Good and Evil

Jan Antonsson

serpent in eden

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

May 20, 2016

Neosho, MO

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7, KJV).

You may decide after reading the scripture there that the best use of this writing is to line the bottom of your bird cage.  Possibly so, but maybe you’d do me the kindness of reading it before you take that step, and/or sending me a box of rocks. Thank you for giving me the grace to hear what’s on my heart.

The subject of good and evil has come up several times lately in our on-line discussion group.  In his May 11th meditation entitled, “Becoming Pure in Heart,” Fr. Richard Rohr observed:

“If you walk around with hatred all day, morally you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. We can’t live that way and not be destroyed. Yet, for some reason, many Christians have thought they could think and feel hatred, negativity, and fear. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians. Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22).  If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we’re living out of death, not life. If that’s what we think and feel, that’s what we will be: death energy instead of life force.  Apparently we cannot afford even inner disconnection from love. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.”  End Quote.

Most of us who have been reading the Bible for a while, realize that the Jews in Jesus’ day had figured out ways to circumvent the Law to make it more palatable and easier to keep.  When Jesus began His ministry, He called the Pharisees out for their hypocrisy and double dealing (one set of rules for their followers and another one for themselves).  The Lord himself set the bar so high on human behavior that few if any could keep it, and He consistently angered the religious authorities by naming their sins.

It still angers our religious leaders when we point out their shortcomings, so most of us keep our mouths shut and use our feet instead, to walk out the door when we feel offended and put upon with no real power to change things.

Christians have continued to use the Ten Commandments to define what is evil, what to avoid, and how to please God.  The graphic in this piece reminds us that when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He pointed out the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  About the latter, He warned, “In the day that you eat of it, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).  

Of course, that was a set up by God, using the devil, evil incarnate in the form of a serpent, to tempt Eve.  He told her that knowing good and evil would make them like gods.  Eve sold the idea to Adam.  Paul said she rather than Adam was deceived (II Corinthians 11:3), but I ask you, when in the history of the world has a man not done what a naked woman asked him to do?

That act on their part, clearly foreordained by God, or else He could have forbidden the serpent to enter Eden, set the standards of religious morality from then until now.  The church world has continued to push the idea that knowing good helps one to avoid evil.  It’s what Sunday Schools are famous for, teaching our children how they should behave. If they or we consulted Dr. Phil, no doubt he would ask, “And how is that working for you?”

Since no one but Jesus could keep the law, the answer is that this approach is a miserable failure from start to finish.  Teaching little children about good and evil, right and wrong, is necessary, helpful for family and society, and it no doubt saves their lives so they can grow up.  We don’t allow our toddlers to cross the street alone, and we warn them constantly about the danger of traffic, hoping that when they are old enough to make their own decisions, they will remember our warnings.

Does all that really have an effect on evil?  Before we can attempt an answer, we have to ask, “What is evil?”  That could just as well have been the title of this piece.

Most Christians are horrified to know that Isaiah 45:7, is in the Bible, because they cannot believe that God could create evil.  Lenny’s use of this scripture shocked the Baptist men to whom he had been sent.  Another shocker is Amos 3:6:   “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does evil befall a city, unless the LORD has done it?”  Ouch!  That’s tough to hear and tougher still to explain away.

As a child, I read the Old Testament often because the stories of God’s power to save His children from their enemies thrilled me and lifted me out of myself.  I loved the story of Elijah standing down the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:19-40), and Elisha being trapped by the King of Edom’s army. When his servant panicked and cried out aloud about who would save them, Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes to see that the city was surrounded by horses and chariots of fire (II Kings 6:8-17).  Elijah, Elisha, Moses, Samuel, Daniel, and David were a few of my super heroes.  Their stories fueled my faith, pumped up my enthusiasm for Almighty God, and inspired me to strive to be like these men of faith.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, were the horrific punishments God poured out on the children of Israel for their continual, habitual disobedience to His commandments.  Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, is a horrific account of what God promised would happen to them if they disobeyed the Law.  If you haven’t read it lately, or ever, let me encourage you to do so because it will cause you to rejoice and praise God for Christ and His endless mercy and grace.

What is evil to you?  Is it people who seek to harm you or this country?  Is it characterized by tyrants like Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un, ISIS or the Ayatollahs of Iran who have said the US is “The Great Satan?”  Do you believe people are evil because they don’t agree with you politically or theologically?  What is the criteria you use for your judgment? You can take some of the ingredients of evil named here, and bake the cake yourself.

And while we’re at it, what is your definition of good?  Is good that which pleases God?  If so, by whose standards?  The Bible is full of sincere folks who sought to please God, but failed miserably.  Had that not been true, had there been some who could keep the law, Christ would have been spared because God could just have sent better naggers to get the rest in line.  (The prophets were very adept at nagging).  As it was and is, the only way to please God is in Christ.

Paul wrote that we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and that pretty much settles that once and for all.  What did you do or avoid doing before the foundation of the world which qualified you to be chosen?  Election is one of those difficult topics because, as Paul put it, quoting God’s message to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.  It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:15-16, NIV).

Likewise, Paul quoted Isaiah, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me” (Isaiah 65:1; Romans 10:20, NIV).  This is the polar opposite of countless sermons which insist that we must choose Christ or be forever lost.

My dear friend Harry Fox always says that the essence of the Gospel is completely spelled out by Paul in Romans, chapters 9, 10, and 11.  People living by law cannot accept it, saying it’s too difficult to understand.  I can’t help but wonder if that’s because were they to accept what Paul says plainly, they would lose any claim to glory for themselves.  Here’s the verse:  “God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all” (Romans 11:32, Phillips).  To me, this is the lynchpin of the Gospel, the verse which sums up the message Christ came to earth to bring us.  God is the subject of that sentence, the only action figure in the equation.  Man is the recipient, not the actor.

The idea that we can achieve righteousness on our own is odious and reveals the hubris in the unredeemed human heart. It is probably left over from the serpent’s lie to Adam and Eve, that in the day they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would become like gods.

This desire to be like gods is a cancer of the soul, invading and corrupting men and women who have not had the veil of law removed from their eyes.  When we think we can know good and evil and thereby do the one and avoid the other, we have just taken a bite of the fruit of that tree which brought us all into exile and sorrow beyond comprehension, but which ultimately led us to the portals of glory once Christ revealed Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Arguably, the most evil deed ever committed on earth was the torture and crucifixion of the sinless Son of God, yet in that act, God’s love prevailed because the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ brought salvation to the entire world.

Father, we worship and adore You, lay down our lives before You, and rejoice in Your plan of the ages fulfilled in Christ.  Make us joy bringers and love bearers, ones who reflect Your presence to those who do not yet know you.  We join our voices with those of  “a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  To God be the glory, world without end. Amen.  Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)

All our writings from 1997-2010 are on

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