Social evils refer to the principle of evil as it manifests itself in the relations of man to man, in the life of men among men. For “social” or society means a body of persons joined or living together. More particularly social evils refer to evils as they crop up in the community. In one community this evil, in some other community another evil is on the foreground. And the idea of this article will not be to catalogue a series of such evils, but rather to try to show what attitude the professed Christian has to take toward the evils as they appear in his social world.
1. Aware of Social Evils
“Son of Man, dig now into the wall” said God to Ezekiel (Ezek. 8:8). So the prophet dug into the wall and behold, a door. The prophet was commanded to go in and there he beheld such abominations as were sufficient to make him shudder. But Ezekiel was commanded to inspect these “chambers of imagery” still further, and he beheld still greater atrocities. As if that were not enough he had to penetrate still further into the hidden recesses of Judah’s abominations and the further he penetrated the more horrible were the evils he saw. If this is what the very house of Judah does in the dark, what shall be our judgment of the world? If by penetrating into the chambers of imagery the prophet saw such indescribable evils in the very house of Judah, what shall we see if we descend into the chambers of the imagery of the world? Paul, in his divine revelation emerging from these chambers said, “for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph. 5:12). While in Rom. 1:28-82 Paul exposes that world in all its horrors when he says that it is “filled” with fornication, envy, murder, debate, etc.
The Christian must know that such is the social world in which he lives. Then he knows what to expect and is not shocked beyond measure when he sees these horrors manifesting themselves in his very community.
It is necessary also that the Christian know the essence of this evil. There is a triple depravity which lies at the basis of all social evils. First of all is the fact that the natural and fallen man is a hater of God. Not only does the Scripture show that the fallen man is an enemy of God, but the Catechism says that man is by nature “prone to hate God.” In the second place fallen man also hates his neighbor. God is One and His Law is ONE, if man hates God he hates also his neighbor for the Law is one. Toward God man is a depraved creature, toward his fellow man quite the same. For the carnal mind is enmity against God and is not subject to the Law of God neither indeed can be. And this double stranded principle of consistent hate and disrespect for both God and his fellow man is augmented by still a third factor and that is that natural man is ever a lover of self, he is selfish. Over against his duty toward God and the neighbor which is the duty of love, he ever places his lustful selfishness. He seeks his highest good in attaining his selfish ends. Can he use God’s Law as a stepping stone to achieve personal gain, he will do it; can he use his fellow man as a tool to advance his own ends he will be “nice” to his neighbor, but his criterion is always self. The first moment he notices that God’s Law hinders his selfish efforts or impedes his progress he says of God “there is no God” and of his fellow man he says “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
This triple depravity underlies the social life of any given community and everywhere one can see how social life is lived out of this wicked principle. The Christian must be aware of this. He sees this principle of depravity in concrete social evils round about him. The city has a theatre, for instance. What of it that they show pictures which glorify what God condemns? What of it that they poison the souls of fellowman? . . . .as long as men satisfy carnal lusts and realize financial returns. In the domestic sphere, what does the philandering husband care about the God of the seventh commandment, what does he care about his own wife, what does he care about the man whose wife he illegitimately courts, the home he ruins, the children he turns out into the streets as waifs, what cares he as long as he may satisfy his own lusts? And what cares Reno as long as there is financial gain in it? In the sphere of economics and labor, the employer disregards his Master in heaven, disregards the starvation-wage of the employee and aims at making his fortune. And the employee, in return, disregards the authority of God, fills his soul with revenge, and in total disregard for anyone else stages strike, riot, bloodshed, etc. Enough to show concretely what the Christian is to understand by social evils.
2. Realizing His Position
What attitude shall the Christian assume toward the social evils he sees round about him? His attitude is determined by the position in which His God has placed him.
Christian, be humble! Remember, Scripture describes the Christian thus: “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient—hateful and hating one another.” It was when the kindness and love of God appeared that we were changed. It is the grace of God which made us Christians. For Christ paid the price of our guilt and through His Spirit He united us to Himself. By foregone decree of election we were given to Christ, we became Christ’s—Christians. And the new principle of the life of Christ has transformed us so that although we are still in the world and thus still part of that corrupt society, we are wholly different.
