When you hear the word “evil,” what immediately comes to your mind? Images of someone in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork? The promo for a newly released film, or perhaps a horror novel, promising a tale of “unspeakable evil”? A recent news report about some heinous crime?
Back in 1966, author Truman Capote became a literary sensation with his self-described “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood, about the 1959 murders of four members of a Kansas family. The fact his work centered around actual, horrific events, not the result of a vivid imagination, made it even more disturbing – and riveting.
My friend Sondra Umberger has recently published a trilogy of novels, Unraveled–Rewoven (www.connectingToChrist.com). Similar to In Cold Blood, they’re based on true events. Since she’s a Christian counselor, not a professional writer, it would be unfair to compare Umberger’s writing with Capote’s book. However, the story she unfolds is as compelling, alarming – and frightening.
Her novels revolve around four characters: Catherine, a young woman plagued by recurring nightmares she can’t explain; Marion, a Christian counselor who helps Catherine dig deeply into repressed memories to uncover the root of the nightmares – horrific secrets of her “lost years”; Catie, Catherine’s nickname from childhood, when she became the victim of evil beyond imagining; and Hunter, the dashing church leader who becomes Catherine’s husband, bringing a terrible secret of his own into the relationship.
Topics explored in Unraveled–Rewoven are not the stuff of casual dinner conversations. But they’re real issues, far more pervasive in our society, and the world, than most of us could ever fathom: child abuse, mental cruelty, satanic ritual abuse, pornography addiction, human trafficking.
If this three-book saga were the product of the dark imaginings of horror meisters like Stephen King, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe, it would be troubling enough. But this fictionalized account, fashioned from true, traumatic events experienced by real people, shatters one’s complacency, along with the notion that our world is inhabited by people who are all “basically good.”
Writing in an unusual “braided” style, Umberger has interwoven the stories of the four main characters in a manner that’s at first unexpected, then captivating. She deftly shifts from one to another, weaving them tightly and inseparably together like strands of someone’s braided hair.
Slowly, with the help of Marion and others, Catherine begins to recover erased memories of her childhood years between the ages of 6 and 9, forging a path toward recovery and healing. She also must deal with discovering Hunter is addicted to pornography, a vice he initially denies, but eventually acknowledges as he initiates a process for finding freedom and release from its evil grip.
It might be inaccurate to describe the trilogy’s climax as a “happy ending,” but it does underscore the redemptive and healing powers of Jesus Christ, how pain from the past and besetting sins of the present need not be permanent. And how God can still use evil deeds in accomplishing His ultimate purposes.
As the reader emerges from this sinister story line, the question arises: If the realm of the demonic can have such impact on the lives of just the handful of people described, what’s the extent of evil that infests every area of life? As we painfully observe the chaos around us, what sinister forces are working “behind the curtain”?
In the Old Testament book of Job, the afflicted main character bemoans, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness” (Job 30:26). And in 1 Peter 5:8, the apostle warns, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Evil can manifest itself at any moment, in many ways.
Jesus Christ confronted and challenged evil in myriad forms during His earthly ministry – being tempted directly by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4); casting out demons on many occasions; and facing evil opposition from disbelieving religious leaders fearful of His influence, which led to His crucifixion. Our culture seeks to dismiss or minimize the actual presence of evil, but the Scriptures speak much of its insidious power.
Archibald G. Brown, a minister and associate of Charles Spurgeon, stated, “The existence of the devil is so clearly taught in the Bible that to doubt it is to doubt the Bible itself.” It’s been observed, “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
At the same time, we need a balanced perspective. In his cleverly satirical novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves (the devils) are equally pleased by both errors….”
We must be vigilantly aware of the presence of evil and oppose it in every way we can, but should focus even more on becoming agents for God’s good. John Newton, a one-time slave trader whose conversion inspired his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” commented, “Many have puzzled themselves about the origin of evil. I am content to observe that there is evil, and that there is a way to escape from it, and with this I begin and end.”
In James 4:7 we find this admonition: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Similarly, the psalmist urges us to “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
This battle between good and evil has existed since the first days of creation, and it’s one we can never win in our own strength. As Ephesians 6:12 declares, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
The passage proceeds to describe “the full armor of God” – “the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit – the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-18). It’s notable that most of these items are defensive in nature; only the Word of God – the sword of the Spirit – is used in taking the offensive.
One additional piece of armor, prayer, must not be overlooked or underestimated. The esteemed apostle Paul knew this well, writing in the next verse, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” Jesus, after delivering a boy from demon possession, explained to His incredulous disciples,“This kind cannot come out by anything except prayer" (Mark 9:29).
At times this spiritual battle seems overwhelming, tempting us to fall into despair. But the Lord’s victory has already been won. In Revelation 20:10 we read, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”