do not be overcome

Some days I am overcome by the sheer quantity of sin and evil in the world. It's as if Satan took a broad brush dipped in black paint and made a few heavy strokes across the surface of the earth, sucking away all the color and light and life from God's beautiful Creation and replacing it with death.

And it's not just a generalized darkness - maybe that's why it hurts so much. Some of it is so terribly personal. So terribly close. The oozing black paint seems to find its way into every crevice, even the most sacred spaces of our lives.

It makes me cry for the children - the innocent ones who enter into a world that immediately stains them and batters them and breaks them. Before they are even old enough to fight back, they've already been made slaves to sin and the ever-willing flesh. Some of them never escape.

And some of them - some of us - are set free, only to keep going back again and again to that addictive black bondage.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Romans 7:21-24

Wretched men and women that we are - stained from birth with the long-reaching after effects of Satan's paintbrush, wanting to walk in the freedom that comes from God and His Spirit, and yet still ravaged by the war of our two natures within us. We have been freed from guilt and judgment, but who will free us from the evil that still resides in our bodies of death? Who will scrub away all that wicked black ink?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 7:25-8:4

A flicker of light

This might be one of the most incredible passages in the New Testament, and I think it's too easy to miss with the chapter break in the middle of it, so I like to read it straight through: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

What honesty, from a man we all probably consider a super-Christian. Paul the Apostle admits that evil still lives inside of him, and that his fleshly desires do not align with his spiritual ones; that he is wretched and helpless, but for the gift of God. The two opposing natures are still at war for as long as he awaits glory, but safe in the freedom of Christ's sacrifice, there is no condemnation.

We come into the world already stained by evil and we grow into adulthood already broken by it. The world is, indeed, black. And yet what is this we see in Paul? A flicker of light!

Later in Romans, there's a short little verse that caught my eye: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

The blackness seems suffocating. It would be easy to be overcome. Even God could have chosen to let Satan snuff His Creation out - could have decided it was easier than mustering up His mighty attributes of love, grace, and mercy to save an evil humanity from the dark.

But He was not overcome by evil. He overcame the evil with good.

He sent Jesus - His Son - to die as the only sin offering powerful enough to set us free from condemnation and slowly-but-surely, over lifetimes and beyond, scrub all that black out of each one of our hearts.

And as He scrubs Paul, and Paul candidly testifies of God's ongoing work, that little flicker of light grows and multiplies.

walk as children of light

It would be easy to be overcome by the evil we all see around us (and in us) every day - especially the stuff that hits us close to home, or stabs like a poisoned knife straight into our hearts. But with a little more effort and a lot more sacrifice, we have the option to overcome evil instead - not with our own might or determination or fearlessness, but simply with good. Not a spineless "good" that says anything goes, but the fierce kind of good that makes up the merciful and unconditional love which both "exposes" the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:10) and "covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

This kind of good is hard, even excruciating work. Sometimes it means that we join with God in the sanctification-scrubbing of the saints (John 13). Sometimes it means confrontation or confession to bring light into the dark places. Sometimes it means forgiving a betrayal that seems impossible.

Always, it will require participation in a Christ-oriented body and a refusal to follow the comfortable call of isolation and complacency. Paul didn't have to confess to the hidden evil inside himself, but if he hadn't, where would we find that flicker of light to cling to when we feel that the darkness might choke us to death, both from within and without?


One final thought: if you read the account of Creation in Genesis 1, you will find that there is only one thing that God did not have to create: the darkness. Darkness is default. But therein lies its weakness, for it is vulnerable to be driven away the very moment that God speaks and the Light is revealed.

For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.  But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
Ephesians 5:8-13

slow

This spring has been a little different for me.

In years past, I've taken some substantial trips around this time of year - a roadtrip through Utah and Arizona, a week in Virginia, a camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, to name a few. It's as if, after spending the first few months of the year in the hibernation of home, I like to take the first chance to get out and breathe again.

But this year that transition has been a bit slower, perhaps because this winter was so much darker.

