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Rom 12,9-21 Overcoming Evil with Good - Virginia Tech

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Overcoming Evil with Good

a Response to the Virgina Tech Massacre



April 20, 2007

Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

9Love must be sincere.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

11Never be lacking in zeal,

but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God's people who are in need.

Practice hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you;

bless and do not curse.

15Rejoice with those who rejoice;

mourn with those who mourn.

16Live in harmony with one another.

Do not be proud,

but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Do not be conceited.

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,

live at peace with everyone.

19Do not take revenge, my friends,

but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord.

20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.

The tragedy of the mass murder at Virginia Tech

has been a great shock to all of us. 

We are stunned.

We grieve for the families whose 32 young people

have been killed. 

The sense of tragedy overwhelms us all.

We can hardly imagine their pain and suffering

and immeasurable grief

in the loss of so many young adults.

We grieve for them all.

From the beginning of the Biblical story

       violence and evil been part of the story...

       Cain killing his brother Able…

       Josephs brothers selling him off…

       David killing Uriah after sleeping with his wife…

From the story of Noah we read in Genesis 6:11,

“The earth was corrupt in the eyes of God

and was full of violence.”

Proverbs 24:6 says,

“Their hearts plot violence

and their lips talk about making trouble.”

In Psalm 140:1 the writer cries out to God,

”Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men;

protect me from men of violence.”

In John 10, where Jesus refers to himself

as the Good Shepherd, we read, 

“Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate

is a thief and a robber.

The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life

and have it more abundantly.” 

In Biblical times,

a sheep pen was considered to be a safe place,

the way schools are considered to be safe places.  When the sheep are in the pen,

they are thought to be safe for the night,

and when kids are in a school,

they are thought to be safe. 

But the Bible says a thief slips in only

to steal and kill and destroy. 

That sounds like exactly what happened

at Columbine High School eight years ago

and in a class room at Virginia Tech this past week. 

Someone possessed by evil slipped in only

to steal and kill and destroy. 

They had no other purpose. 

But Jesus is just the opposite: 

Jesus comes to bring not only life,

but abundant life. 

Jesus wants us not only to experience life

       but the fullness of life that God intends for us.

Schools are to be safe places,

but schools have become places of violence.

That violence is felt by students in many different ways.

Edward Marquart says that

there have been 40 public school mass shootings

during the past 40 years

and 30 of those mass shootings have occurred

in public schools in the US.

Get this,

“The Center for Disease Control reported in 2002

that there had been 220 school-related shootings

from 1994 to 1999, resulting in 253 deaths.”

A lot of the research for today’s message

comes from the US…

but, I think, Canadians are following

the US on the same slippery slope.

We, in North America,

are experiencing an epidemic of violence

A disease can reach epidemic proportions in a nation

and violence has already

reached epidemic proportions in the US…

and the epidemic is spreading

to the Big White North.

The tragedies at the Polytechnical School in Montreal

       in 1989…

Columbine High School eight years ago…

       and at Virginia Tech this past week

are horrific examples of the sick violence

which is gripping our culture.

Many things disturb us about the unraveling story

and the revelations of how the killer

mailed a long list of pictures and videos

of himself in killing poses.

That upsets and deeply offends all of us.

He referred to the names of Eric and Dylan,

the two teenage killers at Columbine, as “martyrs.”

We are living in a violent culture

which is becoming increasingly violent.

A few years ago, Dr. Everett Koop

was the Surgeon General of the USA. 

In 1984, he said that violence is a public health issue,

like smallpox and tuberculosis were

in previous centuries. 

Just as smallpox and tuberculosis were epidemics

that needed to be contained and eliminated,

violence has reached such epidemic proportions

that it too needs to be contained. 

We agree!

       Yes, but How?

Dr. James Gilligan, MD,

director of the Center for the Study of Violence

at Harvard Medical School wrote a book entitled

Violence: Reflections On A National Epidemic. 

Dr. Gilligan, says that

compared to the industrialized democracies

of Western Europe, Canada, Japan,

New Zealand, etc,

the USA’s rates of violence are two to twenty times

as great as other modern democracies. 

How can that be?


gives us some insights

on this culture of ours that is in love with violence.

A Roman philosopher by the name of Seneca,

       who lived in the time of Jesus,

made a comparison

between the public games of Greece and Rome. 

The Greeks filled the amphitheaters with races,

javelin and discus throws,

long jumps and high jumps,

public displays of beautiful bodies and athleticism –

the kinds of games you would see in the Olympics. 

The games of the Romans weren’t like this at all. 

