Is Something Evil Only If It Harms Others?
From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
What Evil Really Is
To find your superior satisfaction anywhere else but in God is the essence of evil. The essence of evil, all evil — what makes evil really evil — is that it always involves finding more pleasure in something other than God. Let’s go to Jeremiah 2:12–13: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils.” What are those evils?
“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”
“[They have] hewed out [dug out] cisterns [wells] for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
That’s an amazing definition of evil, isn’t it? It goes right to the heart of every evil. I mean, pick an evil. We’re so humanistic, we’re so man-centered that we think real evil is when you hurt somebody. That’s not the real evil. The real evil if you hurt somebody is that they’re in the image of God. Don’t you touch God! Evil has to do with God. What makes evil evil is this: Here he is, and he’s in this room, and he’s offering himself right now as the fountain of living water to every one of you. “I am a never-ending fountain of all-satisfying water.” And if you put your tongue on that fountain and say, “Let me taste you, God — let me taste,” and you say, “I don’t like it; I’m going to dig a well,” you are evil.
Pick an evil person in history. That’s what you are, if you taste God and turn away from the Creator of the universe, who is freely offering this to you at the cost of the life of his Son. So, I want you to know what evil is. Evil is tasting God and preferring something else. And the reason the world is in the condition it’s in is because Adam and Eve committed that evil. And we’ve all inherited it, and we’re born loving other things more than God.
What Do You Desire?
It might be good to read what Adam and Eve did. This is Genesis 3:6: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food” — it’s going to be delicious — “and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” — wiser than God. It’s as if we are saying, “I can make my own decisions, thank you. You can get out of here and leave me alone because I’ve got wisdom now.” “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Good for food. Delight to the eyes. Desired to make one wise.
Here’s God, the fountain of living water. Here’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And they look and they say, “See you later, God. I want the tree.” That’s what all of us have done — all of us. Every temptation in your life is that temptation: Is he worth it? Is he precious? Is he beautiful? Is the fountain flowing? Am I drinking? Am I being satisfied by God? Or is the world constantly conquering me? That’s one reason why you should pursue joy in God: because it is the essence of evil not to.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.