Participation and Evil: The Problem of Doing Evil When Attempting to Fight Evil

Article excerpt


On August 17, 2008, the popular writer and religious leader Pastor Rick Warren asked Senator John McCain in a nationally televised interview, "Does evil exist, and if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it?" McCain's answer was short, concise, and met with thunderous applause: "Defeat it. "This answer came on the heels of five years of war in Iraq, where the United States had engaged in combat against a country it called part of the "Axis of Evil." Iraq, the Axis of Evil, lost far more noncombatant, dare I say innocent, citizens in that war than the United States has lost in its entire history.

Here we have a clear example of how humans, including Christians, often participate in evil when attempting to fight evil. This is why it is of utmost importance that we look deep into that dark and cold term, evil. This paper will not try to solve the problem of evil; it will not even try fully to understand evil. Instead, it asks: Are we able to participate in God's plan to bring about an end to evil, and if so, how? To tackle this question, we will look first at how humans participate with God. Then we will look at how humans participate with and understand evil. We will address the timeless questions: Where does evil come from? Did God create it? Finally, we will ask what we can do about evil, if anything.

What is the Source of Human Participation in Evil?

To lay the groundwork, let us begin with an early Christian theologian who thought deeply about participation: Maximus the Confessor. Maximus "understands" God on two levels. There is God in God's essence, about which we can know absolutely nothing. Men there is God in God's activity out of God's essence, which is the revealed God. We cannot know anything about God apart from the activity of God.

When something is created, it cannot exist outside of the activity of its Creator. This means that creation is the initial and continued activity of God. There is no existence without God creating and sustaining that existence. Therefore, all communion with God is communion with the action of God. Participation with God and God's activity is done only through created reality. (2)

The source of human participation in evil is often called the "fall." What is the fall? It is usually summed up in this way: God gave humans free will. Since God honors that gift, God allows us to choose wrong. Therefore, God is not to blame for creating evil; God just allows it CO exist. "God even knows, in a mysterious way, how to bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by God's creatures; but for all that, evil never becomes good." (3) Yet, going back to the story of the fall, there is one character who throws this for a loop: Satan. It is impossible to discuss evil without discussing Satan.

The serpent in Genesis is never identified as Satan; however, throughout history, both Jews and Christians have read Saran into the serpent--"the tempter." If Augustine, Luther, and countless others attribute the fall to Satan as the tempter, we must ask: Why did God create Satan? Why did God create a tempter? IF God wants us to choose right over wrong, why create someone or something to tempt us into transgression?

Theories about Evil's Place in Creation

Where does evil come from? Did God create evil? Christian tradition offers a number of answers to these questions.

In light of Scripture, Christians have commonly assumed that evil either originates in the tempting serpent or in humans' act of eating the forbidden fruit. However, although eating the fruit is a transgression, and it leads to suffering and death, Genesis 2-3 does not explicitly state at this time that "evil" has come into the world. Not even when Cain murders Abel does Genesis mention the presence of "evil." Instead, the first mention of evil comes in Gen 6:5, right after the "sons of God" see the fairness of the daughters of humans and have children with them called the Nephilim. …