“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
During my training for ACBC certification, I had the privilege of being trained by Dr. Robert Smith, a founding father of the Biblical Counseling Movement. Having Dr. Smith (Doc as we all call him) in the room was incredibly helpful, but at times, intimidating.
Doc had a rule – if he had to interrupt and ‘save the session’ then that counseling hour did not count toward your supervision. There was a lot of motivation to make sure Doc didn’t interrupt. It wasn’t that he liked to interrupt, but if he thought you were going down the wrong path, he cared more about the counseling session going well than you receiving credit for your hour. One time, in fact, I remember him stopping the session, looking me in the eye and saying, “Josh, I’m not sure you understand the meaning of Romans 8:28-29.” I replied that I thought I did, and he retorted, “No, I’m sure you don’t.”
In another session, we had a similar encounter, but he gave me a bit more leeway. I was talking with a married couple who were fighting a lot and kept treating each other worse and worse because the other person had treated them so poorly. We had not yet visited Romans 12:21, but after hearing their explanations as to why they kept sinning against one another, I said, “Oh, I see. You are right. I think that is covered in Romans 12:22. Doc turned and looked at me, wanting to correct me, but I winked and he let the teaching moment play out. As my confused counselees reported that their Bibles only went up to 12:21, I made the point: “You are right, God just wants you to overcome evil with good. The End.”
The Clear Call
For many of us, that is hard to do in our own lives—to learn to repay the evil that has been done against us with good. Listen to these words about why it is not only essential, but what must be done about evil when it is performed against us and our counselees.
When one man wrongs another, the other may retaliate, bear a grudge, or take his injury out on a third person. Whichever he does, there are now two evils where before there was one; and a chain reaction is started, like the spreading of a contagion. Only if the victim absorbs the wrong and so puts it out of currency, can it be prevented from going any further. -G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine
This quote has really stuck with me because of the description of how evil begets evil and how the solution is not to spread evil, but to contain it, to absorb it.
The Call to Absorb Evil
When we are teaching our counselees what to do about the problem of evil being done against them, we should help them see that if they return the evil that has been done against them by sinning against another person, they will continue this horrible cycle. It is only when they choose to show love that evil will stop its horrible spread.
We are told in 1 Peter 2 that Christ is the perfect picture of this. Notice the language of “bore our sins” and how that fits with how we are to deal with the evil that others propagate against us.
And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:23–24)
We should all strive to follow the example that we see in Christ. Do not spread evil by doing more evil, rather, bear it. Take the evil that is done and refuse to spread it around. Instead, share only that which is good.