The Role of Evil
Would we appreciate goodness if evil did not exist? Because evil’s shadow threatens to destroy goodness, humans fight to conquer evil daily; for example, doctors fight the evil of pain, while soldiers fight the evil of injustice. In Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in the Cosmic Trilogy, C. S. Lewis describes the issue of evil’s purpose in order to highlight goodness. “I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were not danger in the lakes,” one character explains. Because of the danger in the lakes, the otherwise perfect Malacandrian society had a deeper appreciation for goodness. Evil cannot triumph over goodness, but instead emphasizes it.
As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, freedom is the “capacity to act by choice rather than by determination.” One who is free is neither imprisoned nor obligated. For example, a free country offers its citizens the ability to act as they wish with minimal rules and obligations, while its opposite, a totalitarian country, controls every aspect of life. Totalitarianism creates discontented, dependent citizens, whereas freedom creates happy, self-sustaining citizens. Without totalitarianism, freedom would not be longed for or treasured as it is today. Every year thousands of refugees risk their lives to flee totalitarian and restrictive countries. Do refugees appreciate freedom more than the free-born? Most likely yes, because they have learned what it is to be restrained, and have risked their lives to escape totalitarianism for the reward of freedom. Free-born citizens do appreciate freedom, but not to the same extent as refugees. How could they? In contemporary America, some free-born citizens even forget the threat of evil and dispose of it, voting for restrictive policies. Without the threat of totalitarianism, freedom would be taken for granted.
Multitudes think they like to do evil; yet no man ever really enjoyed doing evil since God made the world.John Ruskin
Aristotle wrote that we work to earn our leisure. Work, or labor, is a necessary activity to make a living, while leisure is the pursuit of preferred activities. One cannot truly have leisure without work; the two go hand-in-hand, as leisure is the reward of work. Monarchs and other wealthy people in history have attempted to have leisure apart from work, but they learned that without work, leisure becomes stale, depressing, and no longer rewarding. In a similar way, the first week of summer break begins with excitement, yet summer can end with a yearning for work and structure. While work is not morally evil, it emphasizes the reward of leisure.
Health is often underappreciated, until illness strikes. Limbs are used and little thought of until they are injured. Even the senses, like taste and smell, are often taken for granted. The present pandemic, which often takes away the sense of taste, strongly encourages us to appreciate it. Because one learns what it is to lose health, one builds a greater appreciation when full health is restored. The evil of sickness highlights the goodness of health.
Some might say that in order for “love to be so sweet” as in C.S. Lewis’ quote, for good to be fully appreciated, evil is unnecessary—that without evil, there can be no discontent in good. But no: how would we be satisfied by doing anything, if we were not constantly combating some kind of evil by doing it? Would eating give any pleasure without hunger? Would smiling produce any joy if no one ever frowned? Could goodness even be recognized apart from evil? No.
While evil can never triumph over goodness, it serves the purpose of emphasizing it: totalitarianism emphasizes freedom, work emphasizes leisure, and sickness emphasizes health. Without evil, goodness is simply underappreciated, but with it, we can see and enjoy the full beauty of what is good.
Madeleine Lutz is a 16-year-old Colorado native, who homeschools with Classical Conversations. Her favorite activities include reading, classical ballet, and hand-lettering Bible verses. She plans to study kinesiology and become an athletic trainer for dancers.
If you liked this post, take a look at some of our other pieces here at the Journal, like this profile of St. Augustine, this reflection on the educational thought of John Adams, this “Great Conversation” piece on the idea of law, or this student essay on The Count of Monte Cristo.