Is evil universal?

There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one. Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18, NET).

During decades of travel in many parts of the world, I have frequently been shocked at the amount and intensity of corruption and violence which prevails in places I have visited. I have been tempted to rate locations as to which was most corrupt, or most dangerous. However I have come to the realization that those qualities exist everywhere I have been, and am now convinced that they are truly universal. Wherever people live there are bad people with evil intent.

This is borne out by the teaching of inspired Scripture. In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul summarized his previous assertions that “Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9) by quoting from several Old Testament passages both to describe the evil nature of sin and to prove that all are under condemnation because of it. This leads finally to the verdict, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

This Biblical doctrine is not the same as the modern false doctrine of total corruption. Man was not created evil. Sinfulness was not and is not an inherited quality, passed down from Adam. Human flesh is prone to sin, but it is not innately and inescapably evil. “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Note that man is not guilty because of Adam’s (the one man’s) sin, but because “all sinned.” Each person’s guilt and condemnation to death is a result of his or her own sin; it is not inherited.

As we consider the extent of evil however we may lose sight of the fact that there is also much good wherever we are. Evil may be everywhere, but it is never all that is there. In every location there are honest people, generous people, loving people. There may or may not be as many of those as there are their opposites, but they exist.

Equally, there is beauty, joy, and every kind of goodness throughout this world in which we live. They do not eliminate the ugliness, pain, and sorrow caused by evil, but once again those elements exist. The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the presence and availability of good in this world – good which can be attained even by those who have been evil, that is those who have sinned (Romans 5:8).

So the Apostle asked, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24)!

The question of the universality of evil is to a degree a matter of defining “universal.” Yes, evil is everywhere, all over this humanity inhabited world. Yet evil is not everything! That is, it is not the only quality that exists. There is also good, everywhere in this world. Our challenge is to choose the good, resisting the evil.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent of praiseworthy, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

There are lovely, pure, commendable things and it is those which deserve our attention. Let us never become discouraged and overwhelmed by the negative perception of others. There is much else to which we may cling.

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