Thursday, March 15, 2012

Answer to Doctrinal Quiz Show: Evil

Oh, wow! I think this is the most uniform set of answers I have ever received! And most of you got the answer right or almost right.

The question was:

Theologically speaking, what is "evil"?

Let's get to it:

Evil is defined by what it is not.

Evil is not a dual force that wrestles with Good for dominance. Evil is not the "Yin" to Good's "Yang".


Evil is not substantive. Evil is a privation. It is a lack or absence of Good.

(Just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light.*)

The physical and spiritual world that God created was fully good. However, Original Sin was a willful rejection of that good, and it introduced the world to two kinds of evil.

There is moral evil (sin) and physical evil (illness, defects, death, natural disasters). Both kinds of evil can be lesser or greater in degree. Some evils, like murder or cancer, are greater than other evils, like idle words or a hangnail. (I know it seems weird to call a hangnail or idle words "evil", but remember that we are talking in theological terms, not general American parlance.)

And as many of you noted, moral evil is a turning away from God by an act of the will. Virtue turns us back toward God, putting our wills in right order again. Virtue restores what was lost.

So although evil is not a positive force, it is a damaging and damning reality. Anyone who lives and breathes and thinks on this earth cannot credibly deny that evil is among us.

But on to the fun part of a post about evil…

The Winner is…

She fleshed out the idea nicely and thus wins this episode's Grand Prize (including Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly)!**

Evil is a lack of good, or integrity, of fullness in something that ought to be; but it does not have to be a complete lack, nor is it contained solely in the realm of morals. A blind eye, though it be nicely and seemingly fully formed would be correctly considered "evil", for it is lacking the capacity for sight, and that is what the eye is intended for: vision. Thus an act that is "evil" is one that does not have the fullness of good that it might have, or was intended to have. To give to one in need is a good action, but to perform it out of desire for praise reduces the amount of goodness possible for the act, and thus leaves it "evil". 

The best part is this beautiful, coveted icon, suitable for framing:

And in case Blue Henn is unable to fulfill her duties as Grand Prize Winner, Sarah (longtime lurker, first time commenter) is the First Runner Up, with this gem:
Evil is the lack of a due good. Using an example, blindness is the lack of the due good of sight in the eye, but we wouldn't say that blindness (inability to see) was an evil in, say, a finger or a coffee mug. 
Human will is always directed toward the good, but a particular choice is thought to be evil (or sinful) when the good chosen is a lesser good. So, while pleasure is a good, it is a lesser good than the "due" good of staying faithful to your spouse. In other words choosing adultery lacks the due good of chastity, even though the will is seeking the good of pleasure. The "lack" is what makes the action "evil".
Shades of St. Augustine! Way for two newbies to make a splash in the Bubble!

And because I am lazy and this is already late it's a season of deprivation, I am not handing out any lesser awards this time around, even though the more political responses were tempting to address….(Dagnabit, I gave up political blogging for Lent.)

Thank you all for playing along during this Lenten episode of Doctrinal Quiz Show!!

[applause, applause, fade….]

*Tiddlywinks, I promise I did not cheat off of you; I was always going to use that!

**Blue Henn, email me and I will get the book sent to you!



  1. Congratulations, Blue Henn! I always learn so much from these Quiz blogs!


  2. Wow! First runner up! I'm thrilled! And Congrats to Blue Henn for a most excellent answer!

  3. Evil is not giving TCIE a Bubble Award...

    I will hunt you down...

  4. Wow, I honestly had no idea that this is what evil meant. I have so much to learn...:)

  5. My goodness! Thank you so much, Leila! :)

  6. Thanks DD and Becky! And I am so glad to "meet" you, Blue Henn and Sarah! You need to be regulars. :)

    TCIE, is it wrong of me to laugh in the face of evil?? (And, didn't you get numerous Bubble Awards?? Just not the Grand Prize… yet….)

  7. Au contraire... I won a Holey Soap!!
    I forget what for... must have been good, though ;)

  8. Congrats, Blue Henn and Sarah! Excellent answers! I'm always learning something new. I hope you know I am not directing my next comment at either of you just trying to open up a discussion.

    It could be because I am deaf, but I'm a little concerned with labeling a loss of a sense as an evil. I understanding we are talking about a theological evil but I'm not sure many people would make that distinction.

