Abundant Living Vol. XX, Issue 9

 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  – Romans 12:21 

It was the first really stupid thing I ever remember doing, not that there were not many others prior to that, I was just too young to remember.  Even then I was only four, but I still remember every detail vividly.  My mother was heating some canned soup on her white enamel Frigidaire electric stove – Campbell’s Chicken and Rice, I remember distinctly – while I stood by and watched.  When the soup was hot and she turned off the burner I watched with fascination as its red glow faded away until it was grayish-black again.  That must mean it’s cool, I thought, so I touched it with my fingertips, despite being warned many times to never touch a hot stove.  I’m pretty sure the entire neighborhood could hear my screaming.  It was a painful way to learn a hard lesson.

There are many ways we can learn about dangers.  We can read about them in books or articles.  We can learn from the sad experience of someone else.  We can listen to wise counsel from someone who knows better, like my mom warning me about the hot stove.  Or we can put our hand on the hot burner, like I did.  Each provides the information; the only difference is the amount of pain involved in learning the lesson.

I wish I could say the hot stove incident was the last stupid thing I ever did that caused great pain, either at the time I committed it, or suffering the pain of regret later on.  Yet, and not to justify any of my past misdeeds, I do sometimes wonder what an arrogant, judgmental jerk I might have become had I been perfect and never messed up.  Instead, maybe it has made me a little more understanding toward others in their own failings, and even able to reach out and help someone from time to time.

The Apostle Paul says, “Do not be overcome be evil, but overcome evil with good.”  I think he may be referring not just to the evil others impose on us, but also our own mess-ups and the pain and regret we suffer as a consequence.  The way to overcome that, as Paul might advise, is not by wallowing in it, but using it for good.  Twelve-step programs around the world have proven this for decades through the action of one addict using his own brokenness to help another addict recover.  For Paul also tells us, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” even our mess-ups, like when we ignore the warnings and put our hand on a hot stove, by overcoming those mess-ups with good.

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