Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano
Bringing Good Out of Evil
Orthodoxy, neo-orthodoxy, and progressive Mormonism all see good and evil as static, polar opposites. All suggest that goodness is a state of purity, evil a state of corruption, and never the twain shall meet; that evil should be shunned and good embraced, that no evil can come from God, and that the origins of evil are disobedient humans or rebellious angels.
We have a different view. Within the metaphysical model we have been exploring in this book, we define evil as that which denies, mitigates, or wars against God’s glory, intelligence, and power of life. This evil is referred to in the scripture as the “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (D&C 132:27). In contrast good seeks, accepts, or affirms the powers of heaven.
In our view evil and good exist in the universe both as potentialities and actualities. As humans we actualize both good and evil. Devils seek to actualize only evil. And God actualizes only good. For this reason we say that God is good and there is no darkness in God. But in our view the potential for good and evil exists not only in humans and devils but in God as well. The potential for evil in God is unavoidable because God is a free and intelligent being. According to the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, the potential for evil in God means the God could “cease to be God” (2 Ne. 2:11). As humans we have the potential to do both good and evil and are able to actualize both because we inherit this potential or freedom from God. Therefore God as the source of our freedom is the ultimate source of the good and evil actualized in the world. Like everything else in the universe, good and evil are projections of the kingdom emerging from God.
If we are right, if the cosmos is truly the mind of God and if we are even now part of the divine, cosmic tabernacle, then the evil in the [p.112] universe done by devils and humans is an unavoidable part of God. The evil happening on earth is not only our responsibility but God’s. Because good and evil are inextricably linked, none of us can live utterly uncontaminated by evil. Every good can go bad. An angel can become a devil. And by the same token every evil can generate a good. The personal sin of David and Bathsheba gave rise to the lineage of Jesus Christ. But if good and evil are inextricably interlinked, how can anyone be good? More importantly how can God be good?
In our view God is good not because God is utterly disassociated from evil but because, as a being of glory, God can recognize evil, circumscribe it, and primarily through personal sacrifice God can bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, fullness out of emptiness, health out of sickness, and perfection out of imperfection. God is good because God wills not to actualize evil. Instead God uses the divine power in love to transcend evil. This is the meaning of the phrase in the Lord’s prayer, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In other words, let us not be led into trials unless, Lord, you bring good out of the evil. In this prayer Jesus acknowledges the potential for evil in the universe. He does not ask God to eliminate evil. He asks only that God bring good out of evil. This means that Jesus accepts evil, potential and actual, and uses the power of heaven to transform it. This process lies at the heart of Christ’s gospel: the justification of the unjust, the sanctification of the unholy, and the glorification of the powerless.
Because we believe that potential evil lurks in each of us, the first step toward actualizing evil is to deny the truth of its existence. On the other hand, the first step toward bringing good out of evil is to accept it. This does not mean to give evil scope, or repress it, or be paralyzed by guilt about it. It means to discern it, admit its existence, its power, its full dimensions, and to do what is necessary to grow spiritually and to cooperate with God in bringing light out of darkness.
In our view then Adam and Eve were not put in the Garden to avoid the Fall but to experience it and its consequences and to participate with God in bringing about the redemption of the world. Eve recognized the secret darkness that crept like a serpent into Eden, and she sacrificed her eternal life to bring good out of evil and time out of eternity. Christ recognized the evil in the world and sacrificed his eternal life to bring good out of evil, to bring eternity out of time. Similarly we are not sent to earth in order to see if we can maintain our innocence. We are not here to avoid pain and impurity but to bring good out of [p.113] evil while immersed in all the manifold convolutions of a temporal world.
To do this we must stop telling ourselves and our children that marriage, family, church, and work should always be heaven on earth. We must admit that for most of us marriage is a crucible, family an ordeal, church a cross, and work a bore. If not there is plenty else in the world which will try us. The purpose of life is not to reject everything different and everything risky but to accept the world with love and face the good and evil of it. As interconnected parts of God’s cosmic tabernacle, we cannot escape the evil of others nor can they escape ours. Evil in one or done to one is evil in all and done to all. If we deny this, the evil will worsen and inevitably surface elsewhere.
Moreover, we must recognize that our judgment and condemnation of each other based on rigid moral codes and a fetish for purity are irrelevant to the central purpose of our lives and the central teaching of our religion. We must come to accept that the worthiest of us are not those who have sought to deny the darkness within or to avoid the darkness in the world, but those who have seen it, acknowledged it, accepted it, and then have transcended it by seeking God’s light shining in the darkness.
