There are some days that will forever be imprinted in our minds. September 11, 2001 is one of those days for those of us around who were old enough to really remember. You can probably list exactly where you were, who you were talking to, maybe even what you were doing or eating or drinking.
There are many days where it seems like evil is winning.
You cannot turn on the tv or scroll through any social media site without seeing destruction or hearing about lives being devastated. Our hearts can only take so much, and often I find myself purposefully skipping over things or avoiding a certain email that I know contains hard news. Fear starts to grip my heart and mind and I feel overwhelmed by the amount of brokenness in this world.
Romans 12:21 says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." This sounds like a fortune cookie saying if you read just the one verse. A thought that makes you say, "Sure. That sounds good. But it's not possible." In one way it seems as though Paul is downplaying the impact that evil has made, as though he's telling the Romans to just not think about it. Forget it and move on. For him to just say "Do good" seems so generic.
But in the passage previous to this verse Paul says many things when it comes to the bad in this world. One of those things is, "Hate evil, cling to what is good." This doesn't seem like a dispassionate term. Hate and cling are two words that imply extremes. In fact it seems to be that this is the answer to how we overcome evil and do good. We cling to the Truth and the one true Hope that we have.
I know there is the philosophy out there that talks about random acts of kindness, being polite and tolerant, and generally just putting "good vibes" out there. Though I think all of these things are positive and respecting people in general is important, these are not enough to overcome evil. Can paying for one's drive through order really compensate for that person facing a loved one having cancer? No. It can make their moment better, and I think that every little bit of hope we can give is a true gift. I am not discounting those things - we should be doing kind acts all the time. But no matter how much good we do, those actions can never cancel out the evil around us.
I believe what Paul is talking about is living in the belief that though evil is around now, we know that we will not always have to be in the middle of this battle. We know (and our enemy knows) that we are on the winning side. We cling to the fact that when Jesus conquered sin through his death and resurrection, we became warriors in a battle where we already know who wins.
You may say, "Yeah, we know we have heaven and eternal life - but what about the now?" How do we wake up each day seeing the evil around us and not be overcome? If good vibes and free drive through orders aren't enough, what is the answer? Let me tell you some practical ways that I feel like God has asked me to live this out in my own daily life.
When I look fear and anxiety in the face and rebuke it in the name of Jesus, I cling to what is good. When I take the hand of someone different from me, who may be from a place that our country calls the enemy, or I welcome displaced people and share my life with them, I cling to what is good. When I choose to believe that my friend, who bit my head off or gave me the cold shoulder, was dealing with their own bad thing and it was not directed to me (or even if it was but I choose to forgive), then I overcome evil with good. When I don't allow my definition of who I am come from the world around around me, but rather what God says about me, I choose good. When I look at others with that same definition - as a creation of God, wholly and dearly loved, sought after, and sacrificed for - I overcome evil with good. When I am on my knees with my body and mind groaning and trembling from the weight of the burdens I carry and I cannot make myself say anything or even figure out how to form words because I am in so much pain but I allow the Spirit to intercede, then I am choosing good over evil. When I trust in the love of the God who gives and takes away - even when I do not understand and do not want to or feel like it, I become triumphant over evil.
When I cling to Hope, with every last fiber of my being - perhaps with just faith the size of a mustard seed - this is how I overcome evil with good. Not my own good, but clinging solely to Him who has conquered the evil already.
So yes, it's true that the enemy has a place in this world right now and we will not be able to conquer everything. We will suffer and death is a part of this place. But our hope comes from Someone bigger than this world - bigger than our enemy. God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; the one who has no beginning and no end; the one who willingly gave his life so we can have this hope - God loves us, lives in us, and gives us access to everything we need to overcome evil daily. With Jesus, we can be triumphant now.