The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat —Genesis iii. 13.
THE problem to which I invite your attention has excited the interest and baffled the ingenuity and wisdom of the best men and the most profound thinkers in past generations. From the point of view of the Christian Church, its solution has been impossible without involving the Divine character and purposes in many contradictions and absurdities. I believe that the doctrines of the New Church give us the principles necessary to its solution, and teach us how to use them to attain the result. I can hope, however, to do but little more than to state the fundamental conditions of the problem, and point out the direction in which we must look for its solution.
First, it is essential to have a precise and clear idea of what evil essentially is, for, if we have no exact knowledge of the problem, we certainly cannot solve it. We shall be working with materials which we do not understand to produce an unknown result. Is evil a distinct substance, form, or power in itself, acting in opposition to good and tending to pervert and destroy it ? If so, it must either be self-existent and eternal, or it must have been created. If it was created, it must have been created by the Lord, and then He must be the author of both evil and good. This is the opinion held by many, and the logic by which they are brought to this condition seems clear and irrefragable, if you admit the definition and the premises.
But we cannot admit that there are two self-existent and independent forces or substances or creators, for that would be the admission that there are two Gods. Nor, on the other hand, can we admit that the Lord created evil, for that would be acting contrary to Himself. A Being of infinite love and wisdom seeks to accomplish certain ends, and for that purpose He creates the universe and peoples it with intelligent human beings. Can we suppose that at the same time and running all along parallel with it He creates a discordant power, that tends to oppose and thwart His purposes of infinite love ; that He mars His own work and defeats His own ends ? Such a supposition is absurd. It is impossible in the nature of things. Infinite wisdom could not act in that way ; it would be infinite folly. Imagine a benevolent and wise man earnestly seeking to accomplish some purpose of good, but at the same time voluntarily and knowingly doing something that would defeat his purpose. A wise man could not do it. It would be folly. Much less could a Being of infinite wisdom do anything to hinder or defeat the ends of His wisdom. Every rational mind must conclude, therefore, that the Lord did not create evil. The question arises, then, If evil is not self-existent and the Lord did not create it, wherein did it originate? It could not create itself, it did not always exist, and the Lord did not create it, and yet we have the most mournful and incontestable evidence that it does exist. This is the question to which we must address ourselves.
It is an axiom or a self-evident proposition, that a Being of infinite love could propose no end for His activities but the best and highest good of others, for any other end would show that He was not infinitely good. It would imply that there were some limitations or exceptions to His love. Again, a Being of infinite wisdom could not fail to devise the best possible means to carry into effect His purposes. The least failure in this would show beyond question that He was not infinitely wise. There is some limit to His wisdom. The ends of the Lord, then, must be the largest good of all, and the Divine methods must be the best possible ; they must be perfect.
Everything that tends to oppose the Divine ends, or that in any way or degree tends to thwart them, must be evil. There must be a Divine order and method that are infinitely perfect, and every form and force of which must tend to good. Everything that tends to disturb that order and method must be evil and false. Now let us see, if we can, how such disturbance and disorder could originate and not come from the Lord. In doing this we must commence with things that are known and familiar, and advance step by step from the known to the unknown.
Let us take some article of human invention and construction, a watch, for example. Let us suppose a man has invented and made a perfect watch ; that is, it is made of the best materials that exist, and every part of it is constructed in a perfect manner. It keeps perfect time, and will continue to do so forever, unless the order of its movements should be interrupted or obstructed, or the form of some of its parts should be changed. Now, every one knows that the watch will lose its perfection. It will cease to keep accurate time. It will lose its goodness. Disturbance and evil will be introduced. How does the evil originate ? It was not some self-existent, independent power which acted in opposition to the order and motions of the watch. The maker certainly did not cause the difficulty, for by the supposition he made it perfect in all its forms and materials. How, then, does it come ? From the inherent and essential qualities of matter. Its parts will wear by friction, and thus the perfect form and finish of the wheels and pivots is destroyed. The particles worn away accumulate as dust and dirt, the oil evaporates by heat, the surfaces become dry and rough, and the action of the wheels is impeded. The evil, then, did not originate with the maker of the watch. He did all that he could to prevent it. It did not exist previous to the construction of the watch, but it grew out of its action, out of those very qualities which were essential to the existence of the watch.
