A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Wise as Serpents: Evil Comes to Eden (Part 2 of a sermon series by Jeff Crippen)

If evil came to Eden, that perfect paradise where everything had been pronounced “very good” by the Lord, why in the world would we not expect it to come among us today in the church? And yet, professing Christians seem to default to a kind of “willful blindness” to that evil, enabling the wicked and furthering the suffering of the oppressed. These are some of the issues we address in this second sermon of Wise as Serpents.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men… (Matthew 10:16-17a)

An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. (Winston Churchill)

There is something in each of us, I suppose especially in people who consider themselves to be “good” people, that refuses to see evil for what it is. And it is quite probable that this tendency, which is really a manifestation of self and our sinful flesh in action, is most widespread in Christian churches and organizations. This denial, which Margaret Heffernan calls Willful Blindness, permits evil to thrive among us, to deceive us, and to continue practicing oppression of its victims. In some cases, as Heffernan tells us, willful blindness reaches the level of a crime. Here she quotes from the jury instructions given by a judge in the Enron trial and then adds some explanation:

You may find that a defendant had knowledge of a fact if you find that the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to him. Knowledge can be inferred if the defendant deliberately blinded himself to the existence of a fact.

Judge Lake was applying the legal concept of willful blindness: You are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see. In this case, Skilling and Lay could have known, and had the opportunity to know, just how rotten their company was. Their claim not to know was no excuse under the law. Since they could have known, they were responsible.[1]

Willful blindness. It is not excusable. It is willfully committed. Heffernan continues:

We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves.[2]

Therefore, when evil comes among us, especially when we are in a place such as the church where we have been taught that evil does not exist (it’s only “out there” in the world), our fear kicks in, our selfishness demands that we hold on to our cherished prejudices, and we reject even plain facts and hard evidence because we want to keep feeling great about ourselves and about our little world.

This is willful blindness. It is willful sin. It is willfully failing to love one another and to obey our Lord’s commandments. And evil loves it so. Listen once more to Heffernan:

There’s a circle here: We like ourselves, not least because we are known and familiar to ourselves. So we like people similar to us—or that we just imagine might have some attributes in common with us. They feel familiar too, and safe. And those feelings of familiarity and security make us like ourselves more because we aren’t anxious. We belong. Our self-esteem rises. We feel happy. Human beings want to feel good about themselves and to feel safe, and being surrounded by familiarity and similarity satisfies those needs very efficiently. The problem with this is that everything outside that warm, safe circle is our blind spot.[3]

In many ways, people who have been raised in Christian homes, have gone to church their whole life, whose very lives have been wrapped up in their church, are the most deceived about evil. It isn’t on their radar. They have no experience with it – at least no experience that they have been aware of, though it has been all around them. And so, when evil is reported or exposed, well, widespread willful blindness and denial kick in. Or rather, the person reporting the evil gets kicked! “How dare you gossip!  Don’t ever tell me something like that again!” …

Most Christians have been taught falsehoods about evil and particularly about evil in the local church. This has enabled evil to flourish in the pews, disguised in wool, and for widespread oppression of Christ’s flock to continue and even be assisted by people who are charged with shepherding that flock.  The traditions of men have been embraced as God’s Word, while God’s Word has been largely rejected. It is one of the main purposes of this present sermon series to correct this perversion of truth by looking closely at the Holy Scriptures where we are going to find warning after warning about evil creeping in among us in the church.

Evil showed up in Eden in the person of the devil, the serpent.

…. Where did this evil one come from? We don’t know. We do know that he is a creature, a created being, and that God is not the author of evil and had created everything very good. At some point, unknown to us, Satan turned from that goodness into the evil being he is. It is quite probable that the arrogant, high-minded personality described in Ezekiel 28 is Satan, perhaps even a description of the essence of his sin … pride and arrogance claiming to be a god, if not God. … And you have it back in Isaiah 14 as well.

Now, let’s consider two things in light of all of this.

1. Evil came into a perfect paradise.

If pure evil, Satan himself, came into a perfect paradise where there was no evil thing, do you not think that evil will most surely come among us in our churches in this fallen world? Evil came, as it always does, in a deceptive, “subtle” form. In “craftiness.” I don’t think that the serpent in Eden was ugly or fearful in appearance, as we perceive serpents to be today. No, he was incredibly believable. He was smart when it came to evil and temptation and he knew right where to strike and what doubts about God to plant in their minds.

