The Mystery of Iniquity

Recognizing reality and demanding to change it are fundamentally different activities. Both wisdom and virtue depend on keeping them separate, but all our hopes are directed to joining them.” — Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought

In a relativistic world a murder mystery in the hands of a master writer can be a sword, rightly dividing hypocrisy from truth. The mystery writer is also a problem-solver and a moral arbiter; the pleasure for the reader is in the careful twining of many threads to make a coat of justice.

James Lee Burke, author of 30 novels and two collections of short stories, is a master of the genre—indeed, he was named a Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America in 2009 and has twice won their Crime Novel of the year.

Dave Robicheaux, former cop for the New Orleans Police Department, a dry alcoholic, and a police detective in Iberia Parish, is one of Burke’s most compelling literary creations. Robicheaux, a Vietnam War vet and a life-long resident of coastal Louisiana, has no qualms about calling out the evil ones in our midst.

In Robicheaux’s cultural hierarchy, the small-time hoods and grifters make up the lowest level. They are the bottom-feeders, those desperate enough to attach themselves to powerful and twisted people whose need for distance and deniability make them almost invulnerable. Robicheaux is not without sympathy for these figures whose lives are steeped in violence and despair. It’s a measure of Burke’s vision and compassion that he gives them a solid dignity in the midst of every trigger pulled or fist cocked. As for the rich, morally bent, and self-righteous, Robicheaux finds them, binds them to the case, and pulls the threads together.

Reading Burke at his best is like swallowing nails dipped in chocolate. On the one hand, he’s a word-painter who can put you in a late-summer electrical storm along the bayou in a flash. In the next moment, violence erupts as inevitably as lightning. Robicheaux believes in evil because he has seen it in the eyes of the wealthiest, the most powerful, and often, the most revered in his society. What truly distinguishes these people from their small-time counterparts is the level of self-deception they are capable of maintaining. While they believe themselves to be virtuous, natural-born citizens of the elite, educated, and genteel, their feral nature is only a few insults from the surface. In those moments, Burke’s prose reveals the skull beneath the skin. It’s like walking in a thoughtful daze through a gallery of impressionist paintings and rounding a corner to find George Bellow’s paintings of bare-knuckled and bloodied fighters surrounded by dissolute ghouls.

But Robicheaux—and Burke—live in a universe that is tragically evil, that is, those who are marked as evil may have chosen their actions, but were acting on compulsions beyond their control. Through a long apprenticeship in deceit and denial, they now look back in anger to see how far from their innocence they have come. There was no moment in which they stepped across a threshold into evil, but they are undeniably in that far country now.

Perhaps the one thing, besides shock and grief, that unites us in the face of an unspeakable tragedy like the shooting of concertgoers in Las Vegas, is that we search for a reason Why? We look for trace elements of aggression in the killer’s childhood, we mine the memories of his neighbors, we sift the impressions of doctors, teachers, relatives—anyone who might be able to put the mark of Cain on his forehead with some degree of certainty. Psychologists and pundits stack up the similarities in the profiles of mass murderers and we all look for patterns. This is natural and commendable, as difficult as it is for determining cause. But if society does not care enough to search for answers in the face of such tragedies, then we are truly at a moral tipping point. Outrage is a sign of conscience: the lack of it may be the first symptom of moral paralysis.

The moral philosophers of the Enlightenment separated natural evil from moral evil. Tsunamis, wildfires, hurricanes, avalanches had all been thought to issue from the hand of God as punishment for sin. But Rousseau took the evil out of natural evil by thinking of them as simply nature following the laws of God. What mattered more was the “evil that men do,” and especially so since we are beings endowed with reason. Why do we do evil then? It makes no sense from a rational standpoint, so we have to seek an explanation elsewhere. Broadly speaking, Rousseau located the cause of evil in the subversion of the individual by society. Kant saw moral evil arising from our denial of our autonomy and our moral duty.

Rousseau thought the key to moral improvement was education. He spent much of his time trying to work out a social contract between the individual and society. Most problems, he thought, could be negotiated by reasonable people working together. One result of this was the decreasing role of God in human affairs. In her rewriting of the history of philosophy in Evil in Modern Thought, Susan Neiman says, “The more responsibility for evil accrues to the human, the less belongs to the divine.”

