C.S. LEWIS SAID morality is concerned with three things: harmony between individuals; inner harmony of the individual; and the general purpose of life (ultimately, salvation). Morality, he said, is synonymous with absolute truth. Not surprisingly, universal moral law must come from a Lawgiver. Moreover, without absolutes morality is based merely on culture and circumstance. So-called situational ethics takes into account only the immediate and particular context of an act rather than an unchanging universal code of conduct. With this in mind, Lewis proposed five basic moral laws: harm/care; fairness/reciprocity; in-group/loyalty; authority/respect; and purity/sanctity. A survey of 60 cultures from all around the world found these five categories to be uniform, depicting a universality of value. Lewis called universal moral law the Tao or “way” of being human—something elemental that all people, regardless of time and place, have some grasp of.
C.S. Lewis on the Source of Morality
It was Lewis’s opinion that morality is found, not made. It is objectively there whether we subjectively like it or not! He wrote, “I believe that the primary moral principles on which all others depend are rationally perceived. We ‘just see’ that there is no other reason why my neighbour’s [sic] happiness should be sacrificed to my own, as we ‘just see’ that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. If we cannot prove either axiom, that is not because they are irrational but because they are self-evident and all proofs depend on them. Their intrinsic reasonableness shines by its own light. It is because all morality is based on such self-evident principles that we say to a man, when we would recall him to right conduct, ‘Be reasonable.”(1)
Lewis explains that in the same manner an objective physical environment exists, comprised of three dimensions (the ground, or “width,” the sky, or “height,” and the near and far, or “depth”), so there is a real and universal moral environment. Moral law is not invented or merely projected out from ourselves; it is something we discover—something that could not have been otherwise. As with mathematics, where the multiplication tablet is not something that can work other than the way it does work, so also is morality something that universally works in the same manner. If you claim that two plus two equals five, you are not being mathematically adventurous or creative; you are just being innumerate. Likewise, if you claim that causing innocent people to suffer is good, or that lying and stealing are good, you are not showing moral intuition or moral initiative; you are showing that you are morally blind.
If nothing is morally self-evident then nothing can be proved to be moral or immoral.
Perhaps individuals who convince themselves that the evil they do is good are well-aware of how disingenuous they are being—that they are, in fact, attempting to invent their own moral platform in order to rationalize their behavior. After all, part of being human is recognizing what Lewis calls objective moral ecology. Those who believe otherwise are typically called subjectivists, relativists, or positivists. Lewis points to the irony that most subjectivists live a hybrid life of morality, often behaving in a manner far better than the “conditional” principles they promote. It is noteworthy that those who are most successful at living subjectively are found in prisons and mental hospitals. By definition, such individuals have stepped outside the human community, typically driven by momentary fugitive impulses.
“What you see and hear depends a great deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.” —C.S. Lewis
Lewis said “correct thinking” cannot make good men of bad ones. Practical reason is not useful for judging what is good and what is evil. This mindset of “deciding for ourselves” obviously began in the Garden of Eden when our First Parents disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Wanting to be “like God,” they exchanged a vertical (“heavenward”) orientation with God for a horizontal (man-centered) orientation. Essentially, this act of disobedience spawned man’s rejection of absolute morality, representing the beginning of moral relativism. Rather than believe God, man would provide his own answers to the four great questions common to all cultures. Where did we come from? What is the purpose of our existence? What is the meaning of good and evil? Where are we going when we die?
Moral relativists do not believe value judgments are really judgments at all. Rather, they believe these concepts are mere sentiments, complexes, or attitudes produced within each community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, differing from one community to another. They reject universal morality. Saying a thing is good is merely to express one’s feeling about it; a belief that is socially conditioned.(2) Lewis said most people see morality as “something that interferes, something that stops you from having a good time. In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine”(3) In The Abolition of Man, Lewis said, “…if we don’t, or won’t, or can’t see that value is objective, shining by its own light, we show ourselves to be other than human.”(4)
Augustine on Evil
God would not be good if He knowingly created evil. Augustine approached this issue by starting with the question What is evil? He argued that if independent evidence leads us to conclude that God exists and He is good, then He would be incapable of creating evil. Accordingly, something else must be its source. Augustine wrote, “Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being?”(5) To this Augustine answered, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil.”(6) [italics mine] He observed that evil always injures. He defines moral injury as “a deprivation of good.” He added, “If there were no deprivation, there would be no injury. Since all things were made with goodness, evil must be the privation of goodness: All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”(7) In this instance, privation of goodness means man’s decision that whatever he does is “good” or “acceptable. Such a man would be morally blind.
