October 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Trees part 4 – Evil is as Evil Does

Posted in Terminology tagged , , , , , at 8:45 PM by E. M.

THE GATEWAY TO EVIL (AND CHLAMYDIA)

In order to understand why eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would lead to death for Adam and Eve we have to first gain an objective understanding of what “good” and “evil” are.

In the last post, we examined the Biblical definition of “good”.  In this post, we will address “evil”.

In the last post we saw that “good” is “that which creates”.  However we also saw that sometimes circumstances call for short term destruction in order for there to be long-term creation.  So the complete definition of “good” is the idea of “that which creates in the long-term

Biblically speaking, evil is presented as the opposite of good.  So “evil” would then obviously be defined as “that which destroys in the long term”.

When we are tempted to do evil, we are tempted to do something that will (or that we think will) be good; that will create something for us (pleasure, happiness, satisfaction, reward, etc.).  But it only creates in the short term, and the long-term results are destruction.

There are many obvious examples of this – drug and alcohol abuse, reckless driving, lying, cheating, theft, sex with Kim Kardashian (boy, do I regret that now.  Thank God for penicillin).

We also saw in the last post that the ultimate expression of “good” is eternal life – perpetual creation.  Conversely, the ultimate expression of “evil” would be eternal death – perpetual irreparable destruction.  Hell.

The key to determining whether something is good or evil is to look at the long-term intent and results.  For example, saving your money is good because the long-term results are the ability to buy a home, send your kids to college, and enjoy a secure retirement.  But in the short term, it means the sacrifice of certain pleasures.  On the other hand, if you spend all your money as soon as you get it, you can have a great time in the short term, but the long-term results are a future of poverty and debt.

Understanding long-term vs. short-term is also a key to understanding God’s actions in the Bible, in the world, and in our lives.  God is good.  He creates in the long term.  His focus is not on our short-term happiness; His focus is our long term good.  The ultimate long-term good is eternal life.  And if God has to introduce or allow short-term pain, discomfort, distress and frustration into our lives in order to drive us toward accepting and embracing the things that will lead us to eternal life, then that is what He will do.

When persistent and/or unusual calamities occur in our lives, instead of complaining and questioning God’s goodness, it would probably be more beneficial to ask, “God, what are trying to drive me towards and how will it work for my long-term good?”  That, my friends is contrastive thinking!

Contrastive thinking can lead to eternal life, which again, is the ultimate expression of “good”.  Therefore, we can say that contrastive thinking is good.  Comparative thinking prevents repair and can lead to perpetual death.  Therefore, we can say that comparative thinking is evil.

So how can you tell if a person is good or evil?  Actually, you can’t.  None of us has enough comprehensive information about another person to categorically declare their entire being good or evil.

This is the rationale behind one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible – The admonition not to judge in Matthew 7:1.  This verse is often used by a guilty person as their defense when you confront them about their wrongdoings.  (Have you ever heard an innocent person tell you not to judge them?)  Instead of owning up to their guilt, they try to sidestep it by attacking your right to accuse them.  But we are told later in the same chapter of Mathew that we can and should judge what a person does (Matthew 7:15-20).

So while we cannot judge whether a person, is good or evil, we can judge if they are pursuing good or evil.  How?  Examine the long-term intent and results of their actions.  Is the focus of their life the pursuit of creation or destruction?  Do their actions lead to repair, and life, or do they lead to stagnation, and destruction?  Are they motivated by the desire to grow, even if it causes them discomfort and pain, or do they actively justify themselves in order to avoid pain?  When they are wrong, do they think comparatively or contrastively?

What a person pursues in the long-term is the key to understanding their life.  Furthermore, examining you own life and looking at what you are pursuing in the long-term can allow you to see if you are headed toward life or death.

Now that we understand good and evil, we are ready to examine the ramifications of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But before we do, there is one more question that needs to be addressed.  God’s plan of redemption (the Fall of Man, the incarnation of Christ, the cross and the Resurrection) all seem predicated on the existence of evil.  So, does God need evil in order to bring about His plan? Does good need evil in order to exist? Next time.

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October 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Trees part 3 – The Greater Good

Posted in Terminology tagged , , , , , at 9:42 PM by E. M.

ONE OF THE GREAT INTELLECTUALS OF OUR TIME

There were two trees in the Eden narrative.  We’ve looked at the Tree of Life in the last two posts, now we need to examine the other, more infamous tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil.  Eating the fruit of that tree led to Original Sin, and death.

Why would gaining knowledge of good and evil result in death for Adam and Eve?  In order to answer that, we need to understand what “good” and “evil” are.  In this post, we will define “good”.

Like “love”, good and evil are highly subjective terms.  Adolf Hitler, a universal archetype of evil actually thought that his actions were good for the German people.  There was a time in the history of this country wherein many people thought it was evil to free slaves and allow them human rights.  Then there are those who contend that the only “good” is the belief that no one can know what is good, and the only evil is the belief that evil exists.  Traditionally, these people had been known as “illogical, dope-smoking, hippie morons”.  Today they are called “intellectuals”.

Fortunately, we know that absolutes exist, which means that there are absolute standards for good and evil.  Those absolutes could only be set by someone who has all the information in existence.  As we have seen, that “someone” is the First Cause of existence, whom we call God.

So how does God define good and evil?

When using the Bible to define terminology, it can be helpful to use something that theologians call “the law of first mention”.  It basically contends that there is usually great significance in the first time a term is mentioned in the Bible.   The first time that “good” is used in the Bible is Genesis 1:3-4

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

In fact, the first seven times the word “good” is used in the Bible is in the creation narrative of Genesis 1.  With that in mind, I would postulate that good should be strongly associated with creation, and the working Biblical definition of “good” is “that which creates”.

God is described throughout the Bible as “good”, which means “God creates”.  This of course fits with Genesis 1.

However if we leave the definition at that, it creates a problem (no pun intended).  The opposite of creation is destruction.  Yet the Bible often shows that God destroys.  In Genesis 6, God destroyed the world with a flood.  Throughout the Old Testament God destroys the enemies of Israel.  The Bible is also filled with prophesies of God destroying the world completely at the end of the dispensations.

We know that contradictions do not exist.  So how can God be “good” if He also destroys?

Well, lets look at the long-term results of the destructions I just mentioned.  The Flood of Noah destroyed all the unrepentant evil in the world and allowed man a fresh start.  The destruction of Israel’s enemies resulted in the continuation of the Jewish race and the eventual birth of Christ.  The destruction of the world at the end of the dispensations will usher in a new world completely devoid of evil.

So it seems that the short-term destruction that God caused was necessary in order to create favorable situations in the long-term.

With this understanding, the definition of “good” is the idea of “that which creates in the long-term”.  Good can include short-term destruction if that destruction is necessary for long-term creation.

An interesting exercise would be to go through the Bible and substitute the idea of “that which creates in the long term” everywhere you find the word “good”.  I think you will see that it fits pretty consistently.

The ultimate expression of good would be something that perpetually creates in the long-term.  We are actually quite familiar with an example of a system that was designed to perpetually create.  The cells of our bodies constantly reproduce and repair.  We call this system life.  Life perpetually creates.  Life is not only “good”, eternal life it is the ultimate expression of good.  Jesus summarizes this idea in John 12:24-25.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Next time we will examine the Biblical meaning of “evil”.

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