In my last blog post, I began to discuss the problem of evil. Evil has affected everyone to varying degrees in their lives. But as we get started on this series, we need to first clarify exactly what it is we are talking about. What exactly is evil?
When someone offers me the objection that God can’t exist because of all the evil in the world, the first question I always ask is “What do you mean by evil?”. The person will usually wind up giving me an answer in which they give examples of evil acts. Rape, murder, theft, lying and cheating on one’s spouse are all examples that are offered up. At this point I have to stop the challenger, because they are not answering the question I asked. They are giving examples of evil, but they are not telling me what evil actually is.
How Would You Describe Evil?
Have you ever thought about that? If asked, how would you describe what evil is? Evil isn’t a physical substance. We can’t weight or measure evil. We know intuitively that there are varying degrees of evil acts. But how would you tell exactly how much evil is in a certain act?
There are many people however that don’t believe in good or evil. They say that everything is relative, and that we shouldn’t label acts as good or evil. Everything is just a matter of opinion.
Does Evil Actually Exist?
You may have heard recently about a couple that decided evil was just a societal construct and set out to prove their theory by cycling around the world. From one of their blog entries, we get a glimpse of their view of evil:
“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” Austin wrote. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.”
“I don’t buy it,” he continued. “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”
Tragically, the couple was killed by ISIS while traveling through Tajikistan.
Can We Live This View Out?
The problem is this. People make these types of statements, but they can rarely live out the point of view they are advancing. Think I’m kidding? All you have to do is watch someone’s Facebook posts for about a week, and you will find out what they really believe about evil. They may say there is no evil, but they will rail against injustice when they see it. They may attack one of the political parties, animal cruelty, harming the environment, gun violence or a host of other perceived wrongs. Even anti-religion advocates, while denying there is an absolute standard of good and evil, will take Christians to task for evil done by other Christians or by God Himself. But wait, isn’t it their point of view that there is no right and wrong and that evil doesn’t exist?
So What Is It?
So what is evil? Evil is like darkness. Darkness isn’t a thing per say, it’s an absence of light. In the same way, evil is an absence of good. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it like this:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
If there is not absolute standard of good by which we can judge, nothing can be considered good or evil. It all just becomes a matter of opinion. When we say things like slavery, genocide and mass murder are evil, were not just describing how we feel about these acts. They’re not wrong because we don’t like them, they are wrong no matter how we feel about them.
Ok, so we know what evil is. It’s a lack of goodness. But that still doesn’t explain why, if there is a good and loving God, he would continue to allow evil to exist. We’ll begin looking at why God might allow evil to exist in the next post.
6 thoughts on “What Is Evil?”
Good post. This is something I’ve been pondering lately too. My summary would be phrased similarly. I think of evil as a perversion of good. In the example by Lewis, the twisted stick is there. It’s not that the straight stick is missing. It’s that it’s been twisted, perverted.
Keep up the good posts. I appreciate your ability to explain apologetic topics in everyday language.
Thank you so much Mary. I appreciate the kind words!
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