Good or evil?

Good or evil?

The following quotes are part of the conversation in “The Shack“ (pp 134-136) that I intentionally left out in my last post. God explains there to Mac why our parameters for deciding what is good and what is evil are often wrong.

“Evil is the word we use to describe the absence of Good, just as we use the word darkness to describe the absence of Light or death to describe the absence of Life. Both evil and darkness can only be understood in relation to Light and Good; they do not have any actual existence. I am Light and I am Good. I am Love and there is no darkness in me. Light and Good actually exist. So, removing yourself from me will plunge you into darkness. Declaring independence will result in evil because apart from me, you can only draw upon yourself. This is death because you have separated yourself from me: Life.”

I have contemplated this a lot and found it really helpful. As long as we discern good and evil based on our subjective feelings and perception, we will often get it wrong and miss how “bad” things can be “good” for us. And this in turn will undermine our trust in God. Only when we understand that God’s presence makes something good and his absence makes something evil, can we understand that “in one instance, the good may be the presence of cancer or the loss of income – or even a life.”

It is often the hard things that drive us into God’s presence, mold our character and transform us into his image. Unfortunately, difficult times seem to be the only way we learn and experience transformation.

This also sheds a different light on our pursuit of independence. Being independent from God removes us from the Vine. We are called to remain in Him, abide in Him, because apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) A well known passage, but how often do we manage to put it into practice? 🙂

What does it mean to practice it? Here is what Mac heard God say to him about this:

“You must give up your right to decide what is good and evil in your own terms. This is a hard pill to swallow; choosing to only live in me. To do that you know me enough to trust me and learn to rest in my inherent goodness.”

So this brings us back to the issue of trust. If we decide on our own what is good and bad, we easily come to the conclusion God is not trustworthy. Or as Wayne Jacobsen puts it – we practice a “Daisy Pedal Christianity” (He loves me!) going back and forth between “God loves me” and “God loves me not” depending on whether things happening in our life are “good” or “bad” according to our subjective perception. Whenever we don’t like what is happening to us, we conclude that God does not love us, instead of looking for the good God intended with it.

I know, it is not easy to apply this in some extreme situations, but why not start with every day situations and try to see them through God’s eyes? I have been mulling over this topic for some time. It was a pleasant surprise recently, when I experienced a very disappointing situation and in the middle of it was able to hold back on my subjective judgment, but trust that God has good plans for his children. (More about it in a future post)

Eyes to See

Eyes to See

An African proverb says: “The eyes of the foreigner are big but he does not see a thing.” It’s so true – you have to learn to see things in another culture. Otherwise you can look straight at things and you don’t have a clue what you are seeing.

The following paragraphs are the introduction to an interesting book review but I was even more fascinated by the personal examples in the introduction:

In college, I took a class with Toni Morrison based upon a collection of her essays called Playing in the Dark. The premise of the essays, and of the class itself, was that American literature has been shaped from the beginning by the unsettling presence of “American Africanism.” There is no need to get into the nuances of her argument here. I mention it only because after I took Morrison’s class, I read books differently. I was attuned to marginal figures. I noticed how black people were portrayed, or how their presence was avoided. I noticed motifs of darkness and light. I watched movies differently too, attending to the way certain racial groups were used as props instead of being presented as real characters. That class taught me to see differently.

Having a child with Down syndrome is also teaching me to see differently.

I think, for example, of the time when I attended a conference at a monastery in South Carolina. Our first night at the conference, we gathered for a short Bible reading and blessing before supper. An elderly man, one of the brothers in the monastery, held the responsibility of reading and praying for us. He walked unevenly to the podium, with his head tilted to the side. He stood behind the Bible, flipping through the pages, back and forth, with a puzzled expression. Finally, he looked to another brother and said, “I can’t find Genesis 1.” The other brother gently turned to the beginning of the Bible, and the first brother began to read. His speech was imperfect. He stumbled through the words and they came out somewhat garbled.

A few years earlier, before our daughter Penny was born, I would have been filled with impatience and cynicism. I would have been thinking, why can’t they find someone who can read, who at least knows where the first book in the Bible is located? But that night, I stood with rapt attention, grateful that I could receive the Word of God from this man. I was able to see him as a fellow Christian, offering a blessing on my behalf. I was able to see him as a messenger of hope, a vision of a community in Christ that might one day include my daughter, and even include her as one who could read God’s Word publicly, who could offer a collective prayer. Read the whole book review here.

I was touched by her examples of how we can learn to see things differently and then notice things that we did not see before, come to conclusions that we would not have thought possible before. Living in another culture challenges me to do this. My interest in anthropology certainly helps me, too. It is amazing how we can interpret things differently when when see them through another person’s eyes.

I experienced a similar eye opener through reading one of the conversations between Mack and Sarayu in “The Shack“: (pp 134-136)

“When something happens to you, how do you determine whether it is good or evil?”
Mack thought about it for a moment before answering. “Well, I have not really thought about that. I guess I would say something is good when I like it – when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security. Conversely, I’d call something evil that causes me pain or costs me something I want.”
“So it is pretty subjective then?”
“I guess it is.”
“And how confident are you in your ability to discern what indeed is good for you, and what is evil?”
“To be honest,” said Mack, “I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good,’ you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good and evil, except how something or someone affects me.” […] “All seems quite self-serving and self-centered, I suppose. […]”

He hesitated before finishing the thought, but Sarayu interrupted, “Then it is you who determines good and evil. You become the judge. And to make things more confusing, that which you determine to be good will change over time and circumstances. And then beyond that and even worse, there are billions of you each determining what is good and what is evil. So your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s fights and arguments ensue and even wars break out.”
“I can see now,” confessed Mack, “that I spend most of my time and energy trying to acquire what I have determined to be good, whether it’s financial security or health or retirement or whatever. And I spend a huge amount of energy and worry fearing what I’ve determined to be evil.”
“Wow,” Mack exclaimed, […] “It could mean that …”
Sarayu interrupted his sentence again, “… that in one instance, the good may be the presence of cancer or the loss of income – or even a life.”

Ever since reading this conversation some time ago, I started to look at things differently. What is good and what is bad for me? How often do I judge things from a very subjective perspective? Actually, I can think of a few things in my own life, that I judged to be bad but now start to see that they really might have been part of God’s perfect and loving plan for me. As painful as the situation was, there was good in it. This is not always easy to admit.

[There are other interesting aspects in this conversion that I left out for the moment but hope to address in a future post.]

Have you experienced this kind of learning to see things with new eyes?