Reconciling the Existence of Evil

My Quaker meeting’s continuing discussion of Marge Abbott’s To Be Broken and Tender focused recently on the book’s second section – Encountering the Seed.  There’s much to consider in this segment that reflects on “The Nature of God,” “The Light of Christ,” “That of God in Everyone,” and “Spiritual Maturity.” I continue to chew on one of the queries we considered:  How do you explain or reconcile within yourself the existence of evil in the world? (p. 202)
I was surprised—and relieved—to learn that several people in my Meeting who spoke during our discussion share my lack of belief in Evil. Contrary to the teachings of my Lutheran upbringing, I believe we all come into this world not as sinners, but as whole, loving beings, equipped to do and be love. And then we are broken­­—most by living in an imperfect world, some by the harmful effects of people who aren’t capable of care and love, many by circumstances such as poverty and oppression that challenge the Light within. Such brokenness separates us from the Divine, from the knowledge and experience of the mystery of being loved fully and irrevocably. That separation can lead to immoral, malevolent actions—the very definition of evil. As horrible as those acts can be, I don’t believe they are the work of an evil force or of evil people.  
I’ve been reluctant to share this view for fear of seeming naïve about some of life’s harsh realities or disrespectful of the suffering of so many around the world at the hands of people who commit atrocities. Yet, I’m not unaware of the evidence of cruelty, immorality, and harm. I’ve heard it in the stories of clients in my work in public health in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest—women and children abused by husbands and lovers, fathers and mothers; refugees and immigrants denied health care and education; families without adequate food and housing. I’ve seen it in my travels to Nicaragua meeting banana workers poisoned by pesticides; driving through the burning debris of the Managua dump to play with children who live there with their families; learning of the decades of corrupt governments that stole funds from international aid organizations in the aftermath of earthquakes and hurricanes; acknowledging my own country’s terrorist acts of military support. I’ve listened to the stories of women in Nicaragua and Mexico and have heard from Friends working in Burundi of the horrors of unemployment, poverty, HIV infection, and tribal violence. And this week, I’ve watched and listened in horror and grief as reports from Japan of the earthquake and tsunami and their aftermath have filled all the media outlets.
It’s through my own experience of encountering the inexplicable, steadfast love of God for me that I’m convinced of God’s love for everyone and view the wrongdoing as the result of our brokenness, our separation from the ever-present Spirit that loves all. As I weep over stories of greed, deception, abuse, prejudice, and violence, I envision the Divine Presence doing the same—crying for the pain and suffering brought on by souls that have been lost, people whose connection to the great force of Love has been severed.
I know we’re called to work for justice, but I wrestle with how humanity can right these injustices.  I’m certain that demonizing those who commit despicable acts does not heal the deep wounds they suffer and cause.  I have faith that, ultimately, God’s love restores us to wholeness. Marge Abbott’s powerful teaching reminds us that it is in our brokenness and tenderness that we receive such love.


  1. I think good and evil are phantoms imagined through a glass darkly, artifacts of our brains that are just large enough to try to make sense of things, yet too small to actually pull it off.

    From here we can go at least two ways. One is to make stuff up and say it with authority, which wins some people quite a following. Another, which I prefer, is to try seeing the conundrum of human confusion as the current condition of the flowering of evolution, of which we are blessed to be a part. Admit the urge to reconcile the unreconcilable, delight in the challenge, and let your inability to do it erase your pride, leaving you humble and kind.

  2. Just got around to reading this and couldn't agree with you more.

    Maybe this is common knowledge but I hadn't hard it before:

    evil is live spelled backwards and devil is lived spelled backwards

    A simple approach to getting it right – do the opposite and you could end up with love.

    “We live in the world when we love it” Rabindranath Tagore

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