One evening this past September, my mother and my mother’s second cousin once removed and my mother’s second cousin’s once removed mother (this would probably sound less complicated if I understood genealogy) and I sat down to catch up with each other, play cards, and drink tea (we were, after all, in Canada). As all good conversations do, our pleasant chat eventually slid toward deeper issues and highly flammable, but meaningful, important topics. The main and final course of our round-table conversation was a debate over the existence or nonexistence of evil. There is a little bit of a pun to be found here. It is my view that evil exists even though it does not “exist.” That is, it exists in absence in the way that coldness exists in the absence of heat.
It was young Einstein who stood up to his atheist, Hume-ist teacher and explained that even if you had never held a million dollars in your own hands, or seen that much cash with your own eyes, it is likely that you nonetheless believe in the existence of a million dollars. Einstein, in the same Socratic speech, also made the profound statement, as all physics teachers do too, that coldness does not exist even though we sense it. Heat can be created because heat is energy. Energy is also quantifiable and undeniably in existence. Coldness, however, is simply the lack of heat.
From the start of the debate on, we took turns shocking each other, Lois being first. The debate may never have come up if not for my mom’s cousin Lois’s straightforward statement that she did not believe in the existence of evil. We were all a bit taken aback at this, at least I was, and Lois’s mother’s expression seemed similar to mine, but with an added undertone of concern. Somehow I thought the only people who denied the existence of evil were pantheists seeking Brahman. Yet here was a lady, related to me no less (though in a complicated way), that saw the world in this light.
I did not get to hear a full explanation of the reasons supporting her view, but before my mom began her retort, Lois explained that the world we see each morning is full of flowers, birds, beauty, and life (truly, New Brunswick is stunning. There is certainly no denying beauty with scenes of rolling farm land and uninterrupted, fertile nature around). If Lois’s version of evil existed, beauty, life, and order would be snuffed out. Evil and good would be so opposing as to be completely incompatible in the same dominion. If I understood her correctly, this was Lois’s argument against evil.
Immediately, this argument did not sit right with my mother. She shared hard facts from personal experience to prove that pure evil does exist and works its havoc in and among us. It was hard to hear. Any relation of evil experienced is a shocking, difficult tale. It proves that life is not all dandelions and sunsets. This we all well know. But if life is not all good, then what is the corruption of good to be called? What is this thing called evil anyway? The argument of pathos seemed to be too situational to really bring the reality of evil home to Lois, so I worked up my courage and decided to step in from another angle.
My seemingly fanatical statement that coldness does not exist was the next crowd shocker. I backed in to my rebuttal in a way that made everyone screw up their faces in confusion. I decided that switching gears so suddenly would help take us out of the sober mode and prepare us for one simply logical. Who knows if it was the best way to go, but I definitely got the look from Lois that said “What are you talking about? I think you must be crazy. Coldness exists. I live in Canada.” But my argument quickly straightened out with the logical, theological clarity that could only be derived from C. S. Lewis. I asked Lois if she had ever heard of C. S. Lewis. She had, so at once she was feeling a bit more comfortable with the information I was about to present. She knew that it was an argument from an authority much more valid and skilled than myself.
Clive Staples Lewis rocked my world, as he often does, when I read his argument explaining the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God in a world of pain and suffering. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis defined his terms to set about laying a solid foundation for his argument. He described evil as the privation of goodness. Quickly broken down, God in His perfect goodness set up the world and mankind. When man sins, man is missing the mark of perfection that God intended for him. Evil is that which is incomplete in goodness and lacking wholeness. Rejection is a lack of acceptance. Anxiety is a lack of peace. Sorrow is a lack of joy, and so on. God is the only one who can create and bring things into being, Lewis continues. Jesus alone has the power to breathe life. All Satan and evil can do is rob from and corrupt what is available. The world is a world in need of the full goodness of God.
Evil plainly exists. It exists in the hand that withholds good from a neglected child. It lies in the impoverished mouths that go underfed and it lies in the broken bosoms of the bereaved and betrayed. We see it all around us, refusing to escape notice.
Lois believes, and believes correctly I think, that a world filled with evil would be in utter chaos and destruction. How is it then that a world clearly infected with evil can continue its orbit day after day? Sometimes I get down in the dumps because of all the suffering, horror, and evil we face walking out our doors, reading the news, and even by our own actions each day.
It is because the world continues to spin that I believe in the ultimate goodness of God. If God’s hand of grace did not stay the world in motion, I do believe the earth would fall into total disarray. The world may end one day; the Bible says it will. But the fact that we are still here is testimony to His patience, love, and mercy toward us, not wanting any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. Without the power of God, we cannot win the war against evil. Whether we like to discover it or not, evil is some pretty tough stuff. C. S. Lewis is much more eloquent than I when he writes, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means- the only complete realist (Mere Christianity).”
I am part of the liberty movement because I support freedom. The ability to act creatively and peacefully is an amazing thing. When we do things the way that God originally prescribed, people, and consequently the world, flourish. We see that free markets work because even with all the millions of people in New York City there is always enough peanut butter to go around. That is order beautifully and intricately displayed in every day life. The more we seek the goodness of God and His ways, the less evil we will see.
An Additional Note on Joy:
I struggle at times with the notion of joy. Joy seems to be a form of betrayal to all those who are trapped in misery. If I rejoice it means that I am forgetting and neglecting, somehow turning my back on their pain. But the juxtaposition is that joy’s function is a healer. In addition, it is a form of heaven and godliness that we all seek.
We may seek joy through somewhat superficial activities: through friends, through comedy or through the simple escape of bleak reality by TV or books. I personally don’t read the definition of joy as an escape and it is certainly, if anything, not superficial. Superficial “joy” must take the name of something else, that fleeting feeling of “happiness” perhaps.
Joy is almost a virtue in of itself. It is the fruit of strong characteristics such as fortitude, faith, and integrity. Joy does not come as a result of an outward influence. It is not “found” at parties, in stories or through laughter. Joy may come upon you as you gaze into the face of a flower. Or, as with Paul and Silas, its unquenchable fire may spring forth in hymns in the midst of chains and beaten backs exposed to a hard jail floor.
Living in joy could actually be seen as bringing heaven to earth. According to my worldview, joy does not come from this earth, but from Him who is joy and who created us in His likeness to envelop and participate in His ways and abundant Being. My own sadness, if not moved into compassionate action, does the disheartened people of the world no good. Joy comes from the hope we have of salvation. No one can take that from us and no one can give it to us but Him.