- Conscience and the problem of defining evil
- Evil versus tragedy
- Consciousness and free will as criteria for the definition of evil
- Evil will
- Evil (kakos) versus unethical (poneros)
- The source of evil
- The existence of Satan
Even today, 22 years after my conversion, I am not sure that I can tackle the subject of the theoretical approach to evil in a fully satisfactory way. The fact that we have a built-in compass to distinguish right from wrong is certain. We know this from experience, but also from the Biblical assurance: "For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. (15) They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them"(Rom. 2:14,15 NET). Therefore, all people, believers and non-believers, have a built-in tool for evaluating behavior. The problem, however, is that conscience often does not give precise directions. Like a compass. If we use it in close proximity to a magnet or high-intensity electric wires, the needle's indications will not be precise.
Conscience and the problem of defining evil
The problem of conscience is related to the environment in which it operates, and here two important factors come into play. First, our internal compass will work depending on the neighborhood in which it has formed. Most of the guidelines in our possession we have acquired in the course of development in a subconscious way, observing people around us. There is, however, companionship, as the apostle Paul writes, that corrupts good manners (1 Cor. 15:33). As a result, our inner magnetic needle will point to the wrong position. Secondly, we are separated from the surrounding reality by the shells of our bodies. Because we are separate entities, we make ourselves the center of the universe and define good and bad in relation to ourselves: good is what serves me; what does not serve me is wrong. Someone doesn't do what I want - a bad person it is, immoral, damnable. One hurts me, so one is bad by definition. By definition, because I am that definition, I am the center.
Every reader understands what I am writing about because we encounter these attitudes every day. Moreover, this universal human tendency affects us. We see this straw easily in our neighbor's eye, but it is hard for us to see the beam in our own (Mt. 7:3). But going back to the compass metaphor: as in the case of setting directions in the field, there is also some objective standard in judging good and bad. North and South exist objectively - both geographically and metaphysically. The Bible calls this fact the truth. Moreover, the apostle John writes that "the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is true" (1 Jn. 5:20 NET). Thus, thanks to Christ, we are able to reach beyond tangible reality, so as to grasp the principles of God's order with our mind; to be able to judge one's own behavior in terms of good and bad.
In defining the concept of evil, I would like to leave the center that I mentioned earlier - the center of my own "I" - and look for a definition that would give the phenomenon of evil a more objective dimension. This direction of thinking seems to be Biblically most justified. The Scriptures do not present evil as a private standard, but rather as a universal standard. My personal opinion of what is right and wrong may therefore turn out to be wrong (Mt. 7:21-23). I will say more, in this context even what I read as evil does not have to be objectively evil: "My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (4) And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything" (James 1:2-4 NET). My private interpretation of good and evil can therefore be very different from the actual state
Evil versus tragedy
It seems useful in this context the distinction between evil and tragedy, proposed by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. According to Peterson, life is a tragedy in the sense that we constantly have circumstances we do not want, including that ultimate, most unwanted circumstance of death. The concept of evil, however, is reserved by Peterson for actions that result from ill will and as such are a manifestation of a conscious desire to do harm. If we adopt such a nomenclature, then many tragic events do happen to us, but they are not evil in the axiological dimension. I may lose a loved one, I may lose my job, I may get sick, break my leg, my plan for life will not work out ... These are various events inscribed in the shape of our existence; risks associated with the very fact of being. They are not, or at least they do not have to be, a manifestation of evil which aims to harm one's neighbor, gaining nothing as a result of this practice.
So much for the summary of Peterson's theory. If I have expressed his view correctly, I am least sure of the last sentence. Evil, even understood as described above, happens as a result of a specific motivation, if only the motivation to harm. Its implementation will therefore be a source of satisfaction for the harming party, and therefore a source of specific profit. Hitler felt the satisfaction of annihilating his victims in Auschwitz, just as the lion feels the satisfaction of killing its victim. Peterson would say (as far as I understand his view) that the lion does no evil; Hitler - absolutely. The difference would be in the type of motivation, although as I say, ultimately the motivation of both the lion and Hitler was to achieve a certain satisfaction. It is true that the lion follows a certain natural script and does not act with the intention of killing life, but for satisfying hunger. A dictator-murderer acts with the intention of taking life, but also fulfills his specific (mental) need in this way. The end result is death in any case.
