Preaching Connection: Evil

Movies for Preaching

The Thin Red Line (1998) – 3

The Thin Red Line (1998).  Written and directed Terrence Malick.  Starring James Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Elias Koteas.  170 mins; rated R.  Metacritic: 78%; Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Despite the plethora of smarmy villains and gnarly monsters, American films of any sort rarely take on a dead-serious probing exploration of evil, human and otherwise. …

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Dark Knight (2008) & More

The Dark Knight (2008). Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart. 152 minutes. Rated PG-13. Evil.  We don’t hear much about it these days, at least from pulpits.  Unless, of course, it is some sort of sexual something.  The rest, like greed or idolatry, not so much as a peep. …

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Fargo (1996) – 1

Fargo, Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi.   98 minutes, Rated R. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has had it up to here working under the thumb of his cold, stingy father-in-law, Wade Gustafsan.  For years Jerry has been the lead salesman in the…

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Places in the Heart (1984) – 1

Places in the Heart (1984).  Written and directed by Robert Benton (Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay).  Starring Sally Field (Academy Award for Best Actress). John Malkovich, and Danny Glover.  PG, 111 min. The opening to writer-director Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart is a set up, to be sure, but a most telling and…

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Reading for Preaching

The Four Loves

Lewis, for a celebrated academic and popular author, was remarkably astute about domestic matters, including domestic tyranny, in which a dominant figure could be “a good person in the worst sense of the term.”  So his account of “Mrs. Fidget,” who “very often said that she lived for her family.  And it was not untrue. ...
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Confessions

Even the greatest theologians are stumped by the mystery of iniquity.  So Augustine confesses to God that he can’t figure out how evil got into the universe.  “Who made me?  Is not my God not only good but the Supreme Good?  Why then have I the power to will evil and to reject good?  Who...
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Confessions

Even the greatest theologians are stumped by the mystery of iniquity.  So Augustine confesses to God that he can’t figure out how evil got into the universe.  “Who made me?  Is not my God not only good but the Supreme Good?  Why then have I the power to will evil and to reject good?  Who...
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“Unresolved Evil: On Justice and the End of the Unabomber”

Between 1978 and 1995, Theodore (“Ted”) Kaczynski killed 3 people and injured 23 with homemade bombs.  Wanting to avoid national publicity for Kaczynski’s cause (resistance to technology), the court permitted Kaczynski to accept a plea bargain entailing no trial, life imprisonment, and no possibility of parole.  David Gelernter argues that the nation needed to have...
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The Things They Carried

A story of men fighting in Viet Nam. (P. 69) “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end...
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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

“Soldiers respect a leader who is competent. They admire a leader who is competent and bold. When he is an accomplished student of war, leads boldly, and also savors gambling his own life, he acquires a mystique. Cautious officers shake their heads at this love of danger and condemn it as dare-deviltry, which it often...
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A Rumor of War

“A man saw the height and depths of human behavior in Vietnam, all manner of violence and horrors so grotesque that they evoked more fascination than disgust. Once I had seen pigs eating napalm-charred corpses–a memorable sight, pigs eating roast people.” (P. 90) “We became leaner and tougher. . .and a callus began to grow...
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Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945

“In 1944-45, the Germans and Russians had one attitude toward casualties, and the rest of the allies, besides Russia, another. Stalin’s commanders looked forward to the last phase of their struggle for Europe with their customary indifference to death and suffering, save insofar as these influenced the Red Army’s ability to fight its next battle....
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Truman

McCullough reasons that even if the A-bomb attacks on Japan were horrible, a good case can be made that the A-bomb saved many lives–Japanese as well as Americans. In 1945 Japan was scarcely ready to quit. “Japan had some 2.5 million regular troops on the home islands, but every male between the ages of fifteen...
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Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War

World War II troops knew that “optimistic publicity and euphemism had rendered their experience so falsely that it would never be readily communicable. They knew that in its representation to the laity what was happening to them was systematically sanitized and Norman Rockwellized, not to mention Disneyfied. The real was tragic and ironic beyond the...
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American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur: 1880-1964