The Bible warn us repeatedly that Satan will surely and definitely continue to come among us in the very same way today in the church. [2 Cor. 11-3-4, 12-15] Yet somehow Christians simply choose to live in denial of this.

Expect it. Look for it dressed in wool, shining as bright as a most eminent, holy person. Where do such people
operate? In the church. What is the spirit that empowers them? The spirit of antichrist. Where is the antichrist
obviously going to operate? In the church. 

2. There is a right way and a wrong way to obtain this knowledge of evil yet remain innocent.

Everything in Eden was “very good.” Under the umbrella of that “good” was included the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the commandment that if Adam disobeyed the command, he would die. That kind of knowledge about evil was good. Perhaps this was even the very reason that tree was in the garden at all? BUT, the knowledge of evil, being wise about evil, needed to come by obeying the Lord, not by DOING evil. The devil spoke a “truth” when he said that Adam and Eve would know good and evil, but he made even that truth into a lie because they ended up “knowing” evil in a very different way than God knows evil – they knew it and they were guilty of it. Wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in regard to evil I believe means that we are to have the knowledge of evil, as the devil knew of its existence, but unlike the serpent to have no sin in respect to that evil.

The Lord Jesus Christ knew evil in the sense that He was wise as a serpent about it, yet innocent as a dove. Yet you will never, ever find him practicing willful blindness in regard to evil:

… John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires….

Jesus said these things and knew these things, yet without sin. He was never deceived by evil. Being like Christ includes being wise about evil and not being deceived by it, by not enabling it in any way, by speaking for those who are oppressed by it, and even doing hands on battle with it to protect the innocent.

A Christian is never more UNLIKE Christ than when he or she lays heavy loads on victims of evil, telling them
things like:

  • You must forgive and reconcile
  • You must love them no matter what
  • You must say nothing negative about them
  • Well then, have you considered what YOU did to make them do that to you?

That is the antichrist. That is the spirit of evil.

What should Adam and Eve have done?

When evil came, started talking to them, making those lying claims about God’s motivation? What should they have done? Listened to him? Told themselves, “well, he is one of God’s creatures just like us”?

No; I can tell you what they should have done. They should have killed this serpent, put him out of the garden forever, and thereby obeyed the Lord. They should have immediately recognized that here was a creature craving God’s glory for himself and thereby they should have known he was evil.

Let me ask each of us a question as we end:

Are you wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in regard to evil? Do you WANT to be wise when it comes to evil? Do you want to see it when it shows up? Do you want to know its wicked tactics? Do you want to rescue its victims?

Or, do you prefer willful blindness? The former are marks of Christ and fruits of His Spirit in us. The last, willful blindness, is the self-serving flesh that we are no longer characterized by.

***

Audio and PDF of this sermon here.

[1] Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness (New York: Bloomsbury, 2022) page 1.

[2] Ibid, page 3.

[3] Ibid, page 11.

 

21 Comments

  1. Still Reforming

    Yes – and those willfully blind misuse Scripture a LOT, like “You must respect your husband (no matter what he does to you)” and “You must put a gate over your lips and remain silent (no matter what happens to you).” They misrepresent Christ and God’s justice – unwittingly or otherwise, but I agree that they are still accountable, because they are given opportunity to see evil for what it is, and they choose not to.

  2. Sarah

    and anyone who questions this blindness is shut down. Once again a post on FB said that “if you have a husband you should treat him well when he treats you well” Within minutes a Christian puts in the response “AND even if he doesn’t treat you well”. I can go on and on about how many people say this mantra over and over, in many different ways, with many different scriptures

    • healingInHIm

      To paraphrase a 4-part series I stumbled upon yesterday concerning “Divorce” — it was full of mantra and preaching telling us to suffer because it will glorify Christ and be a witness to all.

      Midway through the 3rd sermon I was feeling so sickened; I couldn’t listen to the 4th fearing more triggers.

      (Eds. note: Comment slightly edit for clarity.)

    • Still Reforming

      Sarah,

      And I just saw this one on FB: “If being hurt by church causes you to lose faith in God, then your faith was in people, not in God.”

