I received an email regarding my recent post about "Evil and Forrest Gump" and decided to post it here, along with my response, for the following reasons:
1. The email came from someone close to me who does not consider themself a Christian. I appreciate their perspective and feedback.
2. I'm a lazy bugger and decided that for the effort I put into the reply, I might as well get a blog entry out of it.
I read Evil and Forrest Gump, you wrote "God's desire is for true, loving relationship with the people that He has made in His own image. In order for this to occur, people had to be given free will. Only if they could choose to reject God would it mean something if they chose to love God. Unfortunately, the choice to reject God and His ways results in evil."
Are you saying to reject God and his ways always results in evil? What about people who reject God but are kind and generous in thier own right (you know a few of those) or those who accept God but behave in evil/sinful ways?
I personally take issue with the word "evil" and how we tend to use it anyway, but thats just me.
There is some background behind my statements about evil that isn't apparent in that post, and I should have clarified it. The reformer John Calvin, who by many accounts was not a very nice man, coined the term "total depravity" to describe human nature. A lot of his followers (Calvinists) and detractors alike have misunderstood what he was getting at. They think he meant that humans are "totally depraved": that there is nothing good in them. This misconception has led to all kinds of misery. What Calvin was actually saying was that there is an element of depravity to everything we do. In other words, each one of us is a mixed bag - capable of tremendous good and tremendous evil. This is as true of the devout Christian as it is of the atheist. Speaking for myself, even when I manage to do something good and honorable and apparently selfless, there is still more than a bit of my own agenda mixed in.
Didn't Freud say something along similar lines only in terms of conflict between the ego, the superego and the id? It seems to me that most (if not all) forms of religion, spirituality and mental health treatment acknowledge and attempt to ameliorate an internal conflict, which we all struggle with. Christianity terms this struggle as one of choosing continuously between good (God's will) and evil/sin (against God's will). Scientologists deal with it by trying to become "clear" of engrams. Buddhists seek detachment. Etc, etc.
When I spoke of rejecting God and His ways I was thinking not so much of a one-time event of "accepting/rejecting Christ" but of the continuous ongoing struggle to "do the right thing". The ultimate test, I believe, of whether or not something is the "right thing" is whether it is the loving thing. Paul said, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Even though Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament, he made it clear that he still struggled with his "evil" nature: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:14-25)
The point, from a Christian perspective, and the core of what I want to say, is that the struggle is very important but we still fall short and must rely upon God's grace, mercy and love. This should make us humble and compassionate. A Catholic mystic from India named Anthony De Mello
wrote, "The sign of authentic Christian maturity is when you're grateful for your sins, because sins lead to grace." This echoes Paul's observation that "...where sin increased, grace increased all the more." Grace is love in action.
I see the word "evil" as an adjective that describes what people do, not who they are (although Scott Peck in his very engaging book People of the Lie
describes a rare type of person that is so utterly and completely selfish and self-centered that he terms them as "evil").
So, to respond directly to your questions:
>>Are you saying to reject God and his ways always results in evil?
Pretty much, although this rejection is not a singular event but a continuous process and is something that Christians and non-Christians alike do. A big part of "following Jesus" is to seek to make choices in line with His will and character, which is Love.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature."
>>What about people who reject God but are kind and generous n thier own right (you know a few of those) or those who accept God but behave in evil/sinful ways?
This reminds me of something else from C.S. Lewis. In his children's the book The Last Battle (from The Chronicles of Narnia), the "bad guys" are the Calormenes. They worship a malevolent god called Tash. The "good guys" in the story worship Aslan, who is a metaphor for Jesus. Emeth, a Calormene soldier, goes on a quest in search of Tash but encounters Aslan instead. He describes the event:
"So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size as an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, "Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him." But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, "Son, thou art welcome." But I said, "Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash." He answered, "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me." Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, "Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?" The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, "It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?" I said, "Lord, thou knowest how much I understand." But I said also (for the truth constrained me), "Yet, I have been seeking Tash all my days." "Beloved," said the Glorious One, "unless the desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."
Martin Luther described Christians this way: "We are all beggars telling other beggars where to find bread." So it doesn't surprise me in the least that a person who claims to have "rejected God" lives a life marked by goodness while a person who claims to be a Christian lives a life marked by evil. It may just be that the first person rejected God in word but followed Him in deed, while the second accepted God in word but failed to follow Him in deed. Jesus said of the one's who follow Him, "You will know them by their fruit."