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The Painful Reality of Evil

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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But as soon as they were all inside the town, Ishmael and his men killed all but ten of them and threw their bodies into a cistern.

Jeremiah 41:7

The same scene is played out again and again on the evening news. A murder happens in some quiet suburban neighborhood. Local news teams rush to the scene, filming from a distance the house where the crime occurred, now cordoned off by police officers. Reporters interview the neighbors, who are stunned by what has just occurred. “I can’t believe this happened. This is such a quiet street, a nice neighborhood. Nothing like this ever happens here. I am shocked!”

I’m sure that if someone were to be killed on my block, I’d be surprised too. But I may not be quite as shocked as some because I acknowledge the painful reality of evil. Terrible things can and do happen in the most genteel neighborhoods. They could even happen in mine.

Jeremiah 41 reminds us of the presence and power of evil in our world. It completes a sad story begun in Jeremiah 40. There, after the Babylonians decimated Judah, they appointed a Jewish man, Gedaliah, to serve as governor. He sought to live in peace with the Babylonians, so that the poor Jews remaining in Judah might forge a life for themselves. Slowly, the people began to flourish under Gedaliah’s leadership (40:12). But Baalis, the king of Ammon, hatched a plot to kill Gedaliah. He sent a man named Ishmael to assassinate the governor. Yet when news of this conspiracy came to Gedaliah, he didn’t take it seriously (40:14-16).

Jeremiah 41 begins with the murder of Gedaliah at the hands of Ishmael, who repaid the governor’s hospitality by killing him and all who were with him, including several Babylonian soldiers (41:2-3). Then, when eighty Israelites came to Jerusalem to worship and mourn at the ruins of the Temple, Ishmael tricked them and killed most of them (41:7). He dumped their dead bodies in a large cistern and then proceeded to take captive all who had been under Gedaliah’s charge. When they were delivered by Johanan and his company, the whole group prepared to flee to Egypt, fearing reprisals by Babylon for the treachery of Ishmael.

Jeremiah 41 contains no word of prophecy, no message of hope. It does not name evil or denounce it. Rather, it shows us evil in action. There are plenty of Ishmaels in the world today. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can find fragments of Ishmael in our own hearts, whenever we treat others unkindly or dishonestly.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you respond when tragedy happens, when students are murdered at school, or when terrorist bombs kill hundreds of people? What difference might it make in how you live if you took seriously the presence of evil in our world?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, this story from Jeremiah 41 is a sad one. It reminds me of the presence of evil in our world and how that evil leads to suffering piled on suffering.

O Lord, how much we need your help, your salvation, your peace. The world is broken without you. I pray that you will make your presence known in our world, because where you are, evil cannot remain.

Help me to search my own heart and my own actions to identify the evil in me. May I be open in confession and genuine in repentance.

May I see this world clearly, not being surprised by evil, but not becoming nonchalant or cynical either. May your people live under your rule in such a way that evil cannot flourish.

O Lord, deliver us from evil! Amen.

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