What’s the Good of Evil?

By Brent King On February 10, 2015 Under Writing

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

black rider

The Substance of Story

I have always thought it interesting that stories take a certain form in this world, a form that comes to us directly from The Fall. Seriously. Read any book on story structure and you will quickly discover that without evil, you have no plot and therefore no story—at least no story worthy of telling. To take the evil out of a story is to destroy it. Peter Kreeft says that “the conflict between good and evil is the source of all conflict between characters. The source of all external conflict between characters is the internal conflict between good and evil within each character” (The Philosophy of Tolkien 176).

I’ve often wondered what structure stories will take in the next life, but in this one the presence of evil is crucial. This is because they serve the vital purpose of reflecting our own present or potential course of action back to us. They cooperate with the still small voice to move us and to change us.

The Power of Contrast

As the song goes, “You only know how low is low the first time that you fly.” Adam and Eve were clueless of both the depths of evil and the heights of good. In many ways, so are we. Especially when we are young. It is through rooting for heroes who struggle against villainous archetypes that children learn how repulsive evil is and how attractive is good. Such stories are critical for children. I believe children learn as much or more from the villain as they do from the hero. Both counterparts are important, each highlighting the other.

The Power of Repentance in Our Stories

And the lesson is not only learned from the contrast between a hero and a villain. Whether it is King Manasseh of Judah or Maleficent, nothing moves the heart like a truly repentant villain. God reveals no greater power in this world than the conversion of an evil man, even the man we see in the mirror.

An Important Part

By nature there is a villain within each of us, but the hero is only there by God’s grace. Until God puts things to rights, evil plays an important part in our lives and therefore in our stories, a part that seeks to teach us, define us, and redeem us.

How has evil impacted you?

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