    There are tons of misconceptions about the disable and their abilities. Even in 2012, it isn't uncommon to meet people that believe those who have disabilities are being punished by God. Most of the disable are always teaching people about their disabilities and correcting the wealth of mis-information out there.

    It may be correct to call a loss of a sense a theological evil but I'm not sure it is prudent.

    Please understand I have no issue with being called disabled, deaf, hearing impaired, handicap or any of the other words that most politically correct people seem to think will offended me. But evil.....oh, please let's not encourage _those_ people!

    Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. Sorry, Leila for hi-jacking your lovely teaching moment.


  9. Aw man, I actually got an answer right (without cheating!!) so I thought I might have a chance...

    Yay to the winners though!

  10. Kat, understood, and I wouldn't talk that way in public, but we are talking theology, which transcends the modern day parlance. A "physical evil" is anything that is not as it would be in its perfected state (before the Fall). It really is just a privation of the fullness of what should have been there when all was well with the world. We all have physical evils, whether it's deafness or mental illness, or a deformity or a disease or even a wart. The ignorant folks who would say that deafness is a punishment from God haven't read their Bibles very well! And I am assuming they are fundamentalists?! John 9:2-3:

    And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

    After the Fall, we know that God only allows evil (whether physical or moral) when He will bring a greater good out of it.

    I would school those ignorant folks, by having that John 9 verse memorized and ready to throw right back at them!

    And, I definitely wouldn't use the word "evil" to describe any physical disorder or illness outside of the context of a theological discussion like this, and I don't encourage anyone else to do so either, so no worries there! :) I only use the term when discussing sin, and even then, the secularists hate it, ha ha!

    Thanks for bringing

  11. Sorry, I have a slight illness right now, and my comment looks like a kid typed it….

  12. Oh, of course! I know _none_ of you meant it that way and it is a very good example. I just wanted to point out it is prone to misunderstanding by some. But what theological point is safe from misunderstanding?

    That's a very good answer and one I'll have to train myself to have the patience to use when I am being told the Lord is punishing me. I will admit I tend to just roll my eyes and play deaf. Ha!

    Really, I didn't mean any hard feelings- just an observation.

    On an unrelated note: I hope you feel better soon Leila!

  13. Thank you! And, I still cannot fathom that there are dolts out there that actually say idiotic things like that!! Sorry, but the word "moron" comes to mind. (Is that bad? I think I need to get to confession. Between this and Obama's new expanded mandate that came down today -- late Friday as always -- I am not believing the crap I hear! What the heck is wrong with people??)

  14. Leila, you said "After the Fall, we know that God only allows evil (whether physical or moral) when He will bring a greater good out of it" which is a sentiment that I often see expressed as a way to try and offer a consolation.

    But is it really true in any human understanding of "good?" Or just in the obtuse manner of theological scholars?

    I ask because are we really supposed to say "Thank God for the holocaust, and SIDS, and AIDS and polio for the greater goods they bring?"

    Isn't enough to say that God let's evil happen because its the nature of the fallen world?

  15. Hi Nicholas! I don't think I have ever heard anyone pray a prayer like that.

    What a prayers might sound like:

    Dear Lord, thank you for your sovereignty over this world, that we might be secure in the knowledge that even in our sinful, fallen state, you have not abandoned us but instead have assured us by the Death and Resurrection of Your Son that you will bring a greater good out of every evil, all in the service of your benevolent plan. Amen.

    (That is just off the top of my head, don't laugh!)

    The worst sin ever committed by man, the worst evil the world has ever seen, is the Death of God on a Cross. The killing of Innocence Himself, by filthy, guilty hands. And yet, the greatest evil on earth led to the greatest good on earth: The redemption of the world.

    There is a famous prayer that goes like this:

    “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam which has gained for us so great a Redeemer”!

    The implication is that God is so great, and so merciful, that after our sin, He made our ultimate glory even higher, even better. That is the kind of God we have.

    I, for one, would be horrified to live in a world where God did not have the power or will to utterly transform every evil into a higher good.

    That is what Love does. And yes, it is a huge consolation. The only consolation of living in this vale of tears.

  16. Hmm, apparently the Bubble does not reward shameless begging.

  17. I came soooo close to giving you one for that Hebrews!!! Do you already have a Bubble award?


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