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01 Apr Why Do We Avoid Good and Do Evil?

My wife and I were having a conversation earlier today about how odd it is that at times we fail to give our best effort despite good intentions. We know what we should do, but we do not always do it.

This isn’t just something my wife and I struggle with. It is something that I think everyone struggles with to varying degrees.  I think that we are taught by society that all we need to do is meet the minimum requirements and that is sufficient. People are constantly asking what the minimum requirements are at work, home, and school. We seem to ask “what is the least I can do to get by?” instead of asking “how can I give my best in this situation?”

There was an example of this earlier this week in a Globe and Mail article that talks about how the Ontario Liberal government is in essence selling access to Premier Kathleen Wynne and high profile cabinet ministers. The article was saying that corporations and wealthy citizens can have one-on-one meetings with government officials at “public” events by buying tickets to these events for thousands of dollars. And while anyone can buy a ticket and attend these events very few people can afford to pay $5,000-$7000 per ticket for an evening out. This seems to me like it is allowing wealthy businesses to influence the government, which I see as a violation of our democratic system. The Liberal government justifies these actions by saying that what they are doing is legal. But is it okay to do something just because it is legal?

Just following the demands of the law is the minimum requirement. We talk about this all the time with moral issues. It is not enough to restrain yourself from killing someone, we must strive to move beyond the demands of the law and rid ourselves of the desire to harm others. We see this in Jesus’ sermon on the mount where Jesus raises the bar by saying that simply meeting the demands of the law of Moses is not sufficient; our hearts must be conformed to God’s will for our lives. For example He says “you heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5: 27-28). Jesus is saying here that the minimum requirement of the law is not enough, we must address the disordered desires of our hearts which cause us to want to break the law.

In the Theology of the Body John Paul II talks about this as the distinction between ethic and ethos. Ethics are the rules and regulations which govern our lives. Ethos is the condition of our heart. We must move from simply following the rules and strive to free ourselves from these rules by changing our hearts so that we no longer desire to break the rules.

This is a difficult issue for us to confront because we recognize certain faults within ourselves and know what we need to do in order to correct them, and yet we do not take action. There is a battle between good and evil taking place within our hearts. God and Satan are fighting for our soul and we decide who will win.

Why do we do evil and avoid good? This is a troubling question and there is no easy answer. We see in his letter to the Romans that St. Paul struggled with this. He says

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 15-17, 19, 22-24)

We see here that St. Paul is wrestling with this question. He knows what is right and what he ought to do, and yet, he struggles to do good and avoid evil. Since we live in a fallen world we will constantly have to fight concupiscence; the inclination to sin. Simply because we struggle to live how we ought to live does not mean we should throw away the rules or resign ourselves to the minimum demands of the law. We should always be striving to be all that we can be. When we fall down we need to pick ourselves up or allow others to help us up. God appreciates our efforts to live according to His design. It will never be easy and a part of ourselves will always incline us towards sin and evil, but in the depths of our hearts we know that God “has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”