It is misleading to think of evil as a “thing.” Evil isn’t a “substance” that has a traceable “source.” Biblically speaking, evil is an aspect of relationship.
Augustine believed the greater good results from having a world in which there is moral freedom. However, moral freedom comes with a cost; it makes moral tragedies like mass shootings, murder, rape, and adultery possible. But these tragedies are not created by God. They are the direct result of man’s immoral behavior. Augustine said man’s soul is refined by overcoming evil with good. Evil is momentary, but the good that results is eternal. Augustine knew that evil was real, but understood that it does not come from God. The possibility of evil makes a greater good possible. In God’s creation, true moral decision-making and development of virtues is possible in man. Character is formed through growth and struggle. Evil is that which is contrary to the character and will of God: the opposite of what is good. It is an issue of morality and intention. For example, a rock is not evil but using a rock to murder someone is evil.
Charles Spurgeon said, “No man can know the greatness of sin till he has felt it, for there is no measuring-rod for sin, except its condemnation in our own conscience, when the law of God speaks to us with a terror that may be felt.”(8) He wrote, “If you can sin and not weep over it, you are an heir of Hell. If you can go into sin, and afterwards feel satisfied to have done so, you are on the road to destruction. If there are no prickings of conscience, no inward torments, no bleeding wounds; if you have no throbs and heavings of a bosom that cannot rest; if your soul never feels filled with wormwood and gall when you know you have done evil, you are no child of God.”(9) For me, this is a clear indication that sin is an individual rejection of God’s moral good; a personal transgression. Indeed, a choice.
Jesus on Evil
In addressing evil in the world, Jesus said the problem of evil speaks directly to the fallen state of creation as a result of the disobedience of our First Parents. All unregenerate sinners born in Adam are worthy of death. The means by which we die—whether by murder, accident, or disease—isn’t anything more than we deserve. God’s saving grace is His response to the wages of sin, and it is His mercy that keeps us alive. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus discusses whether it matters if one’s death is the result of moral or natural evil. He said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
According to a recent blog article from Focus on the Family, man must possess a genuine will of his own. Otherwise, there could be no such thing as relationship or love. The possibility of love between man and God springs directly out of man’s freedom to choose. But this possibility also entails an element of risk. It includes the potential for pain. Through the exercise of free will, man has broken his relationship with God. That’s what evil is all about.(10) Unfortunately, man’s freedom to choose comes with an element of risk. There is potential for pain, separation, and death. Adam and Even exercised free will in choosing to disobey God and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, man has a broken relationship with God. He has fallen from grace.
When the Lord says in Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things, the Hebrew word employed is ra’ah. This refers to calamity, disaster, misfortune, or hardship, and must be contrasted with the word rasha’, which means wickedness or evil in the moral sense. The New King James Version says, “I make peace and create calamity.” The same word is used in Lamentations 3:38 (KJV), where Jeremiah declares that both “evil and good proceed out of the mouth of the most High.” God permits evil (calamity, disaster, misfortune, hardship) but He does not create evil in the moral sense. The Bible never attributes the creation of rasha’ or “moral wickedness” to God. Rather, Scripture clearly tells us that God alone is good (Mark 10:18). All the works of His hands “are verity and justice” (Psalm 111:7). He is light, says the apostle John, “and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy, M.A. Theological Studies
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references contained herein are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
(1) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillan Co.), 1947.
(3) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ( ), 69.
(4)C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: HarperOne), 1944.
(5) Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, VII: [V] 7.
(6) Augustine, The City of God, XI, Chapter 9.
(7) Augustine, Confessions, VII: [XII] 18.
(8) Charles Spurgeon, “The Evil and Its Remedy,” The Spurgeon Library, New Park Street Vol. 4, November 14, 1858, accessed Sept. 19, 2022, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-evil-and-its-remedy/#flipbook/
(9) Charles Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C.H. Spurgeon, Vol. 13: 1867 (Woodstock, Ontario: Devoted Publishing), 2017.
(10) “What the Bible Says About the Origin of Evil,” Focus on the Family, a blog, accessed Sept. 19, 2022, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/what-the-bible-says-about-the-origin-of-evil/