If we can accept the idea that goodness in the cosmic and ultimate sense is a matter of spirituality rather than legality, it may, perhaps, be easier to accept the fact that, as mortals, we are all sinners because none of us is glorified as Christ is glorified and, therefore, we all fall short of the glory of God.
One of the principle problems of the modern world and the modern church is that we tend to deny or downplay our own evil and limitations. Virtually everybody recognizes that the world has problems. We would be hard pressed to deny the existence of error, corruption, temptation, and even malice. This is our universal human plight. But our denials often begin with our attempts to answer the questions: Why is there evil in the world? And what can we do about it?
The first question is the most important, and two very different answers can be proposed. Some say evil exists because we humans are spiritually flawed, that is, we cannot consistently avoid evil and do good. This is not to say that humans are inherently evil. They have the capacity for both good and evil. But in a world of entropy without the fullness of God’s glory, we are all subject to evil, just as we are subject to the law of gravity. Others say that though we are spiritually sound, evil [p.114] exists because we lack knowledge or proper guidance. Each of these answers leads to a different remedy for the problem of evil. If we are spiritually flawed, then the cure is spiritual healing and empowerment. If we are spiritually sound, then the treatment is proper laws, guidance, and education.
We take the view that humans are spiritually deficient and that the remedy for evil is spiritual transformation. Redemption then is a matter of receiving God’s spirit not a matter of legislation, moral exhortations, proper examples, rules, regulations, and good education. Though some of these techniques may help deal with evil on a temporary basis, they cannot serve as a lasting solution because they cannot heal the spiritual wound causing our plight. Besides these methods require imperfect people to be in charge of making themselves and others perfect. The blind lead the blind. This situation may have some good effects, but it cannot bring about divine goodness. And often such efforts only end up burdening people with more rules and giving rule makers more power, which in turn feeds the rulers’ pride and ambition and creates a syndrome of arrogance and despair in the ruled: those who feel they are perfecting themselves will tend to feel arrogant, while those who are unable to comply or who realize that compliance is not holiness will find themselves carrying a heavier and heavier burden of despair-promoting guilt.
This syndrome can be avoided if we accept that mankind is spiritually flawed and our plight is beyond human remedy. Although this view seems uncompromising and harsh, it is in fact quite gentle. For if we believe that our human limitations are the source of our problems, then each person at heart is no more or less a sinner than anyone else. We are all equally plighted. True the sins of one person may be more serious than those of another, but because we are all flawed, we are all capable under the right (or wrong) circumstances of committing sin. This is why Jesus could say, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” We all have the same potential for sin. What must be removed is not the freedom to sin but rather our inability to distinguish clearly right from wrong and our powerlessness consistently to actualize the good.
Rules and regulations cannot empower us. The potential for sin can be clarified by the law, but not eliminated by it. That is why the law can only be a schoolmaster to teach us of our plight and to encourage us to look for a cure. The cure is not the law. The cure is Jesus. Because God has set in place the mechanism of our salvation (and we [p.115] shall discuss this more fully in a later chapter), we can all receive from Christ a spiritual healing and the power to bring good out of evil. This power is made available to us not merely by human effort, but mainly by divine effort. Christian salvation does not depend on what we humans can achieve through our own efforts, but on what we receive from God.
If this sounds too easy, it is because it was meant to sound easy. The gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to be accessible to everybody. But it is not so easy in practice. To submit to an invisible God, to rely and follow such a being, to set aside the vanities and achievements of the world, to be forever in conflict with one’s culture, these things are not easy. It takes much less effort to be active, to be in control, to imagine oneself as the architect of one’s destiny. A sense of progress, even a false one, is often more appealing than lying still under the divine surgeon’s knife—especially if there is no anesthetic and if the pain itself is often the therapy. This is not to say we do nothing to further our redemption. Seeking the spirit, accepting it, remaining sensitive to it, following it, becoming God’s instruments, forgiving, repenting, loving, and enduring in the business of bringing good out of evil requires effort. But our work is principally to accept the work of God in us.
The New Testament contains stories of Jesus’ miracles: his incarnation and escape into Egypt; his changing of water into wine; his multiplying the loaves; his replenishing the nets; his healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead; and his own passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. These miracles are variations of but one miracle, the miracle of bringing good out of evil, of making the unholy holy, the profane sacred, the sinful righteous, the dead alive, the human divine, and the divine accessible. It is the miracle of the work and glory of God to bring to pass both immortality and eternal life.[p.116]