‘The sheer power and enormity of it is frightening.’

Thought for the week: Noël Staples says the evil is in the detail

‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun’ | Photo: William Blake 1806-1809

Like beauty, evil is in the eye of the beholder. Nothing in the universe is intrinsically evil, any more than there is anything which is intrinsically beautiful. Five miles above the Earth’s surface, the universe is inimical to humans. But we would not call it evil any more than we would call William Blake’s ‘Tyger’ evil, given opportunity and appetite. Things are only beautiful or evil as we perceive them to be.

Genesis begins: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… and the Spirit of God moved upon face of the waters.’ It may also be that the spirit of God is everywhere, on the face of the waters and in heaven. By ‘heaven’ presumably what was meant was what humans saw as they looked up into the sky and saw millions of stars. Or God may have created heaven around God’s self. Either way, this spirit of God may be moving within in it. The writers of Genesis would not have known that stars are suns of one sort or another, many like our own sun. Among these billions of galaxies, each full of billions of stars, there will surely be one or two like our own, maybe even with a carbon-based lifeform. Some say that the entire universe is a living organism, an idea with which I feel considerable sympathy. Perhaps our human life is just one tiny manifestation (infestation?) of the entire universe of our current knowledge.

It is this spirit of God to which I think I am sensitive. I experience it as a ‘presence’ and my rational mind cannot grapple with it. It may be that this spirit is the same with which humans down the ages have grappled.

I have never experienced this spirit as harmful and agree with James Naylor who observed ‘There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil’. At times, though, the sheer power and enormity of it is frightening and does sometimes seem to have a cold edge to it. Many have tried to put this experience into words. But words, the tools of reason, always fail to get at the thing in itself – words like unutterable beauty, joy, at-one-ment, love cascading through the universe (Gerald Hewitson), song of creation, the music of the spheres (Pythagoras).

My point is that the spirit of God is in everything, good and evil, but this spirit is not, in and of itself, evil. Evil is something which only humans can be or do. It originates only in humans. If we allow the spirit of God to be our guide, to let it have its way, we might well do a lot less evil. But the paradoxical question remains: if the spirit of God is in everything, including those things which humans experience as evil, why is it that I, like Naylor and others, experience the Spirit as benign?  Given that we are the sum of our life’s experiences what part do they play in our perception?

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