Evil is the inversion of what is good. It is basically to receive life from the Lord, as all created beings do, yet to turn it primarily towards oneself, making our self the only focus. In the process of doing this, we engender fear, hatred and the love of dominating others. The state of hell is based on evil and its various manifestations.
But if the Lord is good and perfect, how did He let evil come to exist? Why does He let it continue to exist? The answer to these questions actually has to do with what the Lord is, in essence, and what His goals are.
The essence of the Lord - what He's made of; what he actually is - is love. It's perfect love, boundless and pure and complete. Love, of course, innately desires an object. We can't just love in a vacuum; we want to love someone or something, and in loving them we want to be close to them and conjoined with them. To fulfill Himself, then, the Lord created the universe and ultimately us so that he could have something outside Himself to love.
The Lord's goal for us, then, is to accept His love and to be conjoined with him. For that relationship to work, though, there are two essential elements. First, we have to have a choice; if we didn't have a choice it would be compulsion, not love, and would be no more meaningful than the instinctive love a dog has for its master. Second, we have to remain separate from the Lord; if we became part of Him, he would be loving Himself.
The first of those elements creates the potential for evil to exist. To give us a choice, the Lord created us with the ability to refocus His love and turn it on ourselves - to use the power and life He freely gives us to love and worship ourselves instead of loving and worshipping Him. That is pretty much the definition of evil, and the Writings tell us that it is the state we are all in from birth and the state we would all return to instantly if it were not for the loving influence of the Lord.
Many find that idea upsetting. Why would the Lord let us be born into evil? Shouldn't we be essentially neutral if we are to have a choice? And surely we can't be saying that babies are evil!
In a way, though, the fact that we're born into evil is the Lord's way of balancing things out. He is pouring love on us constantly, leading us toward good in countless ways; if we were not innately evil we would be overwhelmed by His love and would lose our ability to choose. As for babies, the Writings do say that babies and young children have a degree of natural goodness, which shows as a love for their parents and kindness toward other children. As they get older and begin to be more rational, the Lord draws this into their interiors so He can continue to affect them as they grow. They are also innocent, lacking the ability to choose either good or evil.
But for all their innocence and sweetness and the powerful love they inspire in us, children are, if you think about it, deeply self-centered. And that self-centered state often persists through adolescence into adulthood, when real choices begin.
This means that we all enter adulthood with some degree of self-love, love of wealth, love of dominating others, love of being in charge, pride in our intelligence and a sense of entitlement. It might not be dominant, but it's there. What do we do?
Well, remember that the Lord is pouring love on us constantly; our problem is that we are full of evils and there's no place for that love to attach itself. What we need to do, then, is start attacking those evils. If we can uproot them, the Lord will fill the space with love.
And that, the Writings tell us, is the work of our lifetimes. We are called on to learn what is good and use that knowledge to shun evils - to push them aside so the Lord can replace them with desires for good. Do it long enough and diligently enough and the Lord will set the evils aside permanently and fill us with love – the state of angels. We will then go to a society in heaven to be with people whose loves are similar to ours.
There are a few points worth making about this process:
- It is slow. Our loves are our life, so if the Lord simply took all our evils away at once it would kill us. It's a process.
- We have to know evil to fight it. The Lord has given us the capacity to know what is right even while we desire what is wrong; we can use that power to examine ourselves and identify our evils so we can combat them.
- Temptation is key. The only way to really uproot an evil love is to fight it, and the battle can only come when that evil desire is active, eating at us, calling to us, trying to drag us away. This is not to say we should seek temptation – the Lord will provide it at the right time – but we can recognize it as an opportunity to grow spiritually.
- We can't make ourselves good. Only the Lord can do that; our part is to try not to be bad and ask for His help.
- We're not necessarily responsible for evil thoughts. Just as the Lord is constantly leading us toward goodness and light, the hells also want us to join their ranks in evil and darkness. One way they do this is by bombarding our minds with evil thoughts. But our thoughts are not our life; our loves are. If we let evil thoughts go on by us and don't make them part of what we intend to do, we're not responsible for them.
- We're not necessarily reponsible for evil intentions or actions. Some people are raised without any knowledge of right and wrong, and have no idea that things they desire are evil. Those evils don't become a permanent part of them unless they embrace them while knowing they are wrong.
And if we fail, then what? Well, that's a mirror image of the "going-to-heaven" process – if we choose to embrace evils and knowingly make them our own, we will ultimately go to hell to be with others who have similar evil loves.
But here's an interesting point: The Writings say that the Lord never really takes our evils away, even if we become angels in heaven. He pushes them aside and negates their power, but he doesn't remove them. Why?
The answer lies in the second of the two elements we mentioned earlier, that we have to stay separate from the Lord in order to be loved by Him. If the Lord actually removed our evils and made us fully pure and good, He would also remove the element that makes us separate, the part of ourselves that is not part of the Lord. The Lord can't be evil, so the evil in us will always be outside Him. This maintains our identity even in the most exalted angelic state we could reach.