Evil

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

harmful; injurious

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.

Defining God

First of all, let me be clear that this post will not give an all-encompassing definition of the one who has been referred to by different names. Volumes of books have been published trying to offer that definition. Thousands of theologians, scholars, and religious leaders have spent centuries trying to verbalize a definition. All attempts have fallen short of defining God. Part of the reason is that God does not fit into our human words or images which I addressed in an earlier post (go here to read it if you have not). This being the case, I would like to present to you my current working definition of God.

GOD IS LOVE

I realize that this may be oversimplifying a definition of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all life. As simple as this definition is on the surface, it is much more complex than it seems. The complexity comes from the challenge of defining the word “love.” Let me take a bit of your time explaining how I came to this definition and then adding an attempt at defining love.

My starting point is located in 1 John 4:8… “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV translation). The author of this letter states two important realities for me. First, the author connects knowing God with the act of loving. In order to define God, one must know God. Here we see that this ability is centered in love. It reminds me of the scene in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” During the scene, Indy is trying to make his way into the inner chamber of a temple where the Holy Grail is thought to be located. To get into the inner chamber, Indy must successfully maneuver through three booby traps intended to guard the Grail. Each trap required the person to be able to know something regarding God and/or Jesus. I will not give away the plot if you do not know it already. The key here is that senseof knowing. Instead of having three different pieces of knowledge, the author of 1 John states that the ability to love is the requirement to know God.

The writer goes on to explain to us why we must love if we wish to know God. In the second clause of the sentence, the reason given is “because God is love.” Here is my second reality which feeds my working definition. I challenged a group of teenagers who I was leading in a discussion to take a part of Scripture and every time they found the word love, replace it with God. If you want to try this exercise, go to 1 Corinthians 13 and read that chapter following the instructions which I gave the teens.

As I have read and studied the Bible, it becomes clear to me that over and over, God acts out of love. This love is for humans and for all creation. Even when it seems that God is disciplining people, God clearly is doing so as a loving parent would do with a child. God’s love is most evident in the teachings and actions of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of John gives us those well-known words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, NIV

If it is in love that we know God, and if God is love, then how do we define love. As difficult as defining God is, it is almost as difficult to define love. The number of individuals who have made an effort at this definition is close in comparison to the number who have attempted the definition of God. I offer to you my working definition, love is the giving of one’s self for the benefit of others and finding pleasure and joy in the act of doing so.

As a believer in God, I turn once again to recorded words of Jesus as my basis for my definition. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and resurrection when he tells them, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). I do not think that Jesus is stating we must die to show love. Instead, I view Jesus’ statement “to lay down one’s life” to refer to the giving of self. This giving may be manifested in offering of time, a listening ear, a helping hand. Giving can also include placing another’s need ahead of our own wants. The placing of ourselves in another person’s shoes may be an act of giving. This list can be added to by each of you. The point is that in this giving, is love.

God is love because…

  • God chose to become human so that we could understand our relationship with God since in Jesus, God walks in our shoes
  • God offers all that God has created to us instead of keeping it all to God’s self
  • God accepts ALL without limit or requirement
  • God never abandons us
  • God forgives EVERYONE without exception

What is your definition of God? What is your definition of love?


Purpose of the Church – Part 2

In my most recent post, I shared my view about what the Church was not. This begs the question, “What is the Church?” In this post, I will be focusing upon what my definition to the Church might be.

As I was discussing in the last post, I clearly do not see the Church as a building. The gathering of the Church takes place in a building at times but the building is not what defines the Church. I shared that the Church is people; people in relationship with God and in relationship with one another. People who are on a journey which we call life and entwined in that journey are relationships. The Church acknowledges that this journey is communal in nature. We discover together, we learn together, we experience together, we fail together, we succeed together, we laugh together, we cry together, we live together, and we die together.

The Church is where we experience life together. Here is where support should be found. When one of us faces struggles or uncertainty, the Church surrounds that person and walks alongside. When someone is searching, the Church shares in the search by sharing experiences. When an individual is feeling attacked, judged, mocked, ridiculed, the Church embraces that person. The Church looks out for every individual but does not control or manipulate them. The Church shares the wisdom gained by experience but does not impose that wisdom on the person but lets the person use that wisdom within their own story.

One of the misconceptions that I encounter in the Church is the idea that the Church is God. I believe that this misconception comes from the interpretations of Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Too many have seen this as Jesus giving the Church license to judge people, exact punishments, and demand certain behaviors. Instead, I see this as Jesus indicating the responsibility of the Church to look out for the beneficial welfare of all people. This does not mean that the Church usurps God as the supreme authority.

I plan on doing one more post about the purpose of the Church. The last post will be sharing thoughts on how the Church lives out responsibilities given to Peter in the passage from Matthew 16.