Flipping through the channels, I saw Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly interviewing ABC’s Diane Sawyer. She was appearing to promote her special interview with Jaycee Dugard, the woman who was kidnapped as a young girl, held captive for eighteen years, repeatedly raped and impregnated so that she bore two daughters to her captor, a so-called street preacher.
Of course, this is happening in the midst of the backlash and outrage over the
verdict in the murder of little Caylee Anthony. Many people think that the evidence was clear that her mother, 25-year-old Casey Anthony, killed her daughter and disposed of her body in a swamp. O’Reilly has been especially vocal that justice was not served for Caylee.
After their initial remarks, O’Reilly asked the question:
Do you ever think about evil?
Suddenly, we shifted from a discussion of current events to a consideration of morality. It was an unspoken affirmation that we all agreed that these were reprehensible actions, so morally bankrupt that the only adequate description was “evil”.
O’Reilly wanted to know if Sawyer made that judgment about the people involved while reporting such cases. And, if so, did she feel any responsibility to bring the viewers into a sense of moral outrage. From there, the discussion turned to the difference between journalist as commentator and journalist as reporter.
But the question lingered, like the aroma from a meal that was cooked a few hours earlier.
Every so often, “evil” shows up in the headlines. Remember when President Bush used that term to describe terrorists, and the actions of some world leaders? Most of the time, our public discourse vigorously avoids the hard edges of moral categories. We prefer to leave judgment open. We don’t want to call people out. We are reluctant to impose our convictions on another person.
But the question remains: do you ever think about evil?
Well? Do you?
Why does it matter?
Here’s why: the ability to name something evil supposes that we can name something good. Describing something as beautiful means we also have a concept of what’s ugly or unattractive. Ruling someone guilty requires an understanding of a level of innocence.
In other words, moral judgments suppose moral categories.
And everyone has moral categories. Anarchists and legislators, atheists and priests, intellectuals and simpletons, terrorists and TSA screeners, liberals and conservatives, Christians and Muslims, oldies rockers and Bach lovers – all have moral categories.
Now keep following the logical path. Moral categories don’t just fall out of the sky. Moral categories require an authoritative moral standard by which all things moral & ethical are measured.
A moral standard points to God, or at the very least, a Higher Power, however you may define it—even if it is yourself. So, to ask, “Do you ever think about evil?” is ultimately another way of asking “Do you ever think about God?”
Discussions of evil turn us all into theologians.
That reality means a couple of things. First, any conversation about evil can move beyond mere discussion about the morality of actions in the headlines to a consideration of ultimate convictions. There’s a lot of room for significant conversations that get to the heart of people, well under the surface of water-cooler head-shaking.
But even more, noticing evil necessarily means there is something at work in the world that is not beautiful, good, right or just. We have an innate sense that this is not
the way the world was meant to be, not the way humanity at its best should behave or produce.
We humans have a built-in sense that our best life is supposed to be beautiful, good, right and just. It’s like a fading memory of a place we once knew. Or a whispy dream that you can’t quite grasp when morning comes.
Where did that sense, that memory, that dream come from? Listen:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace…. God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11)
In other words, things like death, killing, breaking down, mourning, casting away, , tearing, hating , war – all of which we can rightly call “evil”– point us beyond earth to something else. In the same way, birth, healing, building, rejoicing, gathering, sewing, loving and peace – all of which we rightly call “good” point us beyond earth to something else.
The something is a Someone: God. He is the standard by which we measure both evil and good in our time.
But He also promises more beyond time. Eternity is the longing for ultimate beauty, goodness, right and justice that God has placed in our hearts… and that will one day be fulfilled:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. “(Rom. 8:18, 22-23)
We groan over evil. But it is a reminder that this world is not all there is. There is another world coming, a world that is all we long for—beautiful, good, right, just—and more. It is a world open to all who will trust God’s Son Jesus for their soul, their life,
their world and their destiny.
Think about that the next time you think about evil.