Every human heart is bent towards sin. The Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we all sin against God and against others. At one level we may say that everyone does evil, everyone has evil in his heart (Gen. 8:21). Yet there is something unique about the heart that is ruled by a desire for evil. Though all sin is serious and harmful, the person who desires evil is worth considering in detail. The evil heart is wicked precisely because it delights in seeing others suffer.
Most of us feel some level of regret for the wrong we do. We feel some guild or pain over the negative consequences of our sinful and selfish choices. It may not be enough to cause us to change, but it is still there in some seedling form. But the evil heart not only doesn’t feel guilty, it actually takes great delight in causing others pain.Hurting others brings them pleasure. Leslie Vernick helpfully distinguishes between the “foolishness” and “evil.” She writes:
Foolishness may result in evil and wicked actions, because fools don’t think about the consequences of their actions., nor do they anticipate the effects of their behavior on others. They are reckless rather than malicious. The resulting destruction may be similar, but the heart motives are different. Like fools, evil people embrace all types of sins, including those we’ve covered in these two chapters, yet there is something deeper and more sinister at work in their behaviors as well. The evil heart can be subtly destructive, often disguising itself as good. The foolish heart is usually not that clever. (The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, 107)
The evil heart is intentionally malicious, it delights in the hurt it causes and feels no remorse. This is a significant distinction and helps us to see how destructive this theme can be.
Evil hearts are interested in control, manipulation, and torture. The intent is not to simply blow up and violently harm, such actions would usually result in the immediate end of their “fun.” Torture is more calculated and careful. It involves methodic planning and strategy. It attempts to appear good to others, to hurt and harm people without getting caught. It wants to drive victims to the brink of insanity and instability and all along the way it derives pleasure from their desperation.Such intentional deception makes identify evil hears very difficult.
The evil heart does not wear its misanthropy on its sleeve. Often an abusive person is charming and well liked by others, their victims are made to appear unstable, irrational, and even wicked. This is why, despite many pleas for help the victim is often left to fend for themselves. Churches, counselors, and pastors must be incredibly cautious, intentional, and patient as they seek to hep those who claim to be victims of abuse. They should listen fully, seek to understand and be sympathetic, and seek wise counsel in helping those who suffer in these environments.
Once again we see that, according to the Scriptures, the issue is a matter of the heart. Jesus tells us that “out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19), and “evil comes from within” (Mark 7:23). Evil comes from a store of evil treasure within the heart (Luke 6:45). The real truth about the evil heart is that it needs to be completely transformed. In fact the Scriptures go so far as to say that a person with an evil heart cannot be a child of God. Those who are “workers of evil” will be cast away from Jesus at the great day of judgment (Luke 13:27), and John tells us that anyone who does not love his brothers is still spiritually dead (1 John 3:14). The evil person does not need strategies to deal with their abuse, they need the gospel to transform their life. They may still need help, but to not feel conviction or guilt for your wrong is not an interpersonal problem it is a spiritual problem.
Our response to evil is important. It involves a two-fold strategy: (1) confrontation and (2) love. Confrontation is calling out wickedness. It involves identifying sin as sin, evil as evil. We call sin by too many other more tame monikers. It needs to be identified for what it is: abuse, hatred, violence, evil. This happens best when a victim is moved to safety. Sending victims of abuse back into situations to confront evil alone is unwise and exceedingly dangerous. Getting a victim to safety should be the chief priority, confrontation happens after this has taken place. Paul tells us in Romans 12 that we are not to be “overcome by evil,” this means we are to fight against it and that starts by calling it out. Love is the response. Paul outlines how we are to “overcome evil” in Romans chapter 12. “Overcome evil by good.” The believer is not to respond in kind to evil, we are not to return hate for hate. In verses 17-21 he says:
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Love is the means by which we overcome evil. Sometimes love will mean hard things like moving out, ending relationships, dissociating, and even involving the legal authorities. Love, however, always seeks the best interest of the other person. Far too often we think that ignoring, tolerating, or enduring evil is what’s best for the other person, but more often than not it is simply what is easier for us. What is best is not allowing them to continue their own destruction, not allowing them to damn themselves before God. We overcome evil with good in many ways, but it is vital that we do not respond to abuse with abuse. We do not respond to hate with hate. That is not the way of Christ. Love is not the same as reconciliation, but it is definitely distinct from retaliation.
There is much, much more that can be said about this destructive theme. Interested readers should consult the plethora of solid works on the subject of abuse. I commend several: The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick; Violence Among Us by Brenda Branson and Paula Silva; and Is It My Fault? by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Evil is destructive because it delights in the pain of others. We must see how sinister this is and treat it with unique attention.