Where does evil come from?
What a good question. I had hoped that the answer might be Acton but I fear it may be slightly more complicated than taking the District Line and changing at Earls Court. I will therefore endeavour to shed some light on this.
What is “evil”? As I have been thinking about this, I was struck that what we generally describe as evil are immoral acts. For example, we would describe the murder or rape of a person as an evil act but when addressing a natural disaster we call it just this, a natural disaster. As far as I remember, in the headlines following the tsunami no language of evil was used, but the comments flying around after 9/11 were full of moral outrage. The suffering caused by these events needs to be considered but here I’ll solely deal with moral evil and its source.
Here’s the philosophical bit. Logic states that to describe something as evil requires you to differentiate it from what is not evil. Just as darkness can’t be understood without the existence of light, evil can’t be distinguished outside the reality of good. By asking the question above, you are recognising the reality of something other or better than evil from which you judge a certain action or inaction as evil. It is all well and good to talk of evil in the abstract and together with its obvious extremes of severity, but how do we relate this to the everyday reality we experience? What is it about evil that is so, well, evil?
We would all agree, I hope, that for a man forcefully rape a woman is a horrible inhuman act, but how does a human being get to the point of doing something so terrible? I can only start to understand this and mankind’s propensity to do evil when I look at my own experience. I realised that I too am capable of stooping so low. As a 14 year old boy I found some pornography on the side of the road as I was coming home from school. I picked it up and became fascinated by it. I hid it in the garden and would often go out for a fix. But what is evil about this? Surely as a hormonal teenager this is normal and doesn’t hurt anyone? Well, what happened was that my relationship to women began to change. I started seeing them solely as sexual objects. I struggled to relate to them as I should. I did eventually manage to see that something wasn’t right and destroyed it all. But in hindsight I realised that this seemingly harmless choice of mine, if continued to be pursued, could have led to much worse things. I have had to try since then to rebuild what damage may have been done to my relationships.
Evil then seems to me to have a common characteristic. Whether it is being inflicted or received, it damages our ability to relate to one another – from the extreme of murder where we are completely cut off from any possible relationship to emotional hurt that hampers our healthy development as humans.
As Christians we bring God into the equation as the creator of all things and the standard of good by which we can fully understand evil but this raises more questions. For a start the title of this article leads us to ask whether the good God we talk about is also the creator of evil things. As in the light analogy the possibility of evil is inevitably there. But how and why a good creator would allow evil to change from a possibility into a reality is the obvious question. Well, this gets to the core of what Christians believe. God in giving us freedom to will good things, inevitably opened up the possibility of us also willing evil.
But how can God allow this evil to continue? The reason I believe is this: I realised that the finger I love to point at the wrong in the world can almost always be turned back on to me. So to rid the world of evil would remove me from the equation also. So in allowing it to continue he is showing me and us mercy. The one human in history who, judged by the same criteria, would be left standing as perfect is Jesus – he is the one who also offers us the solution.
So the origin of evil does in a weird way come from Acton as well as all other places where humans exist.