The Roman public games were the gladiators,

men locked in violent combat until

one of them was killed

and then the crowds roared with delight.

In 65 CE, Emperor Nero filled the public stadium

with 400 wild elephants,

wild bulls and wild tigers

and let them fight and kill each other

until they were all dead,

the blood flowing deep on the floor of the coliseum,

with the crowds cheering.  

Here was a culture addicted to violence and gore...

much like our culture is addicted

to violence and gore. 

As long as you put a disclaimer on the screen

       That says,

       “This program may contain scenes of violence

       That may be disturbing to some audiences.

Viewer discression is advised.” – it’s OK.

Violence in Western culture

has become an accepted way of life.

Daily reports of suicide bombers

       and the war on Iraq

       feed our insaciable craving for violence.

When we look at the factors

that trigger violent behaviours,

one that comes to mind right away

is the media.

Steve Covey (of SEVEN HABITS fame) said,

that the same people who say

that media violence has no behavioral impact

on the lives of viewers

will be the same people

who sell television ads

for thousands (or millions) of dollars per second

in order to affect behaviors of consumers. 

As if what is shown on the TV programming

doesn’t affect behavior

but the expensive advertising does? 

How ridiculous.

There is a major inconsistency here. 

Somebody is fooling somebody.

Advertising on TV is expensive

because it does affect behavior;

and so does programming on TV.

The very essence of advertising is to affect behavior

       based on the power of repeated suggestion,

and TV programming

also illustrates the power of repeated suggestion....

Repeated violent suggestions,

deeply implanted into the human psyche,

do affect behavior.

After Columbine,

a bunch of high school students in the US

were polled on their opinion

about the possible factors

that contribute to violence in their schools. 

Their answers were revealing:

The three most influencial factors identified were:

#1, the availability of guns, 86%; 

#2, the Internet, 84%; 

#3 parents (75%). 

Imagine what happens

when you add together these three factors:

easy accessibility of guns,

and the unrelenting violence in the media

on the Internet

and in Music,

and parents who are too busy living their own lives

to be close to their children. 

And there is another factor.

Dr. Roland Martinson suggests that “dissing”

       is a huge factor when it comes to violence.

For those of us over the age of 40

       we have to have that word explained to us.

What is dissing?

“Dissing” is taunting,

picking on,


bullying other kids at school,

or at work or in the home or wherever. 

“Rollie” told the story of when he had been dissed. 

He was a young boy at Bible Camp,

sleeping in a dorm,

and he had the problem of “bed-wetting”,

which he naturally tried to hide from his friends. 

That night at Bible Camp,

he wet his bed and he was trying to quietly escape

into the bathroom to cover up his accident

when the lights went on.

All the boys realized what had happened

and he was humiliated by the boys. 

It was a terrible experience for him,

one that he remembers with great clarity

because of the pain and the shame. 

Later he turned into a bit of bully,

when he and his friends dished it out

to this girl at school

until she finally broke down in tears,

humiliated and ashamed. 

The girl’s mother came to school to pick her up,

and as he walked by the car,

he could read the lips of the girl,

through the window of the car,

saying to her mother:  “He is one of them.” 

Can you relate to these stories?

Has that happened to you?

Have you been dissed by others?

       Or are you in the habit of dissing others?

You may have read about the killer at Virginia Tech,

that when he was a high school student

and was the shyest kid in the class.

His uncle said that his family was afraid he was mute.

This “none talking” high school student

was asked to read out loud in front of the class.

The kid refused.

Finally, he HAD to and did.

When he did, his voice was strange,

low, and garbled.

It was reported that the other kids in the class

laughed at him and told him

to go back home to China.

Who knows how many times this kid was humiliated

       because of his paralyzing shyness and muteness. 

We may never know…

I don’t want to defend his horrific actions…

but we need to be more aware

of factors that contribute to a tragedy like this.

He is still responsible for what he did,

       but, we will be helped in thinking about

       the factors that contribute to violence

       in our own lives.

Dissing hurts and leaves deep scars,

more than we realize.

We confess and believe that

violence is contrary to the Will of God.

Violence is opposite to the Spirit of Christ

who comes to bring life

and give it more abundantly.

God’s purpose is to heal individuals who are sick…

but, also to heal cultures which are sick.

As we reflect on the violence in our culture

       in the days to come

       let us remind ourselves and each other

       that we are people of God’s peace…

That evil cannot be overcome with evil…

       but only with the power of God’s love.


21Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.

May we find redemptive and healing ways

       To reach out to others.

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