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How to make it go away?; The ontology of evil

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#1 Chris Keller

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 05:37 AM

[Caution: Disturbing topic & examples]

I'll be honest and say that this is the most serious thing I think I could ever ask, and it's been eating at me for weeks, if not months.
It comes into me at both a personal level and an abstract level, and neither seems to work for me.
I keep feeling like somehow evil wins in the end because of this problem I can't solve.

Here's the thought that'd been like a dull ache inside: What do we do because we can't change the past?
I'm sure lots of people think the same thing, but it seems more serious to me than any impression I'd ever gotten before.

Examples of the specific cases that gnaw at me:

A girl gives herself away, and can never get back her virginity, no matter how much God forgives her, no matter how much her future husband forgives her, no matter how much she is penitent--nothing can ever be done. What is broken cannot always be fixed. And what can be fixed, can never not have been broken at one point in time. No matter what, at some point in time, she was having sex with someone to whom she was not married.

Worse yet, a girl is (please excuse the harshness of the example) raped. Even if the attacker repents, even if she forgives him, even though God forgives him--even if they both are in Christ in the resurrection--he can never not have done it, and she can never not have had it done to her.

A person wastes their life and causes massive resentment for years, dying over decades of alcohol and drug abuse, verbal abuse of others or worse, and gambling away the money that could have been used to keep her children properly fed and clothed. Even if she repents before death, even if long before, when the kids are grown, and she turns a new leaf, the years can never go away. Ever. Nothing would ever make the snarled face or joyful beatings of the children while high or nights of frostbite ever not have been the case.

I know it is a big statement, and let it be an expression of the severity with which these thoughts have impressed themselves upon my mind, but not even God Himself can remove the past evil. And while I can see some things having good brought out of them, I simply can't imagine a person ever looking back and thinking it was good to have been raped, or good to have been promiscuous, or good to have begged for death and not been allowed the respite. Good can be brought from evil, but I can't see how evil can be made good.

That leaves me completely dumbstruck as to what to do. Won't we remember our lives, even after the resurrection? If not, to what extent are we the same people whose choices determined the state of the soul at the future time? If so, how does one stand with their abuser or victim or even themselves and live in a world eternally damned to the destruction of sin?

What are we to do? Do we write off the sins of youth as childish misunderstandings and leadings astray by passion and circumstance, and think no more of it? Do we write off assault in such a way? What about the sort of life that leads to eternal damnation, and all the pain inflicted? Do we simply say they know not what they do, and move on? What does this do for the point in time when a child screams in a mix of fear and pain and violation, begging, pleading for help--and none comes? Somehow it may all be well in the end--maybe--but what about the middle? Isn't it also real? And even still, does it simply cease to matter that person x did thing y, even when the thing is irreparable?

I'll be honest and admit that a lot of this--but not all by any means--comes out of things my girlfriend has done or had done to her.

I just don't know what to do.

Especially troubling is the feeling I get on the rare and uninvited circumstance that I think about her past (especially, to my shame, her own past choices with guys). I love her and feel like I completely forgive her, (after all, it was before she met me, and I understand why she did it), and that I'm not judging or disgusted by her, (and after all, I am a terrible sinner myself, probably even much worse than her), but it's like the thought that there literally is nothing Heaven or Earth can do to undo her choices or their consequences, no matter how saintly either of us were, that just makes me ache, for lack of a better term.

But it isn't the only issue, just perhaps the most prominent and toughest to deal with.
There's still the broad question of the impermeability of the past.

What am I to think?

(I am also posting this at OrthodoxChristianity.net --- I may not have expressed it in the way I would have on other days, as it seems to fade and grow sometimes, but it's at least a start.)

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 02:16 PM

I would recommend memorizing and praying the first antiphon (Bless the Lord Oh My Soul) and praying it several times daily for a year. This problem will cease to exist for you.

#3 Phoebe K.

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 02:42 PM

I understand your struggle (my life prior to conversion was 'interesting' and I still struggle with letting go of what I did along with what happened to me). I do not know if there is any specific answer, if there is it is certainly not an easy one.

I just look to the lives of the saints for inspiration on how we can turn and be forgiven, St Mary of Egypt who was a prostitute converted and became a hermitess in the Palestine wilderness (I think that is the right name it has been a while since I read the story), and hermits like Abba Moses (Sayings of the Desert Fathers) who converted from a life of crime to be a respected monk. There are many other saints also who turned to God and left their old sinful lives behind, the key I think is repenternce, whether through coming to Orthodoxy in Baptism or returning through the sacremet of confession.

God cannot make it as if we had not sinned for that would deny our free will but he can work with the pieces to create something new, this is what he does in drawing creation back to himself since the fall and in grace in each one of us as we seek to draw close to him our Lord and God. The passage in Jerimiha about the potter moulding clay as he wills comes to mind (I cannot remember the refernce though)

I hope this helps


#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 05:05 PM

St. Moses of Egypt was a fierce marauder and murderer. St. Paul stood by holding the cloaks of those stoning St. Stephen. Both became saints but they could not undo what had been done. But in Christ it does not matter what we did then, what matters is what we do now. We repent, we change for the better and try to go and sin no more. Every thing we do from this point on is a chance to move on or to repeat the past. Christ means we are no longer prisoners of our past because we are free in Christ. Consequences do not go away. St. Stephen did not spring back to life, we still live in a world surrounded by the consequences of sin, our own and everyone else's. But we move forward In Christ not backward into sin. We keep our eyes on Christ and pray to the Theotokos to deliver us from our cruel memories and past deeds which means that we be given the ability to move beyond them and not let them drag us back into sin and dispair.

