“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
Not all that long ago, I couldn’t possibly make sense of a “Good God” creating, causing, or even allowing evil. Yet there it is, in black and white. How could God claim a nature of light, compassion, and unfailing love while simultaneously holding ultimate power and authority over rampant, uninhibited, preventable evil? It sure sounded schizophrenic and cruel—how do you intelligibly explain that to anyone, including yourself? But lately I’ve been learning some things that are transforming my perspective, giving me a less gloomy outlook on evil (and God’s suspect nature). While I’m still not comfortable with evil that causes pain in people’s lives, I’m beginning to have a new view of its source and purpose.
God is not “out there.” When you live with the notion that God is somewhere far, far removed from His creation, as evidenced by prolific prayers to the sky and baloney teachings like “God can’t coexist in the presence of evil,” it’s easy to see why some people feel that God has taken a hands-off, indifferent approach to the evil being done on earth (despite claims to the contrary). In addition, supposedly God loves His creation and claims ultimate authority over it, yet he’s either too disinterested and unmoved by the pain of his pitiful creatures, or else he’s helpless to stop evil, lest he interfere with the almighty “free will.” It’s easy to see why trust issues run rampant.
But what if…what if we were to realize that God is “in here”?* What if we connected with the realization that we all bear the imprint of the Divine, and that the condition of this world is the fault (or credit) of the “God in us,” not the “Dictator in the sky”? What if we were to acknowledge and own the fact that, like Jesus, we are created as “God’s image bearers—the exact representation of his being,” the ones with the collective power and responsibility to rule the world in love (dominion given to Adam)—not war, pain, and loss to our neighbor? Can we allow ourselves to grasp the magnitude of who We Are, aspects of the Divine who can use our power for good or evil?
Suddenly the responsibility for the condition of this world is removed from “out there,” and put squarely, “in here.” If the world is in sorry shape, if our neighbor is suffering, that’s not some far off Divinity’s fault, it’s the fault of the concealed Divine in us who is, as yet, unmoved for the life we have been given to create and the world we have been given to heal.
“Just as we wear the image of the soulish (earthy) one, we will also be wearing the image of the heavenly One” (1 Cor. 15:49).
“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Peter 1:4).
Let me say it this way. God cares about the effects of evil as much as you do. God has the power to stop evil as much as you do. So what are you (and I) doing about it?
I’m reading an awesome book—a priceless gift to non-Jews—written by Rabbi David Zaslow called, Roots and Branches: A Sourcebook for Understanding the Jewish Roots of Christianity, Replacement Theology, and Anti-Semitism. In essence, this book is great for someone like me who wants to understand the basics of Judaism from the ground up, as well as to learn Jewish perspectives on God and Scripture. It’s virtually the “missing piece” that I’ve searched for and it’s sooo good! As I suspected, the Jewish religion, being Eastern-minded, tries to shed the Western sense of Dualism (the sense that good and evil are separate and opposed) in favor of the unity, interdependent purpose, co-necessity, and synergy of all things, “good and bad,” an idea I have grown to embrace.
Choosing evil brings about a better self. In one chapter, Zaslow offers the Jewish perspective that the ability to choose evil and the eventual result of repentance for that choice brings about a person who is a better version of the original self before the mistake or evil was committed. Remorse or sorrow over sin has a refining effect (Solomon, anyone?).
The more I thought about this, the more powerful that thought became. On page 58, the Rabbi says, “The idea that repentance leads to a state even higher than if the person had never sinned in the first place is profound, and may seem strange to the Western thinker. It acknowledges that we will err, we will make mistakes, and we will sin. But by the act of “returning,” (think Prodigal Son) something incredible happens in the world—a kind of healing that could not have happened without the cycle of “sin and repentance.”
Of course, this assumes that an “evil” person will eventually come to that point of repentance where they are deeply remorseful for the harm they have caused others. If the opportunity is limited to this lifetime, obviously we’ve got a problem. But if you believe, like I do, that life and Scriptures teach of adequate future opportunity for this to take place (the Shepherd finds even one lost sheep, the Prodigal realizes the error of his ways and returns home, Sodom is restored (Ez. 16:53)), then there is no problem. Give it a little more time.
In closing, I’d like to share some related thoughts on the purpose of Dualism out of one of my all time favorite books, The Book of Mirdad:
A constant friction is duality; and the friction gives the illusion of two opposing sides bent upon self-extermination. In truth the seeming opposites are self-completing, self-fulfilling and working hand in hand to one and the same end—the perfect peace, and unity, and balance of Holy Understanding.
So does Unity unconscious of itself beget duality, that through the friction and the opposition of Duality, it may be made to understand its unity.
Not a punishment is Duality, but a process inherent in the nature of Unity and necessary for the unfolding of its divinity.
Have you not wished with all your hearts that God would forestall Eve’s insane audacity by appearing to her just as she was about to commit her reckless deed, and not afterward as He does in the story? And having committed her deed, have you not wished that Adam would posses the wisdom and the courage to abstain from being her accomplice?
Yet neither did God intervene, nor Adam abstain. For God would not have His likeness unlike Him. It was His will and plan that Man should walk the long way of Duality in order to unfold his own will and plan and unify himself by Understanding.
Man walked out of Eden through the twin gate of Good and Evil; he shall walk in through the single gate of Understanding. He made his exit with his back to the Tree of Life; he shall re- enter with his face to that Tree. He set out on his long and trying journey ashamed of his nakedness and careful to hide his shame; he shall reach his journey’s end with his purity unaproned and with his heart proud of his nudity.
But that shall not come to pass till Man by sin be delivered from Sin. For sin shall prove its own undoing. And where is Sin but in the fig-leaf apron? Aye, nothing else is sin but the barrier that Man set up between himself and God—between his transient self and His abiding Self.
Wait not on any miracle to save you from yourself, nor be afraid of pain; for naked Understanding shall turn your pain into an everlasting ecstasy of joy. Should you then face yourself in the nakedness of understanding, and should God call to you and ask: “Where are you?”, you would not feel ashamed; nor would you be afraid; nor would you hide away from God. But rather would you stand unshaken, unbound, and divinely serene, and answer back to God:
“Behold us, God—our soul, our being , our only self. In shame, and fear and pain have we walked the long, and rough, and tortuous path of Good and Evil, which you have appointed us at the dawn of Time. The Great Nostalgia urged our feet, and Faith sustained our hearts, and now has Understanding lifted our burdens, bound up our wounds, and brought us back into your holy presence naked of Good and Evil, Life and Death; naked of all illusions of duality; naked of every self except your all-embracing Self. With no fig leaves to hide our nakedness we stand before you unashamed, illuminated, unafraid. Behold, we are united. Behold, we have overcome.”
It is only by consuming from the divided Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that we are made ready to recognize and enjoy the single Tree of Life. Who knows? Perhaps one day, we will find that there was only ever one tree; it was merely our perspective that needed to change.
*In the Jewish tradition, God is both “out there” and “in here.” The Kabbalah teaches that one “side” of God transcends his creation in a sense of sovereign, removed perfection, while the other “side” of God is fully engaged intimately in and through his creation. This side holds the possibility of becoming perfect and overcoming evil through us.