People like MacArthur would “[slog] in the mud, enduring filth, living in stinking clothing and crawling over jagged soil under criss-crosses of barbed wire to have a bloody dash with a bestial enemy.” Why? “The explanation was that men like MacArthur, raised to believe in Victorian heroism, invested even the nightmare of trench warfare with...
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“Second-person Accounts and the Problem of Evil”

Summary: Christians look at the problem of evil differently from non-Christians in at least this way: Christians may rightly believe they have been directly encountered by God (a “second-person experience’) or can so easily imagine such an encounter that second-person accounts of other people’s second person experiences are almost as vivid to them as if...
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Observation on Job and on Suffering

It’s important that Job never really finds out what’s going on. Given Job’s righteous status, his suffering appears not to have been triggered by anything Job had done. Surely it’s not retribution, in this case. God finally overwhelms Job with the stuff about “Were you there when I . . . ?” Point: God may...
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Sighing for Eden: Sin, Evil, and the Christian Faith

In Pickeve, South Carolina, February, 1947, a mob of about 50 whites descended on Pickens County Jail where a black man, William Earle, was incarcerated on suspicion of knifing Tom Brown, a white taxi driver. The mob beat, stabbed and shot Willie Earle so that the bushes around his body were spattered with brain tissue...
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Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Japan’s imperialism in the 30s and 40s was born of her peculiar situation as a growing and dynamic nation with very few natural resources. Her trade was also stymied by high tariffs in the East and low demand for her manufactured goods. So she started looking around at her rich neighbors. Didn’t they have fabulous...
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Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Journeys to the death camps in railroad cars were unimaginable hell. [This from the whole book but especially chapter 8, ‘The Trains of Death’]. A space large enough for perhaps sixty people would be crammed with twice that many under blows from whips and rifle butts. Because of the incredible mass of people the SS...
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Band of Brothers

E Company had a problem in the person of 1st Lieutenant, later captain, Herbert Sobel: he had a long face, a large, hooked nose, and a receding chin. He “exuded arrogance.” If he didn’t like a man he tyrannized him. For tiny infractions Sobel imposed major penalties. He would make a man who had come...
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Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War

Tells how sanitized the war was for folk at home of all nations, and how disillusioning it was for soldiers to find this out at the end. Fussell quotes, Barry Broadfoot, ed., Six War Years 1939-1945: Memories of Canadians at Home and Abroad. “A returning soldier is met on the quay by ‘nice, smiling Red...
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Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic

Paul Fussell was a combat infantryman in Europe during the last two years of WW II.  “Before we’d finished in Europe we’d seen hundreds of dead bodies, GIs as well as Germans, civilians as well as soldiers, officers as well as enlisted men, together with ample children.  We learned that no infantryman can survive psychologically...
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Blessings: An Autobiographical Fragment

Hanka, a Pole beaten and interrogated by the Nazi Gestapo, is finally sent to Majdanek: “For a time she was made to separate the newly arrived mothers from their children, under threat that, if she refused, the guard dogs would be let loose to do the job more thoroughly.” As it was, children, she knew,...
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Renewal as a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth

“At the end of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the young hero is saved from death at the hands of his companions, former choirboys, by the forces of law and order: the crew from a warship designed to kill men from rival nations. This says it all. The very powers which keep us from...
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Letter to Neal Plantinga

This letter was written shortly after Galen Meyer visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau: “The Germans built their death plants with care—with good quality molding on the concrete girders, excellent design in the brick masonry. They never saw that they’d want to blow these up five years later. They built them to last, and they built...
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People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil **

People never ask “Why is there good in the world? It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil. In terms of what we know of science, however, it is actually easier to explain evil. That things decay is quite explainable in accord with...
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Rabbit Run

Rabbit’s wife Janice has gotten drunk and lost control of their baby daughter Rebecca so that, as Janice is bathing her, Rebecca drowns. Rabbit goes to the bathroom there afterward. “A heavy, calm volume, odorless, tasteless, colorless, the water shocks him like the presence of a silent person in the bathroom. Stillness makes a dead...
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Under God: Religion and American Politics

