I was listening to someone try to give a very objective series of lectures on evil. The lecturer was not neutral towards evil; he was against evil. But he did strive to offer unbiased presentations of the various explanations of evil that exists; conservatives, liberals, Catholics, Protestants, sacred, and secular explanations were discussed with equal attention, clarity, and persuasive intent. In the course of the lectures many different definitions were offered.
- Evil is a non-entity; the absence of good.
- Evil is illogical; it cannot be explained.
- Evil is a social construct; a name for things we do not like.
- Evil is the result of inequalities; a social ramification.
- Evil is natural; part of our inherently selfish nature.
- Evil is distorted good; love gone wrong.
In the end, the lecturer said he believed the various schools of evil can be summarized into two camps – those who view evil as a powerful force in rivalry to God (i.e., demonic) and those who believe that evil is the result of some under-development in the human or human race (i.e., when people behave more like animals than people).
Both, if taken too far, seem to alleviate human responsibility for evil. Whether we blame the devil or our childhood, either can be used as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. But both also speak about real challenges; Scripture recognizes evil as a predator and the effects of external evil upon our lives.
To illustrate these two camps, the lecturer used a quote from Jeffery Dahmer’s apology for killing and eating the bodies of 17 young men over the course of 13 years at his trial:
“It is now over. This has never been a case of trying to get free. I didn’t ever want freedom. Frankly, I wanted death for myself. This was a case to tell the world that I did what I did, but not for reasons of hate. I hated no one. I knew I was sick or evil or both. Now I believe I was sick. The doctors have told me about my sickness, and now I have some peace. I know how much harm I have caused… Thank God there will be no more harm that I can do. I believe that only the Lord Jesus Christ can save me from my sins… I ask for no consideration.”
Dahmer is someone for whom both demonic and subhuman explanations are strongly held. “How could someone do what he did unless there was some powerful evil in him?” some say. Others ask, “What could happen to someone that they would find joy or comfort in those actions?”
It is interesting that Dahmer was asking the same questions as he committed his horrendous crimes. It is significant that even after he arrived at one answer (i.e., “Now I believe I was sick”) he could not forsake the other solution (i.e., “I believe that only the Lord Jesus Christ can save me from my sins”).
The question is, “Should he have to choose one or the other? Must he be either sick or sinner? Or, could he be both? Must he choose between symptom relief and forgiveness? Or, can he have both?” It would be easy to get lost in the extremity of Dahmer’s actions (admittedly, I am brimming with questions as I type).
But the more important point is, ‘Must we choose one or the other?” Here I think the answer hinges on the word “must.” Might it be wise for some people with a profound struggle to understand their experience in light of a biological malfunction or as primarily a reaction to intense suffering? I would say “yes.” For others, might it be wise to see their profound struggle as the feeding and intensification of their sinful flesh? Again, I would say “yes.”
If the question is framed “might,” we can have a productive conversation (which is the bulk of what comprises counseling). If we frame the question as “must” (to either side of the spectrum), then we are likely to see our pre-conceived notion more than the individual we are seeking to assist.
In this regard (whether he was correct in his assessment of himself or not), I find Dahmer to be a better theologian and counselor than many I hear in one-sided debates today (either side) because he did not hold depravity and deprivation to be mutually exclusive. I pray our diagnostic science and spiritual assessments grow to where these distinctions become much more clear than they are today. Until then, may we not assume that evil (the effects of sin through the Fall) can only take one form as we care for one another.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Theology and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.