Good and Evil on Detroit 1-8-7

This week on ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7, Detective Vikram Mahajan, played by Shaun Majumder, steps away from his usual investigative duties to make sure that a witness to a homicide gets to court to testify against the perpetrator. Early in the show, Detective Mahajan sits in the courtroom while the witness waits in another room. When it is time for the witness to testify, however, everyone in the courtroom, along with Detective Mahajan, learns the witness has fled. Mayhem results as the witness’s testimony is the only thing that will make sure the murderer does not go free. In light of this fact, Detective Mahajan spends the rest of the day searching for the witness all over Detroit. One of the places he visits in his search is a community garden the witness helped establish. And it is the garden that becomes Detective Mahajan’s focus when he finally finds the witness and seeks to inspire him to act against evil by giving testimony in court.

The words Detective Mahajan uses are meant to impress upon the witness the importance of stopping the person who hurt him and killed others. He says to the witness: "I was at your gardens today. What they’re doing … the urban renewal and restoring civic pride … it’s a waste of time—a total waste. Why fix up Detroit if we’re going to let people like this guy go free? We can’t just plant vegetables … we have to stand up to them. We can rebuild all we want and they’re just going to tear it all down again."

It sounds depressing, but it’s the truth. We can do all the good we want, even all the good we can think of, but if we don’t do everything we can to stop the evil in and around our lives, the good is at best a temporary distraction from the inevitable. I wonder if this is the reason Jesus spoke so passionately to the religious leaders of His day saying: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV).

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There are many reasons we may not stand up to evil in our lives. It’s uncomfortable, inconvenient and intimidating. If we find ourselves in a situation anything like that of the witness in Detroit 1-8-7, standing up can be downright scary. But Detective Mahajan is right to point out to the witness that not standing up to testify against this murderer when he (and only he) has the chance to stop him negates any other good things he might do in an effort to restore his city. In the same way, we need to be reminded that anything good we seek to accomplish is overshadowed if we fail to first rid ourselves and our world of evil.

As we think on this subject, let’s remember two things. First, this is not a call to abandon doing good as a waste of time. Clearly, we are responsible to do good wherever we can for whomever we can in our world, but doing good on its own is incomplete. The Bible says, “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14). I don’t think the order of commands in that statement is accidental or insignificant. Second, let’s not repeat Christianity’s dark history of trampling people to eradicate evil. Also, let’s not create “evils” out of all the things that don’t line up with our personal preferences. Instead, join me in seeking to understand evil as God defines it. Then, let’s humbly act on this knowledge in our own lives, remembering our battle is with “the evil one”—the source of all evil—not with our neighbors.

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