Evil is separation from God. To be with God, to experience God’s presence, to desire and will and act in harmony with God’s will, this is beauty, truth, goodness. To turn away from this, to resist God, is evil, the ultimate source of all suffering.
To be attacked or harmed is not evil in itself. It is not evil to endure wrongdoing as a victim; it is evil to cause the suffering, to be the attacker, the oppressor, the abuser. The ugliness and horror of violence and destruction is evidence of evil, but destruction itself is not evil. Usually it serves as an unmistakable sign that evil is near, that evil motivations are involved, that some or all of the people involved are turned away from God at that moment. But evil is not an outward effect, it is an inward cause.
Evil is not something outside of me, that happens to me. Evil comes from within. I am not tainted by evil because of what is done to me or forced on me; any evil in me has to be born within me. As Jesus taught:
“Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…Often when I have been hurt (physically, emotionally, financially) by the evil of others, I have retaliated with evil of my own. And often when I am in physical pain or frustrated I have turned against God because I refuse to accept the reality of my situation. But this evil also is my own. It was not forced upon me, and it was not inevitable. It was my own choice.
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mk 7.14-16, 20-23)
And while evil is often recognized in outward actions and their effects, evil itself is not an outward act. Evil is intent. Evil is in my motivation, in my will, whether or not I am able to carry out my intention. A good example of this appeared in Jesus’ sermon on the mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5.27-28)Evil does not exist as some external thing, it exists “in the heart.” In the ever-changing movements of our will. In the moments when I turn my heart away from God.
So the fight against evil is not a struggle with something external. It is not a fight against disease or economic structures or soldiers. It is first of all a struggle in my own heart, not once, but moment by moment. And then it is a struggle with others—not against but with—that their hearts also might be free from evil.