Expanding Horizons — James A. Long

Good and Evil

From a discussion with a Young People's Church Group — II

Question — I'm still unsatisfied about the matter of God's will and predetermination. How much leeway am I allowed, or am I absolutely bound by the will of God?

Comment — In the ultimate sense, every entity in space is within the realm of the divine will, under the impulsion of the divine energies that flow through and permeate the universe. We are not the marionettes of some all-powerful personal God, but free-willing agents, however unconscious we still are of our innate potential. Yet while each has a unique destiny, no man is an island apart and distinct from every other, but part of a great continent of experience and growth that encompasses the whole of humanity.

But how far you will be allowed to go off course, just how wide is your stretch of deviation — that I cannot answer for you. No one could. The only one who can answer that is yourself. We all make mistakes again and again, but that is not the deciding factor. What counts is the motive of our lives — the quality of aspiration that governs the whole of our thoughts and acts. However, we play with fire the moment we try to figure out just how far we can go wrong and "still get away with it."

Question — I didn't mean it that way. This is what I had in mind. Yesterday several of us were in Los Angeles for the ball game, and we had to wait quite a while before catching our bus home. Skid row, as you know, is not far from the bus terminal; you see all sorts of people there, and you can't help wondering how they ever got so low down. Then you think to yourself, "But for the grace of God, there go I." I had always felt that no one would be permitted to get so far out of line, even with our free will, because I figured there would be something that would predetermine our going just so far and no farther. But there apparently wasn't anything to stop those people. That is where it is difficult to discern the line of cleavage between fatalism and free will. So my question is: how far can one go without having some kind of brakes take hold?

Comment — Anyone can go completely off course, if that is what he wants to do more than anything else. Fortunately, there is generally plenty of interference somewhere along the line, usually from within. Not only do we have our conscience, and a lively one once we start to heed it, but we likewise have the continuous presence of our guardian angel, which protects us more often than we know. How far can we go without having the brakes take hold? Just as far as our conscience will allow. We are perfectly aware when we go against that warning voice, which will never tell us what to do but will always stand ready to give us a "prick" when we even so much as think about doing something that for us, individually, would be a deviation from our true course.

Question — Would you call conscience then an instrumentality of God's will?

Comment — You could say that conscience is an instrumentality or working tool of the god within, for if the voice of conscience is born of long ages of trial and error, it must be closely linked with the tireless effort of the god part of ourselves to bring us into line with its divine will. Moreover, we are as near to our guardian angel as we are near to our own skin; but this relationship is two-way. Unless we earn that protection, we shall not receive it. "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is the very reaping of sorrow and pain, of frustration and loneliness, that is the surest brake against our going too far downhill. But when a person deliberately chooses to stifle the prickings of conscience, he will have to learn the hard and often brutal way.

So let us not condemn others too quickly. Except for help along the way, or other factors not easily seen, any one might find himself heading toward skid row, for there are no brakes against a man's willful corruption of his divine quality of free will excepting those which he himself applies. Most individuals, whatever the tragedy of their present life, have deeply rooted within, seeded there by past experiences, untapped resources of strength and nobility; and once the will is quickened to turn in the upward direction, there are no heights so great that the basest man cannot, if he will, achieve.

Question — It surely looked as if the scales had been weighted against some of those people, as though God really had predetermined for them a course of evil. You don't believe that, do you?

Comment — I certainly do not. It may look that way, viewed from the closed circle of a one-life experience; but don't forget the continuity of consciousness that spans both birth and death. I realize how difficult it is for us who have been schooled to think of one short term on earth to welcome this idea of the rebirth of the soul again and again. I am not asking you to accept this idea, but only to consider it well before you cast it out.

The pattern of growth is not a hit-and-miss affair, but is the inevitable effect of the initial drive in the seed of godhood that is at the heart of every creature within the universe. Therefore the scales could not possibly be weighted against man. On the contrary, if they were weighted at all, it would be in his favor, for the pressure of the evolutionary current is ever forward, with the entire life-wave of humanity being slowly but surely carried along in its stream. There is nothing static in nature — either we go forward, or we go backward, and that is where the challenge comes in. In the kingdoms below man, the urge is ever upward toward the human kingdom, and growth there is automatic and without self-conscious direction. But in the human kingdom we must decide which way we want to grow — for it is possible to go downward, and way down; it is equally possible to make great strides forward insofar as the quality of our consciousness is concerned.

