Causes of Evil

And Three Ways Grace Frees us

By Christopher Schwinger

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Our philosophy of evil matters to how we live our lives. Is evil real or an illusion which scares us into thinking it's real? Are there traceable causes or is it a spontaneous and irrational thing? Is evil allowed by God or caused by God? The answers to these questions aren't always simple, nor entirely satisfactory. In the simple Biblical promises which we're taught to memorize, these questions aren't supposed to matter, because we are supposed to trump our feelings with our mind and just give mental reinforcement to our faith in God's written promises. The main promise is that He won't abandon us, but it often feels like He is abandoning us when we are facing a recalcitrant situation which will not bend to our desires. Even though we put forth all our effort to turn those bad situations into good ones, they frequently don't change. Natural disasters and accidents can be simply attributed to a sinful, death-ridden world where even God's beautiful creatures and natural forces are capable of great destruction. It takes faith, but it's theologically possible to believe God made the world good but sin from Adam and Eve made it imperfect. It's human evil which is more complicated, as we see great complexity in ourselves and other people. If so-and-so is good in this way, how can he have done this cruel thing? Why doesn't this friend listen to me on this subject matter, just on every other subject matter? How do I know God is better than these other people, and how do I make a difference in other people when they close off their hearts? These are important questions, and I think it's helpful to group evil into three categories: selfishness/the sin nature, ignorance, and pain.

Evil and the Sin Nature
The sin nature aspect of human evil is the one which is most often talked about. The lust of the eyes, flesh, and boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16) are about the desire to possess, indulge, and impress. Desires for autonomy, prestige, money, and power all are part of our "sin nature." The basic sin nature in people is why they have to be taught manners instead of being automatically courteous. It's why King Jong-un became psychotic when he was surrounded by sycophants. John Regier, founder of a counseling ministry called Caring for the Heart based in Colorado Springs, classified sin issues into 10: 1) Bitterness, 2) Temporal values (success as more important than relationships), 3) Rebellion, 4) Pride, 5) Pain from physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse, 6) Moral failure (sexual), 7) Ground given to the enemy (occult), 8) Hypocrisy, 9) Negative thought patterns, and 10) Evil for evil relationship (vengeance). I think that is an effective way to get specific about what sin issues are going on. All except for pain (#5) are attitudes which start from within us. They, and the trio in 1 John 2:16, fall under the bracket of "selfishness/sin nature," which I think is just one of three factors in understanding evil and how to respond to it. The two others are pain (which is in Regier's list) and ignorance.

Evil and Ignorance
Ignorance is not itself sin, but it leaves us susceptible to sin. I saw the loss of innocence in my classmates as they moved into high school, and it seemed to happen very quickly. It is probably because of the entertainment influences of music, television, the internet, and movies. They weren't morally equipped to discern the danger of those cultural influences. Ignorance left them weak, like having a weak immune system which makes you susceptible to disease. You could say they were sick already because they didn't have spiritual defenses, but you could also say sin doesn't become a full reality until it is borne out in actions, like Judas Iscariot and the Jewish leaders whose judgment by God was consummated after they put Him to death. Jesus says in John 9:41, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." If you admit your ignorance, there's hope for you and God doesn't count it as sin. Paul shares this view in Romans 4:15 and 5:13 by saying God's law exists to show people right and wrong, but also makes them more accountable after it's revealed. Jesus said so in John 15:22-25 as well. The greater the revelation, the greater the judgment, in general, just as Jesus had said about "to whom much is given, much will be required" (Luke 12:48). This naturally makes us want answers for who's to blame if God didn't provide a way for someone to hear the Gospel in a way that made sense to them, but I believe God has no better option if He is going to give us the privilege of having moral responsibility. If He consistently supernaturally involved Himself in affairs when the people who could do something about them did not, then we'd believe in Him just out of fear and would also be less inclined to take those risks which make our spiritual journeys meaningful.

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Published on 4-24-17