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Evil (part 2)

In my last post I argued for the existence of the reality of “evil.” This might seem obvious to some, but some streams of secular thinking have attributed evil to simply being the result of environmental conditioning or to being an issue of social consensus. Meaning, there is no ultimate standard by which morality can be measured, and there is no ultimate standard to which humanity can be held accountable. If there is a standard, that standard is determined by the consensus of a particular social group. For example, slavery was once deemed acceptable, even necessary for the good of the economy, whereas now it is deemed as inhumane and socially “wrong.” On the other hand, extramarital sexual relations were once viewed as immoral, but now are viewed as commonplace. The standard changed in each case because the consensus of the masses changed.

We Are To Blame

This is where we run into some problems though. In my last post I argued that there is some undeniable existence of a reality we might call evil and it manifests in all sorts of nasty, life-draining, destructive ways. Whatever you call it, it exists. We cope with it every day. I call this “it” sin, evil, immorality, or wrong.

Now here is where it gets messy. The secular atheist would argue that there cannot possibly be a god because of existence of evil. Yet, if you go down that road you will find that there is no one to blame for the evil in this world except for humanity. Now, I’ll grant that there are some things (like natural disasters) that are outside of human control that also have horrific consequences. Outside of those specific realities, things like murder, slavery, sex-trafficking, genocide, war, global poverty, corporate greed, and a whole list of other things, are completely and entirely the result of human corruption, selfishness, and pride.

If you leave God in the picture you can try to nail the responsibility of evil on him, but Christian theology actually identifies and deals with the reality of evil in our world via the Gospel. But, I’ll get to that later. The point is this: whether we leave God in the picture or not, the fact remains that we are to blame. There is a large portion of the evil in our world for which human beings are completely and entirely responsible for creating and perpetuating.

I’m Not That Bad Though…

Most of us would acknowledge that though. Most of us would admit that there is a whole slew of inhumane, unjust, and completely evil things that humans are capable of. But… not us. We are not perfect of course, but we’re definitely not evil…right? I mean, we might be rude, grumpy, and a little selfish at times, but we are not unusually demented or sociopathic in our behaviors. Maybe not, but since we are not purely perfect and our motives are not entirely altruistic then we cannot claim to be purely good. We  might not be that bad, but we are also not that good.

Further, we cannot possibly calculate or fathom the ripple effects of our selfish actions. Take for example the tendency of children to poke fun at kids who are different from them or who simply do not meet the popularity standard at the time. While it may seem like a minor thing to make fun of another person, we rarely ever have the insight to understand how it wounds the psyche and soul of the other person. We never know what pre-existing hurts already reside in the other person. We never know what kind of messages they receive from their parents and what inner narratives they are already telling themselves.

For all we know, we have just contributed to the lie that they are not good enough—they are not loveable. That “innocent” joke is now a lie that resides in their soul. If this wound is not dealt with it can often lead to depression. So now that person grows up feeling un-loveable and not good enough. There are a number of ways the story can pan out from there. The person may grow up coping with negative habits and even developing some sort of addiction. Maybe they grow up struggling with depression. Maybe the depression leads to suicide. Maybe they project their hurt on other people and leave a wake of fractured relationships in their path. We never know. Yet, we are contributors to the brokenness in our world. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

You may think I’m being a bit extreme, but think about it. This is the sort of stuff that counselors get paid the big bucks to unearth—deep wounds that are often dealt by someone who had no idea how it affected the other person. How people respond and react is not totally our responsibility. However, the infinite possibilities of the ripple effect of our actions leave us all culpable. And that is the point. We all contribute to the evil in our world on some level.

My selfishness, my lust, my pride, my greed, my jealousy, my bitterness, my negligence, my ignorance, my imperfections, my words, my inaction, my attitudes—I contribute to the evil I see around me. At some point I have to come to terms with the fact that the evil I observe outside of me also resides in me.

The scary thing is this—we never know what sort of things we are capable of given the right circumstances. Most of us would like to think we would never do this or that, but there are number of people who have done horrific things because the perfect storm of circumstances aligned. Most people are not born with aspirations to be a murder. Most people do not get married with the intention of being unfaithful. Most people don’t hope to grow up and become some sort of corrupt but rich executive.

I agree with N. T. Wright who writes, “…the line between good and evil runs not between ‘us’ and ‘them’ but through every individual and every society.”[1] If you can come to agree that evil exists and that humans are to blame, and if you can acknowledge that you yourself are to blame for at least some of the contribution; then we can turn to the question concerning the Remedy that Christianity claims to offer.

Food for Thought:

  1. How does removing God from the picture offer any answer for the evil in our world? How does keeping God in the picture offer any insight into the evil in our world?

  2. What role do you think humanity as a whole play in the existence and perpetuation of evil in our world? What role do you play?

  3. If you are not a “Christian,” where and how do you find hope in the midst of the evil that exists? Are you open to the idea that there is a greater Hope offered by God through Jesus? Why or why not?

[1] Wright, N. T. (2006). Evil and the Justice of God. (Pg. 43)

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