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The emptiness of evil

By Ronald Francis

Evil is nothing. Only good is.

The Bible talks often of the fullness of God, the fullness of life. This is because in God, there is always fullness. Like light itself, good always creates, emanates, gives. Good is always with.

But evil is always without. This doctrine, the Privation of Good, means that evil is secondary. It is always the rejection of good that is evil, the absence of light that is darkness, the absence of food that is starvation.

You see, there is no evil for evil’s sake. It is not accurate to think of anyone in history, even the most malevolent, as being evil for evil’s sake. Man was created good, even though mankind often lacks goodness. Our bodies are, by nature, good. Creation is good for “God is infinitely good, and all his works are good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 385). When we think of wickedness, we must logicise it as the defecting of that which is good.

St Augustine, in his Enchiridion (manual) On Faith, Hope, and Love explains that a wicked man, for example, is “a good entity in so far as he is a man [and] evil in so far as he is wicked” (4:13). His nature is good even though his acts may be evil.

Nothing, literally no thing, born of evil has real value. It is only performance, flash, and charade. Never envy it. Never fear it. When we act with evil intent towards another, we act from emptiness, from without-ness.

Often, we have been showered in blessings despite our avarice or covetousness. David had six wives but wanted the wife of his general (2 Sam 6:11). We lust for whatever is beyond us, even though we already have fullness.

St Augustine, recounting the time he and others stole pears even though he “had in plenty and of better quality” (Confessions II.IV), explains that “it was sin that sweetened [them]” when he finally but barely took a bite of the stolen pears (Confessions II.VI).

Our evil is spiritual privation. We are without the vision and faith to see our own blessings. We are without the courage to persevere.

We are without gratitude for the many things we already have. We are without a kingdom vision that releases attachment from the world.

We are without the truth, that with God, there is always fullness, mercy, grace. We act from defectiveness, from emptiness, a privation of goodness.


Chaos and destruction

There is so much emptiness in the culture today. Evildoers, who proudly assert the void, themselves acting from emptiness, can neither create nor inspire, but only take.

The Satan, the great opposer who made the void his home, seeks to “steal, kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). Evil must steal because it has nothing and is nothing.

When something is taken from greed and selfishness, like the pear stolen by St Augustine, it cannot satisfy or last. No new and fresh fruit can come from a branch severed from the vine (Jn 15:4) and nothing in an abyss can thrive or survive.

So ultimately, evil attempts to destroy. It is actually an act of self-destruction. It is rage against what is good and Who is good, but more deeply and fundamentally, it is pride.

It is so baffling how in the culture today, we fight for things that lead to our own destruction. A reckless and false liberty, the idea that we are totally in control, and we are completely self-determining, leads us to destroy our bodies, to lives of regret and pain.

The ‘freedoms’ we are asked to pursue and fight for, often for the profit of a calculated few, leave us more depressed and more broken than before. We partake of things that violate our conscience and basic human dignity, calling evil good (Is 5:20; Matt 12:31–32), and masking literal gore and blood, brutal realities, under terminological veils like autonomy, rights, identity, affirmation, and liberty.

These old errors with new labels, old lies with new justifications, are the same void where there once was good.


The hope of Goodness

The call is for us to remain grounded in goodness and in mercy for they are truly eternal and with us in every generation (Ps 100: 5). Long after the vicissitudes of life, the politics of the season, the false doctrines of the age, God will keep giving to us, even after death, giving life eternal.

Tethered to Christ Jesus, we can always bear fruit and we can have a fullness that will do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:19–20).

St Augustine tells us that “however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its ‘nature’ cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed” (Enchiridion 4:12).

We were created good and cannot even destroy ourselves or ever turn or run from the One from whom goodness comes. That the old will be renewed, passing away and replaced by the descending of a holy city, a new order (Rev 21:1–2), is indicative that goodness endures, for it always was and always will be.

This is our great hope, the point of the whole Christian endeavour. We need only tune into the still small voice, and like St Thomas Aquinas prayed “ever feel remorse for [our] sins and never lose the resolve to change” (Prayer for Ordering a Life Wisely, St Thomas Aquinas).

The answer, I think, is not in the culture but within. If we open our emptiness to the fullness of God, grace can transform us and transformed hearts can transform the wider world.


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