      I find that kind of statement extraordinarily pithy and simplistic, as well as damaging. Most of not all of us on these boards don’t lose our faith in God due to the hurt caused within churches. The statement is likewise accusatory of those who are being hurt by the church, so… it’s just more evidence of how those who warm the pews have no clue about the people sitting next to them and what evil does within the confines of the church walls and family homes – with the church leaders condoning all of it.

  3. Anonymous

    Some quotes from Jesus concerning the devil and those operating under his authority:

    (Matt 4:10) ““Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
    (Mark 8:33) “”Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
    (John 8:44) ” You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.”
    (John 6:70) “”Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!””

    Nowhere in these verses does Jesus say, give the appearance of, or imply that he is trying to snuggle evil. There is none of the garbage that the modern day church tells us to do like prancing around being positive, forgiving Satan or his children, or letting the devil and his children rape you. Jesus NEVER puts himself under the authority of evil–even when he’s dying for our sins on the cross–he puts himself under GOD’S authority and continues to help the helpable and deny evil ones access. Notice in Luke 23:39-43 that the man who knew he was a sinner spoke truth and confessed his sin and asked Jesus to remember him whereas the other man did what his father the devil does and accused Jesus. Yes, even in severe pain and with death imminent, evil ones still serve their father the devil. Isaiah 66:3 “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations” Never forget that those with a seared conscience have CHOSEN this and they DELIGHT in what they are.

    In current society we are taught to be politically correct and this has been enforced with lawsuits. It’s another type of imprisonment, like during the holocaust, where law-abiding (those who wanted to be law-abiding) citizens were coerced into committing crimes against their fellow humans by turning “criminals” (Jews, those helping the Jews or who those who the government deemed unworthy) in so that the authorities could deal with them like the criminals that they were! We are actually heading rapidly toward a different version of this. It’s the façade of peace and justice. (Look everyone! There are no gas chambers or mass hangings or rounding people up, we are only allowing abusive spouses the right to violate, I mean, see their children with shared custody, which shows how sensitive and good we are as a society!) The list is endless as to what the court system is doing to give evil control. Jesus warned us to always be aware of the times we live in and those of us here are blessed in the sense that we have been forced by the Lord to be aware of what’s going on.

    For those who aren’t familiar with Corrie Ten Boom, please consider reading her book or watching the movie, “The Hiding Place.” She was a Dutch Christian woman whose family hid Jews during WWII and many of her family were imprisoned or died as a result of helping. I have bought many of her books and they are usually dirt cheap or can be found at libraries or online. Every one of them is filled with the Holy Spirit and written at a level that makes it easy for everyone to understand. Some of her interviews are also on Youtube. She was NOT blinded by the fact that there was now “peace” after WWII and was very aware that we need to pay attention to what is taking place around us. Her writings have hugged my very heart. Jesus has used her wisdom in my life to let me be able to love myself through Him, and also to speak up. Her father was a rock of a Christian man and she loved him dearly, but he was initially against her speaking to audiences because she was a woman, so she had that to overcome–doing God’s will or pleasing her father. Her ministry has led people around the world to the Lord and strengthened those who do belong to him. I’m so grateful she was strong enough to do God’s will–that God was strong enough!

    Jeff, I’m so grateful to you and so proud of your ministry. I was reading some of your first posts–back in Feb. of 2012. You haven’t watered anything down since then and have gotten stronger in this ministry. We are always supposed to pay attention to the signs of the times and this website and ministry does that. I have yet to find another place that stays so true and strong. I pray for you and all here, that you continue to be here for us. Thank you.

    • Still Reforming

      Anonymous,

      Corrie Ten Boom’s father was killed in the concentration camp, so he couldn’t have been against her speaking to audiences – at least not post-WWII, which is how I understood your comment. Perhaps that’s not the time period you meant. I don’t know that she sought to do any public speaking prior to her internment in Ravensbruck.

      Like you, I have nearly all of her books. Ten Boom is a heroine to me as well.