Consciousness and free will as criteria for the definition of evil
Hence the key premise for judging something as good or evil at all: the event must be the result of a conscious act. Conscious in the sense that it is taken where there is a choice; to perform or to refrain. The lion, of course, has no way of preventing itself from killing because its existence depends on it. Adolf Hitler, being a person endowed with reason and conscience, had such an opportunity. Here, however, another question arises: to what extent are we actually empowered to make such choices. After all, many factors come into play, such as mental illnesses, the influence of upbringing, the environment, and temporary loss of sanity. From the Biblical point of view, man does not have a proper assessment of reality, "among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4 NET). Our freedom to make decisions is impaired, even in the above-mentioned aspect.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the inevitable imperative in judging evil is to assume that man by definition has freedom of decision (free will). Two circumstances lead me to this conclusion. First, God "commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30 NET). If man in general did not have the power to choose, such a sentence expressed in the Bible would not make sense. Second, God always treats man as if he had freedom of decision. Whether our freedom of choice is more or less obscured by error, explosive nature, or the negative influence of the environment, everyone is affected by the consequences of their actions of transgressing God's principles. A person who does evil is affected by the consequences of his own conduct, regardless of the reasons for which the evil is done. In God's order, "when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death" (James 1:15 NET). From the point of view of the consequences, it is important to take the action, not why it was taken.
However, I return to the previous thought: our freedom of action under the present conditions is limited in various fields. We all have it in a certain proportion, and I would say more, depending on the circumstances, we may be more or less enslaved. Addictions are a clear example of this thesis. The alcoholic has a very limited freedom to deny himself alcohol, but at the same time he can have full freedom to resist a cigarette that the smoker will not have. This fact does not take away my right of judgment. I have a right, even a duty, to name evil as if we were all enjoying our full freedom (Is. 5:20). However, in light of God's Word, I have no right to return evil for evil. It is because I do not have access to an objective assessment of the other person's motives. But God has such an assessment, hence the apostle Paul exhorts the believers: "Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19 NET).
Distinguishing between tragedy that harms us without the participation of harming free will and evil that is committed consciously, allows us to narrow down the range of situations that we could call evil. The criterion of consciousness itself is certainly not sufficient (if only for the reason that one can also consciously do good ...). In order to develop the definition of evil, it is necessary to return to the thread that I have only highlighted so far without further discussion, namely what is evil will. In Peterson's psychology, evil will is supposed to be the defining element of evil, and although I agree in principle, I would like to propose a slightly different definition of it. As I mentioned before, every conscious action results from a specific need of the acting person. The most cruel and inhuman treatment also has its own motivations and its satisfaction when it is done. Therefore, it is difficult to define evil will through the prism of the lack of profit for the agent because this profit (even if only psychological) always exists.
My view of evil will is derived from the definition of good. First, God created a specific order of things in which He placed man, and second He made man a goal-oriented being. Human consciousness differs from the consciousness of all other organisms in that we live not only in the present, but also in the past and the future. We are able to learn lessons from the past, which we then use to choose and achieve goals in the future. The Bible's concept of sin originally meant missing the target. So what serves to realize this basic structure of reality is good; what allows conscious beings to set and achieve goals in a manner consistent with the greater principles and goals of the divine order. Since God created beings with a consciousness of their own, separate from that of other beings, in an aggregated sense, what serves the growth of the group is good.
However, each individual is responsible for the interests of the group. In addition to the interest of the group, shared by all its members, each member also has individual interests (his own goals). To achieve my goals, I need to agree to make certain sacrifices, which in turn may adversely affect the interests of other group members. There is therefore a "flow of benefits" within the group. At best, my action is beneficial to me and the group, so it's good in every sense. Often the goals we pursue cost the group to some extent (they are negative for it), but my individual benefit is greater than the group's loss. The aggregate result remains positive. But there is also a third category of action: when I achieve a benefit disproportionately small to the losses I cause in the environment. Conscious action that is to lead to such an outcome is what I call evil will. The effect of such a pursuit is evil.
There are clear examples of evil will. A murderer who kills for several dollars in his victim's wallet. Dog owner abusing it for entertainment. A salesman who, during an epidemic of potentially fatal infectious disease, pushes the price of face masks to a level where people cannot afford to buy them. In either case, the gain from the action is less than the loss on the other side. The condition, however, is conscious action. If an accident occurs in the company as a result of an unintentional action of an employee, there is no evil, but rather tragedy. It is not always obvious to measure who gains more and who loses more. In this case, the ethical criterion applies: "Each must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5 NET). Action in doubt is not taken properly. "For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. (7) For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6,7 NET).
