Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Wicked

“Surely,” says the Psalmist, “thou wilt slay the wicked, O God.” (end of Psalm 139)

Psalm 7:9 ~ “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just.”

Psalm 9:11 ~ “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”


The wicked. Who are they? Their behaviours are logged by the Psalmist and prophets. They oppress the poor, their commercial practices are unjust, and they turn away from the tenets and prescribed lifestyle of the Jewish faith. Oh. That would be you and me, then, certainly if we are to be lumped together with a whole society - "the nations that forget God."

I began thinking about “the wicked” as a discrete category on Christmas Day. Something I look forward to immensely at Christmas is the Christmas Eve carol service broadcast from Kings College Cambridge – I think about it in excited anticipation for ages. This year, I settled down to watch it, and it began (as per tradition) with Once In Royal David’s City, the first verse a choirboy’s solo, as always. The next thing that happens is the Bidding Prayer (I posted the words of it here), surely one of the most beautiful prayers of all time. But this year, instead of the bidding prayer we had a sort of short lecture from the dean about the First World War (because it’s the centenary year of its beginning). My head was so busy exploding with indignation that the bidding prayer had been shoved aside for this, that I didn’t pay too much attention to what he said – but if my memory is to be trusted he mentioned the famous Christmas Day truce in the trenches, when the Germans were heard singing carols known internationally – eg Stille Nacht – and both sides came out from behind their barbed wire, looked into each other’s eyes, shook hands, wished each other a happy Christmas, told each other their names, played football, exchanged gifts – then went back to killing each other.

The story was somewhat impressed upon me because it was the subject of a long Christmas advert for Sainsburys this year, and also the subject of the Queen’s speech on Christmas day.

In that war, the Germans were “the wicked”, then for a short space of time on Christmas Day they weren’t, then they were again. Then they were “the wicked” again in World War II.

In the 2nd World War, my beautiful mama was a teenager growing up on a Yorkshire farm. German prisoners of war were sent to work for her father. She felt intensely curious about them – the wicked Huns. What would they be like? Still today, in her late eighties, she remembers her astonishment at discovering them to be quiet, ordinary men – just like the English ones she was used to, except possibly more courteous. “The wicked” were not like she imagined they might be.

As time has gone on, “the wicked” have been different people in different places. Just now, most of the world is in agreement that “the wicked” are white Western men.

I read an article by an African doctor based in an English university town, scathingly lashing at the attempts of her host country to help address the grave problem of Ebola. Africa doesn’t need white saviours, she said. Africa can sort out its problems without help from the white Western world.

I read an article about the period of time when the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu ended, and the wretched plight of children in Romanian orphanages hit the news. There followed what the journalist described as a “feeding frenzy” of adoptions from other parts of Europe and the USA. That’s the kind of perjorative term for an compassionate attempt to help that it is okay to apply to “the wicked”.

I read an article – posted by a white Western woman – asserting that black-to-white racism is impossible. A statement or action or attitude can only be racist if the perpetrator is white. Black people can say what they like about white people, it can never be racist. Oh. What? How does that make the world a better place?

“Black.”  “White.” “The wicked.”  “The infidel.”

“Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God.”

How helpful is this?

The wicked usually turn out to be someone else. I have met a number of people whose behavior was astonishingly obnoxious, but only one person who self-identified as “wicked.”

She was an old lady in an institution for the mentally ill. Broken, weeping, seemingly beyond help, her problem was that she believed herself to be wicked. This is important. Surely a crucial aspect of being “the wicked” is that you know you are? If “the wicked” always applies to someone else, by definition change cannot happen. But if “the wicked” agreed with their accusers, they would cease to present the problems they do – they’d all be paralysed with grief and shame like this old lady I met who had become convinced that she was “the wicked”.

In those days I was a minister of religion. She wasn’t in my congregation, but hers had entered a patch between ministers, so they called me in to see if I could help. We talked. She explained to me that she was wicked. I thought about this for a bit. I asked her if she believed Jesus to be wicked. She said no, absolutely not. Jesus was good. I spoke to her about the Eucharist, how in Commuion we take right into our gut the presence of Jesus. When we say our “Amen” and eat the bread, drink the wine, we are inviting Jesus into our being, to be indivisibly one with who we are. I explained that the thing is, goodness will always overpower wickedness. Where light has come, darkness automatically ceases. I told her how, when I make my Communion, I always silently pray: “Jesus, please put to death all that is evil in me.” I said that Jesus and wickedness cannot co-exist in the same place, and that if she ate the bread and drank the wine of the Eucharist knowing this, consciously embracing this, then her wickedness would be dissolved, zapped, done for, by the presence of Jesus in her. I asked her if she wanted this, and she said, “Yes.”

