Two cases played out in U.S. courtrooms this week that can best be summed up in the word “evil.” One is the sentencing hearing for sports doctor Larry Nassar, where dozens of women are describing the impact of his sexual abuse on their lives. The other is the arraignment of a couple who have been torturing their children in secret for decades. In both of these cases, adults abused minors for years, without anyone stopping them. We shake our heads and think it’s “unbelievable” that this could have gone on undetected for so long. But in both cases, there were clues that all was not right, and people ignored the clues as “unbelievable.” It was unthinkable that a revered expert who helped Olympic athletes could be molesting his patients. It was unthinkable that parents could be starving their own children, chaining them to their beds.

It reminds us that evil can be beyond our capacity to imagine. It reminds us that white, middle-class, suburban Americans are capable of perpetrating enormous wrongs on other human beings, for years, while outwardly displaying some normal behavior. It reminds us that evil can remain hidden for years.

The lesson to take from this is not to suspect our health care professionals and quiet neighbors of mischief. Another case in the news this week reminds us that at the other extreme are people who allege evil activity where none exists – the man who called 911 to report a horrific crime that had never occurred. Ironically, in that case, authorities did take the “call for help” seriously, with the result that police killed a man they thought was a murderer, who turned out to be completely innocent.

The fact is that we humans are not always able to recognize evil, let alone stop it. The only one who can overcome evil is Jesus Christ, and he instructed us to pray that we be delivered from it. St. Paul encouraged us to “overcome evil with good.” First we have to believe it’s there.


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