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being, we must ask, How did evil, if it is a mere nothing, come to have the reality, the life, and the power of a something?
All theories which are based upon the idea of the necessity of evil lead to a practical denial of the distinction between evil and good. For if the necessity be purely natural, that is to say materialistic, then there is no possible ground for making such a distinction. The inexplicable constitution of the original atoms of the universe has produced mother's love and murderer's hate in precisely the same way, and the one is as good as the other. But if the necessity be ordained by any kind of a Divine Being, then all its results must be according to his will and must serve his purpose. Any essential difference between the evil and the good becomes unimaginable. All that is left is a formal difference, in which evil is good in disguise, a necessary but unrecognized element in the development of the world. We must accept the statement of Pope's Essay on Man:
“All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
The rock upon which these theories of the necessity of evil go to pieces is the practical knowledge of the nature of evil, which comes to us through the same moral sense which makes us aware of its existence. There is absolutely no variation in the testimony of human consciousness on this point. Evil is recognized not merely as something which is, but also as something which “ought not to be.” This is the mark by which we know it. If from this mark we set out to trace its origin to a divine necessity which has ordained it and called it into being to serve a good purpose, then we must admit that our original mark of evil is an illusion, a false label. It is not "that which ought not to be.” It is "that which had to be.” The whole problem of the origin of evil dissolves into an absurdity. We are left to face a still harder question. How did our moral consciousness, with such an error at the very heart of it, come into being? Is it a mistake? Or is it a lie? Or is it perhaps a divinely imposed delusion?
But if our common sense turns away from these theories of evil as originating in nothingness, or in necessity, in what direction shall we look for an answer to the question of how it came into being ? There is only one line left open; and that is the line of the facts as they lie before us in the world of experience.
What, then, are the facts of evil recognized by the moral sense of mankind? First of all, that it is “that which ought not to be.” Then, that it actually is. Then, that it manifests itself in our own experience in connection with voluntary acts,-acts of choice, or acts of compliance, contrary to “that which ought to be.” But “that which ought to be," must be the will of God. Therefore “that which ought not to be,” can only make itself known in the world through the will of a creature capable of going contrary to God. The possibility of evil depends upon the liberty of the created will. Liberty, then, which means the power of contrary choice, must be the door through which evil entered the world.
But what lies behind that door? From what secret region does the evil that passes through it draw its birth and its power? Why does it enter in? Why does God permit it? Here we stand face to face with the mystery.
Certainly God as creator must have bestowed the gift of liberty with a good purpose. He must have intended man to choose the good in order to attain real and permanent freedom; that is, the power of self-realization in harmony
with the ideal of his nature. But when evil comes in through liberty, the purpose of liberty is violated, the very end of its being is frustrated. The will, choosing evil, comes into subjection to it, and cannot realize itself in a lasting freedom of concord with good.
Evil, then, as it manifests itself in the world, is a purposeless, aimless thing. It is an abuse of the power of choice. It is caprice. It is violence to reason. We can give no rational explanation of its origin, because its origin appears irrational. It is incomprehensible. There is a madness about it which confuses the mind. The Greeks took refuge from it in their myth of Atë, “the eldest daughter of Zeus, the power of bane, who blindeth all.” But this was only a shift of desperate ignorance to get rid of the difficulty by transferring it from the human to the divine.
A wiser, humbler, more reverent thought holds fast to the conviction that wherever the madness of evil comes from, it does not come from God. Its origin is beyond our ken. “Evil is the inscrutable mystery of the world; it ever remains, in its inmost depths, impenetrable darkness.” It is not to be comprehended in its cause. It is to be known in its effects, which are symptoms of its nature.
This is the point to which our line leads us, and here it leaves us. To go farther is to abandon fact for fancy. Christianity itself does not profess to give us light beyond this point. It presents no doctrine of the origin of evil. It tells us only how it came into the world, and what it means in the life of man. Where it came from is unrevealed.
There are two places in the Bible where the entrance of evil and the fall of man are described—and they both teach the same lesson. Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son’ is just as true, just as significant, as the poem of Adam's lost Paradise. In both stories the birthplace of the evil is hidden. The serpent that tempted Eve, and the far country that allured the Prodi· gal, are symbols of a mystery. In both stories
the entrance of the evil is through self-willblind, perverse, ruinous, but free, and therefore responsible. In both stories the nature of the evil is rebellion, self-injury, separation from God. In both stories the result of the evil in man's heart is the sense of sin.
Adam's story stops there; but the Prodigal's story goes on to salvation. St. Luke 15.