Wills quotes the Marquis de Sade, who says it is the duty of any woman (or girl) to submit to any man’s sexual desire at any time and in any form. Nature has proved it by making men stronger. To deny the urge to conquer others, or the right to do it, is “Sade’s version...
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What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?: An Attempt to Come Closer to Truth

“The block-leaders would parade a captured officer before the assembled men, dressed only in his cap and sword belt. They made him run in front of the other prisoners, while the SS men laughed and beat his thighs. Or prisoners were given this order: ‘’In double-quick time, take up your position facing each other. Attention....
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East of Eden

In prison, to avoid savage punishment, a man has to remove every expression of life from his face and body. He has to try to become invisible to the guards. “A clean face, an open face, an eye raised to meet an eye–these drew attention and attention drawn brought punishment. Adam [a prisoner] thought how...
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“Stephen King’s Tragic Kingdom”

Striking piece on the astounding popularity of Stephen King, who sometimes has four or five books simultaneously on the New York Times bestseller list. King gives Americans a narrative, a way of accounting for why things go so terribly wrong, plus “a whole amusement park of chills,” plus a satisfying defeat of evil in the...
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Night

Francois Mauriac tells us what had drawn him to Wiesel: “The look, as of a Lazarus risen from the dead, yet still a prisoner within the grim confines where he had strayed; stumbling among the shameful corpses. For him Nietzsche”s cry expressed an almost physical reality: God is dead, the God of love, of gentleness,...
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A Month of Sundays

The narrator says that he had trouble forgiving God for “the pain of infants, the inexorability of disease, the wantonness of fortune, the billions of fossilized deaths, the helplessness of the young, the idiocy of the old, the craftsmanship of torturers, the authority of blunderers, the savagery of accident, the unbreathability of water, and all...
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Crossing to Safety

Stegner ruminates about how evil is more interesting and is portrayed more interestingly than good. Masaccio’s Expulsion from Paradise: “his Eve clumsy with woe, stricken with desolate realization, and Adam stumbling beside her with his hand over his eyes.” Could a painter capture the reverse situation? “Could a painter capture in expression and posture the...
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Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares

Among the evils Castro visited on political prisoners was a refusal in his prisons to let them be clean. They had to live in their own filth, getting scummy, diseased, and slimy. And they had to watch rats coming up out of their sewer pipes (prevented only by stuffing your shoe into the putrid pipe)....
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Roger’s Version

“’If God is so ingenious and purposive, what about deformity and disease? What about the carnage that rules this kingdom of life at every level? Why does life feel, to us as we experience it, so desperately urgent and so utterly pointless at the same time? . . . . Men disbelieved in God long...
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Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder

“SS guards at Treblinka had a general cold indifference to the fate of prisoners. But they also occasionally cultivated ‘favorites’ among them and protected them a while. The prisoners feared being a favorite, despite its promise of reprieve, for it made them conspicuous. Anybody who was conspicuous was a target of one of the SS...
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Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View

We humans tend not only to hurt people we hate; we also tend to hate people we have hurt. In the famous Milgram experiment at Yale, testing ordinary people’s obedience to authority, and how far down the road of torture ordinary people would go if ordered to do so, Milgram discovered that ordinary people who...
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Treblinka

In the death camps, “after what point was it no longer necessary to delude the victims? . . . At the Nuremburg trials, Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, criticized Treblinka where, according to him, victims knew they were going to be killed. Höss was an advocate of towel distribution at the door to the gas...
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“The Lion and the Unicorn”

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty,’ as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of...
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The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

“. . . [obvious] devils exist, but they are rare . . . much more often the intensely destructive person will show a front of kindliness . . . There is hardly a man who is devoid of any kindness, of any good intentions. If he were, he would be on the verge of insanity...
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No Future Without Forgiveness

Of serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu says: “we were shattered at what we heard and we did frequently break down or were on the verge of it. . . . we may never know just how much what we went through has affected us; the cost of it to us and to...
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The Billionaire Boys’ Club

