Necessary Evil ?

Does evil exist for some sort of purpose? Is it an unavoidable part of this creation, and more tellingly, was it always there?

One of the foundational theories of evil in Christian circles is that of the “Fall”. This is the point in the biblical narrative where sin is seen to enter the word, the implication being that all was well before that point. Bob Eckhard has dealt with some aspects of this is his other blogs on this site.  Many traditional Christian views hold that all evil, including physical death, result from this one  primeval human action. It is not the view of all Christians though , nor many Jews, from whom we derive the text as part of the Jewish Pentateuch.

Christianity takes the Old Testament scriptures as God’s word of course, but re-interprets many of them through the lens of New Testament texts. One of the key relevant texts in this context is Romans 5:12 which says :

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.”

Through this and other verses, many Christians have come to the view that literally everything that we call “evil”, from the Holocaust to the common cold, came into the world because of human sin. It also cultivates the view that  “suffering” is contrary to the creation plan and has no part in it. Holding that world view, however intuitive,  has serious implications ; it affects how we feel about the world we live in, our inner sense of well being, how we interpret the challenges of life, our sense of contentment, and also how we feel about God.

A few blogs ago I mentioned man called Irenaeus. Irenaeus is a key Christian figure (not a heretic!) and portrays the event of Genesis 3 in a slightly different light.  He questions the idea of “fall” without disputing the idea of evil.  Irenaeus paints a picture where God creates fallible human beings who were set on the path of growth, encountering and overcoming challenge.   They “turned away” from the path of obedience through pride and a desire to be their own master.

This is subtly different from a “fall” – a turning away is not the same as a loss of status.  It certainly does not explain the origin of evil – it was clearly already present. It is there in the form of their tempter, but also  perhaps in themselves in their very inclination to listen and act upon that temptation.  After all, the fact that they “fell” at all shows there were prone,  and such a move in human development was more or less inevitable. Adam and Eve, real or metaphorical, are presented as beings with a choice, invited not commanded to obey God. His instructions are clear, but they are not enforced. He left them a choice. Our original created state is with a clean sheet, yes, but not moral perfection. We not only had the potential to sin, we clearly chose to do so.

It follows that we should not bemoan our origins, but rather seek to discover what role hardship and adversity play in our development. Their created human purpose is to attain maturity, and to spur them on their way they will have to overcome problems and subdue her living environment. There is another hint in Romans that this could be a valid interpretation :

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

We’ll examine the problems with this case in later blogs – and there are many. For now let’s agree to open our minds to the possibility that this word is our responsibility, and that it is more or less as it was intended to be. Our mission is to tend it and “subdue” it as Genesis says, in partnership with God.