One of my theology professors, the great Gary Deddo, once described evil this way ...
"Evil is that which should not be."
I've found myself thinking about the nature of evil after a number of conversations with friends on campus and at church.
Augustine described evil as the absence of good. Evil to him was nothing, literally no-thing. When good draws back, what remains is evil.
Echoes of this sentiment exist today.
Look on Facebook and you might find Christians left and right posting bumper sticker slogans about evil. My favorite this week: "Evil isn't the absence of good. Evil is the absence of God."
There's something attractive to this "evil is absence" philosophy. It feels like it gets God off the hook for evil. It feels easier to picture God's triumph over evil. It feels like we too can escape evil by a pursuit of the holy, by a pursuit of the good, by a pursuit of God.
And yet, an "absence" answer to evil collapses.
Evil is real in our experience.
Evil things happen to real people.
Real people become evil people.
Evil people experience evil ends.
That someone, anyone, would reject the love and glory of Jesus and choose the painful experience of hell ... that is something that should not be. That should never happen. And that, well, that makes it evil.
I wonder what would happen if we, as followers of Jesus, made a clear case to the world that we believe that evil should not be.
We have a long history of defending God by accepting evil. This practice appears in many of the classical theodicies (God defenses). We claim that God must have a purpose for allowing this evil. We look on the bright side. We offer up nods to God's sovereignty and talk about how he is glorified through evil.
And, in all this, we find ourselves saying that evil is not really all that evil. Evil becomes, in our estimation, secretly good. And so our resistance to evil flags and the watching world raises skeptical eyebrows to our claims to love holiness. And we experience the dull peace of easy rationalization.
But what would happen if we let evil be evil?