Against Necessary Evils

‘I cannot believe that the same being who forbids rapine and bloodshed, has made rapine and bloodshed necessary to the well-being of any part of his universe.’ — William Wilberforce

I take a keen interest in concepts of ‘need’. ‘Need’ is also immensely important to Shakespeare’s King Lear, which asks the question of what need is. After all, what man needs nothing? What we really believe we need determines what we end up doing. Need lies at the heart of being human, because we’re wholly dependent (or ‘contingent’) on God for our existence and well-being, and it’s in our good that this God is glorified in his creation.

We have need because the almighty God created us from the genius of his imagination, and it was so because he spoke the worlds into being – in a similar way, we ourselves are gods of the worlds of our imagination, though our own worlds are in some way bound to that of the Lord of heaven and earth. Yet we often insist on weighing the pros and cons without God, as if ‘the afterlife’, whatever you think of it, is all God’s good for. But no, need proceeds from how God’s created us. For this reason, no one can speak well of need without thinking of God and what he asks of us.

And God says he’s glorified by good. Make no mistake: in an evil-filled cosmos, he is pleased and glorified not by evil itself but by his sovereignty and victory over evil, because victory is so much the more glorious; in a world made ugly, glory comes to him not through ugliness but the surpassing beauty he can, and does, make. This is about both truth and beauty, because both belong to God forever.

For us contingent creatures (since only God is self-sufficient), well-being comes from satisfaction of need. The need to God’s purposes, which are the purposes of the created order, is truth and beauty to the glory of his holy Name. How, then, can evil and disfiguredness and brokenness be necessary to his demands for men? For he himself, taking up our griefs and iniquities on the cross, has satisfied all such need on our behalf for sin to be condemned and for death itself to ‘die’, being swallowed up in victory.

Christ has been raised from the grave to which all men go nearer and nearer from the day they emerge naked from their mothers’ wombs. Instead of need for evil, we have something called hope.


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