On our farm in rural Queensland, my Dad had three brass monkeys on his desk. Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. It was an apt image for the kind of Christian faith we adhered to, a kind of pietism, focused on avoiding sin.
One day, some visitors questioned my Dad, “Why do you have a Buddhist image in your house?” They told him the three monkeys came from a Japanese story derived from Buddhism. It turns out that avoiding sin is not a uniquely Christian idea. Other faiths encourage us to meditate on the good and avoid ruminating on the evil. It’s one of the goals of religion: to encourage ethical behaviour.
So now I’m wondering, how important is the message of the three monkeys for the Christian faith?
You can certainly find Jesus disputing with the Pharisees about keeping our thoughts pure. This was part of Judaism and Christianity, just as it is part of other faiths. But what did Jesus do? Did he close his eyes and ears to the evil in the world?
One of the catchiest songs in The Lion King is Hakuna Matata. Banished to the wilderness, Simba takes on a carefree lifestyle. “Hakuna Matata” he sings: “no worries, for the rest of your life.” But eventually the lion king realizes he cannot close his eyes and ears to the evil oppressing his people. Like Moses returning to confront Pharaoh, Simba returns to confront Scar.
It’s the verbs — what God does — that reveals our sovereign’s character:
Exodus 2 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel — and God knew (ESV).
God heard. God saw. God spoke (Exodus 3).
Hakuna Matata is fun, but it was not Jesus’ theme song. He chose not to close his eyes and ears to evil. With his eyes wide open, King Jesus rode into Jerusalem to confront the rebellion against his Father’s reign, to dethrone the ruler of this world, to restore the kingdom of God.
The gospel never was a message of personal piety. The gospel is the good news of the overthrow of evil, the ascension of Christ as king, the re-establishment of the earth under God’s reign. The gospel Jesus proclaimed is the good news of the kingdom of God — the human community being restored to all that our Father intends for his family.
Personal piety is not the goal of the Christian faith. Community is the goal. Personal forgiveness is not the goal of the gospel. The goal is restored community, extending forgiveness to restore each other as our King forgives and restores us.
That’s why we can’t close our ears and our eyes to evil and refuse to speak of it. It isn’t enough to not let evil overcome us individually: that’s just the negative side. The good news of King Jesus is the community that overcomes evil with good.