Today is the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – the Holy Archangels. And as I was praying this morning in preparation for Mass I was reflecting on how these Holy Archangels help to protect us from the Evil One and the angels that followed him in revolt against God. But as I was thinking about this it occured to me that we can be susceptible to a false understanding of good vs. evil. In fact, to put it in such terms as ‘good vs. evil’ can lead to the danger of thinking that evil is merely the “opposite side of the coin” to that which is good.
To this someone might reply, “But is not evil the opposite of that which is good?” To that question I would have to answer yes and no for the following reasons. First of all I would say yes, evil is the opposite of good because as Christians we are to do good and avoid evil. But even though, philosophically speaking, everyone pursues that which is good (but to be more accurate we must say that they pursue that which they think is good and about which they could very easily be mistaken) evil deeds are still done by countless numbers of people everyday. And it is this tendency towards sin, which runs throughout the whole history of mankind, that can lead us into a wrong way of thinking about evil.
When we reflect on the prevalence of evil deeds done by mankind it may appear that evil is a power more intense or stronger than the power of good. And it is to this way of thinking that I would have to say that evil is not the opposite of good. What I mean is that to see the prevalence of evil deeds in the world and to think of the situation in terms of ‘good vs. evil’ is a dualistic and non-Christian way of understanding the world we live in. We must remember that good and evil are not equal but opposite forces. After all, if they were equal but opposite then there would be no objective standard by which to say which side was ‘good’ and which side was ‘bad’. To put this in the form of a question: if good and evil were both equal, and therefore presumably co-eternal, then how could we determine which was good and which was bad? Quite simply – we couldn’t.
As a result, the only thing that really makes any sense is the Christian understanding of good and evil. God is all good. It is He who created everything and He created it good, as we are told in the book of Genesis. It was the rebellion of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him (all of which had been created by God as good creatures) that led to the introduction of evil into God’s good creation. The question may then be asked: why did God create Lucifer if He already knew Lucifer would rebel? But if we ask this question then we might as well ask why did God create anything at all? Ultimately, we cannot really answer that question. There was no need for God to create anything – but, He did. Out of the superabundance of His love He created creatures with which to share His love. But love can only be given freely and that freedom, which in itself is a good thing, implies a choice that can, and does, lead to evil.* What is this choice? It is the choosing of what we want instead of what God wants for us: Lucifer and his angels chose evil, Adam and Eve chose evil and we too, everytime we succumb to temptation, choose evil instead of that which is good. And what is that good which we should choose? Ultimately, the true Good that we all desire (and we desire it because God created us for it) is God Himself. And we, if we want to reach that ultimate Good, must in the day to day choices that we are presented with choose to do God’s will instead of our own. The Holy Archangels we celebrate today, along with all the other good angels, are there to help us when we choose that which is good but they cannot make the choice for us. We must decide to choose the good.
But that brings up a serious question because I have already mentioned that we can be mistaken about that which is good. Therefore, how can we choose that which is good if we can be mistaken about it? To answer this we simply need to remember that God is good and therefore, would not leave us without guidance. And this guidance He has sent to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Of course, we still make mistakes and that is why He left us the Sacrament of Penance. But the more and more we learn to follow Christ – to allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ – the more we will not only know that which is good but also to choose it.
*This choice that can lead to evil is possible only for creatures but not the Creator. To go into the reasons why this is so would make this post too long. Perhaps a topic for another day.