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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The nature of evil

I heard a gospel song on WGCS last night that celebrated victory over hell through Jesus.  I found it a refreshing corrective to popular notions of hell among many Christians today.  So many of us seem to have been taught that hell is a tool God uses to punish evildoers, sinners, and those who refuse to submit or believe.  But the scriptures, and a long tradition of Christian thought, suggest to me that hell is not a friend of God's, but an enemy.  Jesus promises us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.  The Apostle's Creed proclaims that Jesus descended into hell, an invasion of enemy territory celebrated in the Eastern church on Holy Saturday as the Harrowing of Hell.  God did not create hell, but it is the domain of those who have rejected God's good will.  Yet even in that domain the light can still shine.

In Christian thought, evil exists only in a parasitic way.  God did not create evil.  Nothing or no one is evil in essence, only in corruption of goodness.  We might even go so far as to say that no one can rightly be thought of as evil or grotesque, only as corrupted.  Evil is a privation of good, whose source cannot be God, who created all things good.

I can imagine few correctives to the thinking of many Christians more important that this one.  As Christians, we certainly take evil seriously.  We are not to be naive.  But let us be clear that the source of evil is God's creation turning from God's goodness, not mechanisms God created for punishing the unworthy.


Leonard Gross said...

Thanks for your fine insight! Your perspective that "hell ... is the domain of those who have rejected God's good will" rings true for me. Although I am sympathetic to Universalism, I find that freedom of the will is so essentially part and parcel of human nature, that there will possibly always be those who reject the path of Love: whether in this life, or the next. -- Leonard Gross

Phil Waite said...

Thank you for your comment Leonard. In my opinion, Universalism has more of a place within the framework of Christian orthodoxy than does a belief that makes a mockery of Christian proclamation of a God of beauty, peace, and goodness.