The polar opposite views studied in Great Ideas Level I (God & Man) and Level 2 (Truth & Lies) can be summarized in four questions:
“I am the Alpha and Omega, The Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Rev. 22:13
“Man is the measure of all things.” Petagorus
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6a
“You will not surely die.” Satan (Gen. 3:4)
But, what about the ideas of Good and Evil? We run into these two ideas almost every day and across many disciplines. One can hardly consider studies in theology, ethics, psychology, politics, or art (just to name a few), without wrestling with questions about the existence and manifestation of Good and Evil. To be sure, what we come to believe about Good and Evil will have a bearing on how we relate to truth and falsity; beauty and ugliness.
Our view of Good and Evil will be rooted in our concept of God and Man. The psalmist writes, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!” (Psalm 136:1) This goodness of God expressed in this psalm is reiterated throughout Scripture. It is multi-faceted and speaks of God’s sovereign redemptive love; His kindness and generosity to all His creatures; His pity to those in distress; His patience.
On the other hand if, like Protagorus, a person sees “man as the measure of all things”, Good and Evil are not rooted in the character of a Supreme Being who has created man in His own image. These ideas then become, in the words of Montaigne, “in large part the opinion we have of them”. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet we are free then to determine for ourselves what, if anything, is evil.
Through the ages thinkers of all stripes have debated the existence, source, and effect of Good and Evil on our world. Some have sought the right application of Good for their own benefit; others for the Common Good of society; and the rest, the Greatest Good for the greatest number. Few have actually sought what they considered to be Evil. However, all, in one form or another, have had to decide on answers to key questions: Is there a God? If so, who is He? What is He like? What does He require of me? Does Truth exist? If so, how do I apply it to all areas of my life? They also wrestled with the same questions that students studying Great Ideas Level 3 will tackle: Does Good and Evil exist? If so, what are their attributes? How do they affect my perception of the world…my actions? How am I to seek Good? What conflicts arise as I seek to do this?
Now…the astute reader might be saying that these questions sound similar to the ones studied in Levels 1 and 2 of Great Ideas. Quite right! Welcome to the Great Conversation! As the student works through Level 3 (Good & Evil), Uncle Screwtape will not be happy.