CHURCH CORNER: What do you choose to believe about good, evil?

Do you ever look at the world around you and wonder why so many people can do so many harmful things to others, while at the same time there are also many people who invest their time, energy and even their money into helping others?

What makes the difference? Some people argue that it is faith, religious belief that makes that difference, but I know many people who have no particular religious affiliation or belief and yet are interested in doing what they can do to make their community a better, safer, healthier place to live. And I know people with very public and strongly espoused religious affiliation and beliefs whose public behavior is hurtful and offensive to the people they encounter, like the church that goes to funerals and insists that God hates this grieving family because of one thing or the other; I won’t name them because they do not deserve your attention. And such bad behavior does make it possible for skeptical writers to comment on things with phrases like this one: “Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.” Such a broad brush and so completely improvable; the kind of conclusion a scientist should avoid making publicly. But it does open the door to an important conversation about how we know what is good and what is evil, whether you are a believer, an agnostic or an atheist.

Because I believe in one God who created the universe, who created life (no, I can’t explain how) and who is Himself good, I easily subscribe to the idea that goodness is a reflection of God’s nature in action in this world – so loving others, helping the hurting and needy, accepting my responsibility to make things go well for everyone, protecting children, are all expressions of how God’s nature would be experienced through human acts. I even believe that all of us, from every nation, every ethnicity, every corner of the world, every language were created in God’s image, intended to reflect his goodness into our lives.

But I could believe all that and not even walk across the street to say hello, much less help you! And I could question all that and still want to do what I could to help you. There is a reality in all of us that we sometimes fail to live up to our own expectations of what kind of person I want to be, of what kind of person I think I should be and there is also a bitter reality that sometimes we don’t really want to be the person we think we should be…and sometimes we do become hypocrites saying one thing and doing another intentionally (mistakes aren’t hypocrisy you know, they’re mistakes!).

But one thing I do believe is important for us all to consider is whether we will accept the idea of good and evil, of right and wrong, as something more important and substantial than my own point of view. We are very fond of saying it’s all about what I think, it’s all about my belief, it’s all up to me to define. We love the excuse that covers all failures – well, that’s my truth, not yours. And so we have the world as it is, nearly 7 billion different ideas of good, all based on pragmatic self-interest: it’s what I wanted. Even while we all wish the world was a better place…but what do you choose to believe about good and evil? How will you define the difference between them? It does matter.

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