Pastoral Ponderings: Free will and what that means for mankind

When looking at good and evil, except evil is just the absence of good

Robin King

Pastoral Ponderings

Ben Wilson and I record a podcast each week. It’s a 25-minute (more or less) discussion over coffee about faith, God, church, the world, usually connected to whatever the theme or scripture reading is in our church that week.

It’s not meant to be an academic endeavour, a lecture or anything definitive about a particular topic. Like any good discussion, we hope it opens some doors and gets everyone – us included – thinking more. You can find it on risingspiritministry.com or iTunes (as Six Ways From Sunday).

So, the commercial aside, I mention it because this past week it seemed appropriate that we talk about Halloween and All Saints Day and, as one might expect, because it’s just a conversation over coffee, we got a little sidetracked. We started out well. We were trading stories about Halloween when we were kids and Ben had a costume story, so I had a costume story. For the record, his was about a cute bunny costume. Mine was about being a little devil. I think I was three, maybe four years old. I had a whole red suit, horns and tail, you know the traditional thing. There’s a picture of me walking down the street swinging my tail.

The point is, somewhere in that conversation I commented on the irony (or appropriateness, depending on your view) of me being a little devil. Especially since there isn’t one. And, as I tried to go on to something else, Ben said something like, “Hang on. What? Go back. Are you saying there’s no devil?”

Well, yes. I did say that. Please hear me out.

I believe God is and always has been. I believe that because I believe that God is love, the energy of life, the power of creation, the web of life that connects all of creation, a higher power, the Great Spirit – all of those things, and I call that God. You might call it one of those other things, but I call it God. So God is the Always, the good, the creative, the life. In the beginning, God created and because God created, there is something of God in all things. In the story of creation, human beings are the only thing in that story to be created by God in the image of God, but from the already created. I believe that we’re inherently good, then. Our life experience and, more importantly, our choices sometimes distance us from God. That’s sin, the actions that distance us from God. That’s how I believe the creation story, so I believe that we come from God and we return to God. (Jesus, by the way, teaches us how to live the love which is already in us and brings us back into a closer relationship with God.)

So here’s the thing. I think the opposite of good isn’t evil. The opposite of good is the absence of good. We start with good, we have from the beginning. When someone told that creation story in Genesis for the first time, I don’t think they ended each day with “it was good” because it was an issue of product quality or an assessment of artistic merit. It was good. We are created in the image of God which is inherently good. So, again, from the beginning there is good.

But we have freewill and choose how to fill that void. If we come to it thinking that we’re inherently good, that we’re created in the image of God, full of love and grace and, yes, good, then we’re likely to bring good to it. If we think we’re inherently sinful, prone to sin, and something less than the image of God, then what will we bring? I think this is where evil can enter the picture, not as the opposite of good but rather as a consequence of its absence.

It’s so much easier to say “the devil made me do it” or to suggest that evil can be personified, like a vice or virtue, when we make choices that lead away from good. God needs to have an adversary, right? No, I don’t believe so. We think in opposites, in comparison, in beginnings and endings. But let go of that for a moment and wonder about God – that love, creativity and life giving essence – that is always creating, always growing, always expanding, always bringing good. Wouldn’t the world be a different place if we didn’t give evil so much credit. It’s good that’s at the heart of all things.

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