WAYPOINTS: Recognizing evil

The Rev. Mike Hesse
Rev. Mike Hesse

There was a time in my young life when my best friend, David Hagan, and I enjoyed wade-fishing for bass. For us, there was nothing we deemed more fun than standing waist-deep in cool water on a hot day and doing our best to lure Mr. Largemouth into striking our plastic worms. I loved that kind of fishing – except for one time when we waded in Newnans Lake down in central Florida.

It was late in the afternoon and the bass were schooling out in the open lake beyond a huge stand of cypress trees. David and I had waded into shoulder deep water trying unsuccessfully to get our lures out to fish that were just beyond our best casts. Undaunted, we hung in as the sun slipped quietly behind the trees changing the sky from blue to red and, finally, to the deep purple that precedes the black of night.

It was at this point that I turned to look at my buddy standing about 15 feet to my left – and there between us swam a pretty good sized snake. I pointed the reptile out to David who took one look at him and agreed with me, “Time to go.” What followed next should become part of some Stephen King novel.

Our path to shore from the open lake led us into the stand of cypress trees and, as we waded beneath them, they began to rain snakes! Not one or two, but dozens and dozens of snakes. In the twilight haze we couldn’t tell whether they were water snakes or water moccasins. Aaagh! Still, the area under the trees was open and the swimming snakes were easy to spot. So, no big deal – until we came to the 50 yard combination of water lilies and hyacinths that covered the surface – and the snakes – between us and the shore.

Walking shoulder to shoulder we slapped the flora in front of us with our rods. About 10 yards into the lilies my friend’s rod proceeded to lift a snake out of the water, which flew into the air before landing between us. We left decorum somewhere out on the lake as calm was replaced by terror. Jesus is not the only one who has walked on water!

I bring all this up because the Bible uses the image of a snake to represent evil; remember the Garden of Eden? How slyly the devil tempts Eve and Adam to eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the only one forbidden to them by God. How sensible the evil one makes his case. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Eve explains that only the one tree was forbidden. “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God...’ ” (Genesis 3:1ff). And Eve took some of its fruit and ate, and also gave some to her husband – and things have been going downhill ever since.

Nothing, of course, has changed since the Garden. Satan rarely stands in front of us with horns and a pitchfork. If he did, we would recognize evil for what it is and either fight back or avoid it. He doesn’t drop from the trees and swim around us in open water where he is easy to recognize. No, evil hides like a snake in the hyacinths where he is not easily seen, where he can hurt us before we even know he is present. Read the news with a discerning eye and you will see how proficient the devil is at getting us to accept evil things, sometimes even believing that they are good.

How logical it is to end one life for the convenience of another! How sensible it is for governments to take resources from some people and award them to other people! How satisfying it is to exact revenge on those who have wronged us! Our capacity to rationalize is virtually endless! Left to our own devices we find ourselves at the mercy of those who are the most charismatic and most eloquent – even when they are nothing more than unwitting tools of the evil one. So what do we do? Where can we turn?

The answer is both simple and profound – the Bible. It is God’s Word written and, as such, can be trusted to give us the principles that enable us to discern between that which is of God and that which is not. One of the great tragedies of our day is that so many folks either do not believe in, or don’t actually know what is in the Scriptures. Look around you and ask yourself, “How’s it working?”

None of us is perfect in our discernment, but as much as possible, I don’t want evil nearby but hiding out of sight. I want it out in the open where I can recognize it for what it is and, with God’s help, respond accordingly.

The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and lives in Destin.