Good Versus Evil—An Agelong Battle
IN THE films of yesteryear, the “good guy” always defeated the forces of evil. But reality has never been that simple. All too often in the real world, evil seems to have the upper hand.
The specter of evil haunts the nightly newscast. In the north of the United States, a Milwaukee man murders 11 people and hoards the remains of their mutilated bodies in his freezer. Away down south, a stranger crashes into a Texas cafeteria and opens fire indiscriminately for ten minutes, leaving 23 people dead, including himself. A disgruntled opposer in Korea sets fire to a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, killing 14 worshipers.
Not only are there these sporadic outbursts of evil but there is another horrific evil that affects the world—genocide. It is calculated that one million Armenians, six million Jews, and over one million Cambodians have been exterminated in racial and political purges in this century alone. So-called ethnic cleansing has stricken many in the former Yugoslavia. Nobody knows how many millions of innocent people have been brutally tortured around the globe.
Tragedies such as these force us to confront the disturbing question, Why do people act in such a way? We cannot dismiss these atrocities as the product of a few deranged minds. The sheer scope of the evil done in our century belies such an explanation.
An evil deed is defined as one that is morally wrong. It is an act perpetrated by someone who can choose between doing good and doing evil. Somehow his moral judgment becomes warped and evil wins out. But why and how does this happen?
Religious explanations for evil are often unsatisfying. Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas claimed that “many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist.” Many Protestant philosophers hold similar views. For example, as stated in The Encyclopædia Britannica, Gottfried Leibniz considered evil to be “a mere set-off to the good in the world, which it increases by contrast.” In other words, he believed we need the evil so that we can appreciate the good. Such reasoning is like telling a cancer patient that his sickness is just what is needed in order to make someone else feel truly alive and well.
Evil intentions must come from somewhere. Is God indirectly to blame? The Bible answers: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” If God is not responsible, who is? The following verses give the answer: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (James 1:13-15) Thus an evil deed is born when an evil desire is nurtured rather than rejected. However, that is not the whole picture.
The Scriptures explain that evil desires arise because humanity has a fundamental flaw—inherent imperfection. The apostle Paul wrote: “Just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Because of inherited sin, selfishness may well overrule kindness in our thinking, and cruelty may override compassion.
Of course, most people know instinctively that certain behavior is wrong. Their conscience—or ‘law written in their hearts’ as Paul calls it—dissuades them from committing an evil deed. (Romans 2:15) Still, a cruel environment can suppress such feelings, and a conscience can become deadened if it is repeatedly ignored.a—Compare 1 Timothy 4:2.
Can human imperfection alone explain the orchestrated evil of our time? Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell observed: “It is true that there is evil in each of us, but adding together even large numbers of individual evils does not explain an Auschwitz . . . Evil on this scale seems to be qualitatively as well as quantitatively different.” It was none other than Jesus Christ who pinpointed this qualitatively different source of evil.
Not long before his death, Jesus explained that the men who were planning to kill him were not acting entirely of their own volition. An unseen force guided them. Jesus told them: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth.” (John 8:44) The Devil, whom Jesus called “the ruler of this world,” clearly has a prominent role in fomenting evil.—John 16:11; 1 John 5:19.
Both human imperfection and satanic influence have exacted their toll for thousands of years. And there is no sign that their grip on mankind is slackening. Is evil here to stay? Or will the forces of good eventually eradicate evil?
a Researchers have recently seen a relationship between explicit violence on television and juvenile crime. High-crime areas and broken homes are also factors in antisocial behavior. In Nazi Germany incessant racist propaganda led some people to justify—and even glorify—atrocities against Jews and Slavs.
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Cover: U.S. Army photo
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U.S. Army photo