Ron Levin, one of the men the BBC rubbed out, was an eccentric, lying thief. He boasted of his dishonesties (often answering the question, ‘What do you do?’, by claiming ‘I’m a thief.’) He screamed at waiters in restaurants, was ashamed of his respectable, but not glamorous Jewish roots, and made up stories of different...
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Additional content related to Evil

Psalm 32

Most of his friends had been hanged.  But despite his central role in helping to construct Adolf Hitler’s Nazi nightmare, Albert Speer somehow managed to receive from the Nuremberg trials only a twenty-year sentence at the Spandau Prison in Berlin.  Not long after arriving in Spandau, Speer met with the prison chaplain.  To the chaplain’s…

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Psalm 63:1-8

When a psalm is as relatively brief as Psalm 63 and yet you notice that the Lectionary would have you stop reading—and presumably stop preaching—three verses shy of the actual conclusion of the poem, one might be justified in wondering what’s up.  What is in those last few verses?  Why the full stop before this…

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Psalm 1

Few of us do what many monastic and other traditions have done in history with the Psalms: namely, read them straight through and in order.  Instead we bob and weave our way through the Psalms, picking and choosing to read this Psalm or another for no particular rhyme or reason.  And so it’s easy to…

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Psalm 36:5-10

One of my Christmas gifts to my wife was a cookbook on making bread written by Paul Hollywood, one of the judges on the much-loved Great British Baking Show.  When I put a picture of the book’s cover on Facebook along with a picture of my wife’s first and fantastic looking loaf, a couple people…

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James 3:1-12

“Not many of you should presume to be didaskaloi (teachers),” James begins this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson (1). About now, many teachers might agree with him. A few weeks (or days) into the new school year have probably begun to tax even the most dedicated teachers in ways that may leave them considering some kind of…

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Mark 6:14-29

How sordid.  How tawdry.  How stupid.  How tragic.  It’s all here in Mark 6 where we learn to our shock and sadness that the last great Old Testament prophet and the first great New Testament gospel herald, John the Baptist himself, was done in because of a boozy promise made by an oversexed older man…

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

In our first reading for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are introduced to the most famous king of Israel, David son of Jesse.  It’s a favorite passage for many Bible students because of the parade of likely candidates from Jesse’s family, each of whom is rejected, and then the entrance of the least likely…

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Romans 5:12-19

It’s always humbling for my wife and me to have a problem with our computer or cell phones.  After all, we, on whom our sons depended for so many years, must now largely depend on them to help us.  I’ll never be as technologically savvy as our thirty-something sons. Fleming Rutledge, who lent me some…

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Matthew 4:1-11

Many of us have seen the bumper sticker, “Lead Me Not into Temptation: I Can Find It By Myself.”  Cheeky humor aside, we know that God never actively leads us to sin and probably does not actively lead us to temptation (though this need not rule out God’s ability to test our faith).  God is…

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Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

And so our Lenten journey begins.  The text chosen by the RCL for this First Sunday of Lent remind us that the journey to salvation began at a tree where salvation became necessary and ended at a tree where salvation was accomplished.  Genesis 3 shows us the disastrous human choice that brought death in all…

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Psalm 63:1-8

When a psalm is as relatively brief as Psalm 63 and yet you notice that the Lectionary would have you stop reading—and presumably stop preaching—three verses shy of the actual conclusion of the poem, one might be justified in wondering what’s up.  What is in those last few verses?  Why the full stop before this…

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Mark 1:4-11

Fans of Peter Jackson’s films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy will recall the opening sequence in the final film, The Return of the King.  As the movie opens, we are taken back hundreds of years from the main action of the trilogy to the time when Smeagol finds the Ring of power, murdering…

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Psalm 5:1-8

For the second week in a row, I’m going to write on the alternate reading from the Psalter, since I covered Psalm 32 just a few months ago as part of Lent. In a sense, Psalm 5 and Psalm 32 are about the same thing—egregious evil—though Psalm 32 focuses on the evil we commit ourselves,…

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Psalm 63:1-8

I have always been moved and challenged by Luke’s description of Christ’s decisive turn to the cross in Luke 9:51. “At the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” An older translation put it more graphically; “Jesus set his face to go up to Jerusalem.” I…

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