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Monday, April 28, 2014

Good and Evil (Part II)

When God decided to make the Israelites wander in the wilderness because of their sins, "He" said that their children would be allowed to enter the Promised Land because they were too young to know the difference between good and evil. (Deuteronomy 1:39) This Scripture reinforces the conclusion that differentiating between good and evil is something that has to be learned. This conclusion is further strengthened by a prophecy about the appearance of the Messiah recorded in the book of Isaiah: "For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good..." (Isaiah 7:16) So we see that the knowledge of good and evil is something that we aren't born with - it has to be acquired.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reprimanded his audience for their failure to advance beyond the elementary teachings about God. (Hebrews 5:12) He goes on to compare them to babies needing milk instead of regular food or "strong meat." (verses 12 and 13) He concludes: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised (trained) to discern both good and evil." (Hebrews 5:14) Clearly, the ability to discern good and evil is something that requires training.

This is consistent with the article that Dr. Steve Taylor wrote that appeared on Psychology Today, referenced in the previous post on this subject. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201308/the-real-meaning-good-and-evil) Dr. Taylor says that it is much too simplistic to characterize people as being innately good or bad. He says that human nature is much too complex to entertain such a notion.

Dr. Taylor defines good as the absence of self-centeredness. He goes on to identify goodness with the ability to empathize with others. Hence, those who are willing to sacrifice themselves or their needs for the sake or welfare of others are "good." This is certainly consistent with Scripture. (Mark 12:31 and John 15:13)

On the flip side, Dr. Taylor says that evil people "are unable to empathize with others." These are the people that we characterize as "selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic." These are the people who have no qualms about using or manipulating others to get what they want. Dr. Taylor says that these people objectify other people, and that enables them to be cruel and brutal to their fellow man.

Finally, Dr. Taylor makes the point that, unless a person has a psychopathic personality, we are all capable of developing or strengthening our empathy for others. This is certainly consistent with Peter's instructions to all Christians to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. (II Peter 3:18) In this connection, I think we can all agree that Jesus Christ is the personification of empathy and goodness.

In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us that Christ took on the nature of humankind so that he would be able to empathize with us. We read: "Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." (Hebrews 2:17-18) And: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Hence, we should strive to imitate the goodness of Christ. As Christians, we should be sharpening our ability to empathize with each other and the people of this world that cross our path.

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