But some one may say, “Suppose the substances of which the watch is composed were so hard that they would not wear and so smooth that there would be no friction ?” If they had been, the watch would have been impossible, for the substances could not have been cut and cast into the necessary forms. We cannot avoid the conclusion, therefore, -that, given the possibility of the watch, you must also grant the inevitable consequence that it will generate those evils which will destroy it. This principle will apply to everything that man makes. The evil grows out of the essential properties of matter. If we rise from the works of man to man himself, we find the same elements in the problem, only more complicated. Let us take man as a physical being first, and inquire how physical evils originate.
The organization and mechanism of the material body have always excited the admiration and wonder of those who have examined its structure. That a series of organic forms so indefinite in number, so complicated in their relations, so various in form and use, embracing solids, fluids, and aeriform substances so exact in their forms and so delicate in their structure that the smallest mote impedes and irritates them, and the puncture of the finest needle would arrest the action of the whole organism ; only less than infinite in their motions and uses and relations to one another and to the material world, and so perfectly adjusted to the spiritual body within that they both act as one,—that such an amazing number of organic forms and series of forms should act together in such perfect harmony in such a diversity of conditions is a miracle of wisdom whose depths no finite mind can fathom. When this microcosm, this universe in miniature, is in perfect order, as it came from the hands of its Creator, every organ performs its own work perfectly, and every activity unites with every other and flows towards one end with perfect precision, in perfect harmony. So miraculous are these combinations, and so prompt and certain in their operation, that you cannot touch the body in any point with the finest needle without the knowledge of the fact being instantly communicated to every part of the corporeal kingdom. To eflect this communication myriads of myriads of organic forms are excited to action, and they all act together as one organ. And when they act in such perfect unity the effect of every action is a physical delight, and the whole body is good,—in a state of perfect health.
Physical evil is the interruption of this order ; a weakness or defect in some of these innumerable organic forms by which their action is accelerated, impeded, or destroyed. How does it originate ? How is it introduced into this perfect kingdom ? And in what does it essentially consist ? It is not some self-existent force that wars upon the organization, weakens it, makes breaches into the citadel of life, and finally overcomes and destroys it. The Lord did not plant disorder in the body side by side with order. He moulded it into a perfect order and pronounced it good. He did not make it a kingdom divided against itself Whence, then, came the evil? Did it not inevitably originate in the body’s own action? The body has laws and processes of growth, change, and decay. It is a flowing stream, and if the current is arrested or the springs are not fed, it becomes inflamed or wastes away. It reaches its maximum of beauty and power, and then it begins to decline, to wither and fade. It wears out by its own action, like any machine. And this wear is necessarily attended with weakness, obstruction, and physical evil in some form.
But let us take an example in which severe pain and loss of physical structure are the results. The body is so formed that it cannot bear too great a degree of heat without pain and loss of structure. A little child, attracted by the beauty and brilliancy of flame, thrusts its hand into it and is burnt. Evil is introduced into the body. It is filled with pain. Its organization in some of its parts is destroyed. Whence did the evil originate ? In the fire, do you say? But the fire is good. Man could not live without heat. The earth could not have been formed and the ceaseless activities of the creation kept in play without it. It is the motive power in the universe, the most useful and the best thing in it. How, then, can evil originate from it ? There is no evil in it ; it is wholly good. Do you say it originated in the child ? The child was attracted by the beauty of the flame, in accordance with a universal, most necessary, and benevolent gift of the Lord to man. All our powers are called into play by the attraction of beauty in form and color. The child was in search of good, according to the laws of its being. The evil, then, was not in the child. Whence, then, did it come? From too much heat. From a want of proper adjustment between the relations of the physical structure to the heat. The proper balance, equilibrium, between the two was lost, and hence there was a disturbance in the action of the vital powers. We may apply the same principle to the gratification of the appetites and every sense. The child will thrust a poison into its mouth as readily as the most wholesome food, if it is pleasant to the taste. He cannot avoid all possibility of violating the laws of his physical being without perfect knowledge, and he cannot gain that without experience. And there are some physical evils from which the most perfect knowledge would not protect him, such as the pain resulting from too great heat and cold, and from unavoidable accidents. For it is not possible to conceive that man could ever have passed through the world without suffering some pain, even if he had never sinned.
