St. Augustine famously argued that evil is a privation of the good. God is the Creator and what he creates is good. All that the devil and sin can do is corrupt what is good (Enchiridion, chapters 11-13). As a liar and murderer, it is not surprising that the devil seeks to corrupt some of the greatest goods in God’s creation. He takes a great good and through sin turns it into an evil.
Man was created in God’s image – man was created as male and female (Gen 1:26-27). In that ordering as male and female, man reflected the unity and plurality of the Triune God. The union of male and female in sexual intercourse bound the two as the one flesh of marriage (Gen 2:24) and produced life as the fruit of that union just as God desired (Gen 1:28).
Sexuality is intrinsically part of God’s gift of human life. And so it is that from the beginning the devil has used lust to pervert this good and turn it into an evil in the lives of people. In our own day the devil works both old and new versions of evil. The “sexual revolution” has freed sex from marriage in ways that are the same as the first century A.D. world. And yet the view that homosexuality is perfectly normal and acceptable would have surprised the ancient world. The notion that two people of the same sex can be “married,” or that a man is really a woman or vice versa, would have struck the ancient world as absurd.
It is easy to spot how the good of sexuality is perverted into an evil and an idol. But there are other goods – tremendous gifts – where the same thing happens. In fact the devil creates some of the most powerful idols in the most surprising places.
Family is a great gift of God. The product of marriage which was instituted in the Garden of Eden, this is the location where people take their place in the ordering God provides as they fulfill the vocation of husband and wife; father and mother; son and daughter. These unique bonds of blood join people in ways that call forth love, service and obedience.
And yet the devil takes this great good and twists it into a great evil. He twists it into one of the most powerful idols you will encounter. Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God” (1.3). Whoever or whatever holds the number one place in our life is really our god. All too often, family takes on this role. It becomes the thing that is valued over God and his Word.
Jesus Christ said:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV)
This good becomes an evil – it becomes an idol - when a parent rejects the ministry of the pastor who seeks to speak the truth of God’s word to the son or daughter who is living together outside of marriage. It becomes an idol when parents of a son or daughter who is practicing homosexuality reject a church and the teaching confessed there because the church calls homosexuality what it is – sin. It becomes an idol when family members reject a pastor and his ministry because he will not permit division to be introduced to the sacrament of unity by allowing those of a different confessional fellowship to commune.
These actions prompted by the false idol of family take place in the local congregation. Yet the local congregation – the local church – is also a great good that the devil turns into a great evil. The congregation is the place where, as the Means of Grace are administered in the midst of people, the Church is present. It is the place where the saving reign of God is present as faith is created and sustained, and forgiveness is delivered.
Yet the devil takes this great good and perverts it. He turns it into a great idol. The congregation becomes “my congregation” and “our congregation” in a way that distinguishes and opposes it to others. The Gospel mission is given lip service, but other people – especially people who are different in some way – are not really welcome or wanted. The local congregation becomes an idol when decisions are based on preserving the institution. All things are sacrificed at the altar of keeping the congregation going in the way members want. Fidelity to God’s Word and the pastor who serves in the Office of the Holy Ministry become mere obstructions to be ignored, or ultimately, to be eliminated. When people say, “My family has been in this congregation for one hundred years.”; when people say, “We were here before you and we will be here after you...,” they are often serving their idol – the congregation.
All people fail to fear, love and trust in God above all things as we break the First Commandment. Yet it is important for pastors to recognize these two evils that they uniquely encounter in their service in the Church. The manner in which they produce hardship can be disorienting because they are good gifts of God. The fact that they cause harm to the pastor and others in the congregation itself can challenge faith because the congregation is the place where new pastors don’t expect such threats. Yet upon reflection we find that it is not surprising that the devil seeks to create evil using these good things. After all, that is what he does. And so sustained by Christ’s gifts we meet these evils with faith and forgiveness as we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!”