      Voice of the Martyrs also produced a children’s animated version of Ten Boom’s testimony, and we have watched it several times. I have told my child that the concentration camp guard who asked for Corrie’s forgiveness later in her life was genuinely repentant. I think it’s important to connect true repentance to forgiveness.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you, it was when he was still alive. She would teach and speak at girls camps and girls clubs etc., but when she considered speaking in front of men, is when it was a controversy. I’ll see if I can’t find where I read that and post it. And yes her father died shortly after he was imprisoned. According to the movie, he was given the choice of living out his days safely in his own home but he told the guards that if he stayed, he would continue to help any who needed his help. He chose not to live out the remainder of his days in comfort instead standing with those who were ostracized by their current government. He also wore the yellow star of David that the Jews were forced to wear. Again, if Corrie hadn’t written and spoken publically we would never know of this God-loving family–people I truly want to meet in heaven.

        Another good video cartoon on Youtube is “The Pilgrim’s Progress” posted by Scott Cawthon which is a great version of a Christians walk. And yes biblically, true repentance is required before forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, not something owed. Gratefulness is not something felt by those without a conscience so they can never be grateful for the sacrifice that Jesus made when he died on the cross to forgive sins. Fundamental stuff that we rarely hear addressed in church.

      • Anonymous

        Still Reforming,

        This is from the book, “Life Lessons from The Hiding Place: Discovering the Heart of Corrie ten Boom By Pam Rosewell Moore. Corrie had written a letter to her brother asking for his advice. Here’s the letter:

        “Pastor B sent me a request to preach on December 12. I discussed it with Father and, following his advice, I declined the invitation.

        In the evangelism course I took we did not agree on the question of whether the women of our present day may preach or not. Father says it will cause me to lose my femininity; I am 75 percent in agreement with him but would like to have your opinion on this.

        This urge to evangelize–to tell people the glorious message of the Gospel–gives me a deep longing to speak outloud, as loudly as I can. But as far as that is concerned, I am afraid there is some vanity connected with it.”

        And I wonder if she was made to THINK it was vanity rather than that burning urge to share God’s word.

      • Still Reforming

        Hi Anonymous,

        Those words of Corrie’s are interesting. It certainly sounds like it was a letter written prior to the family’s internment. It would have to have been.

        Re: vanity and preaching, I have oft considered how difficult it would be to be a pastor – for many reasons, but one of which would be that it would be hard to keep any humility about you when so many people look to you for guidance given by God. I think Corrie was likely correct in her discernment that vanity could play a factor in it. It can be mighty attractive to preach God’s Words not only out of love for Him, but also because it does draw positive attention to oneself. I’m not accusing her of that, but I think her own perception of that possibility and/or likelihood was very wise indeed.

  4. surviving freedom

    I’ve discovered that the church is really prominent at sin-leveling too. I f they have now way of disguising or willfully ignoring the evil then they make claims like “everyone lie” or “everyone …” (fill in whatever they are attempting to sin-level), and then they throw out phrases like “seventy times seven.” It’s their way (as well as an abusers way) of turning the focus off of the continued patterns of evil allowed to run rampant and accusing the one who is pointing out, or standing against, the evil. They sufficiently shut you down, a subtle way to show you that by continuing to point out the evil going on, then you are the one acting prideful, judgmental, or hypocritical. This plays right into the evil tactics of abusers. When an abuser is shutting down his victim and accusing or punishing her for taking a stand against the abuse, and then the church effectively tells her the same thing, this can be a very confusing time for those being abused. It’s no wonder many of us spent many years doubting ourselves, we were taught to think that we were the problem, that we were the ones sinning or acting prideful any time we attempted to stand up for truth or fairness.

    • healingInHIm

      Surviving Freedom — “It’s no wonder many of us spent many years doubting ourselves, we were taught to think that we were the problem, that we were the ones sinning or acting prideful any time we attempted to stand up for truth or fairness.”
      Even with all the encouragement and exhortation from ACFJ and others ‘who get it’ …
      it must be the years of doubting that still have me entangled in a web or still not out of the fog as some would say.
      Today, Pastor Crippen’s sermon hit the mark, again. We are going to be hated because of desiring the pure Gospel and worship of the true Jesus Christ. (“Light Comes into the World – and Evil Attacks” based on Matthew 2)

    • Anonymous

      The “seventy times seven” smackdown is classic and often used even though it states clearly that we are to forgive a “brother” (one who belongs to the Lord) this many times. How many times did Jesus tell us to forgive the devil or one of his children? Um. From the Bible verses that address this we are told to have nothing to do with them.

