Evil is one of those words which we attribute to a variety of people and situations, but I am not sure any of us have the ability to give a full definition of this word. Some definitions on dictionary.com which caused me to pause are these:
morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked
the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin
There are aspects of each of these definitions which resonate with me. They easily fit within my understanding of this word. Yet there are also some questions which these definitions raise. Questions like…
Who defines “morally wrong”?
Is there one understanding of harmful or injurious?
Where does this force in nature come from?
Here is where deriving a definition for the word evil becomes a difficult task. As you can see by the questions I raised, there is some degree of subjectivity here. There is also a need to grapple with the spiritual aspect of the word. Add to these the historical impact of the interpretation and use of the word. Maybe this was not a wise subject for me to tackle in a blog post. In fact, you can find volumes of books and papers dealing with this subject.
Yet I am drawn to say something about this word. I have seen it used in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the last few months. Each time I have read it or heard it on television, I have paused to consider what the writer or speaker was trying to communicate when using this word. The application of the word was definitely not consistent. I had to ask myself how I understood this word and would apply it.
Remembering the struggles in creating a definition which I raised earlier, I caution you that my definition is far from being fully encompassing. I am sure there will be noticeable gaps you can find in my definition. You may have questions that arise like those I listed above. However, I am going to make an attempt.
My definition: Evil is the absence of the recognition of God in an action taken by a human being.
Let me unpack that definition a little. First, I want to point out the last two words. These are important words for me because it states that evil is attributed to a person or persons not to some spirit. One can argue that the state of mind of a person who does evil can be somewhat spiritual in nature. A person who does evil may have some physical or psychological issue which prompts them to act such as a chemical imbalance in their body or the impact of experiences in their lives. What remains is the fact that evil is done by a human being.
Next is the phrase, “the absence of the recognition of God.” I am stating here that God is not absent at the time an evil act is committed but that the perpetrator of the act does not recognize God at that time. The reason I state it this way is because I have a strong belief that God is always present so stating that evil is the absence of God does not align with this belief. Since God is love as I understand God, anything which is harmful to any of creation is inconsistent with God. So there must be an absence of some sort here. For me the absence lies with the person committing the act. Whatever the reason, this person does not recognize God in the particular setting and so is destructive in some manner. If the person recognized God in the situation, the person would refrain from a destructive behavior.
Another important point concerning evil is that a person is not evil. Every person is created in the image of God and God is not evil. In fact God is the antithesis to evil. Because of this, the other vital word in my definition is action. The evil exists within the action and not the person. So often we wish to portray a person as evil but that is inconsistent with my understanding of who we are as a creation of God.
There you have it. My current working definition of evil. I would love to hear your viewpoints on this definition. I would also like to hear how you define the word evil. We can learn from each other.