Softening the blows of "wicked" and "evil"

Words are only as strong as the power we give to them. Words like evil and wicked can pack a hefty punch until we see them for what they are - man's clumsy attempt to make sense of the world around him. Why is the world in such a dire condition? Why do men treat each other so badly? Men have spent much time dwelling upon the nature of evil, and expended many words defining it.

The Bible is not the most helpful place to go to address the question of evil. Some take great delight in presenting how often these words turn up in the Bible, and how God must look down upon the wicked. It is no wonder that Gwyneth Lewis in her book Sunbathing in the Rain, warns against reading the Bible when one is feeling depressed.

The Bible does not tell us how God views the wicked, it tells us how man views those who disagree with him. It reflects man's attitude towards man, and so the Bible is not hesitant in labelling because man likes to label. So, in the Bible, men are "lazy", "stupid", "cowards", "evil" and "wicked". Very often these words are used to describe those who are not obedient to the Mosaic Law. So, we have a set of laws compiled by men, and we have his appraisal of those who don't live by the same laws.

In Psalm 73 the psalmist struggles to find a valid reason for ceasing to envy the evildoer. There is nothing to be done about him. That is the way things are. In the end the psalmist can only hope that the stories he knows from the past are true and that the iniquities visited upon opponents of the Most High will be visited upon all arrogant wicked ones. Man wants to see man punished for his acts. He gets a sense of vindication from seeing pictures of the bad man swinging on a rope. Partly it is out of a desire to believe there is some justice in the world, but sometimes it arises from a sense of envy - the desire to experience the perceived freedom of the so-called evil-doer.

Kakos and poneros
In the New Testament there are two words that are translated as "wicked" or, more commonly, "evil" - kakos, and poneros. To highlight the difference between thses two words, Trench's New Testament Synonyms says of kakos, "Kakos is constantly used in antithesis to agathos (meaning "good") and less frequently as the antithesis of kalos ("fine"). Kakos describes something that lacks the qualities and conditions that would make it worthy of its name."

With this description we can view kakos in the same way as the "flesh", the "soul", and the "physical man" - in opposition to the spirit. In other words, the difference between the inauthentic and the authentic self. Trench's goes on to explain that kakos was first used in a physical sense, and gives as an example, "the kaka heimata are 'mean or tattered garments'; kakos iatros is a 'physician lacking the skill which physicians should possess'; and kakos krites is an 'unskillful judge.'" The first is an interesting example in view of the fact that William Barclay makes the point that kalos is used when describing a fine-cut tunic.

This makes it so much easier to handle the word evil. As our inauthentic self, we are tattered and torn, messed up from this system. We lack the tools to heal ourselves. And in this condition we are more likely to succumb to the second word defined as evil, poneros. To summarise Trench, basically poneros is kakos in action.

There is not an evil spirit at work independent of man. All good and evil will be rooted in the discrepancy between man's inauthentic and authentic self. There is this difficulty in grasping the concept of evil because man is trying to understand it from the kakos end of the scale. Mankind is in a continuous state of transition as it makes the journey from soul to spirit. As we cross the chasm between the unreal and the real, our actions, feelings and outlook will reflect it. As far as Psalm 73 is concerned, if there is anything we can glean from the psalmists musings it is that the closer we get to our real self, the less important will be the evil-doer's perceived freedom.

Individually it is a sliding scale, a spectrum, as people live their lives either in debt mentally, or getting out of debt. The nearer to the agathos/kalos end of the spectrum we get, the less need we have to rely on words like "wicked" and "evil". Jesus was able to see people not as evil but as "skinned and thrown about, like sheep without a shepherd." Tattered and torn. Ripped up by this world, by parents, by school, by religion, and by authority and power. It was a more empathetic view.

The words "evil" and "wicked" are not very helpful. We have a propensity to rain down blows on ourselves by thinking we (or other people) are evil. This sort of labelling is only a hindrance. The sooner we can leave these words out of our vocabulary the better.