RELIGION: People don’t generally choose to do what is evil

By Canon Gerry Conroy

I am continually surprised at the truth that is contained in the Bible. By that I mean the insights in to life and our humanity, into ourselves, that are present there. I think of the readings today for example. At first sight in the Gospel, Jesus seems to be putting the disciples down when they ask him for an increase of faith. Their request comes in response to the demands of Jesus’ teaching. They at least realise how difficult is what he asks of us. What Christ then goes on to say to them and to us, is that we need to think again about how we look at life.

That comes out particularly in the second part of the Gospel when he talks about the duty of the servant to their master. What he is asking is, ‘should we pleased if we do what Christ is telling us?’. The answer is ‘no’ because what he is asking of us is simply how things should be. Should we be surprised if someone doesn’t steal from us, should we be grateful to them? No, because we shouldn’t steal – we know it is wrong.

The problem is we have lost a sense of what is right and wrong. That is the point of what Christ is saying to the Apostles. It’s not that they are lacking faith it is that they, like the rest of us, have lost the sense of what is right and wrong. We haven’t lost the ability to know what is right and what is wrong, but somewhere along the way of life we have become confused, and are making bad decisions, perhaps because we have lost sight of something fundamental to making right decisions, to making good choices about what is right and wrong. People don’t generally choose to do what is evil, we don’t regularly choose to do what is wrong. Sometimes we ignore the morality of an act, say if we are so angry we no longer care, but usually we try to choose what is good. Yet there are issues where we cannot agree, there is no consensus; as a result of this confusion, some people say, there is no Truth, there is no absolute right and wrong. Another possibility is that we have somewhere along the line lost sight of the correct parameters on which to judge what is right and what is wrong.

That brings me back to the insight of the Bible in Adam and Eve, where the snake promises that they will be like gods able to know right and wrong. But can we rely on what the Father of lies tells us? It seems not given the confusion. We think we are innately able to tell right from wrong. And indeed we should be, God has given us that ability in our human nature, but for some reason we have forgotten or lost how it is done. This is, I think, what Christ is saying to the Apostles in the Gospel: ‘Don’t think your are doing something exceptional, don’t think I am asking something exceptional of you; it’s only as it should be’.

In that first reading we hear something similar: in his prayer, the Prophet Habbakuk complains that it was God who opened his eyes to the evil and injustice. Without God he would not have recognised it for what it was. But now that he sees it he is impatient for God to do something about the evil. It is God who causes us to see injustice – he points it out to us. Why does he point it out and then do nothing about it? – that is the complaint of the prophet.

The message is clear, we need God to help us recover the sense of what is right and what is wrong – left to ourselves we seem to go astray. But God also wants us to be involved in clearing up the mess. In doing that, we recover the beauty of our human city, the beauty of what God has created in us; we rediscover the wonder and goodness of God and his creation.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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