Sometimes, my kids will want to eat more junk food than I want them to eat. One of the ways they attempt to justify this will be to say “But I’ll have something healthy later.”
It seems built into us, this flawed way of thinking. While I no longer think I can justify having a big, gooey Sunday by chasing it with a celery stalk or something, I do engage in similar mental gymnastics. I think so many of us do.
When I do something I know is wrong I’ll justify it by planning on doing something which is exceptionally moral. Or sometimes, I’ll put a twist on this. I’ll do something wrong and then I’ll use this to get some good result… I cheat on my taxes, perhaps, but donate the money to a good charity.
We keep these mental score cards. We think, at the end of the day, if we’ve shown a profit of goodness that we are a good person. Somewhere deep down, we even maybe believe that this balance sheet will either get us into heaven or keep us out of heavan.
It occurred me today: part of this is rooted in the idea that Good and Evil are equal and opposites.
If Good and Evil were equal and opposite then the whole object of life would be to end up closer to the side we identify as “Good”. The way we would ensure that this is where we are would be to total up all of the good things we do, subtract from them all the bad things we do, and hope we end up on the right side of the dividing line.
There’s a variety of decent reasons to think that Good and Evil are equal and opposite. But I’m not sure that any of these reasons are in the Bible. I think, in fact, that scripture implies quite a different view.
The two biggest reasons that it seems like Evil and Good aren’t equal and opposite:
#1) Satan is Evil personified. And yet he is created.
#2) We are promised Good’s ultimate victory over evil.
Being created is in some ways inferior to being The Creator. In this sense, Evil and Good do not seem equal. And it seems to me that if you can guarentee one side’s victory over the other, then, furthermore, they weren’t really evenly balanced.
The only way to make sense of all this– and a variety of other philosophical issues– is to suggest (I think Augustine held this position) that evil is a lacking of Goodness. In short, Evil isn’t equal to Good. Evil is a lacking of good.
Dark and light (which are often used in the bible to stand for good and evil) actually share a similiar relationship. At first glance, it might seem that dark and light are equal and opposite.
Yet, we can’t flick a switch and have darkness cast by a dark-bulb. Darkness is simply the absence of light. It isn’t really equal or opposite to light at all. Dark is simply what happens when there is no light around.
I used to feel frustrated when Christians spoke about how God’s standard is perfection. There are passages of scripture which are taken to mean that the only way to heaven outside of Jesus is total perfection.
If Good and evil are viewed as equal and oppsites, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But if God is the ultimate good, it suddenly does. Because I can never be as good as God. And perhaps this is Jesus meaning when he asked why someone called him good. He said that only God is good.
We have the potential to be Godly. It’s not a theoretical impossibility that we might be good as God, in the same way that’s it’s a theoretical impossibility that we’d be as wise or powerful as him.
But is a practical impossibility. On the ground, we never make it work.
And so let’s go back to the celery and Sunday mentality. The bottom line of why it is so silly:
We began with the idea that we might do something evil or immoral. It is a thing occupying the country far from God. It is a thing which has nothing to do with God. In the same way that a giant gooey Sunday is so far from healthy, so too is our action so far from God.
The issue isn’t that it’s evil, really. Evil is simply a lacking of Godlines. The issue is that it’s far from God.
And a celery stick? It’s closer to healthy. But a celery stick isn’t the ultimate act of healthiness. We can’t, in practice, engage in one ultimate act of healthiness. We’re closer to healthiness, when we eat the celery, and it’s generally smarter to eat celery than Sundays, but so what? Eating the celery doesn’t erase the ice cream…
Nor do our attempts at engaging in Godly acts erase our ungodly ones. Even if we could truly become Godly, even if we could engage in one single, supremely healthy act, even if there was some sort-of super food that instantly met all of our dietary requirements, it still wouldn’t erase the ice cream.
And so as I’m writing this I realize that this even begins to drift into the realm of faith vs. works. Perhaps our faith can come closer to Godly perfection than our works can? Maybe the reason that our hearts condition is so much more important than what we’re doing on the outside, is that God’s image resides in our hearts…