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The Problem of Good

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

- John 15:18-20

If we took a vote on favorite verses and stories in the Bible, these words of Jesus probably wouldn’t make the top 1,000. This isn’t one of those ‘we don’t believe that anymore’ passages. This is one of those ‘let’s ignore He ever said that’ passages. Wow. Talk about a downer… Jesus was so hated they crucified Him, and all things considered, I’d really rather not go that route. As foretold, Jesus’ disciples ran into the same sort of antagonism and judgment in their own lives. The Apostle John was the only one to live to an old age, purportedly 108 years. All the rest of the Apostles, though… Death didn’t come easily, and some came to gruesome ends. The Apostle Thomas died pierced by multiple swords not unlike a human pin cushion.

What is it about the Gospel of salvation, the proclamation of redemption and restoration of communion with God, that makes people so mad and so defensive?

Though hardly a new question, this dilemma has been on my mind since the release of the movie, The Sound of Freedom, the week of July 4. Starring Jim Caviezel, the film is an adaptation of the true account of Homeland Security Agent Tim Ballard’s journey from government employee to rescuing children taken and sold into sex trafficking. How could that possibly be controversial? Who wants children bought and sold for use by pedophiles?

All the major news networks and entertainment commentators panned the movie – all of them, and new opinion reports continue to be churned out as the movie’s success grows. The account of Ballard’s decision to save children and wage his own war against global child slavery has been disparaged for lacking sensitivity for the children, self-promotion, and sloppy organizational management. Ballard is a committed Christian with nine children (two adopted from Haiti) who believes God has called him to this work, so obviously, he’s a man who can’t be trusted. In much the same way, Caviezel’s performance has been endlessly nit-picked because, according to the media pundits and talking heads, his Christian faith made this nothing more than a propaganda film for Christianity and right-wing conspiracy theories.

The film actually makes little reference to religion, but reviewers seem to loathe the topic, the story, the people involved, and the attention it received. If you believe one reviewer, that attention came from just a bunch of old white-hairs. In another blog on Ballard and his rescue organization, an account of one of the earliest missions was rehashed and revised to fit the sensitivities of the now-older, wiser observer. She saw things differently as she matured – so much so that she changed her story. She missed entirely the irony of her more experienced judgment weighing in on the early inexperience of the organization. All of the negative reviews and commentary were much the same. People just don’t like Tim Ballard and how he does things, and Jim Caviezel is guilty of being a conservative Christian actor. There weren’t any real facts or data pointing to clear wrongs, just a general sense that Ballard and his work are bad, and Caviezel is bad guy because he's a Christian starring in a movie about child sex trafficking.

In the articles and reports I came across, the one thing that no one ever mentioned is how horrible, how widespread, how evil human trafficking is – and it is truly evil, for young women and men, but especially for children. Children comprise about a quarter of people living in slavery in the world today. Some estimates run as high as ten million children who are being trafficked for sex. Other sources put the number as low as two million, but the fact is, accurate accounting of children and adults in slavery across the globe are only as reliable as the governments that pay lip service to western values while ignoring the practice. However, that people – women, children, and men – are being trafficked for sex or for work is not in question. Moreover, no one has denied that buying and selling humans is a rapidly growing industry.

So, why is it that there is such extensive condemnation? As constant as are the discussions and reminders of the evils of trans-Atlantic slavery 160 years ago, you’d think the politicians and media would be leading the charge now instead of decrying it. So, the question is why all of the commentators and entertainment reporters are so determined to discredit the movie, Ballard, and Caviezel? Why do people despise the good being done? This is a teaching moment for us, and I think we need to recognize the anti-Christian biases in our world. Equally important is our own personal reflection to ensure we do not have the same biases.

Toward the end of one blog I read, the writer inadvertently named the fundamental issue in a passing phrase. The blogger and a friend both agreed they just didn’t agree with Ballard’s vision of the world, and there are professionals who deal with complex international issues such as these. In fact, the bulk of the complaints that I read boiled down to appeals to agencies, authorities, and diplomats who know how to engage other nations with diplomacy and work within global laws and rules. Such august organizations as the UN and/or UNICEF work with specialists and have steps to handle the problem. With remarkable consistency, the consensus is that Ballard should not be doing what more qualified professionals do.

The problem of good comes down to who is defining the good. As Jesus once pointed out, “Only God is good.” (Mark 10:18) Our every endeavor to create or shape “the good” is either of God, or it is not good. I realize that is a broad and almost confrontational claim, but from where do we think good comes? From the intellectual wanderings of atheistic academicians in universities far removed from the daily life of average folks? Perhaps good comes from the endless bureaucrats and politicians serving our country? I am not saying nothing good comes from non-Christians, but I am saying that when the good of the world is compared to the good of God, the world comes up woefully short. God’s good is incomparably better than the most extravagant and expensive knowledge, plan, or solution offered by human beings. For that reason, what should be received as blessing is instead seen as a dangerous threat.

That is the problem of good. True good comes from God alone, and the goodness of God reveals the fallacy of the goods we pursue, the tawdriness of our ambitions. People who trust in experts inevitably condemn those who trust God more. A life invested in what one perceives to be good is revealed in its weakness and ineffectiveness when seen in the light of the goodness of God, and for those who cannot see God at all, trusting in the invisible Creator and Savior is inexplicable. We need to remember that and remind ourselves. People enthralled with human good will always be opposed to divine good. Jesus wasn’t accidentally crucified. He was crucified because the grace and truth in Him revealed the futility of human power and plans.

Caviezel has publicly said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that knowing an evil is being committed and doing nothing about it is to be complicit with evil. In that, he is correct. While I would never suggest that Ballard or Caviezel has done everything correctly and well, they are at least seeking to do what God has asked them to do. We need to be equally determined to bring light to darkness and hope to despair, even knowing the world will mock us and hate us. More and more, we are expected to believe authorities and experts on matters that contradict and compromise our faith. We need stand for what is good and true and right in the eyes of God and refuse to believe lies for our own convenience. The one thing we cannot be is indifferent or, as Jesus would say, lukewarm.

The problem of good is who does the defining. We should pray for eyes to see and hearts of wisdom to discern what is the good that comes from God.

In Christ –

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

copyright 2023

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