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The good and the evil


The problem of good and evil is handled by religion, philosophy, psychology and social sciences. In a very generic way, good can be defined as everything that attracts us, inducing exalted emotions, what we wish to imitate or make remembered. Evil is everything opposed to the good, receiving negative evaluation, and what in our opinion should not exist. Evil includes suffering, diseases, destruction, injustice, oppression, death.

We accept good as a natural thing, and evil as unnatural. Evil is a problem, which people have been trying to apprehend since the earliest ages. The elusiveness of this problem for a human mind can be illustrated by the fact that different judgments about evil are as numerous as worldís religions and philosophic schools. There can be physical and moral good. Evil can also be classified as physical and moral.

Moral good and moral evil

By the experience, roots of good and evil go down to the depth of a humanís moral core. On the one hand, the wish to learn the truth and rethink oneís own life from the moral viewpoint is natural for man. Things that are good attract man. He has inherent compassion toward other people and living creatures in general. A product of this emotion is his desire to help, protect, or save. Man feels moral satisfaction when he pleases others, loves, forgives, gives up his own interests, or fulfils an obligation of a member of his family or community. By doing good, man develops positive qualities of his soul: intelligence, will power, consistency, courage, tolerance, in a word, he gains the nobility of spirit.

On the other hand, from the earliest age of manís life, the tendencies start to exist which are opposite to those listed above. At times, man does consciously wish to hurt a neighbor. He can offend, lie, defame, harm or injure and deprive another one of his life. Sometimes man can do this for personal advantage, and sometimes for no obvious reason, as though having pleasure in evil doing. If man does not constrain his bad tendencies, then, as the time passes, he becomes bad himself: greedy, insatiable, rude, impudent, lying, hypocritical, insidious, brutal, stuck-up, depraved. After repetition of transgressions, the evil, which was initially a mere predisposition for violation of the moral law, becomes a sinful habit, vice, and weaves into the spiritual nature of man, making him bad morally. The inclination toward evil is like a buckle on cardboard: it makes a sheet defective, because cardboard always folds along it. Science cannot explain why good tendencies coexist with bad ambitions in a man. The Bibleís explanation for this is the original sin.

As good makes man nobler, so much evil cripples him. It darkens intelligence, weakens will, perverts taste. In a while, manís moral condition starts to alter his appearance. A morally degraded person can be recognized merely from his looks.

Physical good and physical evil

The nature abounds in kindness. Variety of food can sustain and also please us. The riches of nature, abundance and diversity of vegetables, fruit and crops that nourish man are innumerable. Sun, water and air warm up and refresh our organism. The beauty of nature, singing of birds, fragrance of flowers make man joyful. This is why a believer senses the caring hand of the Maker in every blade of grass.

However, at all the plenitude of physical goods, man cannot avoid suffering. Diseases and misfortunes cast shadow on our life daily. Death is the unavoidable end of a physical life. Sometimes the inevitability of physical suffering pushed man to the thought that physical evil has autonomous substance. Some believed that nature is a product of two opposed elements, good and evil (the two deities in Persian dualism), or that matter bears evil in itself (Buddhism, Gnostic and modern theosophist teachings).

Contemplating about the problem of good and evil, man always endeavored to understand whether these are absolute or relative notions. Can the evaluation of good and evil differ depending on the circumstances and the level of human development, or good and evil are such in substance? We will see that the notion of physical evil (suffering) is relative because, when viewed from the standpoint of manís moral development, it can result in good. On the contrary, moral evil, i.e. absolute evil, can only result in evil.

Absolute and relative evil

At a close examination of physical evil we can see that it does not constitute an autonomous substance but only receives our negative evaluation. Indeed, childbirth is painful for a mother, but at the same time it develops her love for baby. Labor in wrong conditions can wear and harm health, while in proper conditions it strengthens man, saves him from idleness and serves for development of his abilities. Suffering can embitter and cast down, but it can also enhance man, sharpen courage and patience, teach compassion. Poverty can make man steal and swindle, or it can promote humility and reinforce our confidence in God. From the viewpoint of moral development, a lot of things that we consider physical evil can serve to a good purpose, and thus to eternal bliss. That is why physical evil is not a substance but represents a relative notion.

This is not the case of moral evil. Often, evil things are done for the sake of temporary material benefits; however, together with its seeming advantages, the evildoing cripples the moral self of the transgressor and harms others. We can figure out a case when someone indirectly promotes moral good by doing moral evil. For example, by making a Christian suffer the torturer lets him manifest his faith and patience. In this situation good does not directly result from the action of moral evil (torturerís brutality), though. It occurs due to the dual effect of physical evil: the martyrís suffering causes the manifestation of his faith and patience. However, moral evil as such always results in evil. That is why moral evil, as well as moral good, is an absolute concept.

Moral from the perspective of God and eternity

Some facts of life may receive controversial interpretation: are they morally good or evil? As an example, divorce is considered as evil, because it is linked to adultery, breach of vows, destruction of family and disregard of children. But what should we think about a mutually agreed divorce, which apparently leads to the better of the parties? Can it be counted as good? The Gospel teaches that any divorce is an act of disobedience to Godís will. Man is a creature with limited and imperfect notions, and his ideas of good and evil are not always correct. Only the One Who is the Cause of the moral law can precisely know what is good and evil. That is why a Christian, willing to do good in all, should always submit his will to the Will of the Creator.

Sometimes, man can be bewildered: why infinitely good and wise God permits evil? Could He not create an ideal world, without struggling, suffering and death? The answer to this is not easy. In "The Karamazov Brothers," Ivan justified his disbelief by the argument about an innocent childís suffering.

It is not possible to understand why God permits evil, if we view it within the range of this material life. Materialists explain suffering as phenomenon, which is undesirable but statistically inevitable. They understand human life as a tangle of injustice, which essentially has no sense. Scholastic theology treats suffering as retribution for sin, either personal or original. This is a very legal, formal answer that fails to match the Christian teaching about God who is loving and all-forgiving. In order to understand the undeserved suffering, we need to look at it in the perspective of eternity that man is called for. We believe that God does not send physical adversities but permits them to happen, so that the suffering and patient ones receive the reward of eternal bliss. Philosophers, trying to make out the problem of good and evil from the temporary lifeís perspective only, are unable to produce a sufficient answer.

What can we say about Godís permitting of moral evil? Why does He allow sin to ruin man? This question is inseparably bound to the manís free will. God could create us and give us not the opportunity to choose between good and evil. Had it happened this way, we would have been robots or beasts, but not humans. Without the freedom of choice, there cannot be moral good, and only mechanical, pre-programmed motion can occur. The All-Good Maker wished to give us the freedom of will and let us develop spiritually, by this attaining a certain degree of likeness with Him ó comparable to childrenís likeness with parents in appearance. That is why the freedom of will is the supreme good which exalts man above the entire nature. However, we need to be able to use this good properly. It is similar to fire, which is necessary for life, and which can be very dangerous when handled without due care and caution.

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