once the head is chopped off, hundreds of off-spring will pop up like terrorist cells to ensure his legacy continues. What is up with this? Why this fascination with evil?

When we think of psychopaths our minds go naturally to these killers, yet their numbers are few and far between despite what TV might lead us to believe. There are far more psychopaths living among us who many never physically harm anyone yet they leave a path of destruction in their wake. A psychopath is someone with no conscience who feels no empathy for others. As Webster tells us, a psychopath is “a person who engages in antisocial behavior and exhibits a pervasive disregard for the rights, feelings, and safety of others.” If they are caught and made to pay for their crimes, they feel no remorse for the pain they caused others.

They can be corporate raiders or CEOs who prefer profits over people or someone who moves through multiple romantic relationships intent only on what they get out of the relationship with no concern for the broken hearts they leave behind. It can be the person at work who lies, steals or spreads rumors with no thought about the damage their words and actions may do. There appears to be something missing in their psyche that keeps them from feeling empathy for others. Their numbers far exceed the number of serial killers in our midst. Were they born this way or was this a matter of choices over the course of a lifetime?

M. Scott Peck, in his book, People of the Lie, explores the dynamics of evil. He makes a distinction between psychopaths who feel no guilt and those who may experience twinges of guilt yet deny those feelings, actively choosing a lie over the truth. These people recognize on some level that they are lying but through narcissism and laziness, they chose to ignore this. It takes work to be honest with ourselves, recognize our sinful nature and chose to do something about it. They prefer to take the easy way.

The author of this week’s psalm is no stranger to such evil. He succinctly sums up the characteristics of evil. The psalm contrasts the power of evil with the power of God. It is short, only twelve verses, composed of two parts that are so different that they appear to be two separate fragments that were randomly joined together.

The first four verses state the nature of evil. The wicked person listens to the whisperings of an evil spirit, talking in their innermost being, their conscience, with evil. “Transgression speaks to the wicked, deep in his heart.” (1) The result of listening to this evil spirit is deciding that there is no God and thus they are not accountable to God. He becomes self-righteous, narcissistically believing in the lie. “For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.” (2)

It follows that he ceases to act wisely or do good, but rather is full of lies and deceit. “The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.” (3) His evil is such that he thinks about mischief all night long, conversing with the devil. “He plots mischief while on his bed.” (4a) He rejects good for evil. “He sets himself in a way that is not good; he spurns not evil.” (4b) Eventually the person is no longer disgusted by evil.

We see here the progression of evil. As we think, so we act and become. First we think evil thoughts and allow them free reign in our minds, then we start acting on those thoughts. There was a time when the person referred to in the first four verses acted wisely and did good, but over time he chose evil over good.

How does one respond to such a person? Not through fighting fire with fire, but through reflecting on God and God’s goodness. Aldous Huxley in The Devils in London, says “those who crusade not forGod in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worst.”

The best way to deal with evil? Reflect on God’s steadfast love as the writer of this psalm does. “Thy steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, thy faithfulness to the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God.” (5-6a) God’s ways are so much better than the ways of evil. There is no room for self-deceit and lies in God’s presence. Before God evil is thrown down. “There the evildoers lie prostrate, they are thrust down, unable to rise.” (12) Evil cannot prevail before God.

It can be very difficult dealing with someone who has chosen the path of evil. It is a path of lies, some subtle and deceiving, others not so subtle. There is no honest dialogue because the person refuses to recognize and admit any mistakes or sins on their part. Peck feels these people are to be pitied more than hated for they are trapped in a world of their own making that has no connection with reality and no room for true relationships with others.

Sometimes it can seem like the world is full of evil. This can be discouraging and can drain us of life. Evil holds its own fascination but to stare in the face of evil for too long is dangerous. We risk losing ourselves in the process. It is important to recognize evil when and where it appears, confront it in order to lesson its impact, but then to return to God, focusing our thoughts on our God, whose steadfast love endures forever.

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One Response to Psalm 36 – A Question of Evil

  1. Mike Kirby says:

    Some very key thoughts: It can be very difficult dealing with someone who has chosen the path of evil. It is a path of lies, some subtle and deceiving, others not so subtle. People trapped in a world with no room for true relationships. When sneaking and lieing and deception become a way of life their conscience becomes distorted and they truly risk loosing their souls in the process. They have no room for true relationships with others let alone with God. Frequent recption of the sacraments and prayer are the way to fight this evil.

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