All worldviews have to wrestle with the problem of evil. New Agers, secularists, atheists and theists all must come up with some sort of account of it. Indeed, any worldview worth its salt has to look not only at the issue of ethics (right and wrong), but other big ticket items, such as metaphysics (the nature of reality) and epistemology (what we know and how we know).
While no worldview can offer a complete or perfect spin on any of these core issues, some may be more coherent, consistent and in sync with the real world than others. I of course maintain that the Judeo-Christian worldview best deals with the big questions of life.
It may not answer every particular question (no worldview can) but it offers substantial and reasonable explanations for the key philosophical questions. While it does not offer exhaustive truth, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, it offers true truth.
To continue with his terminology, there is a God who is there, and he is not silent, but has communicated real truth to us. On the topic of good and evil, there are a few basic truths which, when teased out, offer a rational and viable explanation. Simply stated, the Biblical account for good and evil is this: genuine goodness, beauty and altruism are possible because we are made in the image of God. The fact that we share in his likeness means we can see substantial goodness and kindness. Mother Teresa, for example, is understandable from the biblical worldview.
But the entry of sin into the world explains the evil and selfishness and mayhem we find throughout. The concept of sin, along with the belief in a supernatural and personal evil being, helps explain the Virginia Tech shootings, the rise of Hitler, and the selfishness that every one of us display. There exists real evil, in other words.
And into this situation, God has entered the world, with Jesus Christ suffering a cruel substitutionary death so that the just punishment for our sins might be dealt with, and forgiveness offered, if we are willing to receive it.
This, very briefly, is the biblical account of good and evil. Moreover, God knows all about suffering. He is not immune from our grief and suffering. He lost his only son – a son who was totally innocent – to the hands of evil men. Thus God has been there and done that. So he can offer comfort and help, in addition to providing us with a way out of the predicament of sin and the suffering that it causes.
These are the broad brush strokes. There still remain plenty of questions, but this is one way to assess good and evil, and I believe it is the best one going.
One commentator whom I almost always find myself in agreement with is Chuck Colson. His latest Breakpoint commentary (April 19, 2007) on the Virginia Tech case offers more Christian reflection of the issue of evil. Says Colson, “As we seek to understand what happened and why he did this, it is vital that we not exclude an important part of the equation: evil.”
He continues: “Faced with this kind of horror, we automatically assume that we are dealing with a madman – a word the media has already used to describe the killer. That’s because we can’t imagine ourselves or anyone we know doing anything remotely like this. Therefore, we conclude that something must have been ‘wrong’ with the perpetrator. And, since our culture is defined by what sociologist Philip Rieff called the ‘therapeutic ethos,’ the ‘something’ that’s ‘wrong’ must be a psychological defect. Mental illness, not human evil, is our preferred explanation for what happened in places like Blacksburg or Columbine.”
This disbelief in evil, and the elevation of the concept of mental illness to explain such actions, is certainly becoming the common wisdom. Colson mentions a visit to a Norwegian prison years ago in which he witnessed a pretty blatant example of this kind of therapeutic thinking:
“Throughout the tour, officials bragged about employing the most humane and progressive treatment methods anywhere in the world. I met several doctors in white coats. That prompted me to ask how many of the inmates, who were all there for serious crimes, were mentally ill. The warden replied, ‘Oh, all of them.’ I must have looked surprised, because she said, ‘Well, of course, anyone who commits a crime this serious is obviously mentally unbalanced’.”
The naturalist worldview, which knows of no angelic or demonic realities, is left only with mental illness. Says Colson, “Stated differently, there is no such thing as sin and evil, and the only reason why people might commit serious crimes is that they are mentally ill. Thus, the best – and perhaps, only – response to crime is behavior modification and all of those other up-to-date psychological techniques. While the Norwegian approach would strike most Americans as very naïve, the difference between them and us is one of degree not kind. We also blame crime on external factors, like mental illness, culture, dysfunctional childhood, and the like.”
He continues, “We are uncomfortable attributing events like this to human evil, much less to a kind of evil that seeks to undo God’s creation – what Christians call the demonic. Yet without this idea, events like this massacre can never be understood. We might learn that the killer was ‘mentally unbalanced’ or on anti-depressants. But, absent evidence that he was clinically delusional, this knowledge will not explain why he walked onto a college campus, locked people in a lecture hall, and killed them.”
Concludes Colson, “Events like this not only horrify us – they unsettle us. We think of sin and the demonic as not-so-quaint relics from a superstitious age. And even more destructive, random events like this remind us how little we know about ourselves and what we are capable of, as well. But failing to call evil evil misleads us about the world we live in and our need for God’s grace, the only real answer and hope for any of us.”
Protest as it might, modern secular society simply has no persuasive and rational account for something like the Virginia Tech massacre. That is because such worldviews have no real philosophical basis for understanding good or evil. Moreover, in the naturalistic version of events, not only are such occurrences just stuff that happens, but there is no reason to believe they will ever cease.
On the other hand, the biblical worldview makes it clear that while evil is real, and terrible, it is only short-lived. One day, evil will be brought to a complete halt. One day, every wrong will be punished and every right rewarded. Justice, so elusive in this age, is coming and the terrors we witness today will soon be no more.