Saints, Sin, and Satan's Mousetrap
An Artistic Look at Good and Evil
By Stephanie Ismer
While haunting my favorite corner coffee shop today, I saw a fascinating piece of art. It's a small wooden plaque, and in the center of the plaque is a cross, and above the cross, in big, bold letters, it says "Good" and "Evil". Under the word "Good" is a stylized drawing of a girl in white, holding her hands to Heaven. She is in chains, in a prison, surrounded by flames. On the other side, under the word "Evil" is a Cuba Libre advertisement depicting a half-naked dancing girl in a pink dress and high heels, superimposed over a glass of Rum and Coke.
Art is all about making you think, and there is no doubt in my mind that this artist means for me to think about (and question) the nature of good and evil as I gaze at this creation of his. And I guess he is successful, because here I am writing this blog post.
So, what do you think? Is being burned as a martyr more "good" than being a dancing girl? Is pleasure more "evil" than pain? Or is pain the true evil, and pleasure the true good? Who made the rules for good and evil anyway?
The God of the Bible, Yahweh, made the rules of conduct for humanity. Considering that He was also our manufacturer, he was the right person to create the operation manual. That said, it is no wonder that our hearts respond to his rules, and inherently know that they are right. C.S. Lewis wrote a fantastic essay about this, called "The Law of Human Nature." It basically says that we all know the difference between good and evil, and that's why, when we read the Bible, we feel convicted — as if Someone is speaking to us and saying "you know what I'm saying is true."
But of course we like to argue with the Bible (and our own conscience), because we enjoy sin (Romans 1:18-20). In fact, in defense of sin, we come up with very good arguments against the Bible. If you have ever read anything by Christopher Hitchens, you will know what I mean. The man was brilliant. It's amazing that he spent so much profound intellectual energy arguing with a God he was convinced didn't exist. Most of us are not as intelligent as Hitchens, but we have other ways of arguing. Maybe we just get too drunk to think about it. Maybe we create ironic art.
Before I was a Christian, I thought "If I do a sin, God will bash me. He'll bring some punishment on me unless I confess immediately." So I would confess, using guilt as a purging mechanism. If I felt guilty enough, I thought, God would forgive me. It was works religion cleverly disguised as repentance. My life was a constant cycle: temptation, sin, guilt, fear, confession.
During my freshman year of college, an atheist friend of mine questioned my shallow faith. It fell apart quicker than a house of cards. It wasn't her fault, really. I was ready to jump; she just pushed me over the edge. I was sick of my religion. I was sick of the cycle. I became agnostic, thinking that would help things, and that I'd finally be free of guilt. But instead, fear and confession were replaced by hopelessness and despair. I thought sin would be fun — that I'd be like that dancing girl in pink if I could just get away from God and all the guilt he was putting on me.
But it wasn't like that at all. I had free rein to sin, but after a few months I felt numb, and empty, and deeply isolated. Satan's game is a combination of excellent marketing techniques and ever-diminishing returns. You don't think he actually wants you to have fun, do you? Not any more than you want the mouse to enjoy the cheese before the trap snaps his head off! The good news is that sin and punishment is not the final verdict. The good news is that our sins can be paid for, and our hearts changed by a loving God (Romans 3:21-26; John 3:16).
Good and evil cannot be summed up by a snapshot. The artist captured one moment of pain and one moment of pleasure. But what happens later? Here's what I think: After her moment of pain, the martyr dies and meets the Lord, where she proceeds to enjoy a feast of truly mind-blowing pleasure for all eternity (Psalm 16:11). Alternatively, the dancing girl, after her moment of pleasure, goes home to a tiny, dingy apartment, where she lays awake feeling empty, isolated, and afraid of the flames that burn forever.
So, which is good and which is evil? You tell me.
Image Credit: Michael Heiss; "Good Against Bad"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Controversial-Issues | Sin-Evil
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Published 5-13-11; Revised on 3-9-15