Evil (kakos) versus unethical (poneros)
The New Testament uses two Greek words that are translated as 'evil' in translations: poneros (G4190) and kakos (G2556). While the translators apparently concluded that the two words "are one and the same evil", this does not change the fact that in the original text they are two different adjectives. A review of the contexts in which they are used suggests to me that they are not synonyms. The difference in my view is tantamount to the difference between evil in the sense described above and evil in the sense of failure to meet the criteria of ethical action. In the lecture on Ethics in the Bible, I described three criteria of action that make it 'good' from the point of view of the correctness of the process, i.e. 1) acting in good will (as opposed to the ill will described above), 2) acting in truth (according to God's order and in uninterrupted communication with the environment) and 3) consistency resulting from trust in the correctness and feasibility of the chosen goal.
Analysis of Biblical contexts allows me to formulate the thesis that evil in the sense of an act taken in ill will, is described by the Greek kakos; the evil resulting from unethical action is described by the Greek poneros. What differences and relationships exist between these two types of evil? From the point of view of the consequences of violating God's principles, the difference is essential: the kakos is a sin sanctioned by death (James 1:13-15); the man who undertakes poneros is subject to corrective measures (Heb. 10:22). To this end, judges will be appointed in the future Kingdom to deal with ethical violations (Is. 1:26). There will be laws in the Kingdom at various levels, and its enforcement will be entrusted to the faithfull of the Old and New Testaments (Mt. 16:19; Jn. 20:23). They will judge cases that violate the ethics of action, but do not constitute kakos. Such a sin committed in consciousness is subject to the death penalty in God's law (Heb. 6:4-6, 10:26). It is a universal principle that applies to the present age and the future.
All evil is unethical because it happens with ill will. But not all unethical actions are evil to the extent described by the adjective kakos. The key factor in my opinion is the criterion of will. We often take ethically defective actions: undertaken in a hesitant state, based on incomplete knowledge or a lie, without a clearly defined goal, without consent to face the consequences. All this does not have to lead to harm; it does not have to be kakos, although there will be poneros in all cases. The problem that we all grapple with in this age is the lack of understanding of the truth. This one circumstance not only violates the criterion of truth, but often also the criterion of consistence because the greater the uncertainty as to the data, the greater the doubt as to the action taken. This fundamental deficiency, however, is to be completely compensated for in the coming age of Christ's Kingdom, when the spirit of truth will be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28,29).
The source of evil
I see, in fact, one major cause of evil: the separateness of being. We are independent units separated from the outside world by the shells of our bodies. Access to information about this world is limited to our five senses, and although we know very little about what is happening around us, we know that our bodies, being a constitutive part of our existence, are subject to destruction. Ensuring security is therefore the dominant motive of human existence, which is the source of both good and evil. This is because security can be achieved in many different ways, constructive and disruptive. Which way we go depends on the level of trust. If there is trust within the organization, its members are not afraid to act in favor of one another because they know that the benefit of the other builds the organization, and therefore it is their own benefit. If there is a lack of trust, we begin to implement strategies that detract from other members of the organization, so overall we achieve a destructive effect.
Distrust is a key element in the genesis of evil. We know that Eve is the first to reach for the forbidden fruit. Yet the Bible does not attribute original sin to Eve, but to Adam. Eve is said to have been deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). She trusted - she did what she was supposed to do. Adam, on the contrary. He does not know the serpent's narrative, but he does know the narrative of God. He knows that if he eats from the tree of knowledge, he will suffer the death penalty. He knows but doesn't trust. If he trusted God's statement, he would know his life was safe. Meanwhile, he is overwhelmed by fear, and at that moment the only thing that matters is survival. Therefore, he eats the symbolic fruit, and when it does not help, he hides with Eve from God, and then in the meeting with the Creator, which inevitably comes, he places all responsibility on his wife and God himself: "The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it" (Gen. 3:12 NET).
I believe that the sin consisted in taking away an animal's life. To be immortal like God, one had to learn the mystery of life. Under Edenic conditions, the most obvious act to achieve this was to deal death. Since the Lord Jesus, who made the redeeming sacrifice, is called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29), perhaps this was the animal that fell victim from the hands of our ancestors. The apostle Paul writes that animal sacrifices under the Law Covenant were a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:3). For an animal to be sacrificed, it first had to be killed. So the same action that Adam and Eve performed had to be done again. At the same time, however, Paul writes, the animal flesh offered as a sacrifice actually represents the one who is offering it (1 Cor 10:18). By making animal sacrifice, the Israelite under the Law symbolically showed that the path to reconciliation with God is the willingness to sacrifice one's body unto death.
