Friday, March 9, 2007
We have seen it all too many times-some kid with a new toy struts with pride and shows off his new prized possession. As the other children stand around, the rivalry and jealousy ensues, and parents are often left telling kids to share, or worse, end up taking that toy so that no one can have it.
But imagine life in some other universe not quite like ours. The scene changes and shifts to a boy who stands with empty hands, gloating nonetheless.
You or I might be tempted to give a quizzical look and wonder if this is a child suffering from some deranged sense of reality, but that would only be at first, for as time would roll on, we would see his childhood companions look with great envy at their friend with nothing in their hands. You might wonder if you lacked the ability to see some magical item that this lucky one held, but when you ask one of his devotees what is so special about this spoiled child, you are told that he is one of the few who has been given nothing by his parents.
Now, take your mouse and zoom out on this google earth, and you see two nations. One leader waves his arms at the other and shouts obscenities, with pomp and circumstance surrounding crowd of his denizens. To his own glory he proclaims that he lacks any weapons, and is thus the stronger of the two countries.
Again, you or I would most likely be puzzled beyond imagination to see the response of this other leader, who trembles at the sight of an empty silo. And if you asked this quaking queen (or king), you would find out that this great nemesis is to be feared because of the nothing that they hold.
Now, you may ask me why we should devote even a moment's thought to such a silly nightmare.
To answer that, I must point back in time to a great thinker who showed that much of what we do as we walk on earth is as foolish as those who covet the lives of those who have nothing ultimately.
That man is St. Augustine, whose works are inspirational for many reasons. For the sake of today's inspiration, we are dealing with what is technically referred to as hamartology. This term, derived from the greek word for sin, is an understanding of evil. And the title to this blog is to state that if we agree with Augustine on the matter of what evil is, we would realize that what evil is, as an entity, is a non-entity. Here are his words on the matter from what is also considered the first autobiography, the Confessions. I will start with the Latin because it has a vivacious character that is lacking in our clumsy language du jour.
ubi ergo malum et unde et qua huc inrepsit? quae radix eius et quod semen eius? an omnino non est? cur ergo timemus et cavemus quod non est? aut si inaniter timemus, timor ipse malum est, quo incassum stimulatur et excruciatur cor; et tanto gravius malum, quanto non est, quod timeamus, et timemus.
Where, then, is evil, and whence does it come and how has it crept in? What is its root and what its seed? Has it no being at all? Why, then, do we fear and shun what has no being? Or if we fear it needlessly, then surely that fear is evil by which the heart is unnecessarily stabbed and tortured--and indeed a greater evil since we have nothing real to fear, and yet do fear.
So we see here that it could be argued that evil, in Augstine's mind, is really the absence of existence. It is a twisted version of the way things should be. Now, when I first learned of this philosophical concept, frequently referred to as a view of evil as a privation of good, I thought this to be merely semantic.
But when I consider how most people view the wrong in this world, so much time is spent looking at what is being done in terms of positive evil. But if wickedness is failing to be what it ought to be, we should view it more in terms of what it lacks instead of what it does. Christians walk around talking about the bad that people do so much that they forget that the real crime and tragedy is the good that has been abandoned.
That places the sinner in a position of one who is not some demon dwelling in misdeeds, but instead, it is something fractured and, to be frank, in poverty.
We turn back to the first analogy, and realize that for too long we have viewed the grass as always greener in the lives of those who live with reckless abandon when really we should see that those who do so have abandoned themselves, and the lives that they could have.
We see the fear that we have with those that are our enemies, and realize that the battle between good and evil is really one between those who have something, and those who do not. And we wonder why we ever cringed.....