SO, WHERE DID EVIL COME FROM?

Forgive me for being so maudlin. I get into these spells once in a blue moon, thinking of topics that seem way off (more so than usual). In my Lectio Divina dream, one where I don’t know if I was awake or asleep, I thought of my usual reading, Philippians 2:5, “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” What came out was a series of questions as follows (in no order of priority).

  1. Where did evil come from? Was there always evil? Is matter evil? Were Adam and Eve the first persons who are evil? Yet, Genesis 3 says that what God made was good. Certainly animals and the earth were not evil since evil seems to exist in what people do that is not from God, not from Adam and Eve. I see the story of Genesis as a grand archetype of the human condition in which we find our selves.  In this ancient story of the human condition, we see a place of happiness and true harmony, The Garden of Eden, and the effects that disobedience and pride have produced in the world, suggests that evil is the result of us not acting our nature. Evil is tied to obedience to the will of God, or rather the failure to do God’s will but rather what makes us happy. Like Lucifer, the fallen angel in Scriptural lore, Adam is fallen but is human, not an angel. An angel is not God nor is it human. As the Psalmist says, “you have made him a little less than the angels and crowned him with glory and power..”(Psalm 8:5) Modern psychology does not suffer evil gladly because of its assumption that man is the center of his world, not God.
  2. Unlike Luther’s notion of “pecca fortiter” or sinning bravely, because the grace of God surrounds the intrinsically rotten nature of humanity, like honey covering a piece of toast. We hold that humanity is prone to evil and temptation and in need of God’s redemptive grace but at heart good. We are weak but not evil. The difference may not seem significant, and may not be of interest to the normal believer, but I never considered myself normal.  We have responsibility for our sins and will be judged according to our works in the particular judgment after we die. When it says to renounce myself and take up my cross and follow Christ, as a Lay Cistercian, for me it means it is a struggle to be holy, to love God with all my heart and soul and mind and my neighbor as myself. I think of Phil. 2:5 and think how Christ loved us so much that he gave up being God to take on the nature of a slave. I own my actions, those that are good and those that are evil or sinful.
  3. What is evil?  Is evil the opposite of good? If so, we place good and evil on the same plane of reality. Does evil exist apart from good, or is it the absence of good, the lack of attainment of what Christ wants from his followers, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect? Read what St. Matthew says about being perfect, in the context of love in 5:43. It takes work to keep evil from overtaking the good. Christ gives us the grace and energy, but it is still up to us to take responsibility for the call of adoption of our Baptism and be faithful followers of The Master.
    Love for Enemies
    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[o] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    Who is the evilest person you know? Why is he or she evil? According to modern secularism, everyone is not only entitled to their opinion, but no one can tell you that your opinion is incorrect, or in this case, evil. So, where does evil come from? Traditionally, most people know that what Hitler did was evil? Hitler sincerely believed that what he was doing was the truth. With modern secular thinking, who is to say he is evil? Yet, even Hitler can be forgiven his sins, if he repents. What he did, the actions he took are certainly evil, according to everything we know about good and evil. If Hitler had won WW II, would his perverted notion of good be considered the norm? More needs to be discussed this than can be just described in a blog. I am writing a book entitled And Deliver Us From Evil, that contains some of my reflections on these themes in depth. My perspective is not as a theologian, a scholar, but a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian trying to make sense of our why it is so difficult to take up my cross daily and be perfect.

    4. Is evil relative, as in one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter? What makes evil so evil? Let’s regroup here.  Evil does not come from God because God is the source of good, not evil.  We need a center, a measurement against which we can measure human activity, a sample of human activity that is good. St. Paul provides us with not only the motivation for this sample but states types of human behavior that is evil, evil in the sense of making us less human. He ties evil quite correctly with the freedom to be what we should have been if Adam and Eve have not committed the Orginal Sin. I want you to take some time and reflect on the Christ Principle.

    Galatians 5 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

    For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

    The Nature of Christian Freedom

    Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working[a] through love.

