When Evil Overplays Its Hand

ISIS-egyptiansIn the early ’40s, when every aspect of World War II seemed to be going Germany’s way, Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels spent enormous amounts of time and resources working on a movie about the Titanic. The storyline turned the famous sinking ship into a symbol of wanton British materialism. And, of course, the hero in the movie was a German expert who had warned everyone about the threat of icebergs and saved as many people from the sinking ship as he could.

The film was intended to slander the culture of Germany’s opponents and bolster confidence in the German ethic. The message was supposed to be, “See how depraved the British are compared to virtuous Germans like us?”

When Goebbels was finally able to watch the finished film, he realized that the ending—the scenes of people panicking and jumping ship—was more appropriately a reflection of the mood of German citizens than of the British. He wanted to rewrite the end of the story because the war had begun to turn in the Allies’ favor. Instead of boosting morale, the film now might undermine it. Goebbels had unwittingly produced propaganda against his own people.

That story reminds me of how evil’s plans backfire. No matter how much it intends to undermine God, the evil agenda will always ultimately serve his purposes. Evil does horrific damage in the short term. There's no way to minimize that. But in the long run, it always overplays its hand.

I get the same sense when I see things like ISIS’ beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. My friend Wahid, a respected Christian leader from Egypt, shared with some of us last week how his heart was broken over the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. For him, this brutal act was personal. But in hope, he also shared how Mark preached in Alexandria in the first century. Mark was tortured and martyred for his faith, but as evidence of Tertullian’s famous words—“the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”—Mark’s martyrdom birthed the Coptic Church. Again, evil’s plans backfired.

The book of Esther tells the story of a vindictive egomaniac named Haman who tried to institute a pogrom against the Jews. He wanted the entire race wiped off the face of the earth. In the end, the tables were turned and Haman was executed on a device he had built for the execution of others. Again, evil’s plans backfired.

In a few days, Jews will celebrate Purim, which commemorates their deliverance from Haman’s hand in the book of Esther. It’s a good time to remember that the evil agenda raging in the Middle East will ultimately fail. The tables will be turned. ISIS will fall. God will not give it ultimate victory in this world.

I know plenty of people would suggest otherwise—not necessarily about ISIS specifically but about evil in general—and with plenty of evidence. But to any evidence given, I would simply say that the story isn’t over yet. We’re still in the middle of it, where all stories with good endings look dark and hopeless.

In the meantime, ISIS is unwittingly inflicting propaganda against itself, just as Goebbels did with his Titanic film. Its leaders can boast of its recruiting all it wants, but Muslims from the Middle East are turning to Jesus every day. These converts don’t make headlines, but they make a fantastic story. Many of them have seen Jesus in dreams or visions; others simply find his way far more appealing than the violence and hatred that surrounds them. ISIS is harming its own mission by displaying its darkness. Its leaders have no idea what the blood of these martyrs is birthing.

A skeptic’s post on Facebook last week about the Egyptians asked something to the effect of, “I guess prayer didn’t help them very much, did it?” Besides reflecting a disturbingly shallow understanding of prayer—do people really think the point is just to get you out of a mess?—these types of comments are terribly insensitive and ill-timed. They are also ignorant of how God exploits evil for good.

My answer to comments like this is that when terrorized and persecuted people die without recanting their beliefs—in this case, with the name of Jesus on their lips—that’s victory. In the eternal scheme of things, this is a resounding win. And if their martyrdom demonstrates the depravity of ISIS and rallies the world against it, it’s a win in the here-and-now too. The plans of this evil, too, will backfire.

No matter how things look, God wins. And no one can rewrite the end of that story.

Click to tweet: No matter how much evil tries to undermine God, it will always ultimately serve his purposes.

Click to tweet: Evil does horrific damage in the short term. But in the long run, it always overplays its hand.

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