After all, it is consciousness and what we do with it that is the core of our problem. We have today a certain horizon of consciousness that represents the sum total of what we are, which horizon is for us at this moment a Ring-pass-not, beyond which we cannot go. But the Father within is pushing and prodding us all the time, however unaware we may be of it, to expand that horizon and go beyond our Ring-pass-not toward a more distant goal of understanding and wisdom. In the process of growth we make errors, naturally, but we learn in time what is right and what is wrong; and if the current of our aspiration is flowing toward the light, that is all that is required. Either we go forward with the life-wave of humanity toward our goal; or, if we prefer, we can deliberately go downwards and break our link with divinity — but this happens so very rarely that we can discount it for the general run of mankind.

It is impossible for us to stay exactly on the same level of consciousness, because every moment of the day we are moving, hopefully, toward a greater field of vision and experience, and with each forward step we find a new Ring-pass-not. When the moment of death comes, the quality of a man's innermost thoughts through his lifetime will reveal him to be either a weaker or a stronger character.

Question — Would you explain where the Devil fits into your scheme? This isn't merely a hypothetical question, it's a very real one for me right now. You see, my father was for many years a minister, and quite broadminded I used to think; and he's a grand person too. But with the development of nuclear weapons, he has become quite rabid. He is convinced that it's all the work of the Devil. Nothing I say will change his mind. What do you think?

Comment — I can appreciate your problem, because it goes to the very heart of a man's inmost beliefs. Let me say first that I sympathize deeply with the horror your father feels at the use of nature's secrets for destructive purposes. Yet I for one cannot consider the birth and growth and present rapid development of nuclear physics as the work of the Devil — if there is one — or of any of his hosts of darkness. The usage of power for evil is always a devilish and fiendish thing — but it is not the work of Satan.

There is a big difference here. It may appear trivial, but it goes right to the core of the theological problem of good and evil: good as the manifestation of God, and evil as that of the Devil. To me there is no devil who willfully leads human beings into ways of evil; nor is there any personal God who as willfully leads human beings into paths of rectitude. Good and evil, just as heat and cold, day and night, and all other bipolar manifestations, are always with us. But they are relative conditions of living beings, and not inherent entities in themselves. Therefore good and evil in human relationships are seen as relative states of consciousness. Good, we can say, represents that which is in harmony with the upward trend of progress; evil, that which tends to retrogress, to distort and upset the natural equilibrium. What seems good to some aborigines in Australia and Africa may seem frightfully evil to us — and, perhaps, vice versa!

Question — If, as you say, there is no Devil, do you think God allowed man to discover the secret of the atom?

Comment — I don't believe a personal God had anything to do with our discovery of the atom, nor that such God would stop us from exploiting its use. It will be man himself who will put the brakes on its destructive use. Also I believe so firmly in the law of cause and effect, that to me the discoveries of nuclear physics are all part of the greater opportunities that we as a race have earned. I think we need have no fear that headlong destruction will eventuate.

Question — Then you believe that man will go only so far, that he won't deliberately commit race suicide? You said earlier that if someone really wanted to go wrong and followed that way long enough, he would eventually go down and perhaps even break contact. Why wouldn't the same thing happen to humanity which, after all, is just several billion human beings all together?

Comment — It could very easily, if there were sufficient desire in enough human beings to follow the path of destruction and evil. But I am as sure today, as I am sure of anything in this world, that the balance is strongly on the side of right. Why do I say this? Take a cross section of any city, community, nation or group of nations. You will find outstanding examples of the best and finest in human qualities, as well as the very worst; but alongside these will be the vast number of men and women whom no one ever knows by name but who, literally, are the "salt of the earth." In their simple way they are exemplifying qualities of courage, dedication to their particular duties, however humble and seemingly unimportant, and a natural understanding of their neighbor. All of which is weighed in the balance of destiny, as accurately as are the more brilliant virtues and qualities of character displayed by prominent men. That the scales are likewise heavy with inertia, selfishness, and greed there can be little doubt.

Viewed in perspective, I am convinced that history will look back on this age as one of the most perilous, yes, but also the most remarkable for spiritual as well as material advancement. For the discovery of nuclear fission has focalized an intensive and direct inquiry into essential values. This in itself, plus the prevalence of a common danger, is bringing about a subtle yet tangible consciousness of our oneness as humanity.

Question — I'm with you all the way there, and I guess most young people are. But there's another angle my father takes up. He says not only is this atomic age the work of the Devil, but it proves that we're all "born in sin." But I think this is a pernicious idea. Would you talk a little about this concept?

