Thought for the Week: Evil

Author and independent scholar Alastair McIntosh considers evil and redemption

Currently, we hear much in the news about evil. In America, the word has been liberally thrown around at both presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, the actor Will Smith has been discussing his part in the superhero movie Suicide Squad, which went on release recently.

He says he wanted to explore ‘redemption’ and, specifically, the idea that while the merely bad are redeemable, the evil are not.

Smith thereby feeds the notion of evil as an absolute. This allows for its personification – whether as the Devil or as archetypal villains in comic strips and movies. But are such absolutes the most wholesome way to make sense of suffering in the world?

It was the American writer James Baldwin who suggested that: ‘One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’

We sideline the pain of spiritual growth when we reduce it to questions like: ‘If there’s a God, how can “He” allow evil?’

Imagine how it would be if every time some human folly (or even cruelty) were about to happen, the ‘Great Cosmic Health and Safety Officer’ zapped it from on high.
We would never get to feel the pain of others, or of ourselves. We would remain in spiritual infancy, devoid of empathy, unexercised by the evils of the world. For love to be free, evil has to be an option.

Therefore, said saint Silouan of Athos: ‘Keep thy mind in hell and do not despair.’

I think that what he is saying is: fully face the brokenness of the world, but never forget that God’s not sleeping.

It is a reminder of hope, and of deeper processes at work that might transcend our conscious ken. A reminder, too, that nothing, and no one, is ever beyond redemption.

This reflection is an adaptation of a ‘Thought for the Day’ first broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on 4 August.

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