August 1, 2006
This is the second installment of "Is It Christian?" an interview with Greek Orthodox priest, Father Johannes L. Jacobse.
Peter and Helen: In our last interview you said evil entered the world after it was created. This would address the speculation as to "why God allows us to suffer" about which we hear alot of bleating every time a disaster happens. Please tell us how evil entered the world and what we are supposed to do about it?
Fr Jacobse: This is a complex question but Genesis answers it. Evil entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. God had planted a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. God told them that if they ate of the tree they would die. The devil told them that if they ate of the tree they "would know good and evil and therefore become like God."
Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree and what God said would happen did happen with cataclysmic consequences: physical death (the separation of soul and body); separation between man and woman (Adam and Eve were ashamed of their own nakedness); and interior discord (the separation of the mind and heart).
Now let's back up for a minute. Skeptics argue that Genesis reads like fairy tale and therefore is an unreliable guide for illuminating the deeper questions about human life. Secularists believe religion has no answers to the deeper questions so they dismiss Genesis altogether.
The truth is that any question about origins, purpose, and destiny is unavoidably a religious question. Answers to these questions need to reference a higher authority, something that exists outside of the individual.
And here's the rub. If God does not exist, religion does not disappear. Instead, man ends up creating religions of his own even though he calls them something else. Marxism is the most obvious example. Marxism is nothing less than a cosmology; a system that purports to explain how the world works and man's role within it.
We see it elsewhere too, such as radical feminism, the secularized bureaucratic socialism of the EU, and so on. Dostoevsky said that when man ceases to believe in God, he believes in anything. Our age proves him correct.
Peter and Helen: Since evil entered the world after creation, and if God is all powerful, why doesn't He just get rid of evil?
Fr Jacobse: This is a very good question. Since evil entered the world through the hand of man rather than God, God cannot be the source of evil. The only way to get rid of evil then, is to get rid of the evil-doers. But this is something God won't do -- at least not yet.
Why? Because it violates man's freedom. Man was created with a radical freedom. This does not mean, however, that man is free to do whatever he wants. Rather, the freedom is constrained by a commandment: to love God and neighbor. Put another way, man is free to obey or disobey God, but obedience leads to life and disobedience to death.
Again, going back to Genesis, God created man for fellowship and communion -- a love freely given between man and God. If this love were not given freely, than the freedom we possess would not really be free. It would be coercion and God would be Coercer instead of Father.
It helps to understand how evil really works. In theological terms we say that evil has no ontological reality. What this means is that evil doesn't exist except as a distortion of the good. The greater the distortion, the more radical the evil.
Think of it this way. Evil is like a cancer. Cancer subverts the good cells. It draws from the life and energy of healthy cells and twists and distorts them. Evil works the same way.
How does evil enter the world? It starts with a lie. A lie is a false picture of reality. Evil is born when man puts his hand to shaping the world in the image of the lie. He believes the lie is the truth, and refashions the world to conform to the lie.
Needless to say that evil causes great suffering in the world. This happens on an individual level, say, child abuse (abusers really believe the child enjoys the abuse) and on a corporate level like Nazism or Communism. Clear thinkers, meaning those who know the difference between truth -- between reality -- and a lie are obligated to fight the evil when they confront it.
Peter and Helen: We often hear people lamenting "Haven't we evolved/progressed beyond the need for competition, violence and war?" In the Christian worldview, is it possible for us to "make the world a better place" -- without war, violence and evil? What would be necessary to make such a world? We have seen the rapid progress of "human knowledge" but does "human nature" progress?
Fr Jacobse: Yes, we do hear this often but the sentiment is fundamentally naïve. If man is created with a radical freedom, then putting his hand to evil is the result of a deliberate choice. Remember, evil was not created. It has no ontological reality. Evil exists because some people misuse their freedom to distort and deconstruct what is good and true into something else.
Moral freedom is given to all men. The drug dealer chooses to deal drugs. MTV chooses to sexualize youth. The thief chooses to steal. Moral advancement is certainly possible, but the drive that ensures such progress does not exist in nature, but in the heart of man. Progress, in other words, occurs only when people exercise their freedom according to the commandment, that is, towards God and the good of his fellow man.
What is necessary to create a world with less war, crime, and the suffering that results from it? It begins with the individual. "All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing," wrote Edmund Burke. "Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved," wrote St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Man has a natural capacity to recognize truth. He will recognize the truth when he sees it provided he cultivates his inner orientation toward what is true -- which is to say towards God. This is the foundation of any personal and ultimately social renewal. Absent this, man is susceptible to lies and thus evil.
Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse is a Greek Orthodox priest and edits the website OrthodoxyToday.org.
Peter and Helen Evans, http://www.peterandhelenevans.com. This husband and wife team -- freelance writers and speakers -- teach a philosophical approach to conservatism, and are scheduled speakers at Blogging Man. They are also real estate agents in the Washington, D.C., area.
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