good and evil

I’m reading The Shack at the moment, mostly because a number of people have asked me if I’ve read it so I gave in to peer pressure!  There is an interesting thought about good and evil that doesn’t give away anything of the plot so you can read on in safety.

The discussion centers around a perception that we humans don’t know what is good and what is evil, and the realisation that every decision we make about what is good and bad is based on our own interests, not God’s.  We decide good and evil based on how events affect us.

I’m struggling a bit with that thought.  Are there things that are simply ‘good’ or ‘evil’?  Or is any decision based in our own perception and self-interest?  What do you think?

9 thoughts on “good and evil”

  1. The thought has its origins in Augustine’s characterisation of humanity as ‘utter depravity’. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is utterly depraved. It means that everything we do is tainted with our sinfulness and for him, the root of sin was ‘disordered desire’. We seek out that which benefits us (our desires) rather than that which brings about God’s Will (or desire).
    That same sinfulness (selfish desire) also leads us to see things as good or evil depending on their effect on us. So far, so orthodox, really.
    When we come to a faith in God, our desires become more properly oriented (not perfect, but certainly better). We begin to consider what is good or evil is in respect of God, not ourself. We do this through the power of the Spirit which convicts us of (shows us) our sinfulness.
    As to your question about whether there are things which just ‘are’ good or evil, then it becomes a more complex argument. As soon as we say that some things are evil, just because they are, then we have problems of how they got there. If we claim God as the creator of all things, then God must have made evil (things). But we cannot say that of a ‘good’ God who made creation and declared it ‘very good’.
    Even if we get round that, there is also the issue that we then give evil an ‘ontology’ – it exists as a ‘thing’, separate from us, with characteristics and power. And so we personify evil and call it the Devil, or Hitler, or Gays, or any other ‘thing’.
    Or is it that what we call evil is simply the outworkings of our fallen-ness. Evil exists because we, not God, have created it, either judgementally (relatively), or in absolute terms. Are nuclear weapons evil or are they simply pieces of metal and elements that only become evil when they are used?
    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  2. Not sure I can commnet on that ,but I sure enjoyed the book .The holy spirit sounded great ,the father was just great, and jeus well he scared me a bit not sure why

  3. I read it because others have, and because I also write (different but still) religious fantasy.

    Um. I enjoyed parts of it. Frankly I found it horribly badly written. Of all the things in the book that most troubled me was God first caressing a bird and later serving cooked chicken. I guess it was not the same bird but it was deeply troubling to me (and I’m not a veggie either). I think Jesus is unsettling because he never does anything BUT laugh. The Jesus I know laughs a lot, makes elaborate and witty verbal traps, but also weeps, and is stirred to anger, and ponders deeply.

  4. As regards good and evil – the mediaeval view was that what is evil, is so because it is mis-directed. Dante, for instance, presents us with the circles of purgatory, where proper ends have gone awry. Thus, on one ring, both those who did not understand the real value of money are punished with those who loved it too much. The moral for Dante is that we must properly understand how to value and use it for the general good, being neither misers or spendthrifts.

    Generally, it is true that most evils are good things gone wrong. We need a world which is balanced. Where we love others but respect them. I doubt it is true, as the book suggests, that ‘men’ have one set of faults and ‘women’ another – but I think it is true that it is rare to find a wholly healthy human response. Or a wholly unhealthy one, either.

  5. I’ve not long read it too. I read it in the context of trying to make some sort of sense of a particularly difficult funeral I took. It helped a little with that.
    Quite early on in my reading of it I decided to suspend my theological criticisms of the book because they were getting in the way of a good read. I thought it was a story of one man’s wrestling with the problem of evil in his life and one way of redemption not just for him but for those who perpetrated that very evil. As such it was both a good read and an uplifting book that got me thinking.
    The trouble with some folks reading it is to be overly critical of the writing style (a little professional jealousy maybe ?) and maybe to look for too much correct theology.
    The fact that this blog has been written about the book is testament to the quality of the story telling.
    As for good and evil… John.. if we create evil what does that make us ? Anti-God by nature ? It would fit Augustine’s argument and maybe Calvin too ?

  6. No, not professional jealousy – rather a mean suggestion, don’t you think? – just a dislike of stumbling in reading. It is simply better to be able to enjoy a smooth read. I know the origin is American, ‘Both careered as independent consultants’ does not work in any English based language, and it jolts the reader. The writer means that the subject had a career in… I think that the real problem with it is not the correctness or otherwise of the theology, but the limitation of the imagination.

    There are touches I do love. There are times when what is envisaged is banal. I keep thinking too that there are better ways of handling the theology than so many set-piece lectures.

    I think a lot of its success comes from the writers having dared to use their imaginations in the service of faith. That is rare. It is great that the popularity of this book encourages us to harness heart and mind enter more deeply into faith.

  7. Not going to debate the writing which I thought was inelegant and perhaps a little clumsy, but that didn’t really interest me. The theology was, I think, less unorthodox than many have made out. I think it simply offers a different perspective, but pretty much based on fairly mainstream ideas. He does rather wander into universalist territory though.
    David, I think you could certainly reach that conclusion from the idea that we ‘create’ evil. But I don’t think that’s a fruitful road either. To speak of creating evil, as an act or activity, once again gives a positive ‘spin’ to evil. I know it’s theological hair-splitting, but when we look at evil in terms of ‘absence of good’ rather than ‘presence of bad’, then it corrects our orientation again. It places God in the centre of our thinking. It does raise questions of omnipresence, but that’s another argument.

  8. Rosemary…my comment was meant as in a light hearted way and if taken otherwise I withdraw the comment unreservedly with full apology. What I was intending was that sometimes we let things get in the way of our enjoyment of the story, but as a writer I can see that’s a valid issue for you. Sorry.
    John… you raised the issue of us ‘creating’ evil !! Evil exists because we .. created it. (previous post). There is more than a hint of universalism, I agree, but I did say that I’d suspended my critical theological thinking to try and enjoy the story and get some handle on the emotions going through my head after the difficult funeral.
    Rosemary… The ‘limitation of imagination’ is possibly a little hard on the author taking a quite imaginative look at a possible trinitarian conversation on a hugely complex subject.

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