What Is Good and Evil?
This may seem like a silly question to ask. After all, isn’t it obvious what good is as well as evil? Good is doing … well, good things like helping the poor, doing good deeds, loving people etc. And evil is hurting people, abusing animals and committing crimes. Figuring it out is pretty simple, isn’t it?
Not so much.
We often forget that every war that has been fought in the history of the planet has been over a different interpretation of what good and evil is. For example, Hitler thought the democratic system of the West was evil and his more authoritarian dictatorship was good. He also thought it was a good thing to exterminate an entire race of people, the Jews, whereas the rest of us saw this as a great evil.
And just look at the struggle we have in the present time to convince others what is good and evil. Here are three examples.
(1) Many believe it is good to make any sacrifice necessary to prevent climate change, even if it means higher taxes, more spending and lots of inconvenience.
Others see this as a great evil piece of propaganda designed to tax us to death, steal our money and take away our freedoms.
(2) Many see the implementation of lots of social programs as a good thing that even Jesus would have praised.
Others see them as a great evil that robs us of our wealth and freedom. They also think Jesus would agree with them.
(3) There are those who think it is a very good thing that the Jews have gathered in the Middle East and created a nation of their own.
Then there are many who see this as a great evil that must be destroyed at any cost.
Obviously what is good and evil is not such a simple thing after all. The prophet Isaiah wrestled in frustration at the people’s lack of understanding on this subject. He complained that peopled called “evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness; and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Isa 5:20 The scriptures further say: “There is none that doeth good, no not one.” (Psalms 14:3)
In other words, the seeing of that which is truly good or evil is so subtle that there have been times that the whole population of the world was deceived about it.
So, is that which is truly good so difficult to see that the truth is hidden from the eyes of the many? Indeed the answer is yes and the Bible backs this up.
After Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” Gen 3:22
This is one of the most profound statements in all scripture. Knowing good and evil is such a wonderful thing that it will cause us ordinary humans to “become as one of us.” And who is “us?” That would be God or the Gods depending on how one interprets the scripture.
The Jerusalem Bible gives an interesting variation of translation:
“Then Yahweh God said, Now that the man has become like one of us in knowing good FROM evil…”
One reason this and several other versions use “from” instead of “and” is largely because of the meaning implied by YADA, the Hebrew word from which “to know” is translated.
YADA implies a knowledge gained through discerning or coming to a recognition or understanding.
Therefore, “to know good and evil” implies much more than just leaving paradise and being subject to pleasant and unpleasant sensations. The animals do this much. YADA implies that he who becomes as God will rise above the animals and acquire the ability to discern the good and the evil. Such discernment would result in knowing good FROM evil as well as good and evil.
Think on this. We are told that he who acquires the knowledge (YADA) of good and evil will be as the Elohiym, or God.
This explains why the prophets told us that there were times when no one understood the difference between good and evil for their understanding was upside down. In other words, people are not very godly in their understanding of it and often have it all wrong.
So, again we are faced with the question – what is the real truth of the matter? What is the true good and true evil?
Before we tackle that we must first understand why good and evil is so difficult to discern. The reason it is so problematic is that the customs, the thinking and the consciousness of the people change with each passing generation, century and age. That which is good or evil at one time can become the opposite at another. Allow me to give several examples.
(1) Eating too much sugar is bad for you, but if you were starving to death and all you had to eat to save your life were cookies, then eating them would be a good thing.
(2) Moses taught the people that eating unclean animals was wrong, but then later Peter was shown a vision that it was good that he eat these animals.
(3) As civilizations began to form in ancient times it was seen as a good thing that there be a strong central authority, such as a king.
But as humanity progressed, and people began thinking for themselves, having a king was seen as wrong and the participation of the people in some type of democracy was good.
Because that which is good changes with circumstances and the consciousness of the people this means that good and evil cannot just be spelled out in black and white, but must be discerned.
To be able to make that judgment or discernment accurately requires a gift from God that few people are able to exercise at all times. We can though give out a guiding principle that will help the seekers of the world see correctly. Here it is.
Good is that which moves us forward in the direction of greater health, happiness, peace, love, understanding and spiritual living. Evil is that which takes us away from these things.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Believe me it is not. To have the power to choose the good on a consistent basis indeed requires tapping into the mind of God.
Let us hope that more of humanity will be successful at this so we can one day achieve, “peace on earth, goodwill to all.”
Copyright 2014 by J J Dewey
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