Reflections on the Problem of Existential Evil

Knowing Good & Evil
by Think Divinely Contributor, Sally Fam

“He [God] intended people to know evil in contrast with good, as our Lord did. It is by the decree of God that a person who knows good by contrast with evil shall find life a desolating desert. When the cosmic order of earth and the moral nature of the human nature are in touch with God, the order of the earth is beauty, and the order of human life is love. As soon as people get out of touch with God, they find the basis of things is not beauty and love but chaos and wrath,” Oswald Chambers, He Shall Glorify Me, 252-253.

Knowledge has its allurement. Knowledge is power, independence and security. There are two ways of knowing good and evil: to know evil in contrast with goodness, or to know goodness in contrast to evil. To know evil, for instance, one doesn’t need an intimate, direct, or personal experience of the thing but only knows its counterpart. For example, I don’t know death, but I know it indirectly in contrast to life. I have not experienced physical death, but I have experienced life. Knowledge should not to be confused with mere information. In the Bible, the word “knowledge,” or its derivatives, is intended to mean a personal, first-hand experience that is intimate and direct, like that between a husband and a wife.

Christianity infers that we were meant to know goodness directly and moral evil only in contrast to it. The condition was to abide in the One who knows goodness directly and knows evil only in contrast to it. Adam fell because He was deceived into believing he could obtain knowledge that wasn’t according to the nature of God. So, Adam’s fall ultimately became our fall and forfeited such access. We no longer have the right to access the spring of such life. We can only know good on a second-hand basis, as if in a vague dream-like state that seems only to be real in fairy tales. Now we know chaos, death, murder, hate, and jealousy directly. Evil flows out of our humanity naturally like the foul, rotten-odor of a decaying corpse. Any attempts to mask it end up failing and falling like dried, cracked fig trees. We experience life as a desolate desert. Occasionally, we see spurts of what looks like human goodness and zeal for goodness. But, as we get to know ourselves, we realize that underneath these acts of goodness, there is always some deeply entrenched layer of stinky self-interest trying to spread and claim the entire act to its own name and glory. So, we become poor, conflicted souls. We know hate and search for true love. We know lying and deception, yet hope that we find truth. The soul yearning for truth, however, is closer to God than a soul lying in the mud of self-deception, in a futile attempt to cool off the heat of such a desert.

Once the soul finds the source of life (or God finds her rather), a new life is infused. That soul then becomes a battle-ground between two worlds, a world that knows evil in contrast to goodness, and a world that knows goodness in contrast to evil. The newly infused life knows goodness and acts on that knowledge. Goodness flows out like a beautiful melody from a pianist’s fingers.

The Pianist

I viewed The Pianist movie about seven years ago. For two-and-a-half hours, I could not stop the tears. The movie is based on a true story of a World War II Jewish-pianist survivor.  I wondered why I kept watching the movie to the end, despite the pain and the suffering. I remembered the music. The music was a golden thread weaved into the movie to enable the viewer to keep going; it ushered in a sense of hope against a bleak background. I recall a Nocturne playing in C-Sharp minor while the noise of the bombing and gunfire played in the background. It’s hard to miss the existence of the two-parallel worlds; as the events unfold, and you think you’ve reached the bottom of the pit, it keeps intensifying, as the pit appears bottomless. In reality, this was not a two-and-a-half-hour event, nor was there a pause, a stop or a skip. These events were lived out twenty-four-seven and experienced fully. The Germans carried out their “play” while within and out of the ashes, from an aimless soul, played melodies of beauty and order. Despite the horrors surrounding him, out of this soul came what was to be adored and enjoyed in stark contrast to the outward pain, hunger, death, and desperation.

From the movie, “The Pianist” by Polanski

Mr. Szpilman, the pianist, always played out of love to his beloved family and not out of hate towards the enemy. Despite the demanding presence of evil, he had his special audience before him in his mind. Their memory ignited his love and fueled his fingers to perform their tap dance on the piano keys.

There is a great lesson in what Szpilman did. Do we let evil manipulate our feelings and reactions, or do we let God be our inspiration and the audience that our music pieces are expressed simply out of our love for Him, even when we’re in pain? The apostle Paul said it well: “We live as punished and yet not killed, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:9-10).

A scene in The Pianist that perhaps captures the contrast expressed by the apostle Paul best is when Szpilman plays Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor. In this scene, a pianist barely surviving, had nothing left, but his beautiful memories and his fingers. He was stripped of every human dignity, yet he gave the German officer a glimpse of the source of goodness and beauty. Perhaps neither one of them knew the deeper nature of the exchange that was happening between them. In few minutes, the old human dream suppressed in our depraved souls was ignited. While the officer sustained the pianist’s body, the pianist wet the lips of the officer’s thirsty soul. The officer experienced goodness in contrast of the overwhelming evil. He recognized the beauty coming from a despised enemy in the universal language of music. The officer was disarmed, and he stood down and could not resist the beauty, even though he was the one with rifles and guns.

I’m not saying that music can make world peace or anything of that sort. What I am attempting to show is how this movie is analogous to a bigger spiritual truth that we easily miss when overwhelmed by evil. When faced with the problem of evil, we see evil clearly because we have a more direct knowledge of it. Yet we can miss the melodies of beauty and order available to us through a new spiritual life; a life that comes from restoring our relationship to God through Christ. When this life, that knows only goodness, flows into us and fills us, what occupies our souls is not our sorrow, loss, or poverty, but love from the source of life itself. While we live through the events of evil and chaos, which seem to be absolutely victorious at times, we must remember that beauty and order can still thrive. While the evil players may manipulate and oppress us, we need to reorient our soul’s focus to the one capable pianist, the one who will enable us to endure to the end. Thus, evil will be rolled away like an outdated scroll. The pianist, on the stage, will rise to play his beautiful masterpieces. What is not seen will be seen, and the beautiful gentle melodies that seemed to be drowned out in a background of chaos, will be heard, and it will be glorious and beautiful.

Do you believe that God can enable you to be a musical masterpiece that plays a harmony of beauty and order despite the loud bangs of evil and chaos?

Do you believe that God can enable you to be a musical masterpiece that plays a harmony of beauty and order despite the loud bangs of evil and chaos? Share on X

So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.



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