I had the pleasure of reading Paul’s letter to the church at Rome while sitting out on my balcony this morning. Paul talked a lot about evil, mostly the consequences and a ton of encouragement to avoid it. Romans 2:7-10 says:
7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil:first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
It got me thinking, what exactly does evil mean? How would you define ‘evil’? Of course, Paul lists a few things such as sexual immorality (heterosexual and homosexual), greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. But how would YOU define evil? Then again, that’s probably the wrong question. Often times we don’t define evil by it’s essence but by it’s action. Evil becomes a verb.
As soon as evil becomes a verb we have lost control of its meaning. It’s clear that evil isn’t a “thing”. Evil is not a created entity which we could simply put to death or imprison in Gitmo. Evil is much more abstract. It’s not an additive to the spiritual condition, it’s a subtractive. It is the removal of something that was created to exist apart from it. God created good to be the essence of His creation. It was part of the original spiritual condition of humanity and the natural condition of all of His physical creation. He made it, it was good.
Evil is unique in that it functions, mathematically, like a negative. When evil is added to good the good decreases, kind of like when we add -4 + 9. We would love for it to equal 13, but it equals 5. Evil subtracts from good, and this is how it’s defined. Evil is the subtraction from God’s goodness that leaves a remainder that is less than God intended.
So how does evil get away with it? Shouldn’t we be wise to it’s tactics? Ah, but evil is a sneaky one. Evil does not come brazenly into our lives, but disguised with a series of masks that make it look, well, less than evil. What are these masks?
1) The Mask of Goodness: If we lose sight of what God’s definition for evil is, we very well may find that we’ve inserted our own definition in its place. We may define things as good that don’t seem evil. For instance, pre-marital sex doesn’t seem evil because it is simply using an action that was initially deemed to be good. But good in the wrong context is no longer good. It can carry the mask of goodness, but evil, in the end, is always destructive.
2) Mask of Necessity: Lying is a great example of evil masked in necessity. If the truth can get us in trouble, the lie looks much more appealing, even necessary. And maybe the lie is to protect someone’s feelings, or it’s a lie that wouldn’t hurt anyone (maybe a lie of omission). We can dress up the lie in a mask of necessity, but a lie cannot ever be anything but evil.
3) Mask of Conscience: This mask is can also be called relativism. If it’s ok with you, then it’s not wrong. There are a lot of items that fall into this category, and there are a lot of items we force into this category. Some items, scripturally, truly are matters of conscience and we are free to move in them as long as conviction does not exist. But then there are matters that we justify by saying, “Well this is just who I am.” or “This is how I was raised, so it just is” which is to say “I choose not to embrace who I am in Christ.” The Mask of Conscience so deceptive and clever and subtle. We must be careful that we don’t mistake command for conscience and invite evil into our good as a result.
We place masks over evil to disguise its intent but it’s result is always a subtraction from good.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. – Romans 12:9