In church this morning, the sermon mentioned the Fall and how so much bad news pervades our worlds, both outer, and, all too often, inner. I grow so tired of seeing ruin on every side, whether it pours forth from any media I let into my rooms, or from the mirror that accuses when I look too long. When I listen to or read any of the news of the day, I hear catastrophe, war, shame, and almost unbelievable kinds of darkness. And then a look inside will show me what Lewis rightly described as “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.” Sigh.
And so instead of listening to the rest of the sermon, I scribbled down these notes about Good and Evil and where I might head from here. I’ve thought some recently about the question of whether we fallen people need the evil in order to fully understand the good. My vibrant book group, the Caffeinated Lamp-post Society, discussed the felix culpa, the fortunate Fall of Adam. Only I’m not so sure. I think had we never known evil, we would have known far more good that we can ever imagine this side of Heaven. And so I scratched this out during the homily:
Do we need evil to show us how good good can be? Do we require a knowledge of darkness in order to appreciate light?
Because of our heritage from our First Parents’s eating of forbidden fruit, we have created for ourselves a dualism, a dichotomy of distress. But it will not always be so. Nor did God design this fate for us. In fact, He designed for us such happiness, goodness, joy, peace that we can hardly conceive–we cannot possibly imagine an experience, let alone a long life, of untainted goodness.
And so the good work that God began in us, He will continue to bring to completion. He continues to transform us back into the imago Dei; He keeps making us more like Himself and thus far more ourselves than we might have managed on our own. And I believe that the more the Image of God burns its print upon us, the more we will begin to see that dichotomy of perspective begin to unravel and continue to come undone.
Throughout the course of the believing life, the scales start to tip toward an increasing, eventually complete experiential knowledge of Good, even as we also grow into a preventative prudence about Evil–wise as serpents, yes? The way we know Good and Evil changes, as if some digestive turns the forbidden fruit into something only helping and no longer harming us.
The taste for good, for whatever is noble, and pure, and true, will grow over the course of the Christian life with an ever-sharpening hunger of a people more and more famished for good things. Our taste for evil will dull in proportion, even as our wisdom about, our defenses against, and our distaste towards evil continues to grow.
Yes, we need evil to know good. But always less so as we undo that distressing dichotomy we see in all the world, as we clear away the brush and pick out our path back to the Garden.