Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:May 4th, 2012 13:13 EST
Does Evil Serve a Purpose?

Does Evil Serve a Purpose?

By Ignatius Fernandez


Does evil serve a purpose?


"Virtue cannot be destroyed, while evil inevitably destroys itself."   The Buddha


Does evil serve a purpose? This question has been asked from the beginning of time. Some answers have been offered, from time to time. Here are a few " not a scholarly paper, born of study, but a common sense response to the puzzle. Perhaps some readers of this article will share in my thinking.


Broadly, evil can confront us in three ways: 1) Self-inflicted " when poor judgement shoves us to rash actions. For example, out of avarice we invest in a risky project, only to lose our hard earned money. 2) Beyond our control " when we do not have control over the situation. For example, we incur losses through floods or an earthquake. 3) Perpetrated by evildoers " people who have power over us, through their position or physical power. For example, an abusive husband inflicts pain on his helpless wife. Whatever the source of evil, it is unwelcome. However, let us examine a few points on the purpose evil serves.


1) Without evil we would not fully appreciate good

 Consider the behaviour of people " both good and bad. How would we appreciate the understanding boss, the loving husband, the devoted child, the outreaching neighbour, if we did not have in contrast the unfeeling boss, the abusive husband, the uncaring child and the quarrelsome neighbour? It is the contrast that shows good behaviour in good light. The juxtapositioning of the two helps us recognize good behaviour and praise it. It also brings to the fore another truth " unless we hate what is evil we cannot love what is good.


2) Out of some evil much good comes

Let us look back at our lives " the bad times when we suffered some form of pain. We cursed and bemoaned our misfortune. We hoped it would end quickly. Sometimes it did; at other times it went on. Only in retrospect do we thank God for what was apparently bad " the period of illhealth which restrained us from a dangerous misadventure; the financial squeeze that prevented us from wasteful expenditure, we had planned; the loss of a good job only to find a better one; the breaking of one relationship to discover that we were spared prolonged unhappiness. We become wiser from such experiences " learning that evil has a good side to it.


3) The good become better

Horrified by the ferocity of evil around them, the good choose to become better. Some even become crusaders. Martin Luther King Jr. rose giant-like with the slogan " `stone them with love` " to counter racial discrimination in the USA. Mother Teresa, through compassion, battled the scourge of hunger, pain and destitution. During WWII unsung heros emerged to carry on their mission of defending and protecting victims of German savagery. In good people there is a swell of compassion that waters the least expected places to let hereos sprout. There is no doubt that if we cease to be better, we will soon cease to be good. Not to advance is to retreat.


4) A chance to return good for evil

They say that to return good for good is human, but to return good for evil is divine. When we are confronted by evil from evildoers, we are raised to sainthood by doing them good. We refuse the easy way out of returning evil for evil. The example of Mahatma Gandhi, the frail fakir of India, comes to mind: When he was abused and beaten by the Bristish he would not strike back or protest. His action won him gruding praise even from his tormentors. Meekness is not weakness, but strength harnassed for service.


5) The evil ones find solace in repentance and conversion

A Sunday school teacher asked a class what the word `repentance` meant. A little boy said: "It is being sorry for your sins. A little girl also answered: It is being sorry enough to quit." The little girl made a valid point " true repentance leads to conversion. Of course, there is the probability that they do not repent at all and persist in their ways, or repent with a motive only to return to their old ways. The fact that evil may continue does not discount the fact that some evildoers could truly repent and mend their lives. Such small numbers add to number of good people in the world. That is a gain.


6) Those who suffer are drawn to God

"Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is the glue."  Eugene O`Neill

In our brokenness, when we have suffered from evil, when all else fails, in the silence of our hearts, where there is only pain, God`s grace works its wonders. It heals our wounds. It fills our souls with a peace that can come only from Him. Only those who have suffered much have experienced this peace; they find God; they discover that to be rich in God is better than to be rich in goods.


Evil in any form leads to suffering in some form and suffering in no form is welcome. Like the slave toiling in the noonday heat longing for sundown, we want to opt out of suffering. Yet, the fact cannot be denied that much good comes from some evil. As someone remarked, rather seriously, that `evil is necessary` for the best part of man to combat the worst part.