What is evil? Is it a thing, something in existence? Is it the opposite of good?
Good appears to be embodied in being, in people for example. Goodness has a quality of a thing, something that exists in being. If evil is the opposite of good, then it too exists as a thing in being.
If evil exists as a thing, then God does not exist. Why? Because if God exists and is good, then evil cannot be created and exist, otherwise God is not good. In other words, if God creates evil then we are mistaken that the creator is all good and therefore we are mistaken about the creator-as-creator.
We have four possibilities: 1) God exists and has created evil (a contradiction and so we can dismiss this one); 2) God exists and has not created evil (although it can exist, just not as a created thing); 3) God does not exist (as monotheism describes God) and evil exists as a thing (as goodness exists as a thing). In this case we have a form of ancient Manichaeism which suggested a struggle between good (as a spiritual thing, but not with the attributes of the monotheistic God) and evil (as a material thing). Augustine of Hippo eventually came to dismiss this premise because this way of living condoned evil (after all, if it exists alongside good, and defines the physical world, it cannot be all that bad); or 4) neither exists.
So, the two premises with the fewest contrary or contradictory aspects are #2 and 4: God exists and evil is not a thing (a creation of a good creator), or God does not exist (with the attributes as outlines by monotheistic theology) and evil does not exist other than perhaps as an illusion.
We will develop point #2 and allow atheists/materialists to voice their view in #4.
If evil is not a thing, then what is it? Augustine of Hippo solved this problem (of whether or not evil exists) by arguing that evil exists as the absence of good. It is not an opposite thing to good. Instead it is the absence of that which is good. (We are not saying that people are evil. Instead, we are interested in evil as evil and not as embodied or not in persons.)
If evil exists, then, how does it continue to exist? How is it perpetuated? I think evil continues to exist as viruses continue to exist: Each has to seek a host on which to prey to continue in existence. In other words, evil must somehow (the mechanism of this need not concern us here) have an effect upon good so that it ceases to be good or at least fully good. It invades good, in a certain sense. (As a virus cannot be 100% effective in destroying all hosts lest it become extinguished, evil cannot be 100% effective lest it has no more hosts).
To continue to exist, a virus then needs to continually inhabit other hosts. Evil, then, must go from the goodness in one being to another being. Evil has to spread to continue in existence.
I think that resentment is a primary mechanism for evil to continually find new hosts in which to exist. Why? Because resentment is the seed of rage and revenge. If we can destroy the mechanism by which evil seeks new hosts, then evil is destroyed (because it no longer can jump from host to host, as a virus does.)
Forgiveness is the means by which resentment no longer exists. Forgiveness, therefore, destroys the pathway of evil from one person to another. Forgiveness stops the spread of the disease of evil as sound hygiene stops the spread of viruses.
Forgiveness not only provides the mechanism by which evil no longer can spread from host to host but also forgiveness stops the effects of evil within any one host (person). Forgiveness eradicates the resentment (with its concomitant anger, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and hopelessness) destroying the effects of evil.
Forgiveness, then, has a vital role to play in destroying both evil itself and the effects of evil.
Long live forgiveness. Is forgiveness a thing? We will ponder this one another time. Well, ok, here is the answer: Good exists as a thing. Forgiveness is part of the good. Therefore, forgiveness exists as a thing. If forgiveness exists as a thing, then what is it? From the viewpoint of monotheistic theology, it is an attribute of God and is therefore a thing. Atheists, you may come in with a different viewpoint, which we will respectfully consider.
We just received this beautifully-stated image from someone recovering from abuse through practicing forgiveness:
“I have always viewed my recovery work like studying a tapestry. In the beginning, I stood up close, with all of my attention on the threads of abuse, which prevented me from seeing the full beauty of the tapestry. I thought with an up close view, I would be able to unravel the pain that it caused me. With each step in recovery, I am able to step back from the threads of abuse, and see a grander view of the tapestry that is my life. Each time I make progress, I allow the abuse to fade into the background of the tapestry. The abuse is becoming a fiber in the background, which is how everyone, but me, has viewed my life.”
This person is more than each strand of abuse suffered. There is a beautiful tapestry of this life to be seen and appreciated.
Thank you for the email. Thank you for the courage to heal through forgiveness.
Little do they know that we have a far more powerful weapon: forgiveness. Forgiveness-as-love can deflect any weapons meant to hurt us. The beauty of our weapon is that, once it destroys the effects of their intent-to-hurt us, it is used for good–to positively transform self and other.
Those who wish to hurt us think that they have the powerful weaponry. They are wrong. Theirs is rendered powerless in the face of genuine and persistently applied forgiveness.
As you evade with forgiveness attacks against you, the one who is trying to hurt you eventually will exhaust himself in this struggle to hurt. Once tired, she finally may be open to your gesture of unconditional love. If not, you have done the best that you can….and you have done so with love.
While talking with a friend recently who has had his share of injustices, he made an insightful comment which may prove helpful for you. Several years ago he had a break-up with a friend, a long-standing friend. To mask the pain of this break-up, as he explained it, he basically put the person and the event out of his mind, not to be cruel but only because the friendship seems to have dissolved. He refers to this state as “sleepwalking.”
Yet, two patterns are worth noting. First, whenever he meets this friend, the pain and anger well up within him again. It is as if his sleepwalking abruptly ends, he awakens with anger, and then goes back to sleepwalking when not in the friend’s presence once again.
A second pattern is this: When the friend makes overtures to reconcile, it is precisely at that time when the anger wells up the greatest, with great pain and suffering. Why? I think it is because the full weight of the injustice is now felt because of the contrast between the abandoning state and the state of mutual love and respect. That contrast at that moment is very intense.
So, for you, the reader, I have this suggestion. Are you sleepwalking through an unjust event with someone? “How do I know?” you might say. Here is a test: Quiet yourself and then with concentrated effort, imagine this person coming back to you in a repentant way, in a way that says, “I did wrong and would like to reconcile.” In that state ask yourself, “How angry am I now?”
If you are very angry, especially compared to when you are sleepwalking, then let this be a sign to you that you are harboring more anger than you realize. Your degree of forgiveness while in your sleepwalking state may not be complete forgiveness. You may have more resentment in there than you think and if so, more forgiveness work may be necessary.
With this knowledge, work on forgiving this person so that the next time you meet, you are not jolted from your sleepwalking….and if he or she truly wishes to reconcile, you will not bolt awake as if now in the nightmare. Your forgiveness work will help you to walk while wide awake, with reduced anger, ready to offer goodness rather than anger to this person.
I perused Wikipedia today for information on “survival kits.” Here are a few tidbits: salt (yup, it prevents death in case of cholera), laser pointer (for superior long-range signaling), large plastic trash bag (as a poncho), ladder (ladder, oh, sorry, this one is only for lifeboats).