This resistance of nature that we see and experience, says Neiman, is not the work of angry gods “but simply part of the arbitrary stuff of the universe.” They are part of living with limits. Finitude isn’t a punishment, it’s simply part of our structural framework. As Neiman so succinctly puts it: “We have purposes; the world does not.”

So, the problem of evil became irresolvable. The way Kant figured it, the problem of evil was that we are dissatisfied with the difference between the way things are and the way they should be. The first is the realm of nature, the second of reason. “Happiness depends on events in the natural world,” comments Neiman, and virtue depends on us exercising our reason. We can’t control much in nature—and that includes our happiness—but we may have more control in the realm of virtue driven by reason. “The one [reason] is a matter of what ought to be; the other [nature] is a matter of what is.” For Kant, what was most important was distinguishing between the two. “Recognizing reality and demanding to change it are fundamentally different activities. Both wisdom and virtue depend on keeping them separate, but all our hopes are directed to joining them.”

Or as the Rolling Stones said: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

Kant would agree. The gap between the is—the way things are—and the ought—the way things should be will never be entirely bridged. But we’ve got to try: our dignity as humans and our hopes for this world demand it.

Such tragedies as the San Bernardino shooting, the Charleston killings, and the massacres in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs demand a rational explanation. We struggle to find one and if we can’t find a common pattern or a series of movements we despair because above all else we want to live in a rational universe. We shudder to think—and we dare not say—that there may not be a rational explanation for these people running amok. If that is true then we are faced with the fact that without a clear cause these events cannot be predicted nor can they be prevented. And the tragic result of that is a fortress mentality and officially sponsored societal paranoia.

Social psychologists and psychiatrists hope to find a cause someday that will explain—as fully and as clearly as possible—why these killings occur. They will continue to gather evidence, try out theories, hope to understand. But we must also realize, as Kant so brilliantly works it out and as most scriptures testify, that we humans are limited, finite, broken, and fractured. This is not a cause for despair, said Kant, but rather simply the way things are. We can do better and we should try, even while realizing that all our efforts will fall short of perfection. For Christians, this means we live under sin while sustained by grace. Resistance to evil, says Scripture, is not futile.

And the worth of our striving can be measured by the degree to which we act with compassion toward those who are suffering and wisdom toward those who bring the suffering.

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communications at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, for 28 years. He is now adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C., and adjunct professor in business communication at Stevenson University, Maryland. This essay originally appeared on the author’s blog, Dante’s Woods. It is reprinted here with permission.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

As I read this article I am hearing of anther mass shooting in an elementary school in Northern California. There is so much evil and suffering in the world. We see it in the streets of our cities. People are so violent to one another. I feel sick to my stomach that our political and church leaders fail time and again to lead spiritually. It is a tragedy that we are more fixated on continuing scandals and the next election and we can’t seem to remember the simple lessons found in Habakkuk 1:3
“Why do you show me iniquity, and look at perversity? For destruction and violence are before me. There is strife, and contention rises up.” Hebrew Names Version
“Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place.” The Message

Habakkuk couldn’t believe what he had heard. Rather than verbally retaliate against the Lord, he sought to reverently inquire why God would do such a thing. He knew the Lord was from everlasting, that He could not look upon evil, let alone tolerate wrongdoing. So why would God allow the wicked (Babylon) to swallow up the righteous (Judah)? In anticipation of God’s reponse, Habakkuk climbed a tower where he would wait for God’s answer and God did not disappoint him. The Lord told Habakkuk to write His answer down, make it plain, and send it out. In the not too distant future God was going to use the military might of Babylon to judge His people. As it happened, Habakkuk was able to absorb God’s message of judgment because he understood the nature of human depravity as captured in his five woes against Babylon. The prophet lamented the evil he saw embodied in the Babylonians and the destruction they caused. Their quest for more and more led to their cities being built by bloodshed. They were (as we are) a self-indulgent, sexually permissive people around whom even animals were not safe. Finally, their gods were not true gods but the product of their own imagination and craftsmanship. As it happened, amid the horrific reality of Babylonian depravity Habakkuk called for silence (2:20). He knew divine judgment was imminent because of the evil of humanity and the holiness of God. Habakkuk prayed again asking that God would renew His great acts from the past. He knew that God was going to judge the nations but He asked the Lord that in His mercy He would deliver His people again, just as He did when He led them through the Red Sea.
The litany of evil and the reality of God’s eternal judgment of sin left the prophet shaken to the core (3:16). It was almost too much for him to bear anymore. The only way Habakkuk could bear up under the weight of what he knew and felt was to live by faith. Habakkuk lived by faith in the faithfulness of God. As it happened, the book ended with a powerful glimpse into the faithfulness of God to His people. We know how this will end, we know who will triumph in the end.

