Good and Evil in Light of the Resurrection
The most pervasive and perplexing questions now facing humanity relate to the origin, nature and destiny of good and evil.1 Our thesis is that the definitive truth about both good and evil has been disclosed in the embodied resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Man’s Consciousness of the Self-Existent God
Archaic mankind, over 5,000 years ago, imagined that reality existed on three levels. The netherworld below was the place of watery chaos, the serpent (Genesis 3:1), and monsters such as behemoth (Job 40:15) and leviathan (Job 41:1). Heaven above was the place of God’s presence and the presence of his archetypes (original patterns, models or prototypes). Earth between was man’s dwelling place.
To man (male and female), the netherworld harbored everything evil — darkness, destruction, death and demons. Since in man’s imagination God and his goodness were absent from the world, “evil” could emerge from the underworld without restraint and roam the earth, seeking whom it might devour. As a result, the earth was a place of uncertainty, terror, natural calamity and predation. To mankind, peace, tranquility, certainty and goodness were found only in heaven, only in God and his self-existence. The good God was self-existent because he existed before, apart from, and independent of all Creation. He did not require Creation for existence. The ancients believed that, in his goodness, God possessed the volitional (will) power and creative energy that made interactive relationships unnecessary, even compromising.
Furthermore, man assumed that God had acted in self-existent goodness to provide the models, patterns or archetypes of other reality as his ideas, forms or powers. Like God himself, these primal “ideas” in heaven also were uncreated. They existed before, apart from, and independent of their created counterparts on earth. They, too, were self-existent. They, too, were good. Beings, events and objects on earth without archetypes in heaven, or with only demonic archetypes in the netherworld, were profane and evil.
Thus, for early mankind the only way to assure survival was to ritually return to heaven, to the self-existent God, and there appropriate the uncreated “ideas,” models, patterns and archetypes of reality. For example, if man needed valid tools or weapons, he had to return to heaven to secure the benefit of archetypal objects. Only heavenly tools and weapons could make earthly tools and weapons effective. If man needed adequate clothing, he had to secure the benefit of archetypal clothing. Only archetypal clothing could make earthly clothing a satisfactory covering. In such archaic thinking everything on earth was profane, inferior, fallen and threatening. Earthly beings, objects and events had effective reality and safety only if they were possessed or indwelt by their archetypes from heaven.2
Man’s Attempt to Image God’s Self-Existence
With the passage of time, mankind further concluded that God not only possessed the “ideas” — models, patterns or archetypes — of earthly realities outside of man, but of mankind itself. These archetypes of mankind were called souls, spirits or “divine sparks.” They were believed to emanate from heaven to earth and possess or be possessed by material bodies. At first those in positions of power claimed to be such emanations. They regarded themselves, like God, to be self-existent — having an existence before, apart from and independent of all Creation. They, too, were good. They had the volitional strength and creativity to make virtually all contaminating relationality unnecessary. From this conviction of power sprang the great empires of the ancient world. This imagined innate, self-existent goodness led to striking manifestations of learning, culture and civilization. However, it also led rulers to the manifestation of unprecedented cruelty, aggression, domestication, and bondage of others and to the determination to dominate, possess and control this earth as they believed God did heaven. Their ultimate purpose was to eliminate and annihilate all but imagined self-existent goodness.
By the time of the axial age, around 800 BCE, man had reached the conclusion that archetypal self-existence was not limited to the elite but involved mankind in general. Mankind itself had existed in heaven as soul, spirit or “divine spark.” Mankind participated in God’s own goodness and self-existent reality. Mankind possessed universal, self-evident knowledge, consciousness and reason, with the consequent right to dominate the material, natural and fallen order. Thus was born the claimed pre-existence of mankind, belief in the immortal soul, and the imagined emanation and incarnation of the soul and its final return to heaven at death. In this view mankind was fallen only by temporary confinement to matter, nature and a body.
However, for man to imagine that he images self-existent deity — that he is an uncreated archetype from heaven destined to return to heaven — has proved to be a delusion. History has painfully shown that man’s own will, creativity and power are restricted. Only mankind’s predatory potential is virtually unlimited. Death is not the root of evil. Nature is not the root of evil. Mankind’s delusion of self-existence, fueled by predatory animal instincts, is the root of evil. This fundamental delusion had to be disclosed to mankind through divine revelation.
God Abandons His Own Self-Existence and Inaugurates Eternal Co-Existence
God therefore took a surprising initiative. In the setting of man’s imagined uncreated, archetypal self-existence and conviction of the fallenness of the natural world, God acted to inaugurate a new reality both for himself and for all mankind. God abandoned his own prior self-existence. As the incarnate Jesus, God adopted as his own reality the created order of time and space, matter and energy, biological life and human nature (cf. Philippians 2:6-8). Through his incarnate presence and intervention on behalf of mankind, he revealed a new relationality with the created order. He manifested his reconciling, relational presence in nature through exorcising demons, cleansing lepers, healing the sick, stilling tempests, multiplying the loaves and fishes, and raising the dead. His encounters with nature were overwhelmingly uplifting and restorative. His purpose was to resolve the question of the profanity, fallenness and evil of this material world, nature and life. By his presence and creative intervention, nature itself was redefined and is soon to be transformed.3
At the end of his ministry, Jesus was arrested, tortured and crucified. When he died, he descended, as it were, into the netherworld — into hell, the place of the dragon and serpent. By his condescension he demonstrated his will and power to conquer chaos, darkness and death. Thereafter all mankind could exult and cry, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hell], where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55; cf. Hosea 13:14).