#5 Antonios


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Posted 28 August 2012 - 08:08 PM

Have you both gone for confession?

#6 Anna Stickles

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Posted 28 August 2012 - 10:21 PM

but not even God Himself can remove the past evil.

This is just a lie from the evil one. Yes, we can't make specific physical acts "go away" but Christ does promise to make everything new. In the age to come there will not even be the memory of evil, no taint of it will remain, no effects will be left unhealed. Everything that was worthless will be destroyed and all that was gold will be purified by the fire. (II Cor 3)

And beyond what Herman said above, would St Paul, or St Mary, or St Moses have been so zealous in their fight against sin, or their love for God if they had not sinned so deeply? Even stubble can be turned into gold.

As Christ said of the prostitute who cleaned his feet with her tears, "She who has been forgiven much, loves much." I am sure Christ when he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven" no longer thought about them. She was clean in his sight, body and soul. "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He thrown our transgressions from us." (Ps 103)

"Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me."

The Fathers teach that the body participates in the sin of the soul, but they also teach that the body participates in the soul's cleansing and redemption. St Mary of Egypt started as a prostitute but in heaven as pure as a virgin.

#7 Richard A. Downing

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Posted 29 August 2012 - 08:09 AM

There are two consequences of all events, be they apparent sins or apparent accidents (I say 'apparent' so as not to judge them). There are the physical effects, which are, as we say: of this world. And there are the spiritual effects. God can change both of these, never ever doubt it. However, in love, He often doesn't change them to our schedule. This is not usually possible for our limited intellect to understand. Faith means that we accept it, and know that, through faith all will become right - this is the Gospel, yes all of it!
I heard of one lady who, dying of bone cancer, said that the pain of it had brought her so close to God, that she was grateful for having had it.
Saint Silouan engaged in sex outside of marriage before his eventual 'conversion' and subsequent move to Mt Athos. Indeed every one of the Saints considered themselves the very greatest of sinners, throwing themselves totally into the arms of God as a prodigal. Saintliness seems to require the facing up to sins and weaknesses.

For myself, I know that my sins are ever before my eyes, I can't forget them, but they lie behind a kind of veil once they have been properly confessed. God, I know, forgave them almost as I began my contrition, but I have to wait until I can confess them to have the veil drawn over them. Confession is for me, not for God.

Now, as to the imagination of the assumed sins of others, we all do it - reading the morning papers can be an excellent exercise in trying to avoid judging others - but the trick is not to let if affect our love for them. Judging is an addiction, and like all addiction it leads to changes in the brain as well as the soul. The only way out of it is to do the 12 step thing like alcoholics do (google: the 12 steps). Your parish priest or spiritual advisor is the person to go to - you must have a trusted person to discuss this with.

And have faith - you can get over this. Indeed this is why we have been given the Holy Church.

Love, and prayers,

#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 29 August 2012 - 10:16 AM

We read that St Silouan was more disturbed by assaulting another young man than by his knowing his girlfriend.

#9 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 29 August 2012 - 11:53 AM

And while I can see some things having good brought out of them, I simply can't imagine a person ever looking back and thinking it was good to have been raped, or good to have been promiscuous, or good to have begged for death and not been allowed the respite. Good can be brought from evil, but I can't see how evil can be made good.

Perhaps you need to look a little harder, a little deeper. Someone was crucified, given a humiliating and very painful death. A Jehovah's Witness asked me about wearing a cross around my neck. She thought it was gruesome, like carrying around the knife that had been used to kill someone you loved. I told her she had a valid point but she was missing something. What if that loved one had triumphed over death? That knife would not be a symbol of defeat but of victory. The evil of the Crucifixion made possible the goodness of the Resurrection.

Like dark is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. Evil is a vacuum. As Christians, we strive to fill that vacuum with goodness. THAT is how we defeat it, THAT is how we transform it. We don't let the vacuum that is evil "suck us in". We fill it in with goodness. We don't dwell on the evil that is past but we act to provide goodness in the present. We comfort the suffering, we feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we visit the imprisoned. We pray. We fill the vacuum of the evil in ourselves with the goodness of Christ. We strive to become conduits of that goodness to others. We become the candles that shine the light and goodness of Christ in a dark and evil world. By this evil is not eliminated, but it is repelled, it is driven back.

But we must continue our efforts. When we stop being actively "good", when the light does not shine, then evil returns, like darkness when the candle goes out.

One thing to remember, however. The candle is not the light. We are the candle, Christ is the light, we merely provide a place for that light to shine. As long as there is one candle shining, darkness is pushed back, evil will not win as long as we are not passive, right here, right NOW. The past cannot be changed, the future hasn't happened yet. It is always NOW.

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