Evil In The World

Evil In The World October 11, 2007

Hans Urs von Balthasar noted several times that true, demonic evil can only be understood in relation to the Incarnation of the Word of God. Before the light of Christ, demonic influences upon humanity, while it existed, was not properly understood; they lived in the darkness, and they were able to cover themselves and hide themselves from our vision, because the radiant light of Christ had yet to bring them out into the open. This explains, he suggested, why it was only at the time of Christ, and not before, that Satan and the powers of evil were exposed for what they were. It is why, before Christ, there was at best only a vague knowledge of their existence. Moreover, it is only because of Christ and his offer of grace to humanity that a truly demonic response to Christ can rise up from humanity to provide a diabolic No to Christ.

Evil builds upon itself, becoming greater and greater to meet the greater and greater response of Christ. “Evil creates an undertow leading to further evil. The sinner’s self-righteousness vis-à-vis absolute truth (which, by lying, he denies) tends to make him assert that he is absolutely right. Consequently, he uses all the means at his disposal to prove this. The prime means of underpinning the lie is to use sophistical short-circuits in reasoning and distorted aspects of the truth. In this way, the sinner builds a kind of ‘bulwark’ against the real truth; he hides behind its illusion, knowing all the while the truth that he has ‘wickedly suppressed’ (Rom 1:18) will eventually come to lay siege against his citadel,” Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama IV: The Action. trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994),166-7. The call to power, the call for mechanical domination of the world and it people, is an important, if not central, aspect of the drama of evil. “In a special way, power is the cause and the sphere of decisions, particularly ultimate ones, that is, decisions between God and the demonic,” ibid., 148. This power is only an usurpation of the power of the good, because it is the attempt of a finite will to become absolute and treat itself and its desires as the absolute good. “The power is usurped: in fact, it belongs to him who is almighty and utterly good and manifests his presence. In seeking to arrogate this power to itself, finite freedom does two things: it separates power from self-giving goodness, and it sets itself up against the absolute good – thereby incurring the judgment of the latter,” ibid., 165. The continuous attempts of self-justification that tyrants provide for their will to power and dominate is an obvious clue to the presence of the demonic in the world, and the ever-increasing presence of such tyrants upon the world is evidence for the ever-increasing presence of evil in the world. It is a presence that Balthasar points out will continue to develop upon the theatre of the world until the time of the end, with worse and worse consequences for humanity. The greater God’s involvement in the world, “the greater the resistance it provokes,” ibid. 56. Post-Christian humanity, in its No to Christ develops itself along the lines of the will to power, as can be seen especially in its scientific, technological, and economic developments that seek power and control over the earth without the limits of moral guidance. “The entire modern ideology of progress, even where it wears a religious mask, represents a history of the relationship between earth and heaven that has been tipped up so that heaven is ‘in the future.’ Today it has turned into a naked power-struggle between superpowers using naked technological means of annihilation; this is the completely logical conclusion where something intended as an instrument in the service of man has been made into an absolute,” ibid.92.

Thus in Iraq, in Burma, in Darfur, in Venezuela, and in many other places, we can see the full effects of modern, post-Christian progress. Even in calls for solidarity, even with good desires for the welfare of the people (which must not be denied, most tyrants have it in some warped sense), the call to power and domination by individuals who see themselves and their ideals as the absolute bring to the people affected by such individuals great suffering. The Christian response is never to say yes to the anti-Christian’s No to Christ. It is not to engage the spiral of hate and violence. It is, rather, to be a bold witness, bringing the light of Christ further into the situation, revealing even more that demonic content, and bringing to it Christ’s loving Yes to humanity. The Christian is called to follow Christ, even if it leads, with Christ, into failure; yet, like with Christ, that failure does not have to be the end. The deep, penetrating love of Christ can bring conversion and change, especially in and through the glory of defeat. The Cross of Christ leads to resurrection: and the failure of the Christian in the humble service of love can, as history shows, lead to radical changes and a Yes to Christ.

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  • Greg


    Do you use the Philokalia at all?

  • Greg,

    Yes, the Philokalia is great; my favorite volumes are II (St Maximus the Confessor ) and IV (St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas).

  • “The entire modern ideology of progress, even where it wears a religious mask, represents a history of the relationship between earth and heaven that has been tipped up so that heaven is ‘in the future.”

    So is vonB saying that heaven is in the present and in the past as well? Though I’ve heard sentiments like this before, I only now realize just how little I understand what Christ meant when he said “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

  • Dear Henry,

    Interesting post – decided to add it to our discussion: http://3massketeers.blogspot.com/2007/10/christian-response-h-karlson.html.


  • Kevin

    Balthasar is a very complex thinker in this issue. However, he was reflecting upon the modern, post-Christian progressive utopian vision (like one finds in Marx). It calls for sacrifice today for the “heaven” in the future. Yet there is no presence of it here and now; everything is becoming, no being.

    There are issues such as the relationship between the eternal vs time, and the experience of the eternal. There are many ways one can express it to be sure, and it is why there are complications. This also relates to eschatology. For Balthasar, the whole eschatological event has come and is Christ’s work — the Cross through the Resurrection.

    Thus, as a paragraph from 246 of the VB Reader (and I think in the The Truth is Symphonic), he writes, in comparing Christianity to paganism and its dwelling on the past and Judaism and its messianic hopes for the future, “And so Christianity there remains only the present. Herein lies its whole strength. Evaluated from this standpoint, the other ways are ultimately only flight. For both of them, the present is untruth. Existence as it is lived in fact cannot be right. It is estranged from itself. It can only see enough of the truth to determine that. And the beginning of wisdom is the negation of what now is. Only Christianity has the courage to affirm the now because God has affirmed it. God has become a human being like us. He has lived in our alienation and died in our God-forsakenness. He has inserted the “fullness of grace and truth”(Jn 1:17) into our present He has filled it with his presence. Because, however, the divine presence includes all “past” and all “future” in itself, God has opened for us all dimensions of time from this presence. The Word that has become flesh is the “Word in the beginning”; in it we are “chosen from before the foundation of the world.,” And it is the “Word at the end” in which everything in heaven and on earth is to be brought together: Alpha and Omega.

    “Only in Christianity are these contradictory world views reconciled. Both are encompassed by the real presence of God in the Eucharist..”

    Now, I don’t agree with his characterization of Buddhism (which he thinks is aimed toward the past), but I hope this helps answer your question on his thought?

  • Aramis

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks.