More About Evil

Henry Parry Liddon (1829–1890), was an English theologian. From 1870 to 1882, he was also a professor at Oxford University.  This quote was in my daily devotional, and it reminded me of a previous post I had written about evil (What is Evil?).  I like the image of our evil actions polluting the air that we and others then breathe in.

“There is a general stock of evil in the world to which we all contribute, or which, by God’s grace some may diminish;  a vast and fertile tract of ungodliness, of low motives, of low aims, of low desires, of low sense of duty or no sense at all.  It is the creation of ages, that tradition;  but each age does something for in, and each individual in each age does, if he does not advisedly refuse to do, his share in augmenting it, just as the chimney of every small house does something to thicken and darken the air in London.  And this general fund or stock of evil touches us all like the common atmosphere which we breathe.  And thus it is that when you or I, even in lesser matters, do or say what our conscience condemns, we do really make a contribution to that general fund of wickedness which, in other circumstances and social conditions than ours, produces flagrant crime.  Especially if it should happen that we defend what we do, or make light of it, or make a joke of the misdeeds of others, we do most actively and seriously augment this common fund or tradition of wickedness.”

H. P. Liddon

Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 97:10

 

For another quote by H. P. Liddon see:

Two Quotes on the Sacrificial Life

 

What is Evil?

I just finished a book about evil by Julia Shaw.  It’s not written from a Christian point of view, so there were things I agreed with and things I didn’t.  For example, yes, any of us could be capable of evil in the right circumstances;  no, I don’t think that calling certain actions or people evil is just being lazy, or that we should never do it.

This got me to thinking about how the word “evil” should be defined.  My big Bible dictionary simply says evil is “that which brings distress.”  I found that disappointing.  According to Merriam-Webster, evil is “deeply immoral and malevolent.”  Hmmm … more satisfying, but not completely correct.

To me evil = sin.  It is disobeying God’s law. Evil began with a being, although not a human — Satan.  It spread to us when Adam and Eve deliberately ignored God’s command, and now is part of the world.

“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” 1 John 5:19

It’s also become part of our human nature, as the apostle Paul says,

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. ” Romans 7:19

As the author of the book  says, evil is more prevalent than we like to think.  Sometimes we try to distance ourselves from it — for example, we may say slavery is evil, yet purchase consumer goods produced in another country by slaves.  If we don’t see it, it doesn’t count.  Sometimes we try to assign evil tendencies only to certain truly repugnant crimes — serial murder or pedophilia,for example.  We may excuse an evil act because “everybody does it.”  None of this cuts any ice with God.  The Bible tells us that:

“… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:21

We’re all sinners.  we’re all lawbreakers;  we’ve all done evil things and had evil thoughts.  All we can do is plead for mercy and say along with Paul:

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 1 Corinthians 15:56-57

For more posts on sin see:

God’s Victory Over Our Sin

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Sin

Choosing to Sin