To be righteous before God, man must trust Him; he must know that as the Supreme in the universe, God can do anything. He can also give me another body when this one dies. This is the righteousness that man can render to God: recognizing his omnipotence and, at the same time, goodness towards His creatures. This was the merit of Abraham, and therefore he was called the father of faith (Rom. 4:11, 20-22). For Abraham was put to this very test when God demanded the sacrifice of Isaac. "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac ... he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there" (Heb. 11:17-19 NET). From the perspective of faith, therefore, ultimately ensuring security is not a human concern. "So then, don't worry saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' (32) For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (33) But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt. 6:31-33 NET).
The existence of Satan
If the above analysis is correct, the possibility of evil is built into the fabric of our existence. Avoiding evil is a work of trust, and trust - of experience, hence the stage of experiencing evil in human development seems to be necessary in shaping a mature personality, capable of choosing and doing good. However, since evil is built into our existence as one of two opposing principles, the question arises about the place and role of Satan. Assuming that he is a spiritual being, as the main currents of Christianity do, it should be stated that Satan did not 'invent' evil, but surrendered to it; he chose this and no other course of action. He was the first creature in the universe to question the possibility of trusting God. He also made a proposal to Eve: "Is it really true that God said, 'You must not eat from any tree of the orchard'?" (Gen. 3:1 NET). In other words, Eve, are you sure that you can trust your God?
What caused such distrust towards the Creator of all things? We can only make guesses, but some light is shed on this matter by the assurance that God's Adversary makes to Eve: 1) you will definitely not die, 2) you will be like God, 3) you will know good and evil (Gen. 3:4,5 NET). In retrospect, we know these words are true - of God's Church. The elect do experience much evil at the present time, but their reward is immortal glory in God's nature. Which is exactly what Satan promised our mother. Anthropologizing this situation, one could say that Satan "knew they were calling, but did not know in which church". He heard something, found out about something, and figured out that God was dishonest, was up to something but didn't talk about it. Thus, his trust in his Creator was undermined. We know that election of the Church was foreseen by God from the beginning (Eph. 1:4). Satan had this knowledge, but he apparently did not have it fully.
For he would have known that the perspective of immortality and divine glory did not apply to Adam and his wife. So if he knew, he had deliberately lied. If he did not know, he 'added' the missing elements in a false way. In each case, he turned out to be a liar, about whom Jesus says: "He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44 NET). Satan does not trust God. What do you do with someone you don't trust - you hurt him to be weak enough not to hurt you back. Hence the openly evil will of the Adversary towards God and all those who would like to submit to him. That is why Peter writes: "Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour" (1 Pt. 5:8 NET). Paul, in turn, makes believers aware of who they are dealing with: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens" (Eph. 6:12 NET) .
It is worth taking a closer look at the above statement by Paul. Earlier in the lecture I wrote about the fact that the potential for evil is related to the fact that we exist in the body. The apostle writes, however, that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood." Satan, then, is not a name for evil seen as an opportunity or potential that a person activates through the lack of trust. It is an entity that has its own awareness and purpose; which actively works to harm the broadly understood divine order of the world. This is how Satan is portrayed in many places in the New Testament: as someone who consciously pursues evil. It means having a goal-oriented will; the goal, in turn, means the existence of consciousness, and consciousness means the existence of a person. That is why I used the pronoun "someone" - "someone who consciously pursues evil". Although there is a current in Christianity that denies the existence of a personal Satan, exceptionally;) I stand on the side of the traditional church in this matter.
The argument against personal Satan is that the Old Testament does not mention him. The Old Testament does not, however, say many of the things the New Testament does. It doesn't mean they're not real. This means that the New Testament takes a slightly different view on the realization of God's Plan. Besides, there is no doubt that the Old Testament speaks of angels; also about those who have disobeyed. An example that immediately comes to mind is the time of Noah, when the contacts of the spiritual world with the material world were close. Close enough that their fruit were children, angelic-human hybrids that had to be removed by the flood so as not to genetically distort the human race. So if the existence of demons cannot be questioned in the Bible, it is also perfectly logical to assume that they are organized and have a leader. This leader Paul calls in Eph. 2:2 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air' (NET) and we usually read of him as Satan - God's Adversary.