No one ever accomplishes good by means of evil, because they are themselves conquered by the evil. On the contrary, evil is corrected by good.St. Barsanuphius the Great
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.James 2:19 (NRSVue)
It is a good exercise to ask, what is evil? Why do we categorize certain perspectives, actions, or even people as evil? Often, what we judge as evil is really about what we view as normative, as if normal was automatically good (or evil, for that matter).
In the US, today is Halloween. It is a combination of many traditions, and always comes with a plethora of arguments as to whether Christians should observe it, participate in any type of recognition of it (Truck ‘n’ Treat, Harvest Party, and the like), or stay in a holy huddle.
In Christian circles, 31 October has some Western Christian specific applications. In a few traditions, this (though really beginning at sunset) is the beginning of The Allhallowtide season, which is a time set aside in the church year for first, observation of the Saints (known & unknown, martyred and not) who have gone before us to their Heavenly Reward. It concludes with All Souls Day, which is an observation of all Christians who have gone before (and we won’t talk about Saints and saints).
For those of us of the Protestant traditions (in other words, not Roman Catholic or a myriad of Orthodox), 31 October is also Reformation Day, the general agreement that the Reformation began with Martin Luther starting an argument about the sufficiency of Christ by nailing his proposals (theses) to the gate of churches in the German city of Wittenberg. To be clear, the undercurrents of the Reformation were already moving (from an historical viewpoint) in Europe (with martyrs, too). Luther’s dramatic postings (though in course with cultural expectations) created a great story.
The secular and non-Christian aspects that we are experiencing for Halloween are, truly, a perversion and syncreticism of pre-Christian, Christian, and post-Christian belief structures. Just a side not, perhaps instead of assaulting Halloween, we do something different (and I’m not talking about Harvest Parties and Trunk ‘n’ Treats). Not that I necessarily have an idea, but much of the angst and outrage borders on evil, which St. Barsanuphius was warning us about.
As we watch functionally innocent children walk around asking for candy—who are dressed up as ghosts, stereotypical witches, super heroes, and what have you—we need to ask ourselves why we perceive a particular costume as good or evil. It’s not that I, for example, don’t have opinions, but I have had to spend time pondering why a particular costume is “evil” versus “good”. This is not about relativism. This is about my perspective of normal masked with what is “good”.
If there were two kids, one dressed up like a vampire and one dressed up as Knight Templar (a knight order during the Crusades in the Near East), my automatic emotional response would be vampire=bad, and Templar=good. However, if I were born and raised from the Near East (regardless of faith tradition), I might be very hard pressed to figure out which is evil, because the Templars were not good from a Near East perspective, because they came in conquest (motives aside) for generations.
If I, as a parent, knew that my neighbor was from the Near East, and dressed my child up as a Knight Templar (assuming my child wanted that), am I doing evil to my neighbor? Am I loving my neighbor?
This is not about incidental errors, but actions performed despite knowledge. Which brings us to the words of James. The demons James refers to know who God is. They know God’s holiness. It is arguable that they might even be more aware of who God is than any of the Saints or saints that have gone before us.
Yet, they shudder. I’ve heard many people ask, how could one know God (not bad or evil people, that’s different) and be against God? James doesn’t answer that question, but the implication is bigger than we think. Demons, who likely know God on a divine level beyond us, still oppose God. If the demons, who know God in ways beyond us, can oppose God, why not humans?
We can conclude that evil is opposing God. The implication with James, though, is that (perhaps) true evil is knowing God and opposing God anyway.
What recently has evoked “that is evil” from you? Did you spend time evaluating why it was evil? When you declare something evil, do you ever check against the Scriptures to see what the Scriptures say?
As you observe (and maybe even give candy to) children as they walk your neighborhood tonight, look at their costumes. Ask yourself why that child chose that costume, and why they thought it was “good”? Then ask yourself why you thought it was good or evil and why?
God, as we look about the world, we often conclude what is evil and what is good without asking you. Help us to look to you to define these terms, rather than how the world and our personal relationships tell us to. Help us to as filled with grace toward others in our perception of their wrong-ness, as you were while we were in our sin. Amen.