One of the television shows I like to watch is “THE MENTALIST.” If you haven’t seen it, it centers on a man named Patrick Jane, an ex psychic/con man who helps the California Bureau of Investigation solve various homicides. As I am card carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, I find this show entertaining on many different levels (I have even gotten some good tricks out of it!). While each episode centers on an individual crime, the overarching mission of Jane and the CBI is to capture the serial Killer ‘Red John’, responsible for the murder of Jane’s wife and child.
The progression of this man-hunt has been interesting to watch. At the beginning of the series, the hunt was for a solitary killer. Red John was seen as a single person who was responsible for countless murders. Yet as the program has progressed, “Red John” has morphed into a more systemic evil. It is clear that what Jane and the CBI truly face is not a solitary person, but a whole network of villains. Red John’s devout followers seem to have infiltrated every level of agency and government and are always at the ready to do his bidding, or protect his identity. With Red John at the helm, the evil that is inflicted upon the world is wide-spread and insipid. Jane and the CBI are continually one-step behind this devilish force, and are somewhat powerless against him.
This idea of systemic evil seems to be all over the television these days. Kevin Bacon stars in a similar program called “THE FOLLOWING.” Its premise is that like “THE MENTALIST” where Bacon stars as Ryan Hardy, an FBI Agent attempting to capture serial killer Joe Carroll and his band of murderous followers. The CW program “CULT”(just recently cancelled) developed this theme in an interesting manner. In this program, devoted fans of a hit TV show (also called CULT) re-create the crimes from the show at the request from producer/cult leader Stephen Rae. Even “ELEMENTARY” has adopted this theme. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, has been changed from a man of wicked brilliance, to a puppeteer who has devoted killers to do his work.
These aren’t your everyday cop shows. The evil in these shows are beyond that of a ‘bad guy doing bad things.’ These shows depict an system of evil that has embedded itself in the intricacies of the world. While the good guys may receive little victories along the way, these victories do nothing to stop the central evil which always remains illusive and in control. What is more, with each passing episode, the evil becomes more wide-spread, more insidious, and more powerful. Thus the viewer is left questioning as to whether or not the good guys will ever save the day.
I wonder if that’s the question that the culture around us is struggling with. With a seemingly unending line of school shootings, marathon bombings and other atrocities being committed, one has to questions our ability to combat such evils. Like the television shows that we watch, we may capture individual culprits, but still the systemic root of evil which causes such things goes untouched.
Perhaps this is where the church has a role to play. After all, systemic evil has always been part of the doctrine of the church. The Church has understood that underneath the misdeeds of humanity is a spiritual root and force. Scripture depicts Sin (big ‘S’ sin) as spiritual force which dominates the individual, and has infected the entire world. This is why Paul writes in Ephesians “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.” (6:12). It seems to me that this is what the culture is struggling with. It is struggling to understand the dynamic of an unstoppable evil; it aching for a language to describe why, despite all our best efforts, horrors still abound. What is more, it is to yearning for way to combat such a force, when all evidence points to the fact that good guys will never fully win.
If the church has a role here, maybe it is in reclaiming our message about sin, death, evil, and even the Devil. Maybe the culture doesn’t need yet another message about how to love one another; maybe it needs to hear about the reality of evil and sin, and how they will be thwarted once and for all.
Because the fact is, this is the side of the story that is missing in the culture. Unlike the television world, where the vanquishing of evil seems but a dream, the church voices a message of hope. As we join together in our struggle with evil in this world, and sometimes in ourselves, we also join together in the message of our redemption. Through the cross, we claim ultimate victory over the spiritual cause of all evil and wrong in this world. In the message of the cross, we encounter the truth that God has dealt the definitive blow to these spiritual forces. And while we still live in the reality of a fallen world, this does not deaden the reality of our salvation, or the promise of victory.
The truth is we know the end of the story: Evil doesn’t win. As rampant as it may seem, as unstoppable as we may fear it, it is powerless against the selfless love found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It seems to me that the culture is looking for this message. May we be bold in its proclamation.
What is the way that you tackle the issue of sin, evil, and wrongdoing in this world?