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.

Living Well

People often say to me, “You seem so calm, all the time. You really must have no stress in your life.” I must admit, I’m terribly flattered…and also surprised.

It’s a lovely compliment which no doubt speaks to how much I’ve learned over the years about stress management and time management.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I have not been, historically, a calm person. But I think it was the fact that I so often found myself riddled with worries and anxiety that led me to the practices that have helped me become the person I am today.

If you add to that the fact that I surround myself with positive and supportive people, I think it goes a long way toward explaining what other people perceive as a calm, stress-free life.

The changes in my life didn’t happen overnight. But as I began to make better decisions for myself, I began to experience much more peace and satisfaction in my life. And these became the foundation, the basis of a question I would ask myself, kind of a barometer for making choices: What brings me more peace and a greater sense of satisfaction in my overall life and circumstances?

It’s worth mentioning here that one definition of stress is not experiencing challenging situations in one’s life, but rather it is wanting things to be different than they are. That is what often leads to frustration and emotional turmoil.

Even if we define stress as a challenging situation or life event, the ways that we perceive that event and then respond to it are largely learned. And they can be re-learned.

It goes back to what we hold on to, and what we choose to let go of. Every day, we have the opportunity to make choices that will bring greater peace into our lives, or leave us greater ensnared in chaos and emotional drama.

How we structure our value system, and how we live those values, will largely determine not only our overall direction in life, but also whether we truly are able to live well.

The Lone Wolf?

“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.

‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.’ He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’” (Source:

It’s sometimes difficult for people to admit darker tendencies (either to others or to themselves). It’s not often acknowledged that we all have the potential for great kindness or great cruelty. Thus the true measure of a person is not any intrinsic goodness, but how s/he utilizes the power of choice in daily decision making and interactions with other people.

It might seem safer to be the mean wolf. Kindness, benevolence, and generosity might be easily taken advantage of. But anger, superiority, and other displays of power can inspire fear in others, and therefore serve to make us feel less vulnerable. While I don’t deny that suppressing our darker tendencies is less than helpful, at the same time, surely feeding them is equally unwise.

I don’t remember who it was that first told me that there is strength in gentle-ness. Or in essence that true strength involves being gentle, precisely because you have nothing to prove. It’s weakness and vulnerability that seeks to inspire fear in others for a kind of safety motivated by a need for self-preservation. On the other hand, there’s a quiet confidence that goes with being strong and centered and at home in oneself. It’s not showy, but it is enduring and easily recognized.

When it comes to exercising the power of choice and conscious decision making, meditation and other spiritual practices are an important tool in creating a gap between experience and reaction. They allow us to build an awareness and respond to situations in our lives according to our values, rather than reacting out of habit and conditioning.