Does “evil” exist? There should be no question that bad things happen. One does not need to watch the news for long to hear` of violence and wars. There is theft and division. Yet, if one listens to the relativists who say there is universal truth, how can be there be evil if there is no right and wrong?
What does it even mean to say evil exists?
One way to approach this question is to ask if Satan exists (aka the “devil”). The answer to this is yes. We find him in the Bible as the one who tempts Jesus. Jesus himself speaks of him.
I just finished reading Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020). The book begins with a foreword by Michael H. Brown. Brown states, “evil is the word “live” spelled backward. Evil is also living backward, for darkness aims us at the inverse of good” (x).
Evil is the opposite of good. To do evil is to turn away from the good that God has created us for. This is what Satan did when he turned away from God. There was a great battle in Heaven (see Revelation 12, especially verses 7-9). Defeated in that battle, Satan was cast out from Heaven. Cast out of Heaven, Satan has been leading people into temptation ever since. We still must “battle” against temptation and sin.
Fr. Longenecker discusses how in years past, we would speak being at war with Satan and evil. We tend to no longer speak in terms of warfare. For example, he discusses how the hymns that speak of Christian warfare are no longer found in today’s hymnals (11).
We have come to see wars as something bad. Wars in this world have often been fought for reasons of power and greed. This is not good. We do all we can to avoid such wars. From this, Fr. Longenecker says, “We haven’t beaten our swords into plowshares; we’ve been them into pacifiers” (12, See Isaiah 2:4, Joel 4:10, Micah 4:3).
I myself have not been one to speak in terms of warfare with Satan. Fr. Longenecker says, “We are embarrassed by the whole idea of the “Church Militant” “(14). I would not say I have ever been embarrassed by the term “church militant” but I have not embraced either it. It almost seems like an antiquated term.
Whatever term one chooses to us, Satan is real. Temptation and sin are real. We must resist. We need to acknowledge that evil is real so that we can choose the good. Fr. Longenecker says, “We all must choose, and not to choose is to choose” (14). He goes on to say, “To stand on the sidelines and watch the battle is be on the side of Satan, because all it takes for evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing” (15).
In Revelation 3:15-16, we read, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
We cannot sit idly by. Satan is real. He loves it when we sit idly by because it allows him to act slowly and cunningly in ways we don’t even realize. He walks us on a slippery slope to sin such that we end up in sin without ever realizing it. Satan is most powerful when we think he does not exist because then we let our guard down.
We need to acknowledge we are in battle with Satan and sin. It is not a war of swords, tanks, and fighter jets. It is not war like that in the Old Testament between Israel and other nations. It is a battle for our souls.
Jesus knew it would not be easy. In his temptation in the desert, He battled first hand with Satan. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34). Was Jesus a warmonger? No. Jesus does not seek war. Yet He knows we are in a battle against sin for our souls.
We must realize that Satan is real. As Fr. Longenecker says, “To defeat the enemy, we must know the enemy” (18).
How did Satan get Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3)? It was not by force but by “cunning”. He asked them what God had said and distorted those words. He distorted their desire to lead them to seek to become like God (see Fr. Longenecker 30-31). Satan distorted our desires such that we make ourselves the center of our own universe (see Fr. Longenecker 33-34, cf. my recent articles “Do We Shape Our World?” and “If It’s All About Me”). The greatest deception Satan leads us to is when we deceive ourselves (Fr. Longenecker, 40).
Can we win against Satan? On our own, no. The good news is we do not have to do it alone. In fact, victory has already been assured in Jesus’ death on the Cross. Yet, we continue to face battles against temptation. We ask God’s help. In the coming days I hope to share some of Fr. Longenecker’s ideas in how we are to battle against Satan and temptation.
For now, let us pray the Prayer of St. Michael:
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.