Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Good and Evil

Yesterday, we entered into sticky theological territory by discovering that God actually only created light; it was the light that created the darkness, which left God with the work of separating the two. Although this is troubling, the question at hand is not really about light and darkness at all, but about something much more distressing.

Good...and evil.

The most frequent questions people have for God and about God centers around the existence of evil. Why is there evil in the world? Where did evil come from? Is God responsible for evil? Why hasn't God done anything about evil? This is the question that is most pressing to our faith.

And it's why I started with darkness and light. Because good and evil work on fairly the same principle. Just as God created the light and the light created darkness, so God created the good, and the good created the evil. And God has spent every moment since trying to separate the two.

It's not theologically satisfying. It's not a lot of comfort in the face of life's evils. But evil is a theological necessity; it illuminates the good. 

You wouldn't think that, right? We were always taught that it was the light that illuminates the darkness, but how can that possibly be the case if light is the only of those two things that actually exists? That is, you cannot create darkness; it is only a corruption of the light. Without darkness, you cannot know what light even is. If everything were light, it would be simply the way things are, and this light would be nothing at all. The darkness puts the light into perspective for us. It lets us see what "light" really is, by creating a void to show us what light must not be. Light must not be darkness.

The same is true with good and evil. Evil on its own does not actually exist. You cannot create evil; it is only a corruption of the good. (Augustine argued this very idea more than a thousand years ago.) But without evil, you cannot know what good even is. If everything were good, it would simply be the way things are, and you could put no qualitative judgment on it. Good would be nothing at all. Evil puts good into perspective for us. It lets us see what "good" really is, by creating a corruption that shows us what good must not be. Good must not be evil.

Still, the question remains: why doesn't God do anything about evil? Why doesn't God simply overcome evil with good? 

He can't. 

Actually, nobody can. Despite what we think, good cannot overcome evil because evil itself exists only as a corruption of the good, so the more good you put into something, the more opportunity for evil you create. The more light you pour into a forest, the darker the shadows. That's just how it works. For God to overcome evil, He would have to use something other than good. He would have to use power. Or authority. Or some other force. But there's one significant problem with this:

If God overcomes evil by power or authority or some other force, He fails to show us how good He is. If God overcomes evil, we can never possibly know His goodness. 

That's why this is such sticky theology. It's not that God is responsible for evil or that He's idle about the whole idea. No. Evil exists by natural law only because good exists, and that good, like light, is a gift of God. It's a reflection of Himself that He's endowed to Creation itself. The same way that we say God is light and He has created such a thing as light, we say also that God is good, and He has created such a thing as good. Necessarily, so that we could know that good at all, it is susceptible to corruption - evil - but evil never changes the good.

Just as shadows never change the light.

There are no easy answers here, which is why these questions continue to plague us. But there is one more thing (at least) that we can learn from this reflection on light and darkness, good and evil, that may put some perspective (quite literally) on the whole thing. That idea, tomorrow. Stay tuned. 

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