Last night I watched a movie–it is one I have watched several times–that I found for $1.99 at Movie Stop two months ago. The movie is titled, “Spy Game” (2001), starring Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, and Catherine McCormack. I wrote about it briefly in a blog post titled, “Before The Rain,” (the title of which also happens to be a line from the movie), on August 3, 2015. The opening plot to the movie (from Wikipedia) follows:
In 1991, the governments of the U.S. and China are on the verge of a major trade agreement, with the President of the United States due to visit China to seal the deal. The CIA learns that its agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured trying to free a Briton, Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), from a People’s Liberation Army prison in Su Chou near Shanghai, China. Bishop is being questioned under torture and will be executed in 24 hours unless the U.S. government claims him. If the CIA claims Bishop as an agent, they risk jeopardizing the trade agreement. Exacerbating Bishop’s situation is the fact that he was operating without permission from the Agency.
Attempting to deal quickly with the situation, CIA executives call in Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), an aging mid-level case officer on his last day before retirement and the man who recruited Bishop. Although they tell Muir they simply need him to act as a “stop gap” to fill in some holes in their background files, the officials are hoping he will give them the pretext they need to justify letting Bishop die. The CIA executives are unaware that Muir had been tipped off about Bishop’s capture prior to arriving at the CIA’s headquarters, by fellow CIA veteran Harry Duncan (David Hemmings), for whom Bishop had been working an operation in Hong Kong before going rogue. (Quote source–and the rest of the plot–is available here.)
As Muir (Redford) states to his secretary, Gladys (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the reason “the Agency [CIA] is looking for a reason to let the Chinese kill Bishop” (a direct quote from the movie) has to do with money–toaster ovens, microwaves, etc., in the trade agreement between the U.S. and China, and they, obviously, don’t want anyone or anything getting in the way of making money. As the movie progresses, near the end of the movie, Muir states to his boss, Folger (Larry Bryggman), “Do you remember when we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys?”
Good question . . . .
The ending of the movie is outstanding. In fact, it is one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. In the case of Muir, conscience triumphs over money (as in his own money and not regarding the CIA’s agenda stated above which he abhorred), and though it’s not often a popular choice when it comes to money, it is always a good thing. . . .
So much in our world today seems to indicate that evil often triumphs over good, and the lines between the two get very, very blurred. We justify evil to make it look good and to justify our reasons for doing it, and we do it not only in big ways, but mostly in little daily decisions that we make regarding seemingly innocuous stuff (at least innocuous to us but not so to the people at the other end of that spectrum) on a regular basis–like lying, for example. And also, for the most part, it seems as if we get away with it most of the time.
However, we never really get away with it in the end, whether it is done on a small scale or a very large scale, and even though it might take a very long time to catch up with us. So long, in fact (years or decades sometimes), that we think it is okay to keep on doing it because we seem to be getting away with it without any ill will coming back on us until, of course, that fateful day arrives.
I’m reminded of a passage written by King David that is found in two places in the Old Testament–2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, which are almost identical. In a series of verses in those two chapters, one of my mother’s favorite verses is found–2 Samuel 22:31 and Psalm 18:30 (highlighted in red below). The series of verses is found in 2 Samuel 22:26-37 and Psalm 18:25-36:
To the faithful you [God] show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
You, Lord, are my lamp;
the Lord turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.
As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield;
your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.
To the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
Shrewd is defined as “astute or sharp in practical matters; keen; piercing” (quote source here). We humans often like to think of ourselves as shrewd, but nothing we think or do even remotely comes close to what God accomplishes in that way. For example, in I Corinthians 1:27, the Apostle Paul states that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (see I Corinthians 1:18-31 to put that verse in context). In fact, in I Corinthians 1:19, Paul makes the following statement taken from a passage in Isaiah 29:14:
“I [God] will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
What we think is wise in our own eyes is often foolishness to God, and that brings me back to the topic of evil. Evil has been a part of our world since the days of Adam and Eve, and with the world population currently over 7.35 billion (see current data at this link), and the recent explosion of terrorist groups in our world today (that list is staggeringly long–view list here), it can be a bit overwhelming to comprehend. But it also helps us to understand the question the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who took our side, asked God concerning the whole issue of evil and justice. Habakkuk was desperate for an answer, and so are we.
God is in charge, even when we think He has turned a blind eye to the suffering and evil that goes on in our world. Habakkuk was alarmed by the evil going on in his world at the time as justice was nowhere to be found in the midst of a very great evil about to take place–re: the destruction of Judah in Habakkuk’s day (and to put it into perspective for us, think of the Holocaust in our day). And it is often true even when injustice is done on an individual basis and not just in widespread destruction (which is still, if you think about it, done on an individual basis). I wrote about it in a previous blog post titled, “The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited,” two years ago in June 2013. In fact, Habakkuk starts out in the first few verses in Habakkuk 1:2-5 asking this very question of God, and God’s initial response starts in verse 5 (the entire chapter is available at this link and all three chapters of Habakkuk are available at this link):
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.”
The Lord’s Answer
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told. . . .”
(See the rest of the answer at this link.)
While we know that evil abounds throughout our world today (just turn on the news at any point during the 24-hour never-ending news cycle for the latest evil being done), it is not just found in the terrorist organizations or the latest drive-by shootings and all of the other atrocities we do to each other that gets reported in the news media. In America, we often equate evil with mental illness as that separates the offending person from the rest of us. But the propensity for evil is in each and every one of us, and it has existed way before we came up with explanations like mental illness to separate “us” from “them.” (That is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but that we use it as an excuse too often when it doesn’t necessarily apply.) For example, terrorism often has its base in an ideology or is built on propaganda and does not equate with mental illness, yet the evil that comes from it is massive. Think again of Nazi-Germany and the Holocaust, for example.
Let’s go back to the statement made towards the end of the movie mentioned above when CIA agent Muir asks his boss, “Do you remember when we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys?” The truth is, in today’s world, especially since “truth” is often “up for grabs” and defined according to whatever we want or choose it to be, evil can certainly abound in such an environment often masquerading as good on the surface. And, just as truth is often up for grabs, so is evil in today’s world. And the truth is, we can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys very often anymore. We only think that we can much of the time. The most basic definition for evil (that can’t be explained away by our own feelings or our own definition) is found in James 4:17:
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
And the most basic definition as a remedy for evil (sin) is found in Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God . . .
And anytime we try to justify the evil we do to others, especially if it will benefit us in some way, it is evil and there is no getting around it. No excuse is good enough even if the masses decide to go along with it (again, think of Nazi Germany as an example), and God is not blind to it either. And it’s not just the terrorists or the drive-by shooters or the folks we hear about on the news who do evil to others. We all do evil to others at some level–every last one of us.
Which brings me to the final point in this entire discussion–redemption. There is no other religion or system in the world that offers a way of redemption (and a cure for the evil that resides in all of us) that is found in and through Jesus Christ. And there is no other religion or system in the world that can fundamentally change a person at the core of their being like what is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. And there is no other way to explain it then to experience this relationship for ourselves. The world will never understand it. It can’t, and it mocks what it can’t understand. However, John 3:16-18 states:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
That’s truth in it’s most basic form. And what Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33 still echoes down through time to us today:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Tribulation is a given; however, doing evil in response is not. And, of course, the classic example regarding our response to evil comes from Paul in Romans 12:17-21:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So do not be overcome by evil, no matter how good it looks . . .
But overcome evil with good . . .
Just do it . . . .