If the question is asked why the Lord did not form the material body so that it would not wear out or become deranged or be sensible of pain, the answer is. He could not. He made the best body possible, and out of the best materials. This follows from our axiom, from the very nature of infinite wisdom. Infinite wisdom cannot fail to do the best in every particular, for if it did it would not be infinite wisdom. We can see also, from the very nature of the case, that it would be impossible to create an organic form so delicately and exquisitely sensitive to external impressions as the material body, which would not be liable to pain as well as pleasure. If the organization of the material body must be so perfectly adjusted to all outward relations and to the spirit within that it must act in perfect harmony with both to produce pleasurable sensations, it follows necessarily that any derangement of form or action must produce pain. If the eye, for example, must be so delicately organized that it can be moved to activity by the waves of ether, a grosser substance must cause it pain. A body without nerves would be incapable of pain, and equally incapable of pleasure. There is no way of attaining the end without the liability to obstruction. There is no way of attaining physical good without the liability to physical evil. The very delicacy and perfection of the organization necessary to obtain physical good increases the liability to disorder and physical evil. Physical evil, then, does not originate outside the organization, but within it, from the necessary limitations and imperfections of matter. The Lord does not create it. He did not create the nerves to communicate pain, but pleasure ; but He could not so form them that they would be the inlets of good, and not, under changed conditions, of evil. On the side of nature the Lord is under the same kind of limitations that man is. In constructing a musical instrument the maker is limited in one direction by his materials. He may make one that is in perfect tune, but from the imperfection of the wood and iron it will become discordant. The Lord would be limited in the same direction. The giant can exert no more force with a straw than a little child. Here, then, we have numerous examples where discordant action and even destruction grow out of perfect forms and relations, from two causes or limitations. First, from the use of instruments which, by their very nature, lose their perfection of form by their action. And, secondly, from the loss of that equilibrium and perfect adjustment which is essential to the attainment of the good which the Lord has provided for man, and which He is in the constant effort to give him. The Lord did not make man’s organization so delicate, and all its relations so nice, that it might easily become deranged, but because there was no other way of giving him the good.
Let us now take another step, to the moral and spiritual plane of life. As a spiritual being, man is a form organized of spiritual substances, as his material body is a form organized of material substances. He was created in the image and likeness of God, and was therefore formed to receive life from Him in perfect forms. His will and understanding, his thoughts and affections, which are organic forms, were made to act in perfect harmony with the inflowing life from the Lord, and when they so act every motion is a joy. As the material body stands between the soul and the outward world, and is the connecting link between them, receiving life from the soul and being acted upon by nature, so man himself is a conjoining medium between the Lord and the outward world. He receives life from the Lord, and as it flows through him into outward act and finds reaction from the material world, he is filled with delight when every form in this wonderful series of connecting links acts in perfect harmony. This was man’s state originally, and then he was good. He was in harmony with the Lord, with nature and man. He stood in perfect equilibrium between the forces that pressed upon him, and, consequently, in perfect freedom to turn either way, to the Lord above or the earth beneath. And it was essential to this perfection that he should maintain this equilibrium. Now, the question is. How could he disturb this order ? The Lord could not have purposely introduced any disturbing element. There was no self-existent, independent cause outside of man to do it ; and as he was perfect in his own form and activities, whence could evil find entrance?
There were two qualities or conditions of human life that rendered evil possible, or what is the same thing, that rendered it possible for this perfect harmony to be disturbed and this perfect order to be destroyed. The first was human freedom, this very equilibrium of which I have spoken ; and the second was the absolute necessity that the sensuous plane of life should come into conscious and vigorous existence before the moral and Spiritual life, and, consequently, the necessity of judging of things as they appeared to the senses, before the rational degree of the mind was formed.
Freedom of will is the essential human element in man, and freedom implies the ability to choose our course of action and to act according to our choice ; and it also implies that from our point of view there must be some degree of good in either course. If there were no apparent good except in one direction, there would really be no choice. Freedom implies the ability to love one thing or another ; to serve God or Mammon ; to go in the way that the Lord says is right, or in the way that seems to us to be right. Consequently in man’ s freedom lies the possibility of evil.
Now, if any one asks why the Lord did not so form man that he could only do right, the answer is, that he would not have been a man if He had. The essential element of his humanity would have been left out of his composition. He might have been an animal, a being subject to his instincts, and with no power to transgress them. But he would not have been a man. To ask why the Lord did not create man without the specific and essential elements of humanity, is to ask why He did not make man without making a man, or by making something else, which is an absurdity that answers itself. That very excellence, then, which elevates man above all other created beings, and allies him in a peculiar manner to his Creator, contains within it, or more strictly, is, a liability to fall.
