I write this post under a deep conviction that the Bride of Christ, as she is manifested in the West, is horribly ill and perhaps terminally so!
It is strange to realize you're a soul-brother with a man you don't know; especially on a controversial subject like evil. But that seems to be the case. Theodore Dalrymple admits to a fascination with books dealing with "evil." I too am fascinated with this subject ... even before becoming a believer.
Recently, Dalrymple read a book by Phillip Cole [a philosopher], The Myth of Evil, and was impressed with some, but not all, of Cole's arguments. The author's principle point is that the word evil is useless in a civilized society.[Cole] uses as an example the notorious and brutal murder of the two year-old James Bulger by two ten year-old children, John Venables and Robert Thomson. Both of the culprits came from highly disturbed and indeed sordid backgrounds, in which there was a lot of violence, emotional instability, excessive drinking, etc. The statistical connection between such a background and violent criminal behaviour is clear; but what the two boys did was nevertheless exceptional (murder by children, even from the worst circumstances is very rare).In Dalrymple's words ...[Cole] argues for the uselessness, indeed the harmfulness ... , of the concept of evil. And I confess that, though I have sometimes had a strong sense of being in the presence of evil, I have had some slight difficulty with the meaning of the concept myself. What exactly does it mean? Can we, ought we, or must we, do without it, philosophically, ethically, psychologically and sociologically?Notice the absence of the spiritual realm.Cole argues that the concept is redundant both as a description and as an explanation of human conduct. In fact, he says, its main use or function, when stripped of its unsustainable pretensions to describe or explain anything, is to frighten populations into acquiescence to the extension of power over them by ruling elites whose legitimacy might otherwise be called into question. For it is not common values or characteristics that unite political entities such as states in the modern world, he says, but common enemies, who are either wholly imaginary or whose power and malevolence are much exaggerated.It is true that fear, as a concept and a reality in Scripture is used to elicit our acquiescence to the person and power of God. Yet, only the fool would suggest He uses it to avoid questions concerning His legitimacy.Indeed, [Cole] continues, the concept of evil is responsible for much harm ... in the world. The reason for this is clear. When we say of someone that he is evil, we are saying that he is a being of a quite distinct category from ourselves, such that normal ethical limits and restraints do not apply in the way that we must deal with him. For evil is the ultimate – well, evil, and must be destroyed by any means possible. Without the concept of evil, then, we would be much less likely to treat people evilly.I detect a hint of Reagan and Bush bashing in Cole's argument above; remember the "evil empire" and "the axis of evil," respectively?
Of course authentic believers know the question of evil was answered by God Himself long ago:Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [Genesis 2:9]After analyzing Cole's forensic weaknesses, Dalrymple offered the following penetrating thought ...... on the larger point on [the Bulger] case, Dr Cole is surely right: to have dismissed them as irredeemably evil, or possessed by evil, would have been mistaken and cruel, as is proved by the fact that the children subsequently turned out well, much better in fact than they would have done had they never committed the murder, for they received intense and humane attention thereafter.Herein is nurture and justification for the Age of Accountability doctrine.As the writer of a book on the case, Blake Morrison, put it (I quote from memory), ‘It was a pity they had to murder James Bulger to get an education.’ I don’t think I have read a more succinct and damning indictment of a society and its educational system than that, and no doubt it does not apply only to Liverpool, England. [New English Review]This is such an excellent metaphor for the Good News. I might paraphrase Morrison's words in this way: "It is a pity we had to murder Jesus of Nazareth to get understanding." But it is true ... isn't it? What would man have learned about evil had not the ultimate innocent died?
Like Dalrymple, I don’t think we can find "a more succinct and damning indictment" of man and his systems than that.
Likewise,Dr Cole extends the lessons of [the Bulger] case to all human evil ... . Venables and Thompson were redeemable precisely because those who looked after them thought they were redeemable and did not consider them as evil by essence; by extension, everyone else who commits evil is redeemable, though perhaps with more difficulty.Sinners all (Romans 3:23), we "were all redeemable precisely because [God made us] redeemable " and considered evil as "evil by essence." I believe Dalrymple inadvertently tells us an eternal truth: "by extension, everyone ... who commits evil is redeemable, though perhaps with more difficulty."
Is that not what God put in man at his creation ... His own image? Thus the concept of "evil by essence" must be mitigated with the Imago Dei.