The word evil is a familiar term. We hear of evil deeds frequently and everywhere. It is hard not to be exempted from its effects. Thoughts that intrigued me as I ponder on this very topic are: How does evil exist? Do we participate in its existence? Are we instrumental, if so, how? What actually is “evil”? How are human beings led to evil deeds? also, what is temptation?
Many activities considered to be sins in Biblical terms are referred to as “crimes” (legally) or “symptoms of disease or disorder” (psychologically/clinically). These are different languages used for the same human concerns. We seem to be less conscious about temptation or sometimes, neglect its subtlety in our everyday lives. How do we understand temptation and evil in our own circumstances or in others?
The World Book Dictionary defines “evil” as “morally bad, wrong, sinful, wicked, that does harm, unfortunate,” and “temptation” as “to make or try to make or do something, to attract, to provoke.” It comes from the Latin word ‘temptare’ or ‘tentare,’ which gives us the most commonly used meaning of temptation: the action of being tempted, especially to evil, enticement, allurement, and attraction. Evil and temptation connote two different meanings, however, they work together. Temptation goes with the sin and vice versa. It becomes a matter of human behavior trying to do or not to do something.
Evil is seen manifest in oppression, persecution, and harm. It also plays out in the form of invasion, exploitation, humiliation, and other negative behaviors, destroying the human spirit and security. Evil can exist and affect people even within the context of trusted relationships. It is comprehensive and the term symbolizes conflicts - within and between persons, injustice, estrangement, and suffering.
We are informed by Biblical accounts of how evil began historically. However, we cannot exaggerate the roles played out in the Garden of Eden, which is not much emphasized in Scripture. Sin and evil arise not only because of the act then, but as Clark Pinnock notes, because of humankind’s own perversity at different times and contexts. Although it is difficult to admit, we do play a role in the dynamics of sin and temptation.
Sin/evil is both universal and inevitable. All of us together are in a condition of rebellion and disobedience. We each form the system we live and participate in – our own home, and our various communities. We are members of these systems. Therefore, we all somehow contribute to the existence or manifestation of evil (systemic contribution!). Having said that, I am also reminded of the opportunity we have – a level on which sin is freely chosen (as all are tempted). We are bound by temptation and sin in and around us, yet we are creative and free. We can choose. We can make decisions.
Temptation thus happens within and between persons. Temptation can work within our thoughts or through other persons. Evil is real and at work. It is at most times, intentional. Also, evil tend to personify itself. These seem to emerge out of the human character, our own selfishness. We look for our own gratification, in that we end up controlling not only our lives but others too. This can lead to more destructive behaviors (e.g. making up false stories or dispute ending up in taking life). Evil deeds normally involve unhealthy or unpleasant actions and behaviors, which are often well justified by the doers.
The book of James (1:13-15) informs us that God does not tempt anyone, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.
The working of sin is made easier because of the given freedom of human will. Therefore the power lies in human beings, to be tempted or to resist. Temptation can occur at any time, any place, with anyone.
Symptoms of evil are seen in the spiritual as well as the psychological functioning of human beings. According to a study by Rodger Bufford (1989), the need for both spiritual and social-psychological understanding and interpretation are emphasized.. When we place ourselves in God’s history, in relation to Him and look at our problems in the light of His workings, there seem to be a better chance to make sense of what we go through in our lives. We can remind ourselves again and again, of the liberation in Christ, with focus on what God is doing to combat evil (suffering with, empowering, bringing resurrection out of death, in all sense). Our beliefs can help us engage with our own world. We have the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with what it means to be human, at the same time, seek for further understanding while relating with God, ourselves, and others.
We can help ourselves and others battle temptation by understanding how we are prone to it yet how we can avoid being evil. We can help face evil for what it is by identifying patterns of destruction in our lives. We need to recognize the human condition and our tendency to sin no matter what. We have the desire for both good and evil. We can help each other recognize personal accountability, acknowledging evil and responding to it with firmness and power, the opportunity to resist, forgive, mend, and the courage to heal. We can help each other understand the possibility and power of forgiveness.
Evil in all forms of personal and social breakdown exist, which interestingly continue to prevail due to the misuse of freedom. Nevertheless, goodness can be sought and cultivated in the midst of negative and destructive events. Evil and suffering exist and will continue to do so. The relentless search for an explanation and remedy for different situations takes place more often than not. Sometimes, false explanation or wrong attempted solutions can cause even more pain. Continuous and conscious efforts to seek goodness and truth with much sensitivity to each other’s needs, are worth striving for. Although answers may not always be found, the existence of evil and suffering should motivate us to seek healing and comfort with those who are in pain. Indeed, suffering can be redemptive.