Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, Canada, says he has a disease. He says it’s an everyday battle that he’s going to have to deal with for the rest of his life. It’s a disease that makes him do things and say things that he says he doesn’t like, or at least that he knows others don’t like. He’s been in detox for two months because it has scandalized his job as caretaker of the city. What Ford wants to do now, he says, is to buck this tendency, stem the tide, staunch the flow, and get back to the job of running Canada’s biggest city. He’s got to do that if he wants to be re-elected.
What Rob Ford might not realize is that he’s not the only one with the disease. I don’t mean the substance abuse disease, although that can be a symptom of the bigger thing. I mean the capital-D Disease every one of us deals with every day of our lives – the mind-altering, word-influencing, action-impacting disease that has infected us all. Let’s not deny it. Ford tried denials and they worked for a while, but eventually all the evidence comes in and it’s not pretty. The lies can never ultimately stand up to the Truth: something nasty has inoculated its DNA into the nucleus of our soul and demanded we conform to its instructions. It has been referred to as the “pattern of this world” and it’s the great Disease that possesses every person on this planet.
That’s the problem at the root of every ill we experience, isn’t it? Every unkindness we find ourselves executing, every lie we defend ourselves telling, every selfish choice we support ourselves constructing is a symptom of the Disease. It has a name, though it’s unpopular in the social and political climate of today; it’s called evil. We recoil at the sound of that nasty little four-letter word; it’s so antiquated, primitive, and mythical-sounding. Surely we enlightened post-modern thinkers of the scientific age are not bound by the concept of evil. Are we? Of course, watching the first five minutes of the evening news illustrates for us every day, in many ways, that something dark and foul is happening in this world that most of us don’t like. For the sake of argument, just now, let’s give it the title ‘evil’.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world”, advises the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. He knows the human condition. The pattern of this world is the formula for rising to power on the ladder whose rungs are pride and selfishness. It is the convention that crosses all cultures and eras. It is the suggestion, obscure or blatant, that we are masters of our own destiny; that pride and selfishness are laurel wreaths we ought to wear without embarrassment; that the concept of God is a definition we can mould to accommodate our ladder-climbing, self-grooming agendas. Look around. On billboards, placards, best-selling book titles and parade banners; are the words ‘pride’ and ‘self’ used with embarrassment, or flaunted? This is the pattern of this world. The popular rhetoric is a blast of cologne but beneath it wafts the odour of Disease.
In contrast, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, Paul offers. He doesn’t mean read one more book, take one more class, or add one more degree to your curriculum vitae. He’s going back to the earlier shocking proposition, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”. He uses the loaded term ‘sacrifice’ because it is a slap in pride and selfishness’ face. He uses ‘living’ to show us that this is what real, exuberant, fulfilling life means. He uses ‘holy’ to show that there really is an objective standard for our behavior – we don’t make the rules after all. And he uses ‘pleasing to God’ to contrast our foolish ladder-climbing ambition that leads us anywhere but up. There is only one way to renew a mind that has inherited the human genome, that has been imprinted with the pattern of this world, the bent toward evil. It’s extreme. It is outside the box of thinking we consider normal. A renewed mind is one that has submitted to the mercy of God, the redeeming work of Jesus, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The book of Romans is overflowing with this theme and it’s worth delving into, if we have a mind to do it. Do we?
God has much to say about evil, including how to rise above the daunting disability the disease of evil has wreaked in each of us. Did you know He loves us? Did you know the sacrifice Jesus has made on our behalf was so that we can overcome the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? Have you sensed the optimism and hope He offers when we’ve finally become sick and tired of the Disease of evil? This message is for all of us.
Looking deeper than Rob Ford’s admission of disease helps us avoid pointing the finger; he has failed the people of Toronto, but if we’re honest, we’ve each failed someone too, haven’t we? Detox isn’t going to be able to help any of us with the big-D Disease we’ve got. Dealing with that has got to be the job of the Good God, and we must comply with his prescription if we ever want to get well and overcome this thing. To be overcomers, we need to overcome evil with good, and God is the only one who can empower us to do that. Now that’s a battle worth winning, for goodness’ sake. Are you with me?
(Photo Credit: Shaun Merritt, Wikimedia Commons)