One of the lessons I have learned from writing my book on evil is this: the opposite of evil is not the good but the Sacred. This means that we cannot have a conversation on evil until we have a conversation on the Sacred.
If we are out of touch with the Sacred we are necessarily out of touch with how to deal with evil; we see only its effects, we don’t get to its essence and we don’t deal with it effectively therefore.
We have been treating the Sacred in myriad ways throughout our Daily Meditations. We are prepared therefore to talk about Evil.
Rabbi Heschel teaches that the Biblical answer to evil is not the good but the holy. It is an attempt to raise man to a higher level of existence, where man is not alone when confronted with evil.
“Living in ‘the light of the face of God’ bestows upon man a power of love that enables him to overcome the powers of evil….”*
We are being reminded, from a man of great depth and prophetic spirit who walked his talk in so many ways, that Evil and the Sacred (or the “holy” in his words) operate in the same domain, the world of spirit.
In this way Paul too talks about our struggle being against the “powers and principalities” which indicates the spirit world or angelic world.
Heschel assures us that we are not alone when confronted with evil. Interdependence is a deep part of the world of spirit just as it lies at the ground of our existence as well. “Interbeing” as Thich Naht Hanh puts it, is everywhere.
I do not use the words “Beelzebub” or “Lucifer” or “Satan.” I don’t think we have to today.
We have other words in our vocabulary that speak to Evil and its uncanny power to return again, to outlive us all, to be quasi-immortal or spiritual.
Words like Racism; Sexism; Militarism; Greed; Envy and the rest. These are realities that confront the Sacred or the Holy on a regular basis.
They are the grounds where our battles, both inner and outer, are fought.
We want to fill up on the Sacred or the Holy to dare to step into a struggle with evil.
Martin Buber teaches that we cannot wipe out evil but we can work to turn it into good. There are lessons to be learned from the light we find in the darkness, lessons of wisdom and compassion learned from grief and suffering, loss and betrayal. Darkness itself is a school where we re-visit the Sacred and the Holy.
*Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (NY: Harper and Row, 1955), 376.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (2016 edition), pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.
Banner Image: Barren land after a criminal network illegally logged and traded trees from the Gurupi Biological Reserve and the Caru and Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Lands, in Maranhão, Brazil, 2016. Photo by Felipe Werneck – Ascom/Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, on Wikimedia Commons
Queries for Contemplation
Do you recognize the relationship between Evil and the Sacred? And how, in Heschel’s words, the response to Evil is not from the good but from the Holy? Meditate on that. What follows from that?
Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.