evil and good without explanation

To explain the irruption of evil, is this not to absolve it? (Paul Ricoeur)

Ricoeur claims that if we try to show the causes of, say, the rise of Nazism, then the responsibility of the actors would be diluted and even disappear, making no one guilty. The only way to avoid this risk is to not explain evil. This is the only way evil maintains its absolute character of horror and irruption.

Can the same be said of good? If we try to explain the rise of something good, that it had historical necessity, does this not also rob the actors of their contribution, making no one really good? Again, the best way to respect the good is not to explain it, thereby giving the good its true goodness.

This reminds me of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s claim that the universe is meaningless, and that our endless search for meaning is just our desperate attempt to comprehend and control that which is completely beyond us.

I suggest that the story of Job is the book of our time, and that Job himself is our archetype. In the midst of incredible suffering he never was provided with meaning. The disaster came and the disaster went without any cause or ultimate purpose, and the meaning was never disclosed to Job.

In the end, like Job, all we can do is live as best we can, humble ourselves before the unfathomable mystery of life, forgive our enemies, and love whatever families and friends we are given.

This is what makes life worth living. And this is meaning enough.

My books, my two books, “nakedpastor101” and “Without a Vision My People Prosper”, attempt to address issues like this through writing and art.


You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Tiggy says:

    I totally deplore the approach that opts for perceiving ‘evil’ as some kind of mystery rather than seeking to understand its causes. That’s a kind of theological self-indulgence that disregards care for the victims of evil and its prevention – and in many ways and specific situations it CAN be prevented. To attribute something to ‘evil’ is just as much a cop out as attributing it to ‘Satan’ and far too easy. One might as well say ‘that’s just how it is’ and give up as people have done with poverty. I could say a lot more but I feel too angry and you get my point I hope.

  2. nakedpastor says:

    Tiggy: i’m not sure how you got what you got from what i said. i would think that from what i said one would understand that this makes the actors MORE responsible and the need for justice more necessary.

  3. David Waters says:

    I prefer to love the family I have chosen, over the one I was given. In fact I reject the one I was given.

  4. Magdalena says:

    Evil exists. We do try, mythologically, to explain why. I don’t think that carrying a “true” myth of evil and its manifestations absolves anyone of responsibility for participating in it. Again, we come up against that spike covered high wall, the doctrine of free will.

  5. Charis says:

    Your observations about “good” reminded me that knowing EVIL was not the sole origin of death.

    In the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit which produced death was on the “tree of the knowledge of GOOD and EVIL”.

    You mention “the unfathomable mystery of life”. Reminds me of “the tree of LIFE”.

  6. Charis says:

    I identify with your journey… (nuff said)

    Have you read M Scott Peck “People of the Lie”? It reminded me very much of some of my experiences as a fundegelical. Here is a quote which has GOOD (“righteousness”), EVIL, and LIFE in it:

    Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life-usually in the name of righteousness. -M Scott Peck

  7. Chris says:

    Firstly we need to recognise that evil and good are not -at least in a Christian context- 2 faces of the same coin.
    To call a debt “negative capital” is to reduce that debt to an integer on an infinite axis… whereas debt is in fact worse than want… it means that even if capital arrives equal in quantity to the debt… I still have nothing.
    In the same way, evil is the absence of good… but is not in itself a force or a quantity – it is what happens when “good” goes into deficit, into negative figures. It is the natural tendency of things when good is not present.

    Regarding Job – I have long wondered just how divine the inspiration for the writing is. It sounds very like propaganda written by the powerful religious elite, to keep the punter knuckling under and not asking too many questions. “Just look at Job – once he saw God f2f, he only wanted to be excused for daring to ask question… wanted to cover himself in sackcloth and ashes and run. Go ye and do likewise and don’t try to be a smartarse again.”

    To attribute everything that appears unfair to “Goddidit” is an infantile copout from the complexity of reality. IF there is an immanent God (much moreso if he is also loving), then unmerited suffering requires, nay DEMANDS an answer… something I have found Christianity very poor at providing.

  8. Nancy T. says:

    I’m more or less with Tiggy on this one. How she reacted was pretty much how I was understanding the post, though not so much with anger as … confusion that you’d see it that way. … and more confused as you say that isn’t what she or I should get from what you said, and yet both of us got that meaning.

    If I explain the rise of Nazism, it does not mean that by explanation I am excusing or diluting the actions of those invovled.

    So to me, the premise is flawed in the first place. There is no ‘risk’ to avoid.

    Secondly, even if there was some sort of risk from explanation, saying that evil maintains its absolute horror by being ‘unexplained’ makes no sense either. To my understanding, that does imply some sort of ‘we don’t understand it, and shouldn’t, we just experience it in its absoluteness’. To me, that is the ultimate explanation of making evil ‘other’, when in fact facing our own ability to be evil, and at the same time to see the humanity in others, are needed to understand evil.

    I am of two minds about the ‘mystery of life’ aspect. On one hand I do agree that we do much to reason and comprehend our universe when at times it might be more relevant to live the life right in front of you. That said, it is our quest for understanding that has led us out from superstition and into the age of reason and enlightenment. If anything, the current religious world views, that are for fundamentalism and extremism, is a reversion to superstition.

    Probably one of the reasons why I question if I should be more outspoken about god not existing, is that we live in a time where the belief in god is grounds for any number of human rights abuses, and a stifling of logic and reason…and at times out right rejection of science and fact.

    I love Chris’ idea of the absence of good. The quote, misattributed to Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing”, gets at the same point, somewhat.

    I don’t believe there is ultimate ‘evil’ in opposition to ultimate love. See what I did there? No ultimate ‘good’ either. I think that love and hate probably get more to the point of what we moralize as ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

    As always, YMMV.

  9. Johnfom says:

    I’ve been using Ecclesiastes a lot lately in conversations with questioners/seekers/what-ever-your-group-calls-them-ers.

    ‘I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind… I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.’ Chap 1: 14&17

    I nominate Ecclesiastes to go along-side Job in the ‘book of our times’ listings.

  10. Christine says:

    Perhaps it is that we can’t explain either. We can look for a direct cause and contributing factors for evil deeds, but what caused those? We can trace these explanations back even further, finding (hopefulyl) ways to intervene, improve, comfort and prevent – but we can’t ultimately account for the root cause. This might be mystery enough.

    For good, it applies as well, I suppose – but I found you applying the same mystery to good a bit strange. I think this is because I tend to view good as being natural (the default almost) that doesn’t require explanation. Does that make me an extreme optimist?