I brought the holy things, and she sat quietly in her vinyl-covered high-backed institutional chair in the calm, bare room, attending closely as the familiar prayers were said. She ate the bread, she drank the wine, inviting Jesus in, trusting in the logic that wickedness could not co-exist with him. And she got better. The next time I saw her (at a church service), a calm, confident, radiant, extremely happy and grateful woman met me. She was well again now. She was no longer “the wicked”, because Jesus had come to dwell in her, and his Light shone inside her – you could see it, actually.

And that was the only instance I have ever come across of someone who believed herself to be “the wicked”.

In my own personal circle of acquaintance, the most destructive interactions I have seen were all set in motion by people who thought that “the others” were “the wicked”. The actions and attitudes of those who so believed caused suffering, division, and long-term deep misery. So. In that case, were they “the wicked”? 
It’s a carousel, isn’t it? It could go on for ever. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

As you can tell, I don’t find “the wicked” to be a useful term. I prefer St Luke’s phrase – “the lost”; they need to be found by others. I like Echart Tolle’s phrase “people who are unconscious”; we cannot blame them, but must do what we can to gently awaken them.

Best of all, when it comes to categories and otherness, “the righteous” and “the wicked”, I treasure that thing Jesus said to “the Pharisee” about “the Prostitute”. He said, “Simon, do you see this woman?” And that’s what they did on Christmas Day in the trenches, isn’t it?


gail said...

Well Pen, you've done it again. What a truly beautiful story about that dear old lady. And so much to think about in the word "Wicked" I prefer the word "Lost", somehow it makes me think that "Hope" can always accompany the lost. I'll think of this post when next I take communion. Thank you Pen.
Blessings Gail.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Beautiful and thought-provoking; thank you for posting this.

Unknown said...

Great post, Pen :)

Jenna said...

It's my understanding that the word "wicked" comes to us from a meaning around being twisted--as a candle "wick" is twisted. And then Jeremiah tells us that the heart is desperately wicked--so I guess that would include everybody. To not understand ourselves as wicked would be to not understand our having been made in the image of Adam (not YHVH's--all subsequent humans were made in Adam's image). I've read some who say that that twisted-ness relates to a DNA chain's helix configuration but I'm not certain I'd go that far.

DaisyAnon said...

Very interesting, thank you. I am not very clear on the difference between blogging and journalling but am enjoying the current series regardless. Thank you for doing all the thinking and sharing your gift of expression.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, dear friends. Thank you for your good thoughts. xx

Suze said...

I love this post. So many of us are lost. So many of us do wicked things. Man is a fallen creature who is redeemed by Christ. I love that you have used the word lost and given new insight and things for me to ponder.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Rapunzel said...

Pen you have a gift for helping the lost find their way again.

Pen Wilcock said...


What a lovely thing to say! Thank you. xx

Unknown said...

Pen, thank you, very much, for this. Here's just a strand of thought to connect simplicity and who the 'wicked' are in the Bible which has helped me understand the biblical call to simplicity and the references in the Psalms where 'the rich' are set in synonymous parallelism with 'the wicked', and other passages too. It's clear that the social ideal of early Israel about each family having its own basis for subsistence in its inheritable land, a fairly 'flat' society socially of farming smallholders or 'free peasants' without any king other than God over them, as the prophet Samuel emphasized to those who first demanded a king (who would bring with him the wicked ways of a grand and expensive court and nobility). Those who oppressively grab land from widows, orphans, anybody they can, those who want more than their fare share, their 'inheritance', those who build great estates at the expense of impoverishing others, those who by so doing abandon God's commandments and gracious covenant with them - these are the wicked, who are also 'the rich', the aristocratic high and mighty on their vast, unneeded estates, supported by force of arms, whom God will cast down from their thrones at the coming of his Messiah, as Mary sings in her song at Christmas. The wicked, according to the Bible, seem to be those who distort the world economically so that many families of the earth do not have even enough for subsistence. Those who choose to live simply, according to their needs, without depriving others, are the simple, blessed poor, ultimately found in the clearest expression in the lifestyle of monks and nuns, whose demonstration of the possibility of joyous poverty and service to the poor functions as an economic and ideological counterbalance to the greed of the warring, land-devouring elites.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hello, Steve.

Thank you.

Peter said...

No, I don't think the us and them language of the "wicked" is at all helpful Pen ! Yet neither is some of the language of the liturgy (especially the Book of Common Prayer in its confessions). No wonder people think they are wicked ... For centuries the church has been telling them they are !

I'm currently reading Philip Jenkins 'The Great & Holy War'and its clear from that how much war (and especially in this case WW1)is actually about words... A very disturbing book and highly recommended.

Much of the language of the Bible is unhelpfully us and then language. You suggest "lost" or "unconscious" as alternatives but I can't help wondering how helpful any form of us and then language actually is ?

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, indeed! Even so, there are some kind of behaviours with which we cannot identify, but must surely still try to understand.

Peter said...

Definitely ! But surely the whole person doesn't become a 'them' because of their actions ... ?

Pen Wilcock said...

Quite so! What, then, do you make of the sheep and the goats?