Why do bad things happen? Why is there evil in the world?
I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks, it seems difficult to avoid, as what can only be termed a great evil befell in Newtown CT, yet some of the most transcendent acts of pure human good were performed in the unfolding of that tragedy. The good was not just contrasted by the evil, it was caused by it.
This turned me to thinking. How often are the real acts of perfect humanity the result of the greatest tragedy and suffering? More often than not it seems. In fact, I’d argue that true and honest displays of human goodness that are not the result of the most profound suffering are so rare as to be statistically insignificant. They are the real outliers.
So, if we as a species can only be at our best in the worst circumstances it follows that the good needs the evil to happen. Evil is the catalyst. At those moments where evil occurs some ethereal chemistry happens and the victims of the pain either rise to the heights or fall to the depths.
The adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School reached high, they tried to protect the children, where that was impossible they comforted, and in the final moments they were just there by the sides of their young charges, guiding them across the vial I suspect, probably still standing with them even now as they adjust to their new surroundings,.
When the Nazi’s weaved their spell over Germany most were deceived, many were seduced, but a select few became fully human. Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, many others who never had their stories told, were it not for the evil of the regime it’s doubtful either would have done more than be competent in their trade and loving with their families. They would surely not have risked their lives for the sake of strangers.
The twin towers, the Haitian Earthquake, hurricanes, famines, these are all causes of mass suffering. Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech are more focused, and as they all have a single human focal point we use the word evil to describe the motivation. The word is most often used to describe a human condition, but to me the broader definition applies. The Asian Tsunami was an event of nature, but it was just as surely a great evil.
Often poets, philosophers and preachers will tell us evil is necessary to contrast good. Just as our eyes cannot sense light unless there is darkness to project it against, our hearts cannot know good unless there is evil to compare it to. I’m afraid the relationship is much more fundamental. The good just doesn’t happen without the evil. Perhaps it’s as simple as it’s not necessary, but it seems to me it’s more profound. It’s only in the moments where the choices really matter that the real choices can be made.
I don’t like this thought. It seems a flaw in our wiring that we can only be fully human in moments of pain and suffering. But I can’t seem to escape the logic. We can live our lives. We can work hard, struggle sometimes, coast at others, but we can’t realize our full potential unless we are face to face with pain and suffering. We can choose to join in the evil, run from it or fight against it. Each option has consequences, but only one is most clearly right.
I don’t see the need to personify these choices. There’s nothing wrong with the calculus that “right” = God and “wrong” equals Satan but I don’t feel the need for it. Right is right and wrong is wrong; it’s usually pretty clear which is which.