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Evil finally made the cover of Time Magazine. You might easily have missed it on the news stands. The artwork was black on black which, in some lights, translated into plain black.

The cover was not, of course, politically correct. It is deemed insensitive to portray evil as black. The sensitivity people tell us that evil is just as likely to be white as black, and they are dead right. The Bible never equates evil with the color black. Instead, the most frequent metaphor is darkness, or the absence of light. Even so, we are just as likely to find God dwelling in darkness as in light (Exodus 20:21), and Satan appearing as an angel of light rather than an angel of darkness (II Corinthians 11:14).

Does evil exist? Or do bad things just happen? These are two of the questions posed by Lance Morrow, a Time senior writer. There is no question that bad things just happen. There was no sinister evil force at work when Mount Saint Helens blew her top a few years ago. Natural forces at work beneath the surface of the earth finally reached a point where the colossal mass of the mountain could no longer hold them down. The destruction wrought by the explosion was enormous-the loss of life slight. Yet for those directly affected by the blast, it must have seemed an evil moment indeed.

But the destruction wrought by natural forces is not evil in the dark sense. An earthquake can take tens of thousands of lives and generate great fear, but it is not evil. Accidents happen, storms blow, and meteors fall, but none of this is what we mean when we speak of evil. These are mindless adversities that have struck mankind from time immemorial. Primitive societies may have attributed them to divine forces, and therefore construed them as evil, but we have learned better than that. We may use the word evil, but we mean adversity. It is in this sense of the word that God told Isaiah, I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (Isaiah 45:7). It is God’s creation that is responsible for earthquakes, storms and volcanoes. They are adversity, but they are not really what we mean when we speak of evil.

It is an evil thing when a father of four is killed in an accident on the job. There may have been negligence, or not. Accidents happen that are no one’s fault. Even when it is someone’s fault, it need not be evil. A traffic accident may be the fault of a drunk driver, but he didn’t set out to kill. He may be weak, stupid, or even helpless in his addiction, but he is not necessarily evil. Accidents, even terrible accidents induced by negligence, are not what we mean when we speak of evil.

A few days ago, a neighbor’s son shot another teenager with a shotgun and then put the muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His mother was in the room at the time. Was he evil? I went to his funeral, and the eulogy was delivered by an elderly neighbor. She spoke of him as a warm and friendly young man-a good person. She cited examples of his helpfulness with neighborhood children, his love of animals, of him searching for her lost dog until all hours of the morning. His funeral was attended by nearly a hundred teenagers-friends of his from school. They had come on their own, even without their parents. They clung to one another after the funeral in disbelief and shock.

I went away from the funeral convinced that this was a troubled young man, but not an evil person. He had been drinking heavily at the time of the shooting, and his mother and his friend had been pressing him to quit. Like too many teens, he became depressed, and under the influence of alcohol did something he never imagined he would do. It was a form of insanity, but insanity is not evil. Sometimes people just lose their minds.

Neither adversity nor accident nor insanity qualify as evil, but that does not mean there is no such thing as evil. When we speak of evil, we speak of something that is willful, not accidental, not even insane. And that is what makes it evil. Violence that is born of insanity is frightening enough, but we can at least explain it.

What is not so easy to explain is the type of evil perpetrated by Hitler and his Third Reich. This was no mindless act of nature, nor was it an accident. It was not even the work of insanity. There is speculation that Hitler was in the third stage of syphilis toward the end, but that doesn’t explain the men around him. One observer went to the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals expecting to see a collection of madmen. He was dumbstruck when he came to realize that they were quite sane. This was real evil.

Perhaps the most frightening manifestation of evil is the deliberate horror one human being inflicts on another. It is mindful, methodical evil that disturbs us most.

Real evil is at once frightening, repulsive, and fascinating. Teenagers love to watch splatter movies (so called because of the characteristic splattering of blood and gore). They scream and cover their eyes, but they keep going back. In the same way, the civilized world cannot turn away from the Holocaust created by Hitler. True, there is a determination not to forget the evil perpetrated there, but there is a morbid fascination as well. One of the most fascinating things about the Holocaust is the logic with which it was pursued. It may have been this logic that kept the perpetrators from seeing the evil of what they were doing.

Evil is logic, carried to it’s bitter end. Given the premises of the Third Reich, it was logical to sterilize the feeble minded, and to dispose of troublesome, inferior people. After all, they concluded, we are the Master Race. We are genetically superior to other people. Therefore it is our duty to rule the world. Germans who are genetically impure must be sterilized so they will not pollute the gene pool of the Master Race. (Once again, Germans are beginning to take action to get rid of people of other races. Gypsies, Turks, and others are facing deportation.)

Evil is pure, cold logic. Love is less than logical. Love is that which causes us to help the weak instead of destroying them. Evil is, in a sense, the absence of love.

There is a human evil at large in the world, and it is not at all easy to account for. It may be most characterized by a lack of feeling. Evil persons are often intelligent, logical, capable people. But they are people who are unable to feel the suffering of others. They are people without love.

In his article, Lance Morrow posed what he called, the theologians problem. It is posed in three propositions:

  • 1) God is all powerful.
  • 2) God is all good.
  • 3) Terrible things happen.

The dilemma, he says, is this: You can match any two of these propositions, but never match all three. As a religious counselor, I hear this dilemma posed regularly. But it is a false dilemma. It is false, because there is a fourth proposition:

  • 1) God is all powerful.
  • 2) God is all good.
  • 3) God has made man free.
  • 4) Terrible things happen.

God has created the best of all possible worlds as an environment for man. Storms are a necessary function of the weather system of this world. Yet man will blame God when he goes in the way of a storm. The terrible loss of life in Bangladesh from the storms and floods is a great evil. We can blame nature for the deaths of the people killed there by a storm, but we must remember, it was a man who decided to populate the low area, not God. Nor is it God who causes men to live alongside an active volcano. He gives us freedom to live where we will, to live as we will, and even to afflict ourselves and one another as we will. Even the Jews who populated Germany at the beginning of the Third Reich had a chance to leave. They just could not bring themselves to believe that it could happen.

God allows evil as part of his dedication to the freedom of mankind. We voluntarily and continuously expose ourselves to the possibility of evil. We may not like to admit it, but we often realize that we are taking a chance by the things we do, the places we go, the areas in which we choose to live. Sometimes it is easier to blame God than to accept the burden of a bad decision. We could stand giving a little more thought to our exposure to evil. We can do more about it than we think.


Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca