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What is Evil?

This is a response to this post by Insanity Bytes on “There’s this Thing Called Biology”:


This is a terribly complex problem, but fundamentally, I see it this way: love (which is God) enters into all things, because everything desires the power that it offers (the essence of loving is to offer power). But that power comes with constraints – love will abandon us if we hurt others. So love turns everything to its purpose, which is loving. To preserve their identity, the things that love embraces will do terrible things to push it away.

You began your post with a meditation on dysfunctionality in relationships. Often, that is what I see going on: people struggling for control against the dictates of love.

Jesus taught on many occasions about this struggle: the parable of the talents, the exhortation to “die to yourselves.” He understood how difficult it was, confronting the surrender to Death in Gethsemane and pleading “take this cup away from me.” The reason it is hard is because the world is full of the pain of our attempts to assert ourselves over the needs of others. Rather than the graceful patience of accepting that “this is not my moment, but my moment will come”, we lash out in fear, seeking to make every moment our moment. Paradoxically, we only augment our suffering, because in that lashing out we drive love from us.

Jesus was confronted with the obligation to shoulder that burden, surrendering everything else to it. I don’t know if you’ve seen “The Green Mile”, but the jailed healer in the movie pleads in the end for death. He says that walking around in the world is like living with broken pieces of glass in your mind.

You allude to Christ as the solution to evil, but he is the “Prince of Peace” for a reason. Death separates our souls – we mourn the loss of those that loved us, and often celebrate the end of those that hurt us. But Death consumes us, stealing from us the memory of our lives. Jesus changed all that. He suffused Death with love, and so now has the power to say: “These two enemies need to be separated for the sake of peace.” So I don’t think that he sees anything as evil. He sees sickness that as a surgeon he has the power to heal.

Pope Francis, in reaction to his predecessors characterization of homosexuality as a sin, said “Who am I to judge?” As humans, we might recognize the existence of evil in the world – the presence of personalities so committed to themselves that they will never accept the dictates of love. But it is not our place to pass judgment on them. Jesus redeemed death when no other believed that it was possible. Until we enter fully into his mind, we should be cautious about casting people into the abyss, seeking instead to educate and heal.

I recognize your participation in that in your work. Thank-you.

6 thoughts on “What is Evil?

  1. Thank you, that’s a well worded response and much appreciated.

    I nearly agree with you here, “So I don’t think that he sees anything as evil. He sees sickness that as a surgeon he has the power to heal,” at least in terms of the evil people are capable of committing, which just pales in comparison to what genuine evil is. We are lost, broken, foolish, but not innately evil ourselves. We are created in His image, sons and daughters of a most high God, worth dying for even. That does not speak to the nature of us as being “bad.”

    All these sexual sins are triffles, we are not big and bad enough to offend God. To grieve Him perhaps, but not to cause offense. He’s seen it all, it is not like He can be rocked off balance by our assorted types of defiance.

    That said however, I really do believe evil exists as an entity unto itself, that it does come into our lives and lead us astray, that we are easily deceived. Christ is the cure, because if we know His voice and keep our eyes on Him, we are not so likely to get lost in the abyss of confusion and deception. Ironically or paradoxically, that abyss of confusion usually begins with the idea that you are bad, unworthy, rejected, a deception that Oregon shooter probably fell for.

    • I see a contradiction between the assignment of evil to anything and the need to avoid “the idea that you are bad…” Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Loves asks us to do nothing that it will not do itself.

      I reassert: Jesus does not see an enemy, but a patient. I would also caution that those of lesser discernment, when the word “evil” is introduced in conversation, they feel empowered to usurp the judgment that should be reserved to Christ.

  2. I would also caution that those of lesser discernment, when the word “evil” is introduced in conversation, they feel empowered to usurp the judgment that should be reserved to Christ.

    I’m not a believer, so my opinion on this particular matter may not mean much, but it seems to me that if God has given us the gifts of reason and judgment, grossly imperfect as they are, He must have meant for us to use them. Judiciously and with compassion, but use them nevertheless.

    Evil is not just the absence of love, but a desire, acted upon, to intentionally inflict harm. We may take comfort in beliefs that allow us to wait for God’s ultimate judgment, but we must act here, on Earth, to prevent evil, of the earthly kind, and the destruction it wreaks in and around us.

    • And in my experience, the best way to accomplish that is to see the affirm the good in people. Otherwise, the children grow up hating those that hurt their parents, and take aim at us as those that are “evil.”

    • A clarification on my prior comment: affirming the good is not just in those that go about the world wreaking havoc – sometimes affirming the good in their victims, to the point of investing in their escape, has the same effect as destruction of the oppressor, because they no longer are available to magnify his or her intentions.

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