Comment — This is no criticism of the individual who may believe sincerely that man is born in sin, but I cannot agree with it any more than you do.

Let's take the first three chapters of Genesis, and see how unsatisfying they are if taken literally, but if understood as an allegory of the birth of man how truly meaningful they become. After creating the heavens and the earth in the first chapter, it came time for God, or the Elohim — literally "gods" in Hebrew — to fashion man. So in the second chapter Adam was created out of the dust of the earth, and then the Elohim breathed into him "the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Then a garden was planted in Eden, in the center of which was placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After all the animals were formed, the Lord God realized that Adam had no companion, so he caused him to fall into a deep sleep and he took out a "rib" and formed woman. Thus we have Adam and Eve now, in the garden of Eden, naked and unashamed, and warned not to eat of the tree of knowledge.

Now the third chapter: here a serpent appears and entices them to eat of the forbidden tree, for they "shall not surely die," but "shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Eve listens, and sees that not only is it good to eat, and a lovely thing to look at, but a tree "to make one wise"; so she decides to try a piece of the fruit and shares it then with Adam. We read further of the terrible curse the Lord God put upon Eve for beguiling Adam, and that there would be sorrow and labor and strife through all the days. Now listen to the final part of chapter three concerning the tree of life: "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" . . . Therefore, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden and the Lord God put cherubims and a flaming sword at the entrance to guard the tree of life from man.

That in essence was the Hebrew way of stating the genesis of our evolutionary growth from a state similar to the innocence and irresponsibility of the animals, to a self-conscious recognition of our humanhood. Originally androgynous, that is, containing the potency of both male and female, Adam entered a "deep sleep" during which the Elohim removed one of his ribs — note in Hebrew the word also means "side" — which brought about the natural division of the sexes into two, and infant humanity wakened then as fully sexed men and women. With the tasting of the forbidden fruit came awareness of their "nakedness" or responsibility, and a desire then to "sew fig leaves" — to do something about their new-won knowledge.

Moreover, the serpent in almost every land was not originally a symbol of cunning or deception, but rather of wisdom and a bringer of light and understanding. If we consider the serpent of Genesis in the role of a "Light-bringer," which is what Lucifer means, we can see how amazingly different will be our whole concept of man's origin.

Question — Then how did we ever get this idea of being "born in sin"?

Comment — That is one of the destructive effects of literalizing the supposed Word of God — of taking a truth and making a dogma out of your understanding of it, which understanding might be completely wrong. You see, when Adam and Eve, representing infant humanity, were cast out of Paradise, they literally did "fall" from their former state of peace and blissful unconsciousness into one of struggle and turmoil, and the confusion of choosing between good and evil. However, Adam's so-called Fall from Grace was not a fall backward but truly a fall forward into expanded experience. Man was "born in matter," but not in "sin"; while he is "cursed" to toil and suffer, yet with the pain and struggle of every birth there comes always the beauty and triumph of creation. That is the heritage left by the Fallen Angel, who taking the form of a serpent brought about that glorious bit of white magic, quickening latent mind into dynamic activity, and thus giving us our conscious connection with the breath of Divinity when the Elohim breathed into this lump of clay and made of man "a living soul."

Question — I have a question about God's will again. What is the best method to get into line with the will of God?

Comment — That is a beautiful question. Perhaps the most sublime rule of conduct is to be found in Jesus' cry at Gethsemane: Not my will, but Thine, be done. Let not the will of the personal man take over, but, O my Father, work through me and bring thy divine will into function. If we can aspire toward the will of our Father, no matter how many times we fall or how seriously we may deviate from our inner ideals, we shall find that ultimately we will be doing not the will of the erring human self, but truly God's will, because it will be the will of our own inner divinity. God's will is not the same for you, or for me, or for anyone else; it is the divinity within each one of us, our own portion of God's essence, our own individual Father, which alone can make clear to us the will that we individually must follow.

You ask how best to get into line with our divine will? Not my will, but the will of the Father, be done — insofar as we are able to attune our prayers and our aspirations unto the Father and abide by his injunctions, we shall receive guidance in abundance. But, I repeat, no one can predefine for another what the will of the Father is. Each individual has the responsibility to determine that for himself, and it cannot be spelled out in so many words that we can hear. But they are there.

Thus you can see that man is his own monitor and guide, and he need have no fear because, though fashioned of the dust of the earth, he has the breath of the Elohim flowing through him, and as a "living soul" he can indeed "judge the angels."

Theosophical University Press Online Edition