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Good and Evil in Theology

Many a sincere person is plagued by the question whether something is morally evil or good; or at least whether the consequences of a course of action are beneficial and advantageous, or negative and harmful in one way or another. Since we ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil things tend to be mixed up into a grey mess out which one must fish the right behavior. The Bible serves as a kind of manual to help us to discern right from wrong.

"Shaping light and creating darkness; making peace and creating evil: I the Lord am doing all these things (Is. 45.7)."

"Tree of knowledge of good and evil"

"Tree of Life"

Literal or physical aspect

Intellectual aspect

Emotional aspect

Spiritual aspect

"Drink also a little wine because of your stomach and many weaknesses." "God gives us abundantly for our enjoyment." "Mortify then your members that are upon earth, namely fornication, uncleanness, greed, which is idolatry."

"I know and am sure in the Lord Jesus that nothing is evil in itself, but for the person that considers it unclean." "Be transformed through the renewal of your mind."

"Sin is lawlessness."

"Only One is good, namely God."

Evil is the absence of good. Privatio boni.

Drinking only water and the like is good. It is good to avoid pleasure. It only leads to evil.

Easy divorce is OK. God and Satan are personifications of good and evil.

Pleasure is evil. Only uprightness is good.

Promiscuity is OK. Pleasure is the thing to go for. Good and evil do not exist.

Practice of flagellation of self. Pleasure is evil. Even our private parts are evil. Good and evil are two sides of the same coin.

Evil is good and good is evil.

In Isaiah 45.7 it says: Shaping light and creating darkness; making peace and creating evil: I the Lord am doing all these things. However this does not make God the author of sin. We humans turn evil into sin. God creates evil as a possibility to sin. But evil can also mean bad circumstances and in that sense God did not just allow Satan to visit Job home, He took part in it by giving the devil freedom to plague Job. Evil in the sense of the possibility of sin, God is indeed the author of that. He wants to give us a choice, for or against Him. And he that is not for Me, is against Me Jesus stated.

The most extreme position is to turn good into evil and evil into good. One of the great prophets talks about people that are wise in evil. No doubt to seduce the unsuspecting. It is less extreme to deny the existence of good and evil, as in atheism. Or to teach that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, as in Hinduism. This makes atheism a meaningless philosophy and Hinduism impractical.

The idea that God and the devil are mere personifications of good and evil is not much better and turns the reality of suffering still into meaningless nihilism. The opposite idea that pleasure is somehow evil and that only a (vague) uprightness is good, fails to do justice to the fact that inherent in consumption of food and the act of love making, is the distinct experience of supreme wellbeing. Also the Bible clearly states that nothing is evil in itself. Let us give a nuance. Sex is not evil, but the way you use it can be evil. It is not as much what we do, that is evil, but the way we do it.

The Catholic notion that evil is somehow the absence of good (the more evil, the less good is in it), contradicts clear biblical statements that sin is lawlessness and Samuel's disobedience is as the sin of divination and being stubborn is as iniquity and idolatry. Sin is the stark and active rebellion against God. Opposite to that is the exaggerated and practically mystical and idealistic notion of the avoidance of pleasure out of fear that it will lead to evil. Suppressing healthy desires can turn into an about-face. These two opposing notions have in common that they misrepresent evil and turn good into an understatement. As often, mutually opposite notions can go together as in splits.

Theory and practice go together and in this way one's theology corroborates one's behavior and vice versa. Many people land in a vicious circle that spirals downwards. Most vacillate between the various sides that are felt as tensions in their lives. As ever the Bible teaches the true golden mean at the edges of the sword and that warns us against compromises on the right and on the left. The problem is that we, more often than not, mistake a compromise for the true golden mean. We tend to experience the possibilities creation offers as tensions. On the one hand you have the pleasure of sex and on the other hand you have the awareness of runaway desire. This tension is often projected on healthy and pure desire itself and so it could happen that sex was condemned as a pleasure, but condoned as a necessary evil for procreation, thus preaching an hypocritical and torturous lifestyle.

It takes a lifetime of spiritual struggle to acquire virtue and wisdom and almost nobody arrives at that and still lives to fine tune it. People like Solomon became wise at an early age, but yet at a certain time sex got the better of him. The art, therefore, is not to shrink away from sex on the one hand and on the other hand to keep desire in checks and balances. To keep being temperate all during your life, is next to impossible for all of us. Often we, at least in food and drink, become lax and we can even develop a pot belly. Let us then remember and think of Scriptures like The kingdom of God does not exist in eating and drinking, but in righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He that is serving Christ in Him (the Holy Spirit) is well pleasing to God and acceptable for people in general.



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