The sun has been shining, and I've been slipping out of my house to spend my hours weeding, planting, and watering. I've been watching while tiny seedlings push up from the earth and while recent bare-root plantings begin to bud and blossom. It's long, slow, daily work and for some reason, it's exactly what I've been craving.

Weeks ago, when the weather was just beginning to shift toward spring, I was listening to a podcast in which the host made a point that stuck with me: We are forever innovating, forever looking for ways to do our work faster and easier - only to have so many hours left over that we must seek out empty entertainment to fill them. What if working faster and easier is not always the best thing? What if there's a purpose to the process of slow, deliberate work that allows us the opportunity to create, like God did in the beginning, especially during all those hours in which we might otherwise just consume?

These are the questions that have been at the forefront of my mind while I slowly come out of winter's hiding, and look out on the sunny world again - while I pull weeds and hand-water my freshly planted landscaping and watch for the signs of new life springing up all around me. I watch the cycle of the seasons and the evolution of a year, and it strikes me that God is not in a hurry. He doesn't rush to complete His to-do list in order to take His Sabbath rest sooner and longer. He just works long, slow, and daily, with spaces for true, satisfied rest in between.

And I don't think it's because He's not able to work faster. I think it's because He chooses not to.

For some reason, the One who spoke the world into existence chose to do so over six separate periods of time - not in a single instant, even though He was able. And then, satisfied, He rested.

Maybe He designed us to do our work in the same way, regardless of what technological advances and "time-savers" we come up with. What, after all, is the point of "saved" time, if it is then spent far more frivolously? 

Maybe He made us to live a bit slower than we are technically able, in order to let us bear His image a bit more beautifully - and accurately.

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.
Ecclesiastes 5:18
God is not in a hurry and it's okay to live slow.

life, death, and a very little thing

I've always loved cemeteries. They are beautiful, quiet, profound. I love the way the giant trees stand sentinel over the names of so many people who have lain almost-forgotten by the loud world that is constantly buzzing by - and yet who each shifted the world, even in only the tiniest way, by being part of it for a little while.

Every Memorial Day weekend, I try to spend an hour walking through the cemetery that sits across the road from where I do my grocery shopping every week. It's usually a sunny midday right after I've been to church, and I walk among the headstones with a few other people who have come to pay respects. The flags ripple lightly in the breeze, and the whole expanse of these countless graves is dotted with color - of flowers, of flags, even of balloons. I like to think that today, at least, those who so quietly left this loud world behind are remembered.

Today was not much different. Sunny and warm, with a clear blue sky held up by ancient trees, and that uncanny graveside hush. But this time, I had just come from the hospital - where I met my hours-old niece for the first time.

Life, death.

It makes me feel rather small to reflect on how, minute by minute, new lives are born into the world, while at the very same time other lives are coming to their ends. How fleeting it all looks when I stand under the trees and read the names and dates that quantify countless strangers' momentary earthly lives. And it becomes a lot harder to fret about small, stupid things when faced with the reality of how tiny even the "big" things are, in light of eternity.

Jesus said, "Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. . . . Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?" (Luke 12:22, 25-26) This whole chapter always hits me hard, but that last question is the most humbling of all: If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?

Can we even imagine having the power to willfully add hours to our lives? Wouldn't having that kind of sovereignty be the pinnacle of human achievement - the elusive Fountain of Youth? And yet Jesus calls this a very little thing.

And to the One who sits on the Throne of eternity, with a view that spans from eternity past to eternity future, of course that's just what it is. A very, very little thing.

Life, death. It is small. We are small.

But lest we get lost in the smallness - lest this reminder of the ever-cycling nature of life leave us hopeless - Christ gives the greatest reassurance of all, right in the middle of the same passage: "Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!" (Luke 12:25)

Life, death. Food, clothing. Ravens, humans. It is all so very small - and yet it is all important in the eyes of God.

His view may span eternity, but His eye watches over the sparrow.

We are small, but we are not too small.

And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?  If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?
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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.