Friday, February 3, 2012

Redeeming Evil

On our holiday in Bali over the Lunar New Year, we saw a Balinese dance - The Barong Kris Dance. It was a play which portrayed the battle between the good and evil spirits. The good spirit was personalized as a mythological lion called the Barong. It brought to mind the picture of Christ as Aslan the Lion by C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia. The evil spirit was depicted as a monster called Rangda.

The battle between the good and evil spirits were played out in the life of a young man, Sadewa. His mother, Dewi Kunti, had promised to sacrifice him to Rangda. Through anger, the servants of Rangda kept the people in the life of Sadewa from having compassion on him and they brought him to the forest to be eaten by Rangda.

However, God intervened by giving immortality to Sadewa. This turn of events led Rangda to repentance and to ask Sadewa to redeem him. Sadewa then killed the Rangda and sent him to heaven. It was a beautiful message of how evil can be redeemed by the power of God's Love where there is a spirit of repentance.

Then a servant of the Rangda called Kalika came to Sadewa and asked him to send her to heaven too. When Sadewa refused, she became angry and she became a Rangda with great spiritual powers. To counter her powers Sadewa meditated and became a Barong, the good spirit in the form of the mythical lion. His followers then continued to fight the war with the Rangda. This story describes the Balinese mindset of how good and evil are locked in an endless struggle.

This dance gave me a deeper understanding of three important aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Firstly, emotions such as anger, greed, lust and pride are the channels through which evil possess us and turn us into devils. In the bible, we have the example of Cain killing his brother Abel. Psalm 4:4 teaches us:

"Don't sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent."

The apostle Paul also warns us not to let anger give a foothold to the devil (Ephesians 4:27).

Secondly, we need to see evil as being the opposite of life - it has been noted that evil is "live" spelled backwards. When our actions and desires are motivated by our egos, they can become channels for evil. It is only in the surrender of our desires for the higher good and the dying to self that we can live in the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now.

So we see the first Rangda being redeemed when it surrendered to Sadewa. On the other hand, Kalika became another Rangda when she demanded to go to heaven on her own terms.

This helped me to appreciate the description of "dead works" by Ralph Shallis as the "repugnant attempts of our old nature to "buy off" God or impress men with the assumption that we are really worth something. They are the bitter fruits of our ego's effort to appear something other than we are. They stem from pride and self-interest, not from sacrificial love."

Good works, on the other hand, are "the mature and spontaneous flowering of the life of the Spirit within us, the expression of our new-found love for God. We cannot be "secondhand" witnesses of Christ. Ralph Shallis makes the point that all we can say to the world about Jesus is what we actually know of him in our experience. We don't have to work up or "manufacture" our witness. As we witness courageously to the simple and limited experience of Christ in our lives, the Spirit of truth will give power to our feeble witness.

Thirdly, we need to remember that the battle against evil belongs to God and He has already won the victory through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. One of the powers of the Rangda in the Barong Kris myth was his power to get the followers of the Barong to turn their kris swords on themselves. But the Barong protected his followers with a spell to protect them against the sharp kris swords. Likewise we can be thankful for the breastplate of righteousness of the spiritual armour of God in the spiritual warfare with evil. Our righteousness is from our faith in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.

We all have the potential for good or evil - we can become saints or devils. God has given us the free will to choose for this is the essence of Love. The good news is that Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us the power to surrender our wills and seek the perfect will of our Heavenly Father. We will then experience the joy of salvation - living like it is heaven on earth.

The bad news is that we can refuse God's gift of salvation and choose to live our lives on our own terms and in our own ways. We can seek to do our own will and run the risk of evil forces turning us into devils through our greed, lust and pride. The temptations by the evil one will lead us through our sinful nature to a hell on earth.

We are called to be soldiers of Christ to redeem the evil in our world. So let us join Charles Wesley in singing the hymn, "Soldiers of Christ Arise":

"From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle, and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day:
Still let the Spirit cry
In all His soldiers, "Come!"
Till Christ the Lord descend from high,
And take the conquerors home.”

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