Good Friday Prep: Let’s Talk About Evil

On February 4th, 2010, little Aubrey died in the arms of her parents after a long battle with Rhabdoid cancer.  She was just 9 days shy of her 2nd birthday.  That same month, a disgruntled employee walked into a school in Knoxville, TN and shot two administrators, paralyzing one of them. 

Recently, the Catholic church has been rocked by reports of child sexual abuse at the hands of some of its priests and the question of whether the Vatican knew about, but failed to discipline, the priests involved.  And last week, John and his wife, Terri, faced the unbearable task of burying both of their children after they were killed in a single car accident. 

Whether it’s in the form of a devastating earthquake that kills hundreds of thousands in Haiti; or the ability of someone like Bernie Madoff to steal the life savings from hundreds of hardworking people; or the taunts and bullying of children that leads a young student to commit suicide, evil, it seems, is all around us. 

For whatever reason, I have always been particularly aware of the presence of evil in the world.  It may have something to do with the fact that I experienced evil in a very direct and fundamental way when I was taken by a stranger and molested at 7 years of age.  Facing – and surviving – such an evil as that when you didn’t see it coming forces you to hone your radar and continually monitor the landscape for other possible threats.  And for someone like me who has always been drawn towards God and thoughts about God, it leads you to spend a lot of time considering evil from a theological perspective as well.  I’m not saying that I’ve figured anything out, but I have spent more time than most considering the subject from all angles.

And one of the things that is most interesting to me when talking about evil is how people tend to blame God for it, even unintentionally.  When someone dies, how often do you hear, “God was just ready to call him/her home?”  Or when we hear of a natural disaster we think, “it’s all part of God’s plan.”  I recognize that these responses are a) natural and b) come from a need – a desperate need – to believe that God is in control.  And I’m not saying that God is not in control.  Certainly, He is.  But I don’t think those responses really help us or the situation.

The problem is that when we experience evil and then say that it must be part of God’s plan then we are saying that God’s creation and God’s plan include evil.  How do we reconcile that with the fact that when God created the world He declared it “good?”  How can something be good when it contains evil?  How do we say on one hand that God is perfectly good and loving and on the other that He causes death and destruction?  That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

Evil, I’m pretty sure, did not come from God.  It came from us.  God created a good world, He created us in His image, and He encouraged us to enjoy the beauty of His creation, albeit with a few boundaries.  But we chose to ignore those boundaries, and in doing so ended up unleashing evil into the world.  If anyone’s responsible for evil, it’s us. 

God, then, is doing His best to support us in this world that contains evil.  He is with us as we experience and try to understand the evil.  As William P. Young writes so beautifully in his book, The Shack, God is right there in the midst of our struggles, terrors, and grief, experiencing them with us and making sure we are not alone.  He is trying to help us with the consequences of our actions.  He is trying to save us.

That’s why I think this discussion is important to have on Good Friday.  Good Friday is about the ultimate confrontation between good and evil.  This is the day when Christ died on the cross to save us from the evil that is all around us.  Good Friday wouldn’t make much sense if Christ died to free us from evil that was created by God.  But it does make sense that he did it to save us from the evil that we created. 

The good news about Good Friday – and the reason we declare it “good” – is because Good Friday is always followed by Easter.  Here, the epic battle between good and evil reaches its climax, when Christ is resurrected from the dead and God’s creation is redeemed from evil, sin, and death. 

This is the hope that we have as Christians: that even though we live in a world where evil is a part of our everyday lives it does not win.  And though, while we are on earth, we will still grieve the deaths of loved ones and be overcome by natural disasters, and while we will still wrestle with the pain and horror that comes from evil, yet still we know that God IS in control and is, even now, saving us from sin. 

Thanks be to God for Your perfect goodness, and for the promise of Easter.  Amen.

4 Responses to Good Friday Prep: Let’s Talk About Evil

  1. I like what you had to say about redemption and salvation, but I disagree with you about evil. I don’t think of earthquakes or cancer as evil. Unfortunate results, yes. Evil, no.

    Seismic activity is a neutral phenomenon. It creates land masses and releases pressure through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The creation of Hawaii was a positive result and the devastation of Haiti was what we’d call a negative one, but they come from the same force of nature. Our bodies continue to renew themselves through dividing and renewing cells–cancer is a distortion of the process that brings illness and often death, but it’s not evil. I see these things as akin to electricity–a neutral powerful force that can electrocute, and can light up a home….

    Yes, there is evil in the world. And your examples of pedophiles and Madoff and all those who harm others, are good examples. I agree that God is not the author of evil–that these people made choices that harmed others.

    But God can be the redeemer of all those who have chosen to do evil, if they will repent. There is nothing to repent of, for unfortunate circumstances/natural disasters that aren’t evil, in my opinion.

    Thanks for making me think about this!

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful – and thought-provoking – comments. I really appreciate them and enjoy the dialogue.

      I recognize that it’s easy to see certain human actions as evil but more difficult to see natural phenomena as evil. I understand your point about things such as earthquakes, etc. being “neutral” because they are, seemingly and simply the earth’s way of working out the kinks, so to speak, and creating balance. How can that be evil?

      However, Genesis 3 makes it clear that even creation/nature was affected by original sin: “cursed is the ground because of you . . . thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you (verses 17 – 18).” Because of the fall, creation is no longer as God intended it and is also in need of redemption, just as humans are.

      I think that point is made clear by the fact that these “neutral” phenomena are resulting in death and destruction. In doing so they are no longer “neutral.” Indeed, I would say they are evil, at least in terms of their results. God certainly did not intend for His creation, which was, originally “good,” to cause death and destruction.

      According to Paul, creation is waiting and yearning for redemption just as much as we are: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22 – 23).”

      As you said, God can be the Redeemer of us all, but also of creation. And for that, we give God thanks.

      Thanks again for your comments. Kristen

  2. I am swept away by your comments, because I believe you have come as close as anyone to helping me understand how evil and good abide in our world. I shall pass this on.