Some time ago, I wrote a post at Spec Faith about evil as I believe J. R. R. Tolkien understood it. One point stood out as I wrote the article—the world of Middle Earth which Tolkien created was faced with defeat. If the protagonist of the story didn’t succeed in his task, no matter what the other characters did, evil would win.
In other words, their efforts were largely meaningless. They continued to fight evil, though they understood it to be hopeless, because it was the right thing to do, because they believed they should stay the course, because it was all they could do unless they gave in to despair.
On another blog I read a post about whether or not Christians should bother with changing the world. As the author probed the question, he received answers that can best be described as fatalistic.
There seemed to be two threads—one that said God would do what God would do no matter how we voted or prayed, and the other that evil was on a downward spiral, as prophesied in Scripture, and there was nothing we could do to stop it or change it.
I’m not happy with these fatalistic approaches. Yes, I believe God is sovereign and in control. Yes, I believe that God will turn Humankind over to the depravity of our heart and there will be a day of reckoning.
However, I also know the true story about a boy king reigning in the last century of Judah’s existence as a nation. He came to the throne when he was eight. When he was sixteen, he began to seek “the God of his father David.” When he was twenty, he began to get rid of the idols all over the country. At twenty-six, with the idols all torn down, he decided to repair the temple.
During that process, the high priest found a copy of the book of the Law. The young king, Josiah, read it and realized how great God’s wrath must be because of all the years and years Judah had wandered from Him. As a result, he led the nation in a revival. He made a covenant with God to follow Him and to keep His commandments. Consequently, during his lifetime “they did not turn from following the Lord God of their fathers) (2 Chron. 34:33b).
Nevertheless, twenty-two years, six months later, Judah fell to Babylon.
Was all that Josiah did for naught?
I don’t think his contemporaries would say so. They were free of idols and enjoyed the blessing God bestowed on their king because of his humble heart and his repentance.
What I learn from Josiah is that it’s never too late to repent. It’s never too late to turn from evil and do good. Will it change the course of the world? Maybe. Much depends on those who come after.
Martin Luther might be considered a priest who changed the course of the world because he, like Josiah, sought God and believed His written revelation.
Elizabeth Elliot might be considered a missionary who changed the course of a culture when she went back into the rain forest of Ecuador to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people who murdered her husband.
But long-term change is not guaranteed. God determined to bring the long-delayed judgment on Judah after Josiah’s death despite his godly rule. His faithfulness couldn’t reverse the fortunes of his nation, only delay them. Perhaps his sons, if they had been godly would have changed the fortunes of the nation for another generation. But they went their own way and didn’t follow in the steps of their father.
Isn’t that the point, though? Isn’t each person responsible for how we are to live our lives, how we are to affect those around us, not what happens after we’re gone?
The way we are to influence future generations is by teaching and training the next generation—those younger than we who stand right in front of us. They in turn are to teach and train the next generation, and that generation, the one after them.
Is evil winning? Ultimately, of course not. Christ already defeated the enemy at the cross.
And evil will not win on the temporal level as long as Christians are living what we say we believe, then turning around and teaching the next generation to go and do likewise.
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:4-7, emphasis added)
This post first appeared here in October 2012.