Evil Is ___?
Considerations of the Existence and Cause of Moral Evil (Proverbs:8:13)by Randy Pritts 10/30/2020
I would like for the next few moments for all of us to set aside any preconceived ideas of moral evil. Wipe it all clear from our mind's chalkboard and try to re-imagine it right from the very start. I don't want you thinking that there is not evil, I just want you thinking that not a single one of us actually knows what it is. Can we all do that temporarily?
Now, without adding your own notions back in, I want you to add back in all the competing notions of others regarding evil. Competing I say because there are various views in this regard. Some people view people of another race as evil for instance, some a different caste or culture, some an opposing religion, another political party, and so forth. There are some perceptions that most of us have in common, like murder, like stealing, but even then there are vast discrepancies on what constitutes murder and what if any punishment is appropriate. Let's detach our personal views from this consideration for the time being.
The first question that I have for us to consider is this "what makes any of these other competing notions of evil any more correct than any the rest"?
Now then, let us clear the board one more time, remove all our preconceived notions and just add back in God's; God's perception of moral evil.
Our topic today stems from my recent wrestling match with King Solomon's Proverbs 8:13 which reads:
Proverbs 8:13 kjv
At first I thought I knew what evil meant here, isn't it clearly illustrated in the phrase "pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth". I am a Christian who believes wholeheartedly that he does "fear the Lord" most certainly, dare I say most properly.
But wait! Hasn't the hate of evil in the Christian past also brought about a pride and arrogancy and evil way and froward mouth of its own? Haven't the devotees of competing religions brought about much of the same? Haven't the members of all various religious and non-religious persuasions for all of their good intentions also produced considerable evil? Either hate means something completely other than what I first expected, or else reverence does.
- Initial Considerations:
- Whether you believe in a Creator or interpersonal Supreme Being or not, I am going to ask you for this consideration's sake to just imagine for the time being God as the absolute truth and absolute authority. Who and what HE is we don't know. We will just think of HIM as "mysterious God". Please indulge me this for a short time!
- I also want you to suppose the greater context of the chapter from which this verse has been lifted (Proverbs 8) is true. Wisdom has been with God from before the creation, wisdom is behind everything God has done since, God's end objective is wise, and that this same wisdom has been calling out to mankind to hear and thus be a benefactor of. This is Wisdom's voice Solomon is portraying to have said these things "do I hate".
As of right now we should only have our chalkboard filled with the perceptions of God towards evil, not any notion other. Such a consideration is very difficult, isn't it? That is because none of us can really claim that we know who this God is. I would like to keep that nebulous unfamiliarity in-front of us for a while, as we continue it will benefit our further considerations.
(it's only fair that we take the author's words in complete context)
- "The Evil Way"
- "A Froward Mouth"
- Context context context
Pride is our first major consideration. I would like for us to think in whole different terms for a moment. Let us think not so much in terms of deeds that are done and intentions, but final outcomes. "A good tree cannot bear evil fruit". Remember now that there is nothing but mysterious God's perception of evil up on our chalkboard.
What if all man has done and said, all the good and bad and best intentions, all the time spent, the blood sweat and tears expended, in the end comes down to one final thing; like the bible in-visions, something like an Armageddon? Can not everything that lead to that climatic evil be said also to have been evil? It did not prevent it from happening? It might be said in some ways everything supported it. What then would any of us have to be proud about?
What if in the mid 1960's it had all come down to the fulfillment of "mutually assured nuclear destruction"? Would there have been any thing left for science to have been to have been proud of? Would there have been anything for the government systems and politicians to have boasted about? Would it have matter which country was right and which country was wrong in the matter? Would any of us that had let it come to this have any cause for great swelling? No, despite the good ethics and good morality, the good families and marriages, the farmers and fishermen and artisans and poets, someone looking at all this from outside would see it for one accumulating thing and would want to keep their alternate universe far far from any of this. Thankfully in the 60's it never did come to this, I present it as a matter of illustration, that the parts of a moral society are never greater than its final sum. Intended or unintended, that which we are proud of is not the appropriate measure to gauge what evil is.
The Soviets did not intend to kill the millions of its own citizens that it ended up killing. They thought it good to tear down the ruling class of bourgeoisie, but in doing so they shattered the moral hedge of public trust and perceived security and justice. They opened the door to a whole lot of what everyone of us would call moral evil and made way for an unstoppable totalitarian tyrant who for his own political survival attempted to squelch the voice of the intelligentsia and proletariat. Was what every citizen soviet citizen thought and did evil? Certainly not. Yet in terms of outcome a whole lot of evil was done despite what every citizen had intended.
