Thoughts on Evil
We like to talk about evil, of course. We know about “evildoers”, many of them inhabitants of the “Axis of Evil”. Still, when we ask ourselves what evil is, our collection of examples doesn’t seem to add up to much understanding. Our sense of evil, it seems, is pretty much subjective. “I (or we) am (or are) good, therefore, those that get in my way, who disagree with me or hurt me are evil”. So the “Great Satan” fights with the Axis and individually each of us has our favorite list of least favorite people.
Of course, there is plenty of evil to go around. We know evil deeds when we see them. The Bible is pretty clear on the subject, actually. Killing, adultery, theft, and idolatry are all bad, for example. They are even more so when they intersect. Jesus deepens this list and makes some “lifestyle suggestions” to help us lead a good life:
Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who treat you spitefully. When a man hits you on the cheek, offer him the other cheek, too; when a man takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you; when a man takes what is your, do not demand it back. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. (Luke 6:28-31)
Jesus gives us some interesting marching orders here and elsewhere. Orders, I must confess, that I have trouble following much of the time. This leads to one way to look at evil. Evil isn’t so much a concrete thing but an absence. It is an absence of what Jesus and others tell us is the way of goodness. It is a hole. It is a rip or tear. We make these holes when we act. We make them when we kill, rape, and steal or when we cheat or lie. We are constantly making holes. Human beings may not be inherently evil, but we are not perfect, either.
Addressing this tendency in ourselves is a big part of what religion should be about. Instead, it seems increasingly that religion is used for exactly the opposite. It is used as a hook or a wedge. It is used to promote self-entitlement, to ease the way toward personal goals and successes at the expense of other individuals and—globally—to other nations. Are you worried about this? I am.
This Sunday many Christian Churches will be reading Ephesians 6:10-20, which reads in part: Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Let us all heed the advice of Paul and put on the whole armor of God. Let remember that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness. That is, the war against evil isn’t going to be won in any actual war or military conflict, but through the use of the weapons of love. Wars represent a failure to use these peaceful weapons, our swords of the spirit effectively. This armor is not a badge or righteousness but a tool for introspection and understanding. Religion is at its best an instrument of peace for both the individual and the community so we must try, try again and first look toward our own hearts and our own souls.
Paul tells us: Examine yourselves: are you living the life of faith? Put yourselves to the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5). Maybe we should do just that. Maybe, as we all return to our “regular” lives this September we should test ourselves and look for ways to live good lives of peace.