We are not meant to understand evil

Nov 30, 2023Confessions

I did something incredibly NON-MARY this last week. I quit something.

As I mentioned, I was doing the NANOWRIMO challenge, writing a novel in the month of November. Because I am a seat of the pants writer, I wasn’t sure where the story was heading. But when I wrote one scene, something clicked in me, something I’ve struggled with my whole life. In that instant, the Lord used my own writing to heal me.

I struggle with my father who died when I was ten. He was predatory, and I haven’t yet uncovered all the devastation he wrought. I have given him many diagnoses, but that’s a tricky thing to do when the person is no longer alive.

This one thing has haunted me: WHY. Why was he like that? Why did he perpetrate? I couldn’t understand it, and I felt that if I could just uncover the why, I would finally have peace.

How did I do that? By watching and listening to true crime shows and reading lots of books about narcissism, sociopathy, and psychopathy. I figured that if I could find my father in the crimes I watched or dissected, I could finally understand him.

But even then: I did not understand. I could not comprehend.

So my seeking continued and continued on an endless loop, never finding a satisfying answer.

And then, I wrote this scene, in the form of a letter from the main character (Claire’s) now-deceased aunt:

Ralph and your father knew each other. Did you know that? And they were cut from the same overbearing-yet-understated cloth. If you’ve ever watched the old movie, Gaslight, you’ll capture what I’m getting at. Got to be Ralph became so adept at lying, then believing his own lies that I had to keep a diary of what he said for my own sanity. Whenever he would level a gaze at me and say, “You are making things up. I never said that. You should probably go to the doctor to see if you have dementia,” I could return to my own words to maintain my sanity. He was a brilliant man, with an equally adept mind at manipulation.

As far as I knew, he was not a philanderer like your father, so that made the divorce complicated, primarily with my church family. “You are committing adultery,” my pastor told me. “You can never remarry.” He said this as a pronouncement of final judgement. Although I questioned his mandate, his words had a way of carving a law into the stone of my heart. I never did remarry.

But I know what it’s like to be “loved” by someone who only loves himself. Who constructs his world as if people are props in the grand story of his audacious life. It grew exhausting. I would look at the mirror and no longer recognize myself. I swore I was shrinking in stature, my shoulders bent, my eyes hollowed out from sleeplessness. It had been a friend, Lila, who helped me wake up. I’ve read plenty in these past few years about cults and high control groups, at first not grasping why I had an obsession about it. But I understand now as I write this. I needed to understand the why. Why had Ralph treated me the same way a cult leader would interact with his followers? Claire, believe me when I say I tried to understand. I read books about narcissistic personality disorder, about predators and sociopaths. None gave me the why. And that’s what I have for you today.

A reprieve.

I could be wrong (and sadly you cannot correct me because I’m no longer here), but my hunch is that you’ve delved into that need to know. You’ve spent your adult life asking why your father behaved the way he did. Hear me when I say: it’s unknowable. Remember Jeremiah 17:9 , “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” I used to think that solely applied to me, that I could not discern my own bent toward sin. Sure, there is truth to that, but as a follower of Christ, I have to rest in knowing the Holy Spirit within me is doing his beautiful work and will show me my waywardness—because he knows me. He discerns me. He gets me. But we are not allowed to understand evil. Because that is the root of the first sin, isn’t it? To know both good and evil? I have found that to spend one’s life trying to uncover the intricacies of someone else’s interior bent is fruitless. And soul killing.

Why did Ralph treat me as if I were no greater than an old shoe? I don’t rightly know.

Why did your father kill your sister? Why did he take all those photos? Why did he obsessively sew for you (yes, your mom told me)? Why did he treat your mother with disdain? Why did he chase other women? We don’t know. And even if you perfectly understood your father’s why, it would not satisfy. Because evil’s reasons are based on pure, unadulterated self-centeredness. Evil is about selfishness and pride (also sins from the garden of Eden). It’s about ego and maintaining control at any cost—even the cost of others wellbeing. You cannot understand it. You cannot know it. If you spend your life trying to uncover it, you’ll slip into depression like I had. Please, dear Claire, hear me. Let it go. Let him be evil without explanation. His actions are not your responsibility. Neither is his heart. That is the realm of God who is the perfect judge.

Sadly, sometimes people enjoy hurting others.

My gift to you today is release. I want you to find a stone from our property, one you can easily hold. Write your father’s name on it, then venture northward to one of the D-Day beaches. But be sure you have some privacy because I want you to holler at that stone. Tell your dad what you think of him. (Last I heard you had not spoken to him since before the trial. That may have changed, but that reality won’t change the importance of this task). Yell it if you have to. Have a good cry. Let him be who he was. Tell yourself you no longer need to figure it all out. Let it go, dear Claire. Then with everything inside you, hurl that rock into the North Atlantic. Watch the rock sink to the deep.

And by all that is good, let it remain there.

Even reading the scene now brings tears to my eyes, not because of eloquence, but because it’s the truth. We are not meant to understand evil. We are to know good.

So I quit writing that book. I may get back to it. But I received exactly what I needed. Isn’t it amazing that God uses our own bent (in my case, writing) to re-shape us and heal us? I have often said that every book I write brings more healing. And I can confidently say writing half a book brought so much insight.

Wow. I’m free, friends. I’m free. I no longer need to search for the why.

I pray that encourages you, too.


  1. Coriena Sjoerdsma

    Dearest Mary I am struggling with reporting the manipulative abusive behavior of a pastor. I have left the church and through prayer and fasting my family has come with me to a new church. It is so refreshing to be loved and fed instead of told to be quiet and manipulated.
    But this person is continuing in his behavior. I have followed the Biblical steps of one on one, going with witnesses then going to the elders. The elders said they would hold the pastor responsible but the next day my husband received a call saying unless I repented I would no longer be welcome at the church. That day they announced while my children were in church that a member was being held in discipline. I am held in discipline for reporting the pastors manipulative behavior and abuse. To bad for them I had already written to remove my membership the week before.
    I then wrote the Stone Asdociation which is over our church in the Cookeville area. Turns out the head of the Stone association is buddies with the abusive pastor.
    I don’t know where to go from here, do I contact the Southern Baptist convention. I have walked away, for me the abuse stopped here. But what about others, what about the children. His behavior is escalating. Praying and fasting for wisdom.

    • Coriena Sjoerdsma

      I am about to go throw a rock with a name on it in a big pond, so I can go on living

      • Mary DeMuth

        I am so sorry you’re walking through this. You may want to report it using this tool: https://www.sbc.net/resources/resources-on-sex-abuse/ though that one may only be for sexual misconduct. The other idea is to share it with your state’s SBC chapter.