You fear the sword, and the sword is what I will bring against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel 11:8 (NIV)
Looking back across my life journey, one of the books I’ve realized has had a profound affect on me through the years is M. Scott Peck’s exploration of evil, The People of the Lie. We don’t talk much about evil anymore, or at best it is relegated to descriptive quips about people we don’t like (e.g. “She’s an evil woman!”) or discussions of the heinous extremes of history (e.g. Hitler, Serial Killers, Cult leaders, and etc.). Peck’s book raises a thought provoking conversation about the nature of evil as it exists in ordinary human beings who live ordinary lives in ordinary communities like ours.
I thought about The People of the Lie this morning as I read about Ezekiel’s vision. Most of the Old Testament prophecies are directed at nations and peoples, but in today’s chapter God’s judgement is proclaimed on specific individuals: Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah. These leaders in Jerusalem appear to have been self-centric power brokers, the ancient Jerusalem version of mafia dons. They wielded power, influence, and financial gain through violence, and the text hints that they smugly thought that they had avoided the exile because they were favored by the gods. Their description aligns with some of the symptoms of evil Peck outlines.
Addressing them, God tells Ezekiel to proclaim to these men: “You fear the sword, and the sword is what I will bring against you.” One of the things Peck observed in his work on evil is that evil only responds to one thing: force. You can’t persuade evil people to reform or make deals with them as their nature will lead them to, again and again, deceive you for their own advantage. They fear only force, just as God describes Jaazaniah and Assur.
Today, I am reminded that evil does not confine itself to serial killers and megalomaniacal leaders. Evil is ever present in small towns among ordinary community members who look and talk and appear to be normal people just like me. In fact, if I am not careful, evil can and will affect and influence my own heart. Jesus warned:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person;
Before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His followers:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
I am thinking today about the thoughts that come out of my heart on a regular basis. I’m thinking about ways that I allow myself to be blind to and influenced by evil. I am echoing Jesus’ prayer for protection in this world from becoming or being influenced by a “person of the lie.”