Evil, no less
(Submitted for publication by RE Today)
We may easily forget the alternatives open and closed to us concerning our actions, values and beliefs. Christians, naturally, are no different from anybody else but, in addition, we have a variety of emphases which demand a choice of priority. A vital one, for example, is whether being a Christian is primarily a matter of belief in doctrines or a way of life. Jesus had to choose his priorities too. His priority was to demonstrate in his way of life the teaching that, as a Jew, he had learned from God and available Hebrew scriptures. He would therefore have known that Genesis taught the 10 Commandments(1) including the ‘shalt nots’ and that all people are made ‘in the image of God’(2) He confirmed the law to ‘love the Lord your God, with all our heart, your soul and strength’(3) and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ as the two great commandments.
As these are prime Christian and Jewish priorities, respected by all faiths, we may legitimately ask ‘Devil, where art thou?’ Biblical writers, understandably, had varying wise and superstitious ideas about it – often personified and code-named as the Devil and its origins. They, however, take its existence for granted. We know evil has always been with us running the gauntlet of horrific vicious circles, personal and institutional; a different level to crime. The highly symbolic story of the Garden of Eden perhaps reaches to discover its sources. It features the devil (the serpent) as an external force with Eve choosing the bad fruit instead of the good from the tree of knowledge. Later, evil is reported as abounding in Sodom(4). God is portrayed as unsure what to do about its people. Psalm 23 is confident that with God there is no need to fear evil(5). Then Jesus himself is reported to have been tempted on three occasions by ‘the devil’ before telling ‘him’ to get lost. Jesus died for peace against the evil violence of his Roman executors and the Jewish hierarchy. Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer, teaches us to ask God to take a role to ‘deliver us from evil’, Although evil did not feature in Jesus’ vision of loving and abundant life in the Kingdom of God, Christian faith accepts evil’s prevalence but that it can be defeated by the persistence of love.
How do we ourselves respond to love and evil? One priority can be to trust our own experience. Mine is that we are all created by the God of love to be loved and then to love. This has led me to the Christianity which Jesus demonstrated in his life and applies to everyone, whatever their faith or background. It leads to my faith that we are called to live up to our God-given human nature and aim to defeat evil for the survival of ourselves, others and our planet. The love of God, individual, group and community activates our search for a meeting between ‘I and Thou’(6), wishing the best for ‘the other’ in relationships. I do not see evil and suffering, despite tomes on theodicy(7), as being in conflict with a loving God. My first reason is that by definition and whatever our human impression, God is always present irrespective of good and evil, just as the sun remains in existence behind the darkest of clouds, actually and metaphorically. Much depends on how we see God.
My second reason stems from the God-given cycle of life and death. Absence and loss of love and loving relationships, especially through death, are the fundamental inbuilt tragedy of life. Loss of all manner of life’s blessings is secondary but can also weigh very heavily. Looking round from my own life to ‘Syria’ I see no evidence that Jesus or God conquered death and sin on the cross. Loss of love from natural or unnatural causes from babyhood onwards may cause degrees of deprivation, trauma, fear, suffering, pain, gross egotism, anger and vulnerability which by chain reaction may lead to deadly sin and evil. There is no starting from scratch; everybody has a history; there is no, one, original sin. Jesus demonstrated his way of combating it.
And individual freedom to choose evil or not? To a significant degree, without love people can’t choose the good; with love people can’t choose evil. Otherwise, yes and no and I don’t know. Ask God and discuss!
(1) Exodus 20:1-17
(2) Genesis 2:27
(3) Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18
(4) Genesis 18:20-32
(5) Psalm 23:4
(6) e.g. John Hick: ‘Evil and the God of Love’
(7) Martin Buber: ‘I and Thou’