What is Evil?

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  
Romans 12:15-21

The word “evil” used in these verses is the Greek word “kakos” meaning an act that is worthless in effect but has no malicious intent.  In comparison, the Greek word used for Satan or pure evil in the bible is “ponērόs” meaning an opposing force that has the intent of malicious wickedness. 

To clarify a bit better the difference of these two words I want to share a couple of stories with you from my own life that should bring the difference of these words into a much clearer light. 

This first story happened years ago when I was part of a homeschool co-op.  My position that particular year was as the support group leader.  In doing my job I learned that there was a woman who had been speaking some evil things about me and I was disturbed to find her comments had been so cold and judgmental.  As I brought my distressed feelings to the Lord the verses from Romans came into my head and I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to overcome this evil with good.  After much prayer, I sat down and wrote a letter to this women pouring out words I didn’t really understand why I was writing because I barely knew this woman.  God asked me to write about her giftedness in His kingdom as well as many more things.  Then, two days later this woman emailed me letting me know how impactful my letter had been to her.  At that time she had found her life controlled by circumstances she would have rather escaped, but my letter reminded her that God had prepared her for those circumstances by the gifts and training He had provided in her past.  Her evil words towards me had originated from seeing her life in comparison to the blessings she saw in my life and her anger over the disparity between her perception of the two had made me a good target.  In reality she just did not know me well enough to understand the obstacles God had also allowed in my life.

The second story happened while I was going through a series of meetings with a young woman to disciple her in her church leadership position.  One afternoon we met at a bookstore for coffee, just as we had done in the past.  Then, in the middle of our conversation I saw three different men place themselves around our table, each with an eye on me and an ear to our conversation.  I was very unnerved by the whole experience.  As this woman I was meeting with continued talked as she was unaware of the circumstances I was, I started to pray for God to remove these men and for Jesus to put a covering over us.  As minutes, that seemed like hours, went by and the men did not leave I found a fourth man approach me and inquire if he could ask me a question.  I said, “Sure,” and he then placed a book in front of me and asked me to read the word he was pointing at.  The word was “Satan”.  After I read the word to the man I was suddenly affronted by the gravity of the evil I was surrounded by.  The man who approached me then went on to say that he would be back again, but my heart pleaded out to God in that moment that He needed to remove these men immediately.  Then one by one each got up and left.  I finished the conversation with the woman I was meeting with, who by the way never did notice what had happened, and left that day realizing I had seen the face of evil that marks my enemy in this world, the enemy of God.

I hope the difference in these two stories proves my point about the two different types of evil.  The first story shows us how evil can come from a person who is led astray, one who does not see their folly and whose actions can be overcome with good.  The second story show us how the mastermind of evil, Satan, is not one we should trifle with on our own or find a way to peacefully live with it – it is the enemy.

For those who approach you with “kakos” you can respond with good because their actions are only products of the deceptions they have allowed themselves to believe, deceptions that God can bring into the light of  Christ if we are only willing to shine that light.  But, for those who approach you with “ponērόs” you need to understand that you are up against something bigger than any good can overcome and that is why God instructs us to let Him take care of those situations.


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