Depending

Y’know, there’s this thought that goes around that good cannot exist without evil. And in a way, I can see where that comes from. I’m unfamiliar with the details of the philosophies that teach it, but anyone who’s spent enough time thinking about things can work out that bad actions can have good consequences, and vice versa, that destruction can be as important as creation, that we need both darkness and light. Our own language has proverbs like “every cloud has a silver lining” or “tis an ill wind that blows nobody good” (it took me awhile to figure out that it meant that “it would be an extremely horrible wind the likes of which nobody has ever seen that could possibly not have some upside or other”, but I’m just slow like that.) And there’s the idea of contrasts, that you don’t appreciate light without dark, health without illness, joy without sorrow, and so on.

But I’m not convinced that good depends on evil. I’m not convinced that a world without evil would also have no good. There’s nowhere and no way in this life that we can live without evil, this is true. And the darker side of things has its purpose. I don’t think it’s for nothing that “the last enemy to be defeated is death,” because right now, death, as horrible as it is, has a purpose. Destruction has a purpose. They place limits on our evil just as much as they stunt our good. Because the evil is in our hearts – we are selfish beings. We are capable of incredible good, but we are inclined to great evil. There is a part in all of us that wants nothing more than power, glory, and the satisfaction of all our lusts. Tragedy wakes us up from that, and punishment puts it to an end. Not perfectly, maybe, but effectively.

But to say that good must have evil, even if it’s just for contrast – yeah, not convinced. ‘Cause it is in my experience that the more you rid yourself of evil (selfishness, pride, cruelty, apathy), the more beautiful good becomes. Evil isn’t like the contrast in a photo. Ridding ourselves of it doesn’t leech all the color out of life. Rather it sharpens the lens, erases the smudges, gets rid of the mucky grays. Goodness rids the world not of shadows, but of haze.

Because this is what good things do. They show up how bad the evil really is. It introduces us to the lows of life in a way we never knew before. When you’ve known wealth, poverty looks worse than it did. When you’ve known grace, the rigor of legalism is suddenly brassy, harsh, and cruel. When you’ve known love – true, unconditional love, the fire that transforms, upon which anything could be sacrificed for the good of another – hate and apathy are the lifeless, useless things they ought to be. They are shown for the ugly things they are.

And darker thoughts show up for what *they* really are. Their use becomes clear. Anger finds a new place, and it is furious with the cruelty and heartlessness of the world. Sorrow has a meaning, as we mourn the loss of what we love, as we cry out against the pain we endure. A dead field is no more than a dead field, but when we knew it as a living garden, then we know what’s been lost. A hollow shell of a house is sad, but it is heartbreaking when it’s somewhere you lived. It hurts to see a ruined life, wasted with abuse and neglect, or writhen by hate, or slain by apathy – how much worse is it if it’s a life you’ve always known and loved.

I see a ruined piano, and I know exactly what sort of song it should be making.

Good contains the potential for evil. It’s been like that from the beginning. Because any time you have a pattern, however complex or varied or subtle, there is always the potential to go against it. In this way, evil depends on good: it must have something to go against. Remove the evil from the pattern and the pattern isn’t diminished. Once you can see the pattern, you can see the evil. Once you see the pattern, you know a little bit how beautiful it would be if everyone got it right.

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