Let's scale that illustration down quite a bit. Let's consider an abusive jailer. The jailer is a family man. He provides very well for his family. He is an elder in his church and by all accounts a model citizen. The question is "how much good does it take to counter balance or exceed the abusiveness he inflicts upon his prisoners? How can a man who is not evil by most standards do evil?
Big scale evil or small, is there not a overwhelming amount of self exaltation found at the core? Now certainly that is not all that makes up evil, but it is enough to go along way. If we can see that, well so can this mysterious God. Mysterious God would of course be right in hating this.
As of yet we have not spoken of who this mysterious God is, only how HE might see things as they accumulate and develop here on earth. We can see by this however the value we give to pride might not translate to the value HE places against it. If this is true on the extreme grand scale it may hold true on the much smaller personal scale as well.
Arrogancy is having been told better, but defiantly doing it your way anyway. Remember that we haven't yet establish who this mysterious God is. We are only supposing that in one way or another HE has made wisdom known either through some innate moral conscience, perhaps some direct intervention or overarching moral law, or some discernable rational intelligence. The arrogancy of evil suggests what has been made known is overruled or subverted. It presents itself in many similar forms.
One observable form of this is the idea that "it is not wrong unless I get caught". Another is the notion of "it is not wrong if it doesn't hurt anyone". Wrong does not always equate to evil, but the mechanism works just the same. Other examples of this are the "there is no one greater to hold me accountable for this" and "I don't care what other people think - this is what I want" line of thought.
So now scale this arrogant concept to the big scale picture. Wisdom would suggest that every single person is capable of doing evil, even those who are not evil, even those who presume that they are acting on good intentions. Not to pick on the soviet revolution (but it is such a ripe and recent example), the whole idea behind the revolution was that the capitalist bourgeoisie were corrupt or evil and that the working proletariat was not. Truth is that there is a capability of evil innate to both; innate to all political and economic systems. A better way to explain it is that the ability to do evil is innate in man regardless of political/economic (and yes even religious) systems. Systems such as these are man made moral constructs, while they are intended to contain evil, evil rarely is entirely submissive to them. Even if we were to come to a pure Marxist stateless society we would still be contending with just as much evil if not more so. This is the fatal flaw of Karl Marx's sociology. It is the arrogancy of a great many other competing ideologies as well.
If these words of King Solomon ring true, it is not the system so much that the LORD hates, it is the evil.
On the smaller scale much of the same can be observed in a myriad of peculiar forms. The high school shooter is one claiming to have been wronged. The riotous are the ones claiming to only have grievances. A cartoon of Mohamed in a newspaper justifies the endangerment of millions of innocent French citizens. The examples go on in on. What is common in all of these observations? Arrogancy.
For the most part we can assert that this mysterious God has mostly been tolerant thus far of our twists of morality and behavior. If this God does exist, that can mean one of two things, either we are not evil enough for HIM to do something about it or that HE is allowing us to prove ourselves convincingly arrogant. Which is more likely?
Have we been told by mysterious God how to make it better? If you believe the proposition true, why then are we not doing that? Could it be our mutual arrogance?
The word chosen by Solomon translated "way" in the English better means the "course of life" in the Hebrew. The concept of evil is not being repeated in the verse, it is being more narrowly targeted. Again, I would like to consider this in a much different way.
The normal course of life I believe is not to do evil. Seldom is evil ever intended or planned for. There is just a progression that evil normally takes. I imagine upon seeing the news reels of piled up Jewish bodies that the majority of Germans asked themselves for the first time "how did what we all thought we were doing ever come to this"? (I imagine that the Germans will forever be asking just that). The course evil will take is not ever fully known, if it were able to be known we likely would not take it (or so we presume). Yet, we do arrive at that unintended point often times just the same.
Now there are certain things that the Germans may have done that hastened evil's arrival. No one at the time though would have said by doing this and that and that and this evil would certainly come from it (not even the religious Lutherans that made up over 70% of the population at that time). The bending of a moral here and there we all partake of no doubt. A little bending here and there rarely does it hurt any one of us. It is the accumulation of 150 million little bendings that hurts the society as a whole, and then the wounded society bites back at the individual who is oblivious to what action that has just transpired.
There definitely is a "way" or "momentum" or "gravity" behind evil. Mysterious God need not blaze this trail for us, we are perfectly capable of blazing this trail for ourselves. If there is a LORD looking down upon all of this, it wouldn't be with much amusement, HE would very much have a right to hate this "way" about us.
