The Valuing of Evil

It appears that there are indeed different levels of evil. And a particular evil can be mitigated by greater evil--at least that is the common message today.

The Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction, Absolute Power-- these are just a few films that have drawn us into the world of evil doers. In The Unforgiven, we learn the plight of a paid killer who has turned away from killing only to kill again for the right fee and to stave off starvation of his family; in Pulp Fiction, two hit men execute a group of college kids who have failed to deliver drug money as agreed upon. One is hiding in the bathroom with a loaded gun and when he enters the room and empties the gun at point-blank range without hitting either of the paid killers, one killer sees this as a message from God and determines to leave the business of crime; the other continues, only to be killed shortly after; in Absolute Power a career thief witnesses a killing while in the midst of a heist and later determines he will not let the President of the United States and his agents get away with the killing and the cover-up. In all cases, the stage is set so that the audience sides with the career criminal. We have learned their troubles, their motivations, and their good points. And we begin to empathize with their plight. That these people are acknowledged criminals is of little consequence--in what we have been shown, we have determined that their characters have been the more honorable. And we go away rejoicing that the lessor of the evils portrayed have prevailed.

And the current tenancy to ennoble evil doers is not exclusive to motion pictures. Television magazine shows and daytime Donahue-like talk shows barrage us with an endless stream of deviants, all with a particular story to tell. As the stream passes by, we find ourselves making judgements about which of the participants is more right in their position. And, at the end of it all the person who has done the least wrong for the shortest time, or the one who has committed the less egregious wrong reigns as our champion. It is all only theater. But over time, as we place value judgements on the abundance of wrongs to determine the lesser wrong, we become desensitized to evil. In fact, at some point evil, may even cease to be evil.

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines evil as "that which is opposed to God and His purposes or that which, defined from human perspectives, is harmful and non-productive." Defined from a human perspective, an act which would otherwise be non-productive may well be somewhat productive when compared with other specific acts or deeds. And of course, what is beneficial or productive changes as time moves on.

Of course, we know that, for the most part, these messages are presented only as entertainment and cannot be taken too seriously, or at least should not be taken seriously. But the growing knowledge of what is unacceptable in Christ, even if is for the purpose of condemning it, has its impact. At the very least, the observation stymies our doing as we sit and observe and judge--we elevate ourselves to judges of the law (Romans 2:13; "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." and James 4: 11; "... and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.") rather than doers. And as we continue in this role it is so easy to began to see the lesser evil as good. We see criminals with character and deem them better than other criminals. In all we see, and perhaps in all we begin to do, the evil is mitigated.

But we cannot make less offensive to God what He has forbidden. In His eyes, all sin is alike; there are no "Brownie points" for being less sinful than another. Sin is simply doing anything against the expressed will of God--all lies are equal; a theft is not measured by its greatness or impact it has on the victim; an act of violence is not made acceptable because of righteous motivation. Whatever values we have assigned to specific expressions of acts against the will of God are useless. But we are nonetheless affected as we continue to observe the evil that is called good, or normal.

There is only one solution. 2 Corinthians 6:17 tells us to separate ourselves from what is wrong and those who continually do wrong. This applies to what we see and hear, as what we see, hear, read, or otherwise take in willingly, has the affect of free association. As society is beguiled with the many variations of how to sin against God, we must be diligent in our efforts to keep our mines unsoiled. Chuck Swindol of Dallas Theological Seminary and Insight For Living tells an anecdote that illustrates this point: "...when you put on white gloves and play in the mud, the mud does not get glovey; the gloves get muddy."

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