Then, by his embodied resurrection from the dead, Jesus declared that nothing — neither height, nor depth, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature — could separate us from the presence of God as the Risen Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:38, 39). All the supposed evil of the netherworld, all the imagined profanity of this world, had been vanquished in the resurrected Christ. But this was not all. Through his death, bodily resurrection and post-resurrectional encounters with mankind, Christ testified to the termination of self-existent being. As embodied being, God no longer retained his self-existence. He had become eternally co-existent. He had become newly relational with the earth, with nature, with matter, with biological life, with mankind. Ultimate reality itself had been transformed from a “before,” an “apart from,” and an “independent” self-existence to a relational, creative and experiential co-existence with the created order. The reality of the resurrection thus terminated all presuppositions of self-existent goodness, all suppositions of archetypal patterns and “ideas” that emanate to earth and then return to bodiless, cosmic self-existence.
Good and Evil in Light of Resurrectional Co-Existence
In the resurrection man’s presumed origin as self-existent archetype is exposed as a delusion. The Christ event, history and personal experience have shown that all claims for creaturely self-existence are not only deceptively false but unspeakably dangerous. Fraud, crime, violence, aggression, enslavement, genocide, environmental destruction, social depravity and degradation all find their root in man’s psychopathic claims for self-existence, pre-existent knowledge and isolated self-fulfillment.
This tragedy has been compounded by the great religions, philosophies and humanistic ideologies of mankind. All fundamentally presuppose some element of human pre-existence and self-existent emanation, incarnation and return. Virtually all project evil onto the created reality of time and space, matter and energy, biological life and nature. Despite their recognized contributions to human culture and civilization, religion and philosophy have become the refuge of the lie, deception, decadence and depravity. Even now, religious and intellectual institutions are unwittingly driving the world to confrontation between the truth of co-existent reality, disclosed in the resurrection, and the delusion of man’s self-existence. Only the disclosure of the truth of Christ’s embodied resurrection and its transcendent significance can today rescue the world from final decay, destruction and death.
It now must become clear that goodness is not self-existence confined to the heavens. Goodness is not archetypal self-existence emanating from Deity. As God’s Creation, man is not self-existent goodness. Man is not a “divine spark.” Man is not an immortal soul or spirit. Man does not pre-exist or persist apart from Christ’s bodily resurrection. Nevertheless, because of the resurrection, man is destined for the goodness of co-existence with the embodied God, who has become human — the God who has adopted relational existence as his own reality.
Today it must become clear that evil does not ultimately reside below us in death or around us in natural uncertainty. Evil is not the property of Creation, nature, matter or body. Evil is not the pre-existent property of some fallen god. Evil is not an attribute of a universe with infinite possibilities and contingencies. Rather, evil resides in man’s own delusion that he images the self-existent God. Evil resides in man’s failure to discern that God as Christ has abandoned all self-existence. Evil is the denial that God himself has adopted the experience of relational co-existence in history, within the created order, and with all mankind.
A Destiny of Eternal Co-Existence in a Transformed Universe
In light of the resurrection, it is time for mankind to quietly reflect on the nature of reality. We live in a universe with infinite potential and unlimited relationality. We also live in a universe presently confined by natural laws and instincts, by death and the limitations of our own life, will and creativity. We cannot resolve this dilemma by imagining our own self-existence. Neither can this situation be resolved by predatorily impugning or dominating all Creation. The dilemma only can be resolved through the “intermediation”4 of the risen Christ. It can only be resolved through acceptance of his abiding presence5 (Matthew 28:20), his will, and his creative transformation6 of our natures to relational co-existence with him, each other and all Creation (see John 11:25, 26; Romans 6:5-8; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 42-49).
The time has come for mankind to acknowledge its delusions, to recognize the Christ and the significance of his embodied resurrection. Apart from Christ we are helpless, hapless creatures destined to perish. But through the light and power of his resurrection, mankind, too, can be raised. In light of the resurrection, we are destined to eternal, co-existent “becoming” in the true image of our Maker.
- See Joan O’Grady, Early Christian Heresies (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1985), pp. 26ff. (go back)
- See Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954), pp. 139ff. (go back)
- This imminent transformation is often termed the Parousia or Second Coming. The Greek word parousia, translated, means both “presence” and “coming.” See Wikipedia — The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Second Coming, Terminology” at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Coming#Terminology. See also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 2006: “Parousia is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit” (p. 299). (go back)
- Rather than a nonrelational, immediate presence, in which we absorb the Transcendent (“God in us”) or are absorbed by the Transcendent (“us in God”), the evidence indicates that the Risen Christ mediates his presence with us in history. That is, he reaches us through our neighbors. We reach him through each other. We reach each other and our own objective selves through him. This relational “reaching” may therefore be referred to as Christ’s “intermediatorial” presence, which is defined by the gifts of faith, hope and compassionate love. See “The End of Human Alienation,” subhead “The True Resolution of Human Alienation,” Outlook (Prequel 1994.7). (go back)
- See note 4. (go back)
- See note 3. (go back)
This article was originally published June/July 1996 under the Destiny imprint.