Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author
That which is absolutely bad must be absolutely forgiven.
That is to say, the worse things are, the more evil, the more forgiveness is demanded. This is a process better understood in heaven than on earth, because in the light of God forgiveness finds its most natural expression.
On our own level, it’s a weak thing in constant need of support, and it’s our job to provide that as best we can: but when souls “die” and return to the Lord, in that light their forgiveness is completed through the intervention of Divine Love.
Thus if you were to go to heaven (or angels came to earth) and you met the souls of those who died in the holocaust, you would find them perfectly loving and perfectly forgiving. Their Being is filled with the radiant Love of God, and the evil that was done to them is both forgiven and forgotten. Hell, insofar as there is one, consists for all of us in being so forgiven: for it is in the exposure and forgiveness of our sin that God’s Love finds its greatest expression. Hence remorse of conscience, which is what brings us closer to God. Hell is not a place of punishment—the spiritual primitivist’s vision of its nature—but education.
One of the most doctrinally difficult things to grasp is the objective fact that there is no evil which is not necessary. The cosmos is a creation governed by law, and law conforms without fail to what is necessary. There can be no unnecessary or deviant action in a universe of law.
Whether or not one is religious, this is a basic principle of the scientific process.
We should therefore understand that in this lawful universe, every element of evil that arises cannot be avoided and must exist. Of course we struggle “against” it; and of course on this level one must take a firm and even resolute stand to combat it. One must, however, do this not through hatred, anger, or resentment, which all represent standard off-the-shelf temptations we fall victim to — every last one of us. It is essential that we resist through Love. It’s the lack of love and our distance from love, the dissipation of Divine Love, that has created an environment where evil is “necessary” in the first place — so all evil can be basically categorized as a lack of love, and the only antidote for it is to go against it with what is missing.
These are highly conceptual propositions when one is confronted with personal evil. In our ordinary fallen state, that is, unless we have attained a greater unity of being, our response is inevitably at the same level as the evil that has provoked it in the first place. This is a normal and natural thing and should not be avoided, excused, or discharged as unimportant. We have to inhabit the truth of these reactions even as we seek a higher energy which will bring us into a greater alignment with true Being, thus more able to manifest a corrected, loving response.
If this is confusing, it ought to be; sometimes loving responses must be unusually forceful. They may even involve violence: on a certain level, even love has to fight its battles in order to manifest. It would take a divine metaphysician to sort out the many different threads of this fabric. But what we can know, from a personal point of view, that decent, intelligent right action is a requirement on our part. This involves making an effort to care for others and suffer with them. The worse the offense, the greater the demand on us to forgive it. This is not just the Christian path (and, irrevocably, it is the essence of the Christian path) it is also the Judaic path, the Islamic path, the Buddhist path, the Hindu path, and so on. All the great religions understand this requirement, even if their constituents forget it.
Put in more dramatic terms, one might say that it is better to die by the devil’s own hand than to do another person harm. While we may, on our own, find this to be an impossibly high standard to hold ourselves to, one has to note that this is an interpretation based on our ordinary experience of the ordinary energy of life. If we read the Bhagavad-Gita, and understand Krishna’s exchange with Arjuna, we are brought a different understanding of what can be necessary under the influence of divine energies, where even evil itself it is understood as necessary.
We're not to be excused from the participation in evil, even though we are called to a higher perspective. This brings us to the paradox where we may have to do violence in the service of God, even though it is a corrupting influence. One has to be at a completely different level of Being to avoid the consequences of this law.
In this context, it is not the participation in violence that condemns us, but our attitude and intention towards it. It is not the action, but the suffering attendant upon it, that makes a difference spiritually.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.