A movie about power, money, and corruption has this two characters that quote this verse. One quotes it in a church after hearing the priest preach about it. The other quotes it after their husband dies and is looking for justice.
Both characters were taught that to be meek meant to be passive. One had an eschatological view (end of time) that the meek would inherit the earth sometime when Jesus returns. But certainly not in the present time.
To be meek, biblically speaking, is to not abuse power or not to be arrogant and oppressive. It means to use power under the Lordship of Christ. We use our power for the benefit of others; not at their expense.
In the movie, The Laundromat, both characters had a different biblical interpretation that in some ways, shaped their lives and decisions. It matters how we interpret and how we theologize. It’s partly why I’m constantly reading and reflecting. I’m seeking integrative truth to believe and live from.
The one character (Meryl Streep) who is seeking justice from a corrupt political and banking system ends up going under cover to expose the companies for their deceitful practices. She used meekness to seek justice. The other character (Antonio Banderas) misused his power and knowledge to take advantage of others, not wanting to know what these shell companies were actually doing. They called it privacy. But this was not privacy. This was a sin of omission…a failure to know their clients and their business purposes. In fact, they did know what their clients were doing but kept hiding behind “privacy laws”. This is the exact opposite of what meekness and justice are.
From an eschatological perspective, we don’t wait for Jesus to enact justice at the end of time. We’re to seek justice with an attitude of meekness. If something is wrong, we’re to do something about it. And we’re to do it with meekness and Jesus does.
The movie is a great reminder to keep doing the work of theology to deepen our understanding. It takes work and effort to think through ethical matters and biblical understanding. We need an integrative approach to keep seeking truth. And it’s a great reminder that integrative theology affects how we do business, runs companies, and do life together.
[This is an adaptation from a paper I’m currently writing.]
Last night, our class had a thrilling discussion on the reality of evil. While we can’t figure out the origin of evil, we do know that it’s real. Take the story, for example, of a famous psychiatrist who had to come to terms with evil itself:
“The second element which must be factored in is the psychological one. The famous American psychotherapist M. Scott Peck was for many years an agnostic. He learned his psychiatry according to the standard model in which there was no such thing as evil. But at around the same time as, to his own surprise, he came into the Christian faith, he came to recognize that in some cases at least it was not enough to regard certain patients, or in some cases the families of certain patients, as simply ill or muddled or misguided. He was forced to come to terms with a larger, darker power, for which the only word was evil. He wrote his book People of the Lie to articulate this unpopular viewpoint.” – N. T. Wright. Evil and the Justice of God
We moved the discussion towards structural evil which is more systemic in nature and involves examples such as power differential in corporations, the rich-poor gap, chronic abuse, and others.
I kept thinking of the workplace and some of the dynamics that HR and the company face. Sure we can label the issues: an employee’s negative attitude, stealing, lying, manipulation, greed, misuse of power, etc. But much of this is influenced by this force of evil, this disposition that many have given into. And evil is defined as a defiant-rebellious-narcissism contrary to the ultimate character and will of a loving God. Even half-truths or situations where matters seem grey appear to have slithers of this evil force at work.
Before we are too alarmed or think that we’d never behave like this, might I remind us to look at our own lives and see how we have allowed the force of evil to influence us. We too are culprits of allowing evil to have some type of disposition and influence in our hearts.
A Christian ethic, in the context of workplace and social ethic, might provide us with a paradigm to perceive the daily interactions among employees and see that many of the of accusations, deceptive mannerisms, and poor judgment could be attributed to an evil force that is influencing some. I am not trying to glorify evil in this sense, but am trying to offer a view and response to the questions that I concurrently hear throughout the workplace:
Why do employees misbehave?
Why did so-and-so lie about this accounting spreadsheet?
What motivated this employee to sue the company?
Why is this manager constantly misusing and abusing their power?
Why is this employee constantly threatening others with their snide remarks?
How could this employee steal money from us?
A humanist/atheist/agnostic worldview might simply say that evil does not exist. They might dismiss the issues as childhood trauma, our shadow/dark parts of the self, or a lack of education. All of these responses might have some relevance (in fact, many times trauma and lack of education are major contributors–and receiving the proper healing and education might help empower the person). Yet there is an origin, a disposition of an evil force at work during the trauma, in the shadow/dark self, or realizing that because of a structural evil one was unable to attend school due to a lack of finances. But this humanistic/atheist/agnostic worldview does not have an answer for responding to this force of evil.
The Christian Tradition’s Response to Evil
The ultimate response to evil is seen in the way Jesus acknowledges it, confronts it, and defeats it. Jesus wasn’t just a great moral teacher or life guru that came to model an exemplar life. Many subscribe to this but it falls short of the Gospel truth. Jesus came to proclaim and inaugurate God’s Rule and Reign on earth as in heaven. Part of this proclamation was to confront the structural and immoral evils. Wherever evil and injustice existed, Jesus was quick to confront it through a healing touch, shedding light and truth over and against darkness and deception, extending forgiveness to the “unforgivable”, confronting abusive leadership, and ultimately destroying the work of the Devil (1 John 3:8).
In the book of Ephesians 6:10-18, the Apostle Paul teaches the early church how to confront and overcome evil:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
It is my summation that much of the weariness and cynicism that many leaders in the workplace face is contributed to the ongoing work of confronting structural and personal evil. It is hard work having to confront injustices and systemic problems that just don’t seem to go away. Yet Paul tells us to take a stand and arm ourselves. Take note that you are not battling “Suzie” or “Tyler”. No. You are confronting the force of evil that is influencing and deceiving many. This is not to make evil the scapegoat because Jesus has destroyed the power of the evil one and we have the power to choose which voice we will listen to.
The Christian worldview is to live in the authority of Jesus, to act in accordance to His heart and character, to trust the work of the Cross, and to claim for ourselves the victory of Christ over all evil. While Jesus already did this work, it has yet to be fully consummated on earth. Part of the Gospel message is that we are now partners with Christ to assail the work of evil in our own contexts. We are now heralds and agents of the work of Christ. We are called to promote forgiveness, justice, ethical/moral living, a solid work and social ethic, and to extend healing, grace, and mercy as much as we can in Christ.
Instead of crumbling in defeat, we are to take a stand on the Victory of Christ over death and evil! We must pray to see how we can all do this in the marketplace.
Some Stories that Highlight the confronting of evil and doing good (don’t be overcome by evil…overcome it with Good!! Rom. 12:21)
*A manager who has been providing care and support to a single mother. The manager has been periodically checking in on the employee to see how they’re doing and to offer support to the best of their ability.
*An employee offered his vacation time to anybody who might need an extended amount of time to recover from surgery or an ailment! It put tears in my eyes to hear that he wanted to do this!
*A manager, the other day, brought in one of his employees to his office because the employee was not performing as usual. Instead of beating down the employee, the manager shared all the good qualities the employee usually embodies. And then asked him, “What has changed? You’re usually on top of things.” It turns out the employee was going through a slump and just needed some encouragement.
*The other day I had the chance to pray for an employee who struggling with physical pain, as well as the sadness of seeing his brother struggling with cancer. We prayed and the employee began crying. Afterwards, they said, “I just needed to release this burden with tears. Thanks for letting me do that”.
Let’s continue to overcome evil in our own contexts with good. And then share the story with someone. Share it with me if you can!!! 🙂