No Evil without Good?

Very few friendships last a lifetime. But when a young C. S. Lewis got to know a young Arthur Greeves, their friendship was one of those rarities. They corresponded almost until the day of Lewis’s death. We have all of that correspondence, and it’s filled with treasures.

In 1933, not too long after Lewis’s conversion, Greeves had written in one of his letters that there can be “no good without evil.” The recently converted Lewis, rethinking all of his former views, responded that he considered that statement to be “absolutely untrue.” The opposite, though, the idea that there can be “no evil without good,” he declared to be “absolutely true.” What did he mean?

Lewis explained to Greeves that we live with a false idea about God, our desires, and the things He seeks to give us.

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight wh. He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which wd. be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there.

Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us . . . wh. would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing.

We get this false image of God wanting to keep us from “real” delights when, in fact, He wants to give us those real delights. We go astray whenever we think that there are any genuine delights outside of Him. By attempting to get those delights in our own way, we ruin them.

“Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways,” Lewis explained. Then he gets down to the nub of his argument: “The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God.” What can he mean? Don’t we see evil all around us? He continued:

It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good. You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

Reading this, I was reminded of a passage in the book of James:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

James 1:13-17

The word “lust” in this passage simply means “desire” in the Greek, and is used for good desires as well as bad. We have certain desires that are fine in themselves, desires that God would like to fulfill. But what do we do? We follow a wrong path in an attempt to fulfill the desire, and that is what gives birth to sin. It is as Lewis says: evil is “simply good spoiled”; it “is a parasite.”

God has given us genuine desires. Only through Him can those desires be met. When we try to meet them outside of Him, we fall into sin, and as that passage notes, the end of sin is death.

So let’s commit ourselves to life, not death. Let’s allow God to be the One through whom all desires are channeled, for He will ensure they are realized in a godly, fulfilling way.