I recently finished up my paperwork to move into the next step for ordination. One of the things I had to do was write out my faith statement followed by a deeper explanation of one of the subjects within that statement. A brief, one-page explanation. I chose to write about evil, because that’s easy to succinctly define, explain, and say what God thinks about. My one page ended up being nearly two, and I could have easily stretched it out into one hundred. Evil is a huge subject, and it’s something we all think about at one time or another. It’s something we discuss; it’s something that happens around us; it’s something that affects us.
We want answers to why kids kill one another. We want answers to why adults allow kids to kill one another. We want answers to why adults kill one another. We want answers to why people suffer, starve, thirst, or remain in pain for years. We want answers to why there is injustice, inequality, and all the -isms (racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc.). We want answers to cyclones and earthquakes and forest fires. If we were created to be good and decent beings, why are we so terrible to one another?
The other night I was talking with my dad about all of this and I mentioned that I’ve been trying to pin down exactly when everything went south. My belief system tells me that it happened in the garden of Eden, but I want more. I want someone or something very concrete to blame for why the world is the way it is, and I want that someone to be more recent than the dawn of time.
I want to blame the generation before mine for being so wild and free. But…
They can blame the generation before for being too restrictive and controlling.
And they can blame the generation before for being too turbulent and unstable.
They can blame the generation before for being too exploratory and chaotic.
And they can blame the generation before them for being too…
They can blame the generation before…
And they can blame…
We all want to blame someone or something else for the evil in this world because it’s so un-explainable. While I believe that there are supernatural ‘things’ moving in this world and contributing to evil, ‘the devil made me do it’ is not entirely the answer. There has to be more.
Certainly some people choose to act in evil: murder, rape, fighting, slander, gossip, etc. Sometimes people have to choose evil to obtain good: stealing bread to feed a family, fighting in a war to free captives, supporting the enemy of my enemy. But some people inadvertently choose evil: buying from unethical corporations, voting for leaders who are unknowingly evil, having health insurance with a company that denies life-saving procedures. Sometimes there’s just evil in this world – hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. – these aren’t evil in-and-of themselves, but they cause evil through senseless death and destruction.
Why does a good God permit evil? Why does God allow bad things to happen? Where is God when evil is occurring? Does God want evil in this world since it seems like nothing is changing?
As much as I hate to do it, I have to admit that we live in a fallen world that started with Adam. Paul wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth…” and that we as people “…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23, NRSV). While we live with the consequences of that far-away sin, we live with hope for reconciliation and renewal in the future.
Sometimes evil is supernatural. There is an enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). We can’t blame all evil on this enemy, but we should acknowledge its existence and movement in the world.
Sometimes evil happens so that good can happen: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). I am not a fan of this, and we should never ever say this in the midst of evil. [Seriously. Don’t console people with this.] This is a hindsight perspective when we can see where things were terrible and how that moved us forward.
Sometimes evil is un-explainable. We can point fingers at God, at society, and at each other, but there’s nothing and no one specifically to blame. It’s just there.
I think there are some things we can do when we’re faced with evil:
- First, we should never stop having the discussion with God. We should question why evil exists, why such a good and loving God would allow evil, and why nothing is being done to change it. We should always have these conversations with our Creator.
- Second, we should never stop trying to combat evil. We can divest and boycott, protest and march and refuse to back down. We can write letters, campaign against evil, speak for victims, and give space for victims to speak themselves. We can wisely support programs, organizations, and companies working against evil in the world.
- Third, we should do all the good that we possibly can in complete opposition to evil. We can offer our time and resources to developing and supporting good. We can encourage and pray for those who are in the midst of evil. We can be a present and active source of good in the world.
It’s not easy work – either understanding evil nor working against it – but it’s work that needs to be done. May God give us courage and resilience to witness, stand against, and oppose the evil in this world. May God give us hope and strength to encourage and heal those wounded by evil. May God give us voices to always ask our Creator and one another why evil occurs. And may we someday find the answer.
much love. sheth.