Theme: A Portrait of Evil People
In this week’s lessons, we see the stark reality of evil, even in our own hearts, and that God protects and preserves those who come to him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 140:1-13
The first two stanzas of this psalm (vv. 1-3 and vv. 4, 5) are nearly perfect parallels, and what they are describing is those who love evil. Such people “devise evil plans,” “stir up war,” “plan to trip my feet,” “spread out the cords of their net” and “set traps…along my path.” David has written about people who were his enemies before. What is unique about these verses is their portrait of people who love evil for evil’s sake.
The description reminds me of a book by M. Scott Peck, a New England psychiatrist who wrote about the reality of evil in People of the Lie.1 It was on the New York Times best-seller list for many weeks. Peck has had a distinguished career: a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University in 1958, an M.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1963, assistant chief of psychiatry for the United States Army from 1963-1972. Peck now practices privately in Litchfield County, Connecticut. It was his clinical practice that led him to the conviction that some people really are evil, having passed over the line from mere bad behavior, having given in to evil, and to the belief that psychiatry must take the reality of evil far more seriously than it has thus far.
Sometimes the evil Peck saw was relatively limited and harmless only to the person involved, as in the case of a woman called Charlene, who merely wanted to toy with him. She lied to him “because it’s fun,” as she put it.2 In other cases, the evil was terribly destructive, as in the case of children who had almost been destroyed by narcissistic parents, or a couple who seemed to be destroying one another. Toward the end of the book, Peck writes about several exorcisms in which he took part.
Peck defines this specific form of evil as absolute autism, that is, living for and thinking only of oneself. He describes it clearly in the case of Charlene. At one point, trying to get her to express what she thought life was about, he pressed her, saying, “You were raised in the Christian Church….Surely you’re not so dumb as to be unaware of what Christians say is the meaning of life, the purpose of human existence.”
Thus goaded, Charlene replied in a flat, low monotone, “We exist for the glory of God.”
“Well?” Peck asked.
There was a reflective silence. Then the woman burst out, “I cannot do it. There’s no room for me in that. That would be my death.” Peck thought for a moment she would cry. Then what had seemed to be her choked-back sobs burst into a roar. “I don’t want to live for God. I will not. I want to live for me. My own sake!”3
After years of therapy and much careful analysis, Peck concluded that Charlene seemed most of all to want power. Yet it was power purely for its own sake. She did not want to improve society, care for a family, make herself a more effective person, or in any way accomplish anything creative. “Her thirst for power was unsubordinated to anything higher than itself.”3 It was this case more than any other that led him to the studies reflected in his book and to his role in the exorcisms.
1M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). Peck also wrote The Road Less Traveled, an earlier best-seller.
2M. Scott Peck, Ibid., p. 174.
3M. Scott Peck, Ibid., p. 168.
4M. Scott Peck, Ibid., p. 176.
What is unique in this psalm about David’s description of his enemies?
What does M. Scott Peck call absolute autism? How does this affect one spiritually?
Reflection: Do you know people who seem to live only for themselves? Ask God to give you the opportunity to talk with them, and for the wisdom in pointing them to the better way of living for the glory of God.
Prayer: Pray for those who live only for themselves, with little or no thought of God and eternal judgment at all. Also, ask God to make you spiritually sensitive to any areas in your life where you may not be living for God as you ought.
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Michael Horton’s message, “This Present Evil Age.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)