Saturday, November 4
Day 13: Responding to Evil
“There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them [Paul and Barnabas] and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel.”
– Acts: 14:5-7
“Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
– Deuteronomy 20:3-4
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…. love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
– Matthew 5:38-44
When we are face to face with evil, what should we do? Should we flee from evil? Should we fight evil? Or should we bear evil? In the passage above from Acts, when Paul and Barnabas learned of a plot to stone them, they flee. In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses encourages the Israelites to fight without fear when they come against their enemies. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus teaches his followers to bear evil, and not just to bear it, but to do good in the face of it. So, which response do we choose when we face evil? Do we flee, fight, or bear?
During the introduction to our 21 days of prayer, Pastor Ron shared a prayer from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was a prayer Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison. Many are familiar with his stand against the Nazis, but most don’t realize he responded to evil in all three fashions—by fleeing, fighting, and bearing.
Before jumping into Bonhoeffer’s story, it’s important to know that Bonhoeffer had decided never to take up arms and join the German army, and he had a strong opinion on what to do in the face of evil. In his book Discipleship,published in 1937 before WWII, Bonhoeffer commented on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his command to bear evil, love our enemies, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:38-44). Bonhoeffer wrote, “There is no thinkable deed in which evil so large and strong that it would require a different response from a Christian. The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.” 
But real life has a way of testing theology, even for Bonhoeffer. When an order was made for all Germans born from 1906 to 1907 (Bonhoeffer was born in 1906) to register with the military, Bonhoeffer decided to flee. He had many church connections across Europe and America, so he and his friends arranged an opportunity for him to escape. Plans were made for him to go to New York to teach at Union Theological Seminary and to pastor German refugees. However, Bonhoeffer seemed to regret his decision almost immediately. While still on the ship headed to America, he wrote a letter to his close friend, saying, “You may be working over there and I may be working in America, but we are both only where he is. He brings us together. Or have I missed the place where he is?” Once Bonhoeffer arrived in America, he could not stop thinking of Germany. He concluded he had made a mistake and must share in the trials of the German people back home. He boarded a ship back to Germany after spending only 26 days in America.
After Bonhoeffer returned home, he joined the Abwehr—the German military intelligence group. He was a part of a secret society that used the Abwehr as a cover, a disguise for their conspiracy against Hitler. Many argue his level of involvement in the conspiracy, but evidence suggests his involvement grew as the war went on. So, while Bonhoeffer never took up arms or fired a gun, he certainly had decided to fight evil—a significant shift from his thoughts in Discipleship.
Then, in 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested on multiple charges, including conspiracy. He spent the next two years in prison. While in prison, he bore plenty of evil, but he didn’t just bear it. He also did much good in the face of it. He wrote letters that live on today, and he ministered to inmates and guards. He even pastored a service within 24 hours of his death. Immediately after that service, two guards called for him, and he knew exactly what was coming next. He told a fellow prisoner (his famous last recorded words), “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” Bonhoeffer was martyred just hours later, the ultimate bearing of evil.
Throughout the war years, deciding what to do in the face of evil weighed heavily on Bonhoeffer’s mind. His book Ethics, which was published after his death by his close friend, shows evidence of his internal struggle, especially his involvement in the conspiracy. In his book, Bonhoeffer questions the entire subject of ethics. His chief complaint was that ethics attempts to decide what is good while separated from the Source of all that is good. He says ethics is humanity’s desire to gain the knowledge of good and evil, and when we do this, we participate in the first sin: eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bonhoeffer urges us to take the driving question behind ethics—”What should I do?”—and replace it with “What is God’s will?” We weren’t designed to decide between good and evil but to seek God’s will and do it. This change in thinking pulls us out of our legalism (and our desire for universal answers) and back into a relationship with God. It also alerts us to the possibility that God can tell people to do different things in similar circumstances. He may tell one to flee, another to fight, and someone else to bear.
The important thing is that we first seek the Lord. Only afterward should we act.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 104.
Lord, we are tempted to quickly decide on our own what to do in the face of evil. Forgive us for trying to take on something we were never meant to bear and for eating that old, forbidden fruit. Turn our hearts to you and teach us to seek your will first. Give us wisdom to discern what you would have each of us do, and give us the courage to follow where you lead. Give us grace and mercy when we are wrong, and help us humbly accept correction when we go astray. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!
By Aaron Gerhardstein
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A Pathway missionary family who has been serving in Israel recently arrived safely in the US. They will be joining us at Pathway this Saturday, November 4. Immediately following the Saturday evening service (around 6:10pm), we will be hosting a focused time of prayer upstairs in the Venue. All are invited to come and unite with us in prayer for the people being impacted by the war in Israel and Gaza.