This is a fraudulent mouth in contemporary terms; a mouth that sells us on the much desirable thing but delivers to us quite another, takes from us something valued and returns to us what is not. Like I suggested previously, had we known that this would end up at evil, we would to like to think we would have avoided that. Rarely is evil sold to us as evil. It is sold to us as something much to be desired. The bible says "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" kjv@Genesis:3:6. Maybe the froward mouth can be thought of as something just as simple as that.
What one wants does not always equate to what one gets. What we have been sold on by these many social and economic ideologies and what we have been sold on by each other as a group of congregated peers bares little resemblance to what in return for our investment and loyalty ever receive.
From a biblical perspective there are also this to consider. From the time of Adam to Moses (several generations) God did leave it in the hands of man's innate moral conscience or relative morality. Within that time in the second generation we already have a murder over a religious sacrifice (pride). Within a few more generations we have people bragging of committing multiple murders, the daughters of Adam marrying and mating the "renowned" (arrogance). By the time of Noah we have God judging the entire population for the reason that the imaginations of their hearts were only continually evil, and yet at the same time, we see the population so unconcerned about evil and judgment as to be marrying and carrying on as if it all were normal and agreed upon (the evil way). In the time of Nimrod we hear it said "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" nkjv@Genesis:11:4 (froward mouth).
Let me further add: In the time of Abraham we have the entire population of two cities surrounding Lot's house demanding the visitors in his house be sent out to be sexually brutalized (the visitors being there to confirm allegations of the very same group behavior previously). From the time of Abraham then to Moses we have the 450 years of the children of Abraham waiting for the iniquity of the Amorites in Canaan to be completed before they could go in and take the land as had been promised. And then we have the "Law" being given to Moses for the new nation of Abraham's children: Israel. What we have is a lengthy amount of time crossing several generations for man's innate or agreed upon morality to kick in and work. It is thus more than well proven man cannot abide even with his own formulations of morality, nor can he vanquish evil.
The track record doesn't get any better man having God's Law either. If anything, Law only defines better the behaviors man continues to hold to, that cannot be stopped even by threat of society's legal enforcement and punishment of these behaviors. The critic might respond "well that is some people not all people" to which I say "but all society is effected, be it instigator or victim, and the multitude of onlookers reactions". Plus now you also have the additional layer of having to maintain a fair and impartial court which often proves itself to be frequenting evil as well.
Ask yourself this (now having seen a small piece of biblical God's historical perspective to perhaps fill in the blanks of mysterious God):
Why would God allow for us to endure the consequences of all of this unless to get our complete and legitimate attention?
Why would HE have spent so much time establishing this generation by generation by generation methodically unless to convince us that HIS direction is a much better direction for us to go?
Proverbs 8:13 kjv
According to King Solomon this is the LORD's perspective. And for all of the time since he said that, it has been well proven that God's perspective has best better become the whole part of ours.
I want you now to clear off the chalkboard and put only your perceptions of evil back on to it. What do you see yourself believing? How would you complete this sentence "Evil Is...."? Hopefully today you have been able to consider the answer from some unorthodox but perhaps beneficial vantage points.
One more vantage point that I would like to put out there is the vantage point from which Solomon himself placed it. Maybe we should rephrase the question. Instead of "Evil is ...?" make it "The fear of the LORD is ...?"
Here many of you might be asking "how can I fear (meaning revere/worship/tremble at the foot of) someone that I do not believe in"? Please forgive my presumption, but I presume that many of you do not believe in God precisely because of the amount of evil you see. The question that you would be asking me is "how could a loving God allow for the evil we all know and see"? My question to you is "what on earth are we ever to do about evil unless there is a loving God"? I don't think that we can ask the one question without asking at the same time the other. And there is no easy answer to either. There is no answer right now that could fully suffice. Let's not get made at each other about it.
From a biblical perspective the best I can offer is that at the fall in the garden we were supposed to have died; "in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" nkjv@Genesis:2:17. That would have put an end to all of this, whatever good we might have been capable of generating, what ever evil. The fact that we did not die then and there, despite our now fallen nature is the proof of a "loving God". God however did not erase the board of consequences, HE reduced and elongated them; we did not die but we are now dying. Better to have experienced this and have come to know this loving God than to experienced the one solid stab and only known the guilt and shame. Such would be a loving God only if there was something vastly better for us at the end of this lengthy and difficult experience. I believe that there is such a loving God with such a eternal reward.
I know that my explanation does not satisfy the objections of many of you, but at least you know where I stand in regards to reverence and where I stand against evil.
Please, let neither of us conduct evil, be it from pride or with arrogance or by evil ways or as froward in mouth, on each other in order to make our case!