Article title from this verse…

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He[a] who now restrains will do so until He[b] is taken out of the way.” 2 Thess 2:7

In a way the, meaning of the verse is a mystery, if one looks at various translations.
It would seem that, 2000 years later it is not so much a mystery at all.
History can be a great teacher.

Notice the result of the lax judicial system… " Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." ECCl 8:11

Satan used the resurrection, and set a memorial (LORD’S DAY) to counter and abolish Sabbath commandment through the clergy.

Satan, through the clergy, has blown out of proportion the significance of the cross/BLOOD to make it “all about the blood”.

Satan , through the clergy, has voided the purpose of the law by its antinomian spins.

Humans, church attenders suck it up with their ROM 8:7 GOD hating, law trashing attitude.

SDA in Sabbath school has spent a considerable portion on justification, yet what percentage really know what it means and how to attain it?

How much of Galatians was read in Sabbath school classes last quarter?
How much of Romans is being read in Sabbath school this quarter?
By the so called “people of the book”?

What does anyone expect about violence when the church is NOT SALT or LIGHT?

The SDA leadership have really no clue on how to promote revival & reformation in the denomination.

The bible is not faithfully preached in most pulpits. OH, the clergy say their sermons are bible based. SO what?

The SDA leadership do not have a clue on how to effectively deal with lukewarm Laodoceans.
Some try to promote assurance of salvation, yet people will not experience this or any peace because they are victims of shame , regret, guilt trips & haunting memories.

The leaders, pastors & teachers are inept. and contaminated with SDA old wine skins.

Lawlessness, crime, violence will only increase like in Noah’s time because so-called Christians/believers are grieving & quenching the Spirit of God.

Before Cain murdered his brother. God said to him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7) The last part is interesting, that “sin lies at the door, its desire is for you”. In other words, “Satan is lurking around you and pushing you to murder your brother.” Why?

The Bible is clear. We are not broken or malformed or weak; rather we are wonderfully and perfectly made! However, we are contending (unwittingly) with an adversary, Satan, who is far more powerful and cunning, and invisible to boot (Psalm 8). We were sold to him in slavery through Adam; and our only defense against him is God, internalizing God’s commandments and being obedient to God’s will: which throws us bodily into a psychological civil war of many battles in the mind.

The way out of those battles is as God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” And again, “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” In other words, we ought to do what is right and be patient (like Abel), knowing that not everyone will do what is right and be patient (like Cain); and that those who don’t, will become the means through which Satan will manifest himself in wanton destruction.

How then do we build a more just society? Is it not through the instruction to love and respect others even from the cradle; and to see that the rod is not spared? For justice must not only be done, but be clearly seen as having been done. Until such time as Cain is removed, the blood of Abel will always cry out. We are the court of law (Psalm 8). “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil …Ecc. 8:11-13


Now some may ask, “Why does evil persist? Why does an evil world continue in the face of a loving God?”

  1. God is crying out, by the patient endurance of the righteous, to the wicked that the wicked should change their ways. “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11) And again, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)

  2. But has God not judged the world before? Sure. People willfully forget the flood in Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt in Moses’ day, even Israel at the hands of Assyria and Babylon and Rome; and Europe in World Wars 1 and 2.

  3. The world continues because there is a particular number of saints of which our generation is a part of those who will be saved. “Then a white robe was given to each of them [who had died in ages past]; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Rev. 6:11) We should be grateful for this and even rejoice that there are other generations unborn yet to come into the fold of Christ.

  4. So then, when will it all end? “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Mat. 24:36) – Jesus of Nazareth, THE Christ and Son of the Living God.


Evil is senseless. It does not make sense. It defies logic and rationality. Yet us humans keep wanting to make sense of it and to explain it. A futile pursuit.

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Bill O’Reilly’s book, KILLING JESUS ( which I purchased at an airport bookstore during a prolonged layover ) is an unvarnished, unfettered account of the crucifixion in all of its gruesome, grisly, ghastly, grim, grotesque, details.

It makes for harrowing, lurid reading but none the less, is probably a more real account than EGW’s toned down, DESIRE OF AGES.

