Deliver us from Evil

I just finished reading Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright. It was both more and less than I expected. While a relatively short book (less than 200 pages) surely cannot hope to tackle the topic of evil in its entirety, it did present some ideas and definitions which I think merit further discussion and reflection.

Wright’s basic point about evil is that many of us no longer believe in evil at all. If we do, it often exists as this vague, nebulous force that we pretty much ignore until it shows up right in front of us – at which point, we are surprised, and then react in a ways that are immature and dangerous; thus Wright cautions us against what he calls “unthinking moralism.”

While it’s easy to think of evil in the manner of a personified, cartoonishly distorted force operating in opposition to goodness, Wright’s basic definition of evil invites us to think about it differently, and with less of a dualistic mindset. It is, rather, the absence of something, a rung missing halfway down the ladder in the dark. “Evil is the moral and spiritual equivalent of a black hole.”

I wonder then if the absence of a working conscience, or a strong inner compass qualifies as evil under this definition. Perhaps then selfishness (selfish thinking and acting), as a manifestation of the lack of love, also qualifies.

It has long been my assertion that there’s very little malevolent evil in the world. But that most evil is the result of people’s inner confusion and lack of clarity about their own values and thoughtless action as the extension of it. Perhaps this is just another way of saying something very similar to what N.T. Wright has said, in terms of the definition of evil. The challenge, then, may be to know ourselves, to act on what we know, and further, to do so while maintaining an awareness of how our actions impact others.

More on this topic in part II.