Evil Tempered By Good

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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Now in things it is impossible to find one that is wholly devoid of good. Wherefore it is also impossible for any knowledge to be wholly false, without some mixture of truth. Hence Bede says that “no teaching is so false that it never mingles truth with falsehood.” …For the intellect is led astray to falsehood by the semblance of truth, even as the will is seduced to evil by the semblance of goodness.

–Saint Thomas Aquinas

Evil is real.  But it cannot be so absolutely.  It cannot exist with no admixture of good.  For good is that which is of God. It therefore arises in and depends on God’s being.  But all that is arises in and depends on God’s being.  It must therefore be good, in some aspect, sense or way of its being. This is obvious to common sense, even in relation to palpable evil. These days it is sadly not inconceivable that shooters who fire into a crowded playground, might take care to kill only the children, and not the adults supervising their play.  They might do so with chilling accuracy.  Police detectives taking note of this as they survey the scene might observe “Whoever did this was certainly a good shot.”  Or if the pattern were the other way around, and the shooters concentrated fire only on the adults, the Child Services workers sent to take charge of the children, might ruefully speculate that “Whoever did this, there must have been some good in them.”

Contrary to the specious reasoning common in our times, this does not warrant the conclusion that “evil is relative.”  On the contrary, it suggests that good is somehow always present in some form, no matter how evil things appear to be.  As Thomas Aquinas and others have observed, because God’s being is the source and premise of all forms of being, God is present in all existing things, no matter the circumstances of their existence. On that account, there is nothing “wholly devoid of good.”

So, people find within themselves the wherewithal for heroic acts of bravery or compassion even when they are defenseless in the midst of mass slaughter, like the deadly field of weapons’ fire in Las Vegas.  They are liable to feel more inevitably bound to hold on to one another; to huddle and move together; covering with human fellowship what they feel, in that moment, to be the absolute nakedness of their very fragile existence.

Their very souls agape, they are open to experiencing the living truth of an affection simply human, with no admixture of anything but the vital sense of being—shared, understood and cherished in common.  This is more keenly felt precisely because it may be the very moment in which life’s sinew breaks, and its instrument, the body, is unstrung.

In the aftermath of evil, as we all together mourn the compatriots, lost to us last weekend, we would do well, also, to take heart from the thought that people who shared but survived their danger, and others who survive their loss, may be transform by the experience.  It can happen, if we let grief remind us of life’s worth; if we let the confluence of our heartfelt sorrow as a people, remind us of our communion as one nation, one deeply woven human race.

The apostle tells us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.”  Yet at times like these, it is so hard to perceive, much less remember, that God’s purpose is at work in all things, even those we rightly resent as evil.  Laid low with grief, we may be moved to recognize that we took too much for granted, until now that it is lost. Driven, too late, to cherish what we lost, we may be awakened in time to cherish the things that remain, and resolve to strengthen them before it is too late. Forced by threatening circumstance to seek refuge in one another, we may be moved to leave the door ajar, so that the search can continue, with a will freed from hesitation by the mutual accommodation we were willing to offer and receive.

But for this to prove true, we have to make a choice.  We can let the fearsome action of one person, or even a group of them, harden our distrust.  Or we can let the lesson of unexpected goodness, revealed in the midst of what the perpetrator(s) intended for evil, impel us to live with the hopeful expectation that we shall thus surprise ourselves again and again, if only we remember the good faith, already shown in crisis, which warrants that hope.

Thanks be to God, then, that there is no such thing as pure evil. For though our hearts weep, we may still see clearly enough to say to our adversaries, be they one or a multitude, what Joseph was moved to say to his brothers:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…”

Such words are evidence of our faith, and more. They are a challenge to us, to fulfill the purpose we are told God had in mind for our creation, even when we suffer for it.  (“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:17) By striving to meet this challenge, even in the midst of great harm, we will be the register of God’s thoughtful presence, the token of His enduring good will—which He has already redeemed, in earnest of the truth, restored in Christ: that He was never wrong when He  (Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end) “saw everything [emphasis mine] that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.