Evidence of evil

19 April 2013

THE problem of suffering is one that often confronts Christians. No answer can be cut and dried: questioners look for flaws in the arguments, of which there are bound to be many, or insincerity, which, at least, is easier to avoid. There is evidence, however, that another question is coming to the fore: the problem of evil. The arbitrary nature of the threats from Pyongyang, combined, perhaps, with a sketchy grasp of geography that places North Korea nearer than it is, has awakened a degree of anxiety, especially among young people unfamiliar with the nuclear shadow that hung over the world in the 1960s and '70s. The Boston bombings on Monday have brought this incomprehensible threat nearer to home. The intention to kill and maim innocent bystanders, who had no foreknowledge of the bomber's grievances, nor could have contributed to them in any way, lends this act the air of a generalised evil.

If more evidence of inhumanity were needed, it was found in a shipwreck in the Philippines that damaged a stretch of protected coral reef. The ship, from China, was found to contain ten tonnes of frozen pangolin, the result of widespread poaching and slaughter of thousands of pangolin (often called scaly anteaters). Trade in the Asian species of pangolin has been illegal since 2002, and the sailors who survived the wreck face up to six years imprisonment. Their cargo is an example of disregard for the survival of this beautiful and now rare creature, simply because its meat is prized in China, and its scales, although merely keratin, are believed to have medicinal qualities. The pangolin's survival technique, curling itself into an impregnable ball, is useless against a human predator.

The definition of evil is complex and elusive, but here is one of its roots: a disregard for the consequences of satisfying one's desires, particularly when this harms the innocent, whether human or insectivore. The carefulness with which God regards his creation, which is the definition of good, is the opposite: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." Even when the examples are distant - North Korea, Boston, the Philippines - they should prompt a response: a greater carefulness for the world and its creatures.

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