“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, January 30, 2009

An Unbalanced Duality

“We find ourselves in a world of transporting pleasures, ravishing beauties, and tantalizing possibilities, but all constantly being spoiled, all coming to nothing. Nature has the air of a good thing spoiled.” – C. S. Lewis, Miracles

“Last, and strangest, there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.” – G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I’ve approached the main issue by starting at the problem of evil and proposing that there is a reason evil exists, but now I want to do the same thing by discussing what might be called the problem of good, or the problem of joy or beauty or hope. The astounding existence of evil should cause us to tremble, but the existence of good, which we perceive no less than evil, should fill us with hope. Yes, there is evil, but there is good, too. As Sam Gamgee said to Frodo, “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!” We see it in the stars and the sky and the faces of people, we hear it in music and voices, and we perceive it in our hearts to be truly real by experiencing love and joy, and beautiful things. Good and evil – they are both shockingly real – foundational and irreducible realities. Again, we need to step back and wonder at the sheer existence of these things. The very fact that joy and love and beauty are realities that we experience should draw our breath away and kindle a deep hope in us. These things are not to be taken for granted.

What do we make of this apparent dualism? It is a bittersweet and fallen world we are in, a mixture of life and death, love and hate, joy and pain. Are we confronted with two opposite realities that balance each other equally? If so, I am baffled by reality and cannot think of an explanation. But I do not think there is an equal balance. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describes why good is in a sense more real then evil. First, he says that merely the fact that we judge “good” to be right and “bad” to be wrong shows that there is some higher standard by which we judge. Deep down we know that what is good is not simply preferable or more likable than what is bad because it feels good. Beauty and joy and love are absolutely and universally right, and evil and suffering are absolutely and universally wrong. We are judging by some higher standard to which good adheres but evil does not, and that is, as it were, a point in good’s favor. Lewis then makes another point:
“[W]ickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness…no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong – only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words, badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled…you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted…evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are the powers given it by goodness.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own.” – Frodo, The Lord of the Rings
Good is original and primary. As Lewis says, one cannot do a bad thing simply to be bad; rather, one often does it for pleasure, which is good in and of itself. When we really see it we think, “yes! YES! This is truth.” Evil is just a parasite, as Lewis says. When we really see it we think, “no! NO! This is wrong – a perversion, a twisting of the truth.” Our emotional perception of good and evil is, you might say, “polarized” in the direction of good. Good attracts and evil repels, and therefore good is superior. Our hearts are inclined towards what is good and beautiful and loving, and thus the “reason of the heart” (see my posts on this) provides evidence of this primary and original nature of good over evil, evidence that good “came first.” Because of this, our hope should overcome our fear. Love is not merely opposite to grief, but greater in magnitude, as it were, even in a world full of grief. This primary nature of good strongly suggests that good is not only primary over evil, but also victorious, that is, that in the end good will remain and evil will not. To see that good is primary is to be drawn towards the truth that good is victorious. This “victory of good” is virtually self-evident to me. We perceive a deeper and stronger and older reality in good than we do in evil, and this should fill us with undying hope.

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