Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
Where does evil come from?
We’ve got two choices: It comes either from within or from without.
How one answer this question can hinge on how one understands the relationship between Good and Evil. If we think they are completely separate, then we will tend to divide the world up into the things that are good and the things that are evil. We will likely work very hard to align ourselves with the good and avoid, or even do battle with, evil. We will distance ourselves from people who do things that we deem to be evil, for their words or deeds or views that are contrary to ours–the “good”–will show their alignment with evil. If, in fact, good and evil are absolutely distinct, living this way is essential because we will be thinking and acting in accordance with reality.
But what if this is not an accurate description of the relationship between good and evil? Then we will be getting ourselves into a lot of trouble because we are not living in with reality.
The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything and that everything he made was good (Genesis 1:31). It also tells us that sin affects all people–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and all things–“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). All the things that God declared good, are still good, but they have also been distorted by evil. This truth makes it impossible to find anyone or anything that is purely good, or purely evil (and determines how one reads Philippians 4:8).
Alexander Solzhenitsyn had it right when he says,
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.
In Mark 7:15 Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for isolating themselves for those they deemed morally inferior–“evil”–pointing out that “it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” not what comes from outside of them.
The allegorical tale of the White Knight beautifully illustrates what happens when we have a too simplistic view of good and evil and, consequently, fail to attend to the evil that resides in our own hearts.
THE WHITE KNIGHT
by Eric Nicol
Once upon a time, there was a knight who lived in a little castle on the edge of the forest of Life. One day this knight looked in the mirror and saw that he was a White Knight.
“Lo!” he cried. “I am the White Knight and therefore represent good. I am the champion of virtue and honour and justice, and I must ride into the forest and slay the Black Knight, who is evil.”
So the White knight mounted his snow-white horse and rode into the forest to find the Black Knight and slay him in single combat.
Many miles he rode the first day, without so much as a glimpse of the Black Knight. The second day he rode even farther, still without sighting the ebony armour of mischief. Day after day he rode, deeper and deeper into the forest of Life, searching thicket and gulley and even the treetops. The black knight was nowhere to be seen.
Yet the White Knight found many signs of the Black Knight’s presence. Again and again, he passed a village in which the Black Knight had struck – a baker’s shop robbed, a horse stolen, an innkeepers daughter ravished. But always he just missed catching the doer of these deeds.
At last, the White Knight had spent all his gold in the cause of his search. He was tired and hungry. Feeling his strength ebbing, he was forced to steal some buns from a bake shop. His horse went lame so that he was forced to replace it, silently and by darkness, with another white horse in somebody’s stable. And when he stumbled, faint and exhausted, into an inn, the innkeeper’s daughter gave him her bed, and because he was the White Knight in shining armour, she gave him her love, and when he was strong enough to leave the inn she cried bitterly because she could not understand why he had to go and find the Black Knight and slay him.
Through many months, under the hot sun, over frosty paths, the White Knight pressed on his search, yet all the knights he met in the forest were, like himself, fairly white. They were knights of varying shades of whiteness, depending on how long they, too, had been hunting the Black Knight. Some were sparkling white. These had just started hunting that day and irritated the White Knight by innocently asking directions to the nearest Black Knight.
Others were tattle-tale grey. And still, others were so grubby, horse and rider, that the mirror in their castle would never recognize them. Yet the White Knight was shocked the day a knight of gleaming whiteness confronted him suddenly in the forest and with a wild whoop thundered towards him with leveled lance. The White Knight barely had time to draw his sword and, ducking under the deadly steel, plunge it into the attacker’s breast.
The White Knight dismounted and kneeled beside his mortally wounded assailant, whose visor had fallen back to reveal blond curls and a youthful face. He heard the words, whispered in anguish: “Is evil then triumphant?” And holding the dead knight in his arms he saw that beside the bright armour of the youth his own, besmirched by the long quest, looked black in the darkness of the forest.
His heart heavy with horror and grief, the White Knight who was white no more buried the boy, then slowly stripped off his own soiled mail, turned his grimy horse free to the forest, and stood naked and alone in the quiet dusk. Before him lay a path which he slowly took, which lead him to his castle on the edge of the forest. He went into the castle and closed the door behind him. He went to the mirror and saw that it no more gave back the White Knight, but only a middle-aged, naked man, a man who had stolen and ravished and killed in pursuit of evil.
Thereafter when he walked abroad from his castle he wore a coat of simple colour, a cheerful motley, and never looked for more than he could see. And his hair grew slowly white, as did his fine, full beard, and the people all around called him the Good White Knight.