The 1930’s radio show “The Shadow” began with the provocative question, “What evil lurks in the heart of men?” And it immediately answered itself, “The Shadow knows!” This flashed in my mind when I read a statement in my Logic textbook. The Logic book said that Orthodox Christianity does not believe in the existence of evil in itself. In other words, evil is not a creative force, but a corrupting force. Evil is the absence of the Good thing that should be there. Evil is not something that God created to balance out Good. Evil is a corruption of Good. Evil is the shadow cast when something stands between the action and it’s Goodness. In other words, there is little to nothing that can be considered “sin” or “evil” or “wrong” in and of itself. On the surface “killing” and “murder” look the same, but they are worlds apart when it comes to the heart motivations, and reasons.
One would be hard pressed to find anyone who wakes up in the morning and decides, “today I’m going to be as evil as I can possibly be.” Sure, you may find plenty who rebel against a competing moral code. Someone may say in so many words, “I’m going to go against the Christian morality.” Or possibly someone may say, “I’m going to be intentionally evil by the standards of liberal intellectuals.” However, people don’t generally decide, “Today I’m going to behave intentionally opposite of my own deeply held beliefs and morals.” John Wilkes Booth didn’t think he was murdering the Great Emancipator. He believed he was destroying a tyrant. Adolph Hitler didn’t believe he was murdering masses of God’s children. He believed he was creating a super race of humans and working toward the greater good. Even when we know we are doing wrong we find some reason why in this circumstance our wrong is really the only possible way we could behave. But, we do not commit real evils just for the sake of committing evils.
So, how does this apply in real life? I mean, it’s well and good to realize that evil is a shadow version of good, but what do I do with that? The answer is twofold. Forgiveness and watchfulness. The Bible teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. C.S. Lewis aptly points out that when we love ourselves it does not mean that we feel warm and fuzzy towards ourselves. We don’t always like ourselves or our actions. We truly desire correction and discipline. But with others we tend to favor condemnation and punishment. If we are going to love others the way we love ourselves, then we are to give them the same benefit of the doubt that we give ourselves. We are to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean that we shield anyone from the consequences of their actions. This does not mean that we allow a non-repentant person to continue to behave in a way that is destructive to those around him. But forgiveness does mean that we avoid viewing that person as “evil.” It means that we look at our neighbor who is behaving in an evil way as exactly the same type of broken person as we are. We do our best to consider how we might act in that person’s circumstances. We do not condecend. We realize that it is only God’s Grace that keeps us free from that sin, and only God’s Grace that keeps others free from our own sin.
The other aspect is watchfulness. When we realize that even the ones who have done the most heinous actions were behaving in ways that they believed to be just and moral (or at least excusable), we can start to look at our own motivations a bit more closely. We can be more aware when we are making excuses. We can be more aware of our own hidden motivations that turn our Good into Evil. We can, with the help of the Spirit, begin to discern exactly what it is that is turning our righteousness into filthy rags.
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” – Proverbs 20:5