    You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. 10 I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. 11 But my friends,[b] why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

    13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;[c] only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,[d] but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

    The Works of the Flesh

    16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[e] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    The Fruit of the Spirit

    22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

    I like this passage because it stresses love as the principle of good, but love as explained to us by Christ and his death and resurrection (Phil 2:5) Evil comes about when we disobey the will of God, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. That is the archetype of evil. Evil does not exist by itself, in the way love exists. It is the aberration of good, and the fruits of evil are the death of God’s grace and the ability to see with the eyes of Faith. True freedom comes when we submit our wills to that of God, a tall order for our self-indulgent generation.

    If God is not the center of what is the good, then evil becomes relative, i.e., everyone is their own church, their own god, their own moral center. If God is not the principle of goodness, we have nothing against which to measure anything to say that it is evil. except ourselves.This promiscuity of evil is the condition we find ourselves today. We have so many people claiming to have the truth, the way, the life, that we get lost in the seduction of the individual and choice.

    Remember, Jesus was like us in all things except sin.  There is a reason for that statement. There is no sin, no evil in God, only goodness.Evil comes from humans not doing God’s will or acting on the words of God, e.g., The Ten Commandments, The Beatitudes, The Golden Rule.

    Again, Genesis provides the clues to our collective inheritance. It is not man (Adam or Eve or even us) that determines what is good but God alone. In my thinking, God does not choose what is evil, but what is Good and we humans don’t do it. That is what I call evil or also sinful. The danger in all this evil talk is that we become sin-centered rather than grace centered. In their zeal to reform the Church of the Fifteenth Century, reformers certainly had a lot of work cut out for them. My problem is that they made some false assumptions about human nature and how we use grace to enable us to survive in condition of original sin. Some people think we live in an age where promiscuity and licentiousness is the norm rather than the rule of law. We have the rule of law from the State but don’t respect the rule of law that comes from God.

    4. Modern idolatry is the greatest evil. As I see it, idolatry is the greatest evil in the world today. The followers of Christ will be persecuted if the Real Gospel is preached because people will hate you because they cannot be god if they hold your assumptions. (Matthew 24:9)

    “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.”

     

    If you hold B.F.Slinner’s hypothesis about operant conditioning, he says we shy away from discomfort and pain in favor of what is convenient and comfortable. Is evil in the eye of the beholder? Is evil what we say it is, apart from what God thinks? And who intreprets what God thinks, anyway.  That person would wield immense power, even if only perceived power.  If good makes us feel sad or uncomfortable because we don’t understand its implications or we don’t accept God’s power over us, we become the center of the universe, morally and spiritually speaking. That means we are god. It also means we commit idolatry. It is evil that is obscured by our own pride. The cost of discipleship, as described by St. Paul, St. Augustine, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer  God, through Christ’s teaching, invites us to follow his heroic pattern of overcoming obstacles to his mission, giving his life for his cause, rising from the dead, and ascending to the fulfillment of the mission. In many of my conversations with atheists, agnostics, and even some believers, it turns into an infinite loop of trying to prove they are correct. When you know you are correct, anyone else cannot be so. But that is exactly what happens with the follower of Christ who tries to hand on the moral and spiritual practices that come from living the Life of Christ. Never give up your fierce love for Christ, even if everyone else claims to have the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

    5. There is no evil in Heaven. The Lord’s Prayer states, “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Evil is sin and sin means we miss the mark, as an archer aims for the target but misses the bull’s eye. All it takes is practice. As a Lay Cistercian, I try to practice seeking God each day, not passively, but by actively doing good works that lead to strengthing me against the Evil One.  Read Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s rule for a list of those things that help to reinforce goodness and deliver us from evil. There is no room for good and evil in the same room. Hatred and Love can’t exist in the same room together. Where there is God, there is love; where there is love, there is God. It is up to me to struggle with my daily cross of growing from self to God.

    Praise to God the Father,  and the Son, and the Holy Spirit now and forever, the God who was, who is, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. Cistercian Doxology

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