Thunker’s Weblog


Humanity and Evil

Robert Wheadon-126x150

One of the questions that has bothered, bedeviled and out-right bugged theologians for the ages is the question of good and evil.  Specifically, the set-up is like this: “If God is the Creator, did He create evil?  If God is good, how could he allow evil to exist?  If he allows evil to exist, how can He be good?”  There are a host of assumptions going on there.  Yet point I really want to focus on today is the source of evil.  Do evil acts emanate from within us as mortals or are they forced upon us by exterior forces?

Sound familiar?  It should.  Christianity has been wrestling with these ideas for over 1000 years.  Early Christian writers, like St. Augustine, wrote voluminously on these topics.

Let’s begin with God and Creation.  In Genesis, 1:1, we read of God, or Elohim, creating the heavens and the earth.  In Hebrew, bara is the word translated as create.  The word also can be translated as to form, shape or mold.  Many Christians have been taught the tradition that divine creation means creatio ex nihilo, or creation from nothing.  While that sounds mysterious and ethereal, that description of creation has never made much sense to me.  And there is no scriptural evidence for it.  And natural law doesn’t work that way.   I have always thought that God, whether He created the laws of nature or follows the laws of nature, formed the Earth from existent material, more of an in ordine creaturae, creation through organization, than a creation out of nothing.  The approach of God shaping and molding physical matter into worlds, stars and moons makes more sense to my soul.

Flowing from the idea that God operates within existing natural laws and existing material, could the question of the creation of evil be the wrong question?  What I mean is that instead of taking the assumptive stance that God created evil, what if we took the idea that evil has always existed and is made manifest through the choices we make.  Like Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 11:8, we read, “Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart…”

I am not saying that humanity is inherently evil.  I don’t think that is what Jeremiah is saying either.  I think we have the divine ability to choose back and forth, one or the other.   Jeremiah is talking about the people of Judah at a time when they thought more of themselves than they did of God.  Jeremiah does validate the idea that people could decide and walk the path they wanted.

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So that takes us to the next part of our discussion.  Does evil exist as an independent force?  Or is it a construct of universal values and the conformity or non-conformity that determines good and evil?  A universal value would be humanity’s abhorrence of taking human life.  Or stealing.  Or lying. Or… well, you get my drift.  As mortals on this earth, whatever our culture, society or belief, these values appear to be rather universal.  When we deviate from these values, we cross the line from good to bad, light to dark, divine to evil.  Can we be influenced one way or the other?  In other words, can Satan and his minions make us be evil?  I don’t believe we can be forced to do anything.  However, I do believe if a choice is placed before us, there are powers of light and powers of darkness urging us to follow their disparate and opposite paths.  It’s our choice.  It’s always our choice.

 

So, be kind, make good memories and come back soon.

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Did You See That?
May 5, 2017, 9:32 pm
Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, LDS, Mormon, religion

Robert Wheadon-126x150

Do you remember the old Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons?  Violence was rampant but the coyote never died.  (Thank goodness.)  Acme products abounded as Wile E. tried all sorts of devices and traps to capture his desired dinner.  He never did capture the Roadrunner, but I admired his tenacity.

One of the interesting things about that cartoon was the landscape in which the action occurred.  Set in what appears to be the American Southwest, the artistic technique of Perspective was constantly in use.  Perspective.  You know, the ability to express distance and space on a flat surface?  It’s how the Roadrunner cartoons could show huge heights and cliff drops, all of which Wile E. Coyote survived.

Perspective is the word we use to also describe our viewpoint in space and time.  This definition is especially useful in scripture study, as well.  In the scriptures we have the habit of taking a narrative and taking a broad brush to it, attaching values that may or may not be appropriate to the scripture narrative.

Let me give you an example.  Pete Enns, a bible scholar, related a story of an interaction many years ago with his then six-year-old daughter.  Dr. Enns was reading his daughter the story of the Exodus, of Israel leaving Egypt.  When he arrived at the part of the story where Moses parts the Red Sea, the Israelites escape the oncoming Egyptian army, and the Egyptian army is then drowned in the Red Sea, his young daughter asked a question.

“Daddy, why did God kill the Egyptians?  Weren’t they His children, too?”   Wow.  Talk about a perspective I had never contemplated.  And I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question.  Narrative in the scriptures can be, and usually are pretty one-sided.  Take the Exodus example I’ve been using here.  The scriptural story rolls out in Exodus 1:8-14:

“8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.

9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:

10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.

11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.

13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:

14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.”

Typically, we would read this as, “Israel good.  Egypt bad.”  That is how the ancient writer portrayed the political climate and relationship between Egypt’s king and Israel.  In our 21st century perspective, we attach our values to scripture.  In this case, we would say slavery is a deplorable practice and the Egyptians deserved everything coming to them.

And yet anciently, slavery was an accepted way of life and did not hold the negative connotation it holds today.  Debts were paid through slavery.  If a person owed another and could not pay, the debtor could be enslaved for a period of time until the amount of his debt was paid in full.  Then he was freed.  Slavery could be a result of war, where conquered peoples would become slaves until freed.  Think Israel in 387 BCE being trucked off to Babylon only to be freed 50 years later and allowed to return to Jerusalem under Cyrus of Persia.  Slavery was a thing of that day.

Sometimes it’s an interesting exercise to think of a scriptural story from a different perspective.  In our Exodus example, imagine what the Exodus must have looked like from an Egyptian’s point of view.  What would the perspective have been from an Egyptian slave versus a Hebrew slave view point?

Life is never black and white and neither is history.

Which raises another question.  How do we avoid misreading what scripture is trying to teach us?  How do we discover for ourselves the truth that God is trying to convey to us through Holy Writ?  There are thousands of commentaries full of author’s interpretations.  More publications come out every year.  Don’t get me wrong.  Commentaries are great for providing context and historical background.  And yet these same commentaries are subject to the author’s training, belief and prejudices.  How do we know which perspective is what God really wants us to know.

I know of only one way.  It has three steps, but it is really the only manner for each of us to know spiritual truth.

1. Read the scriptures daily.  Just do it.  There’s no short-cut.  Just set aside time daily.

2. Pray.  Pray before reading.  Pray in your heart during your scripture reading.  Ask for God’s help in understanding.  Ask him to reveal to you the truth you need in your life at that time.

3. Ponder.  Think about what you have read.  Think about anything that jumped out at you in your reading.  Pay attention to thoughts that come to you as you think about what you have read.  The Holy Ghost, the testifier of truth, will bring thoughts to your mind and lead you to greater truths.

In John 15:26:  “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”

In 1 John 5:6:  “…And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.”

In John 16:13: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”

It seems clear that truth comes from one source and that is from God through the Holy Ghost.  That is how we obtain a holy perspective.  Let’s read with a little more depth.  Let’s take a little more time.  Let’s find the treasures in the word of God.

Be kind.  Make good memories.  Come back soon.