    • Still Reforming

      surviving freedom –
      I had that said to me too! The “all men are liars” thing. I had just revealed to my pastor a big lie that my husband had told, and the pastor said to me that he couldn’t discern truth from my testimony because “the Bible says all men are liars.” In other words, “Yeah, your husband told you a pretty weird lie, but you know what, the Bible says you lie too so there!” In hindsight, I wish I had called him out on that verse in proper context, but I was still in a pretty thick fog in those days.

  5. a prodigal daughter returns

    I’m so grateful for this powerful message. The thief that appeared in the garden is still using the same methods. He distorts what God said, creating a false image of God mixed with a bit of misquoted truth. He appeals to the pride of mankind and her/his desire to be worshiped, “you can be like God” is the hook of that “anti” christ equation, God is diminished, man is exalted, and the worship of the creature (man) creates nothing but havoc and bondage.
    Darkness goes unopposed in congregations hooked into these lies that above all things we can’t call out evil. They have a form of religion in their enslaving, spirit breaking religious rules, but there is no power there to free captives. The worship can be enthusiastic and used to delude themselves that making some token noise God’s direction makes them acceptable. But this is what He says about that worship “I hate it” because there is no justice and the oppressed are not cared for.

    Amos 5 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
    22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
    and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
    23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
    24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

  6. jane

    I was told today “but David was a rapist and a murderer,” by a friend my ex has recruited. It is OK that I was sodomized and bled when I went to the bathroom for a week after, each time. Because David.
    What do you even say to that?

    • Yeah, that is gobsmacking!

      Your question “What do you even say to that?” may be rhetorical, but below are some answers that come to mind. . . however, I was not quick enough to think of answers like this when I was hit by a ball on the full from left field when I was running the gauntlet post-separation, so pls don’t be hard on yourself for not having snappy answers for the snake!

      Yes, David was a rapist and murderer. And he was forgiven by God for the adultery and the murder, but only because he truly repented! But though he was forgiven the eternal penalty of those sins (saved from Hell), God dealt him VERY tough consequences for those sins. His family was full of strife and mayhem for years and years. The son from the adulterous relationship died in infancy. One son killed another son. One of his sons raped his daughter Tamar. One son mutinied against him and then was killed in battle while his hair was caught in a tree. Even after David died, the consequences still flowed: one of his sons had sex with David’s concubines in broad daylight where all the community was able to watch.

      God hates rape. He hates murder. And my abuser has raped me and tried to murder my spirit. Stop supporting him!

  7. Anonymous

    Replying to Still Reforming @ 3:48 am,

    Yes, the letter was clearly written before her imprisonment and it’s obvious that the Lord was already working in her mind and heart and preparing her for his ministry by helping her deal with this issue of women witnessing for the Lord. Because she’d dealt with it earlier, when it did come up later, she was able to answer with biblical truth and wisdom.

    I love how God makes us each so different. When I was reading your thoughts on how a calling to ministry would affect you, I couldn’t help but think of how God gives us each a unique voice. For me, when I am placed in a position of authority over others I take it very seriously and am always (overly) conscious that I am only there because God put me there and I end up losing myself because I never want to harm others.

    [I believe that for people who have highly sensitive consciences] vanity is rarely the issue. Due to severe abuse over my lifetime I have hated myself to my very core. (In the Feb. 2012 posts on this website, Jeff does a fantastic job of explaining why this happens to us.) Even though I was already saved (for decades) when God introduced me to the writings of Corrie Ten Boom, her writings were what helped me to allow Jesus to reach my heart, to learn that I was special to Him and that it was okay to love myself as he loved me. I’m so grateful that God had her address her misgivings about ministry and that he helped her to deal with all these issues so that she ended up speaking His truth. Your comment helped me to see why this was so important for her to work out so the Lord could truly use her. Thank you.

  8. IamMyBeloved's

    Excellent. Simply excellent. We need to awaken to the evil and darkness we live amongst and call it what it is and attend to it as Christ would want us to. Fluffing with evil is like holding fire to your chest. You WILL get burned!

  9. Jennifer

    “A Christian is never more UNLIKE Christ than when he or she lays heavy loads on victims of evil, telling them
    things like:

    You must forgive and reconcile
    You must love them no matter what
    You must say nothing negative about them
    Well then, have you considered what YOU did to make them do that to you?”

    Yes. On the mark.

    • Hi Jennifer, welcome to the blog 🙂

      I encourage you to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

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