Granting, then, that one of the essential elements of freedom is the ability to turn from order to disorder, from good to evil, it may be further said that the possibility of evil does not imply its necessity. Very true. The chances, therefore, were at least equal for man’s remaining as he was created, in the integrity of his being. But he did not. Why did the scale preponderate towards the evil ? I answer, The weight that turned the balance in favor of evil was the other necessary element in human life, the sensuous nature. Man’s consciousness must be opened into this world, and sensuous delights must lie very close to him and exert a great power over him, before the reason and the higher faculties of the will are sufficiently developed to guide and control him. His first knowledge must be that of the senses or of the appearances of things, and there necessarily grows out of this the tendency to put too much confidence in their testimony. They constantly act upon the mind, as gravity acts upon the body ; they draw us towards the earth, towards natural and sensuous delights. Now observe, these sensuous delights are just as necessary to human life as the highest spiritual delights. If we were not drawn by the pleasures of taste or impelled by hunger to take food, who would eat ? Would the body get regular and sufficient supplies of substances to meet its wastes ? But we are in danger of being drawn on by this delight to indulge it at the expense of higher and nobler faculties, especially before we have experience and judgment for our guide. Children and men fall from this cause every day.
Again, we are compelled to form our first conclusions and judgments from things as they appear to us, or as they are to the senses, or to our own experience. Now, all our life comes from God. It is a perpetual gift to us, but it seems to originate spontaneously within us. It seems to be our own. Our senses say to us that it is our own, and there is an inchnation to listen to them, to believe them, and to claim it as our own, and, therefore, to make ourselves as gods. For that which has underived, independent life is God, and when we think that we live of ourselves, we love ourselves and believe in ourselves and forget the Lord. We are inclined to love that which ministers to our delights ; we begin to love to receive good rather than to give good. And this must invert the whole order of our lives ; it must incline us to look down to the earth rather than up to the Lord. The senses and sensuous delights allure us and tend to mislead us ; they tend to destroy the perfect equilibrium of all our faculties between this world and the spiritual world, between ourselves and the Lord. They act on one end of the scale beam with a continual tendency to turn it in their favor.
These sensuous delights are the serpent that tempted Eve, and they are the serpent that has tempted every son and daughter of Eve to this day. The disposition to judge for ourselves what is good, is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord knew the danger of eating of this tree, and warned man against it. He gave him every help which it was possible to give. If man had been willing to obey the Lord instead of his sensuous nature, if he had been willing to act from the real truth, in obedience, rather than from appearances, he would not have fallen. Some will wonder why the Lord created the serpent, and why He put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in man’s garden ; why He gave the principles which they represent a place among the human faculties. The answer is, because they are essential parts of man’s mind. The serpent must be there ; man must be drawn to external things by his delights. The tree must be there ; he must have the ability as of himself to judge of good and evil in order to call all his faculties into play and to make him fully a man. But the senses magnify the good of natural things, and we are overborne by them, and thus the equilibrium is destroyed, and the true, orderly flow of life is obstructed. Man begins to love himself better than the Lord, and the world better than his neighbor. The lower faculties become strong by exercise, and the higher close and dwindle into feebleness by disuse, until man’s distinctly spiritual nature dies, and he loses sight of God, of heaven, and of heavenly delights, and only his lower faculties are alive. The Lord in creating man gave him no faculty that was not essential to his perfection. Every faculty was good. But by the very nature of these faculties they were liable to abuse, to be exercised at the expense of higher faculties. Thus the equilibrium was destroyed and disorder ensued. All the examples and illustrations which I have given from human employments, from man as a physical, intellectual, and spiritual being, confirm this conclusion.
Evil had no existence previous to the creation. It is not some self- existent, independent being or force that is making war upon good, and endeavoring in all possible ways to defeat and destroy it. The Lord did not create evil, nor, on the other hand, could He prevent it, because the possibility of abuse inheres in those very qualities of freedom and rationality which make man to be man. Mechanical evils have their origin in the destructibility of matter, a quality essential to its usefulness. Physical evils are made possible by the very delicacy and sensitiveness which adapt the body to be man’s faithful servant. Moral evil becomes possible when the Lord bestows upon man His crowning gifts of human freedom and rationality, the faculties which if rightly used bring man into the image and likeness of his Maker. Knowing how evil comes, we know how to guard against it. Having learned that the senses cannot be trusted, we should not trust them. Knowing that natural delights, though good in themselves, clamor for gratification, and if not controlled by reason will destroy us, we must keep them in subjection. There is only one Being whom we can absolutely trust ; He is the Lord. Let us trust Him. Let us love the Lord and hate evil.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895