The Christian’s mark of distinction is principally that he stands in the world and fights. That is first of all his position. Does not Scripture speak repeatedly of the spiritual warfare, of fighting the good fight. Scripture exhorts him “ye that love the Lord hate evil.” The Catechism also in Ans. 32 gathers this together and says the Christian is one who with a “free and good conscience fights against sin and Satan in this life.” Wherefore in Holy Baptism the church prays that this child when come to years may “manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion.” Hence we may say that the position of the Christian is that of antithesis. He fights against and opposes sin because he hates sin. The moment he acquiesces in the presence of evil, grows accustomed to it, disregards it or, positively speaking, countenances it, associates with it or enjoys it, he is Christian no more. His position is to fight.
And together with that his position is to stand in the midst of his social world and show himself as the Party of the living God. As covenant friends of God it is our calling and position to bear out the prophecy of the Truth. To hold before others the Word of truth and apply that Word on all sides of us. In order that we may be a testimony in the world, a testimony that we are of God. “Ye shall testify of Me” said the Christ as He departed to heaven, that is the distinction of the Christian. “Ye are the light of the world” and we are light-children among the children of men. That is the position which we are assigned by God. Not to assume this position is at once to be traitors to God’s Cause and deniers of our very baptism.
Let the Christian, standing among the ever-appearing social evils, realize that such is his position. The world is no playground, mere rendezvous or social circus, but the world is the battlefield of the saints and the social evils are so many challenges for him to stand up and fight and lift high the emblem of His Party.
3. Maintaining His Position
In diligence the Christian ought to maintain his position in the face of the social evils round about him.
This implies in the first place that the Christian must fight back these evils as they penetrate and tend to penetrate into the very Camp of the Saints. That was primarily the Old Testament position of the Saint. The Israelite had to beware for the infiltration of the Philistine or Assyrian worldliness and he had to fight it back. This position is unchanged in the New Testament. Paul, for instance, does not instruct to rebuild Rome, to reform Athens or reconstruct Thessalonica, but he bids the church keep itself from the accursed thing. The social evils rampant in the world may not even be mentioned among the saints or in their Camp. And this warfare is to be waged along no less than four fronts. In the Christian’s own personal life he is to beat back evil and overcome evil with good. In the church he is to fight the good fight, keeping the church pure as possible. In the home he must be on guard lest the social evils round about him make inroads into his God-given sanctuary. And finally the same is true for the Christian School, where also it is our expressed calling to stand and fight back the world conformity which always lurks around our doors.
But, we must not let it there. The Christian is as well a member of society and in the midst of that society he must be consistently Christian. And this implies, among other things the following: First of all it is his privilege and calling to reprove and condemn these evils when the occasion presents itself. We cannot grant that evil has the right of existence, our position is that we shall condemn evil, in the light of the Truth. But secondly, it is our calling to urge and exhort others, especially also those who hold authoritative positions in the community, to reckon with the Scriptures and especially the Decalogue and centrally the second table thereof. Did not David sing “thy truth before the kings of earth with boldness I will speak”? And did not Paul protest before Felix, Festus and Agrippa of righteousness, temperance and judgment? And, finally, it is our calling, with other Christians, when the opportunity presents itself, to register concerted protest against or come with united action to stamp out certain threatening evils. And thus we shall show ourselves as “manfully fighting” the good fight.
And now in conclusion. The Christian must maintain his position and be of good courage. For he will see that evils will not be stamped out, for they, like cancer, will break out elsewhere. He will see that he cannot touch or reach but a few of the myriad of evils round about him and can touch only the surface. And he will likewise see that his attempts will bring unpopularity and very enmity. The Christian must be of good courage for His God has shown him the course of the antithesis and the outcome of his warfare. Evils will remain, always, even until the end, for God has ordained the way of the antithesis until the end. Nay, more yet, evil men will wax worse and worse.
Victory is there—but it lies in faith. Centering in the final return of Christ in judgment. Victory lies not here, but yonder. When the judgments of God have swept away all evil and the Redeemed Family emerges from the Ark, then they shall attain to the new heaven and the new earth in which dwells righteousness.