When I was a boy, my parents bought an old upright piano and refinished it in the garage. I remember my father stripping the wood and my amazement at the fact that the raw wood was beautiful and alive, despite the fact that it was over a century old. Its color, luster, texture, grain, and figure came to life with each pass of his sanding block and its visual appeal grew in me and on me.
Looking back on that brief episode in my upbringing, I appreciate the fact that my father involved me in his projects. He taught me many things, directly and indirectly. In this case I learned about woodworking, among other things, and I also recall realizing that one needn’t be an expert in something to appreciate its beauty. I was neither a trained woodworker nor an expert in piano-making, but that beautiful wood made a deep impression on me. It spoke to me and drew me in.
Lately, I’ve been reading the Bible. This remarkable book provides a layered blueprint for the restoration of the individual, the body of humanity, and the earth as a whole. When seen through the eyes of truth, the story is stripped of the layers of human nonsense—the varnish of rationalization and appropriation—and the strength, beauty, simplicity, and coherence of the fresh wood below become apparent.
Like many, I have asked myself: “Why bother with the Bible?” The old stories, told the way they tend to be told, seem to belong to a world order and a way of thinking that is not longer relevant. While that may be true, I am reminded of another lesson my father taught me: never judge a book by its cover. I am neither a biblical scholar nor a religious expert, but I do appreciate the enduring beauty of this relic of antiquity and masterpiece of world literature, the Holy Bible, which has proven to be more durable than stone and more lasting than any human empire.
This particular passage caught my eye and interest this morning: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil…” (Matthew 5:39 KJV) There is much to unpack in these profound words purportedly spoken by Jesus, and it can be challenging to move beyond the Sunday school concepts that tend to obscure understanding of the true meaning and message of this injunction, but this verse spoke to me this morning and what follows is what I heard.
It is clear that Jesus and the other “prophets of old” said and did things that tended to draw the line or to bring things to point. Truth has a way of cutting through the nonsense and proponents of nonsense don’t like to be called out. The truth is often met with the attitude: “Don’t call me stupid!” Man has been taking offense for a very long time and has developed sophisticated, yet unlock-able mechanisms for dealing with the shame of being out of place. The way in which mankind has received, interpreted, and reacted to the precept: “resist not evil” is an excellent example of this.
To most, resisting evil is the only way they’ve found to navigate a world overrun with evil. The idea of not resisting evil is typically rejected as being impractical, weak, and foolish. The general idea, I suppose, is that there were a few great people in history (if they were real at all) who were somehow wired differently and then there are the rest of us losers, sinners, and self-made men. I beg to differ. In fact, the only way to resolve this mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into is to recognize and actualize the things of God that come to focus in each one of us. We must each accept responsibility for this and in so doing we will find meaning. Meaning comes as you give expression to reality, as you prophesy.
To be clear, prophesy is not so much a foretelling as it is the revelation of reality in the moment. Prophesy is the word spoken, the action taken, at the intersection of heaven and earth. Prophesy is the word of the crossover point, the point at which the invisible is made visible, the blending point of the objective and narrative world. Human beings tend to have to have a limited view of what prophets are or were, and prophets tend to be relegated to the past as a matter of convenience, but one who gives expression to the things of God on earth is a prophet. You are here to share in that process. You can learn to let the things of God appear through you. That is revelation.
You cannot be a prophet and struggle with evil at the same time, for struggle with implies subjection to, always. You cannot struggle with evil and be subject to the divine. When you wrestle with evil, you are subject to evil. When you rally against that which you hate, when you hold a grudge against someone who has wronged you, when you focus spitefully on that which you don’t like, you make the object of your resentment your bedfellow. Hatred and resentment destroy perspective and divorce yourself from the power which otherwise rectify the situation. Love and truth bring life. Hatred and lies bring death. That’s why it makes sense to love your enemies.
Instead of fighting against the various forms of evil, you see that once you begin to function correctly, evil will try to fight with you. If evil can overthrow you, then evil is stronger than you are. But if you are stronger than evil is by reason of your centering in deity, evil is overthrown by its own fighting. So, by remaining centered in God and the things of God, you let evil wear itself out and destroy itself. You just let it fight. You meet it in the sense of letting the power of God work.
The power of God working through you will bring a stability, a strength, which is unmoved under the pressures that will invariably arise when the lines of the contest are drawn. And it is this that gives the first evidence of dominion, for dominion is control. Now are we particularly interested in having dominion over evil? What would you do with it if you had dominion over evil and you could control all of evil? Have you a place to put it, a place to keep it? Would you like to have dominion over all evil? That would make you Satan, wouldn’t it?
The point is, who wants dominion over evil? What would you do with it if you had it? Where would you put it? There’s no place on earth for it. You’d have to go somewhere else. No place in the cosmos for it. Maybe you can find it. No, we’re not interested in dominion over evil, are we? We’re not interested in dominion over evil. What a poor goal that would be.
Our concern is to have dominion over the things which God has made. The dominion of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Dominion over creation. Dominion over the forces and powers of creation.
And that is the beauty of this verse: let yourself have dominion over the things that count, not over the things that don’t count.