Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Great is the Darkness

Why are creepy eyes so ... creepy?
But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! -Matthew 6:23

Again therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life. -John 8:12

What is evil?

A bold question for a silly blog, to be sure. But one that nonetheless needs to be asked. And I think Jesus' words on light and darkness give us deep clues into the mysteries of evil.

Darkness, after all, is not a thing in itself. There's no such thing as darkness, per se. There IS such a thing as light. We can detect photons, we can measure luminosity, we describe the intensity of light in terms of wavelength, spectra, and lumens. But darkness has none of these quantifiers.

What then is darkness? And how does this question relate to evil?

Put simply, darkness is the absence of light.

God didn't create darkness. He created light:

And God said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day. -Genesis 1:3-5

He created light, and distinguished "day" as containing it, and "night" as a state of being apart from it.

The same principle applies to evil and goodness. God did not create evil. A good God cannot create something that is opposed to Himself and to His nature.

For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evils, for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. -Psalm 23:4

I think we often get carried away with evil, so to speak. We tend to think of evil as a thing in itself - violence, impurity, lying, and so on. I could easily quote on of Paul's lists here. The point is that we can identify many activities that we can label "evil." The thing is, they are not so much evil in themselves as though evil is an entity, a thing to itself, so much as they are a list of actions that lack goodness. In much the same way, various dark places are simply ones that lack light.

St Augustine handles this issue beautifully in The Confessions:

Behold God, and behold what God hath created; and God is good, yea, most mightily and incomparably better than all these: but yet He, the Good, created them good; and see how He environeth and fulfils them. Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being? Why then fear we and avoid what is not? ... All which is corrupted is deprived of good. -Confessions, Book VII

That which we call "evil" is merely something that lacks that which we call "good."

Philosophy types call this "the problem of evil."
I say the problem with evil is that it lacks good.
Thinking about it this way perfectly solves the problem of why evil exists. It's a tough question, one with many incarnations, and ultimately a fair one:

If God is so good, why do bad things happen?
How can a good God allow evil in the world?
Why does God permit evil things/people?

This, "the problem of evil," is sort of asking the wrong question. It's like asking, "why does God allow people to trip at night?" It's an oversimplification of God, a misunderstanding on night, and an underestimation of the power of free will.

Free will. Now there's a concept.

God permits evil because God permits us to choose. We can choose to love, choose to honor our bodies and our fellow men, choose to stand firm in the truth, choose to uphold the dignity of human life created "in the image and likeness" of God ... or not.

The choice has such consequences, though. Evil is the absence of God, much like darkness is the absence of light (or cold is the absence of heat). Evil is in the world becauise we choose what is NOT God - we choose works that lack God's light. We choose darkness.

For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God. -John 3:16-21

We can choose God, or we can choose the absence of God.

After all, the absence of God is all that evil is.

If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! -Matthew 6:23

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