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Does Evil Serve a Purpose?

“Virtue cannot be destroyed, while evil inevitably destroys itself.”

Does evil serve a purpose? This question has been asked from the beginning of time. And at different times in history, scholars have offered answers. Here are a few thoughts – not a scholarly paper, born of study, but an opinionated response to the puzzle. Perhaps some readers of this article will share my thinking.

Broadly, evil confronts us in three ways:

1) Self-inflicted – when poor judgement shoves us to rash actions. 

2) Beyond our control – when we do not have control over the situation. For example, we incur losses through floods or an earthquake.

3) Perpetrated by evildoers – people who have power over us, through their position or physical power. 

Whatever the source of evil, it is not welcome. What possible purpose does evil serve? Let us examine that question.

1) Without evil we would not fully appreciate what is good.

 Consider the behavior of people – both good and bad. How would we appreciate the loving spouse, the devoted child, the outreaching neighbor, and the understanding boss, if we did not have in contrast the indifferent spouse, the uncaring child, the quarrelsome neighbor and the unfeeling boss? It is the contrast that shows good behavior in good light. The juxtaposing of the two helps us recognize good behavior and praise it. It also brings to the fore another truth – unless we hate what is evil we cannot love what is good.

2) Out of some evil much good comes

Let us look back at our lives – the bad times when we suffered some form of pain. We cursed and bemoaned our misfortune. We hoped it would end quickly. Sometimes it did; at other times it went on. Only in retrospect do we thank God for what was apparently bad – the period of illhealth which restrained us from a dangerous misadventure; the financial squeeze that prevented us from spending money wastefully; the loss of a good job only to find a better one; the breaking of one relationship to discover that we were spared prolonged unhappiness. We become wiser from such experiences – learning that evil has a good side to it.

3) Some good people become better.

Horrified by the ferocity of evil around them, the good choose to become better. Some even become crusaders. Martin Luther King Jr. rose giant-like with the slogan – ‘stone them with love’ – to counter racial discrimination in the USA. Mother Teresa, through compassion, battled the scourge of hunger, pain and destitution. During WWII unsung heroes emerged to carry on their mission of defending and protecting victims of savagery. Today, there are people who are standing up against the violence women and children suffer – raising their voices, mobilizing action and getting some results. They sacrifice time and money, and put in long hours in defending the defenceless. They realize that evil happens when good people do nothing to prevent it. In good people there is a swell of compassion that waters the least expected places to let heroes sprout. There is no doubt that if we cease to be better, we will soon cease to be good. Not to advance is to retreat.

4) A chance to return good for evil.

They say that to return good for good is human, but to return good for evil is divine. When we are confronted by evil from evildoers, we are raised to sainthood by doing them good. We refuse the easy way out of returning evil for evil when we are patient, tolerant and forgiving. The example of Mahatma Gandhi, the frail fakir of India, comes to mind: When he was abused and beaten by the British he would not protest or strike back. His action won him grudging praise even from his tormentors. Meekness is not weakness, but strength harnessed for service.

5) The evil ones find solace in repentance and conversion.

A Sunday school teacher asked a class what the word ‘repentance’ meant. A little boy said: “It is being sorry for your sins”. A little girl also answered: “It is being sorry enough to quit”. The little girl made a valid point – true repentance leads to conversion. Of course, there is the probability that evildoers do not repent at all and persist in their ways, or show repentance with a motive, only to return to their old ways. That evil may continue does not discount the fact that some evildoers could truly repent and mend their lives. The small number of such conversions adds to the number of good people in the world. That is a substantial gain.

6) Those who suffer are drawn to God.

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is the glue.”  -Eugene O’Neill

When we have suffered from evil, when all else fails, in our brokenness, in the silence of our hearts, where there is only pain, God’s grace works its wonders. He heals our wounds. He fills our souls with a peace that can come only from Him. Only those who have suffered much have experienced this peace; they find God; they discover that to be rich in God is better than to be rich in goods.

Evil in any form leads to suffering in some form and suffering in no form is welcome. Like the slave toiling in the noonday heat longing for sundown, we want to opt out of suffering. Yet, it cannot be denied that much good comes from some evil. As someone remarked, rather seriously, that ‘evil is necessary’ for the best part of man to combat the worst part.

Discussion: What do you think? do you think evil has it's place? What do you consider to be evil? post comments below:

*Editors Note: If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. -Mark 3:5
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. -Luke 16:13

Ignatius Fernandez blogs at:

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