Simarlarly, MEL GIBSON’S epic movie THE PASSION, is a harrowing film of crucifixion scenes, difficult to,endure to the final credits.

Surely the essence of INIQUITY is the cruel killing of the Son of God ?

If our impulsive instinct is to exit a movie depicting this horror, how must the Angels and EGW’s “the universe “ have experienced it, watching it LIVE and unfiltered in all of its harrowing horror. ??

To me, the REAL mystery of iniquity is why immediately, the Angels and the “unfallen beings on other planets “ would not have instantly declared that God was “vindicated “ and that Satan should be exterminated for killing God’s son.

Now two millennia later, after countless atrocities, abominations, brutish barbarities and brutalities, ghastly genocides, “the universe “ continues unfazed, seemingly nonchalant and numbed by interminable horror.

EGW’s GREAT CONTROVERSY, becomes a senseless, absurd and irrational explanation that God allows this continuing MISERY ANGUISH and AGONY so that He can selfishly, “vindicate “ Himself.

Surely His ultimate “ vindication “ was the crucifixion of Christ?

I find EGWs “vindication” argument quite TOXIC because it portrays a God. so consumed with His “ vindication “ that He allows ENDLESS “crimes against humanity “ to continue unabated.

For me, the real “mystery of iniquity “ is that “iniquity” was not abolished centuries ago, at the Cross, or immanently thereafter, with an expedited Second Coming.

That God does not end the INIQUITY on this planet by an expedited Second Coming, surely makes Him complicit and codependent -an ENABLER —with its continuation?

I would not presume to argue that point with you. I have been known to nibble around the edges of it many times up to this point in my life and asked it of him directly unknowable times in various ways. In the end, I am forced to conclude that it is either all a big hoax on humanity or a time will come when he will explain it to me and I will understand as he wipes the tears from my eyes.

The one thing that keeps tipping me toward the latter is that I exist at all, and it is obvious to me that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Surely that is not an accident of cosmic goo.

Sooo… I yell and scream and vent my anger on God, but I keep plugging along hoping for and depending on “the evidence of things not seen” because indeed, I cannot see it.


Not that difficult.

What has been found to be consistent in the mental state of those who have committed human’s worst inhumanities is the loss of empathy, a result of psychological projection. It is far easier to see our problems in others than to acknowledge them in ourlselves. For some who have very limited and rigid personality traits coupled by a harsh conscience, it can be intolerable with the only means of alleviating the conflict by attributing their dark side to others and then dehumanize them as a prelude to victimization (projection). Thus the loss of empathy and the numbing of conscience. What is paradoxical about the loss of conscience is the psychodynamics underlie both good and evil. For instance, the debacle of AC2017 when the GC leadership showed momentary loss of empathy and conscience with the resultant 184:114 vote.

one thing society might consider is a revival of or uniform consistency with the death penalty for convicted first-degree murderers, including mass shooting perpetrators, even when they are deemed to be mentally ill…i can’t imagine the ongoing suffering of those who have had loved ones murdered, sometimes simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time…one very great source of suffering is perceived injustice, or inadequate justice, towards victims…

i have come to believe quite firmly the egw meta narrative, that evil is wholly caused by an actual satan and our conscious and subconscious tendency to yield to his will…unfortunately our fallen nature means the commands of god in the bible are often perceived to be unsympathetic…we’ve lost the concept that complete happiness is dependent on the free suffusion of the infinite creator god into all minds that have the capacity to respond to him…one terrifying egw prophecy is the following:

“Dark are the records of human misery that earth has witnessed during its long centuries of crime. The heart sickens, and the mind grows faint in contemplation. Terrible have been the results of rejecting the authority of Heaven. But a scene yet darker is presented in the revelations of the future. The records of the past,—the long procession of tumults, conflicts, and revolutions, the “battle of the warrior . . . with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood” (Isaiah 9:5),—what are these, in contrast with the terrors of that day when the restraining Spirit of God shall be wholly withdrawn from the wicked, no longer to hold in check the outburst of human passion and satanic wrath! The world will then behold, as never before, the results of Satan’s rule”. GC: 36-37.

sometimes i think i have a 50/50 chance of being alive when christ ceases his role as humanity’s mediator…other times, given the slow pace of god’s management of the problem of sin, at least from our perspective, i can well believe i won’t be…in any case, i think my natural preference, when i really think about it, is to be dead and buried when the time and trouble hits…resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven are an amazing enough future for me…