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Evil or Simply Dysfunctional?

Someone asked me recently if I thought people were ever truly evil, or simply sometimes sick or dysfunctional. It is a good question, and I told the person that I probably am the wrong person to ask and this is probably the wrong time to ask me. When they looked puzzled, I explained that I, generally, can see both sides of almost any situation, subject, or person. It sometimes drives people crazy with me.

I usually can see why people do the things they do. For instance, when longtime members resist change it isn’t that they are mean or evil; it actually is a form of grief. They are losing something they value and love. They may know, on a conscious level, that things must change, but grief doesn’t function solely on a conscious level. Anger is a part of grief, so it isn’t personal. It is a natural part of the process of change.

When we can resist the very normal reaction to take things personally we often can take a step back and see what is really happening. That might allow us to respond in a healthier and more resourceful way. Unfortunately, incidents of conflict too often arise when we aren’t at our most resourceful, so we, too, respond from a place of brokenness. Of course, that only makes matters worse.

When people do hurtful things they almost always are acting out of their own pain. The wounds may be very old. I spent a good deal of time with someone who spoke about how her family had abandoned her, and I always was amazed that she had come through with so few scars and no apparent damage. I should have known better. It may well be that the deeper and more hidden the wounds the greater their capacity to lead to unhealthy, harmful, and hurtful behavior. When people act in ways that are incomprehensibly hurtful it is rarely about you. Oh, you may have been the trigger, but it is unlikely that you had the power to create that kind of rage or pain.

Interestingly, Jesus said in Luke 4 that one of the things the Spirit had anointed him to do was to “set at liberty those who are bruised.” I think the wording of that is interesting, and I think the invitation of that is powerful. It is an invitation to us, and it is an invitation for us to pray for those who would do evil to us from the deep wounds of their souls.


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Rev. Michael Piazza

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