The Good Thing about Evil

When you first walk into the sanctuary of College Church of the Nazarene, the room seems smaller than it is. The back rows of pews have a claustrophobic feel since the low ceiling also serves as a base for the balcony above. But continue onward several paces and you leave the balcony behind, entering into a breathtakingly large and beautiful place to worship the LORD.

Atilla Kefeli (CC)

As an eight-year-old, it seemed even larger than it is. I used to lay on the pew—my chin on its rough red fabric—and stare at the ground. The tall ceilings boasted hundreds of light bulbs, and when the lights hit my parents' feet, they cast multiple shadows. There were at least four distinct shadows forming an X on the crimson carpet. Each was a different shade, as some shadows were layered upon others. This optical phenomenon intrigued me, and I would wave my hand over the ground to try and figure out which lights were casting which shadows. That is until my parents thumped me and told me to sit up.

The shadows caught my attention as a boy because we learn to orient ourselves and objects based upon light and darkness. Since the sanctuary had multiple light sources, objects beneath those bulbs cast multiple shadows. Usually, though, we’re accustomed to a single light source: the sun. As Neil Patrick Harris, narrator for the Discovery Channel show Brain Games, said:

In a world with a single light source, your brain has learned to trust shadows as a near fool-proof way to know the behavior of objects in space.1

The episode demonstrates through a series of optical illusions that when you start messing with shadows, light, and gradients, you can trick the brain into perceiving something incorrectly.

This principle applies not only to the physical world but to your spiritual lives as well. God is our source of light, and we can trust shadows—darkness—to orient us to Him. As John wrote:

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

So when you spot shadows, you know they are anathema to God. That’s the “good” thing about evil: it orients us toward God. He is the supreme and ultimate source of morality. He is the light. So when you see sin, suffering, and injustice it points you to Him. How? That you recognize these things are bad is actually an acknowledgement that there is something good. Without goodness, nothing can be bad.


The problem, then, is when we try to bring in other light sources. We prop up people, objects, and feelings and (consciously or not) worship them. Maybe not by bowing down to them, but through preoccupation and adoration. It’s easy to step into this trap because many of these things are good: family, work, food, sex. They're all good in the proper context, but only because of the goodness God has instilled in them.

So what happens when you have two light sources? You become disoriented, and your perception of reality is distorted. Suddenly wrong begins to seem right.

Of course some try to do away with the light source, to write Him off altogether. Then you’re left with just darkness:

Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. John 3:19-20

They can’t see anything at all, so nothing makes sense.

God must be the ultimate and final source of moral authority in your life, around which you orient your behavior. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the shadows.

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1. Season 1, episode 1, 5:58.

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