A Spiritual Battle between Good and Evil?
Is addressing domestic violence a spiritual battle between good and evil? This is the question I received last week from a colleague. As I pondered this question, I sent a note to several other colleagues for their input. I think the answer we all agreed to is “yes and no.” Or as one Muslim colleague said, “Essential and not sufficient.”
Is addressing domestic violence a spiritual battle between good and evil?
This is the question I received last week from a colleague. As I pondered this question, I sent a note to several other colleagues for their input. I think the answer we all agreed to is “yes and no.” Or as one Muslim colleague said, “Essential and not sufficient.” My Protestant colleague said, “As long as we are not referring to the spiritual battle as the only battle.” It is an interesting question for people of faith who do work to end domestic violence.
My caution when I first read the question was, “Uh-oh, is this the effort by a Christian to spiritualize domestic violence?” In other words, is this the “pray about it” but take no action approach that we still hear too often in some quarters? It is sometimes tempting to describe a persistent, destructive reality like domestic violence in the starkest possible terms: good versus evil. I think we are tempted by this because we are really trying to answer the question, “How can someone use violence to control a person they love?” Why do such things even exist?
This is a question for theologians, ethicists, social scientists, and others to ponder. For me, I can “explain” the reality of domestic violence knowing that brokenness creates more brokenness. And brokenness that is nurtured in an environment of entitlement and acceptance of violence in relationships and families becomes a disease in our communities. When I ask my colleagues who work with male batterers, why do men batter, they consistently say, “Because they can.” This is the bottom line; it works and no one stops them.
But we also know that individuals choose to use physical, sexual and psychological force to control an intimate partner. For example, many people who are survivors of childhood abuse or who witnessed domestic violence in their families do not grow up to repeat the behavior. They make a choice that they don’t want to perpetuate this pattern in their families. I think this is the spiritual part of the battle: being able to seek spiritual resources and support to make it possible to choose a different path.
Another colleague reminded me of an old story said to be told by a Cherokee grandfather. I want to honor the wisdom of this story:
One evening an elder Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between ‘two wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The elder Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
May God give us the strength to feed the good wolf even when the bad wolf is demanding the food.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune