By Dr Ramesh Richard
Unmasking the mystery of evil
BOSTON BOMBING, April 15, 2013. Three people are confirmed dead and at least 170 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the Boston Marathon.
(Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Some of you are presently facing personal evil. You may be sitting on a hospital bed waiting out your days to die.
Maybe someone you love, or who hates you, has attacked you or even attempted to murder you.
Across the world, violence, shootings, and ethnic cleansing constantly threaten minority communities. In Southern Africa, a country may lose its entire male workforce over the next 10 years because of AIDS. Currently, a million men are staring at each other across national borders, not knowing if they are going to fight a traditional or nuclear war.
Floods, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis constantly threaten our world.
The mystery of evil is a uniquely human question and it is one that forces us to identify our humanness. We look for hope and feel the intellectual, moral, emotional, and physical anguish of pain.
Consider how evil unmasks who we are.
First, evil tells us we are not animals.
Unlike animals, we can think reflectively and abstractly with the gift of language. We ponder, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The power of reflection helps us grasp that evil, while abstract in concept, is always embodied in something — an evil person, evil thing, or evil action.
Evil cannot exist independently. Philosophers illustrate this with a new sheet of paper. If you fold it in half and tear a hole, it becomes tainted, unusable, or ‘evil’. Take away the border of that torn piece of paper and you have… nothing. If you take that hole out, you have a completely good sheet of paper.
Therefore, evil can only exist in the context of good — not by itself. So when we say, “God created all things,” it does not imply that God created evil because evil is not a thing in itself.
Second, evil discloses that human beings are not machines.
A machine can only choose between options; it cannot choose against an option like we can. The contest between IBM’s Deep Blue and Russian chess genius Gary Kasparov shows that several bright human minds wielding a super-computer are together better than one gifted human without a computer.
The most advanced artificially intelligent machine can choose against a bad option if it’s programmed to choose a good option but it cannot choose against a good option if it’s programmed to choose that specific option.
In our human choice, we locate the origins of earthly evil. When God created human beings, He didn’t make us machines. He gave us the privilege to choose against Him, and we exercised that choice.
The gift of freedom makes evil possible; but it does not make evil necessary. Just like an airline company is not held responsible for a hijacker taking a good plane and using it for destruction, we cannot hold God responsible for making evil actions possible.
We’ve hijacked freedom and used it for evil. Evil unmasks who we are.
Third, evil tells us we’re not demons.
Some believe in neither demons nor Satan and yet others worship demons.
Demons don’t possess the ability or inclination to do good. They don’t have the capacity to show moral sympathy, experience empathy, and serve compassionately. Demons cheer when evil happens.
Demonic attempts to dismiss or downgrade the problem of evil include attempts to deny the reality of evil, and that it is universal. Of course, weeping at the funeral of a prematurely dead loved one or the deaths of 100,000 people in natural disaster is reality, and not simply in your mind.
Fourth, evil also tells humans that we are not angels.
Angels experience no tears, no death, and no anxiety. Angels don’t feel physical pain, But we mourn, we groan, we cry, and we die.
The biggest difference between angels and humans in terms of evil, however, is that we hold the power to err—to do wrong, to sin, and even to destroy.
Did you notice that the most “advanced” of all centuries, the 20th century, also turned out to be the bloodiest?
The whole world and all of history is made up of people like you and me who can do wrong. Nobody taught you to do wrong. There’s a nature inside you, which differentiates you from angels.
Finally, in exposing our humanness, evil tells us that we are not God.
A judge once dismissed a man’s appeal to change his name to “God.” Instead, he changed it to “I am Who I am.” We are certain that humans are not God.
To many, God doesn’t appear to care about us. He seems impotent and therefore unable; immoral and therefore unconcerned; ignorant and therefore vague in addressing the mystery of evil.
For God to resolve the human predicament, He’d have to live among us, experience evil, and show us the way to a permanent solution.
This is where I have some extraordinary news. Evil has unmasked who God is.
May I point you to the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only claimed to be God, but went through the full range of human pain and suffering as a man.
Unlike an animal and a machine, He was confronted with and chose from moral options. He was tested at every point of our human weakness, but lived a perfect life. His adversaries could only truthfully accuse Him of claiming to be God.
Unlike a demon, He experienced and tackled emotional anguish. At the tomb of a beloved friend, He snorted in anger over death’s intrusion into the human situation.
God did not create human beings to die; yet humans chose against God’s desire, thus ending up in physical death and eternal separation from God. Jesus wept in sorrow when His dear friend died… but then He raised him from the dead.
Unlike an angel, He endured and suffered physical pain. Brutalized on a cross, Jesus died in the most atrocious form of capital punishment then known to man. Without protest He underwent tremendous physical pain.
To counter your charges, disarm your criticism, and address your complaints, He experienced the humanness of pain and the pain of humanness. Thereby God established His trustworthiness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is not some kind of abstract, impersonal God against whom you can levy charges of irrelevance, imperfection, ignorance, and impotence.
He gained the ultimate human victory to provide the guaranteed offer of a permanent death-free, tear-free, pain-free environment for humanity.
God the Father raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead in the only verifiable, resurrection in all history, and He offers His life as a free gift for those who receive Him in faith.
You can have hope right now, in the present, as you face the full spectrum of intellectual, moral, emotional, and physical pain. But you can also have hope forever when you embrace the Lord Jesus as your only God and Saviour. You can permanently live without evil in eternity.
Dr Ramesh Richard holds Doctorates in Philosophy and Theology.