Everyone has their own perspective of evil. Too many people associate it with demonic forces, probably because we are still influenced by Greek mythology and fear of snakes in the garden. That’s how I used to think when I prayed “deliver us from evil” (some Bible versions say “the evil one”) in the Lord’s Prayer.
What does evil really mean? It arises from the Greek word ponēros. Thayer’s defines it as that which is full of labors, annoyances, hardships – a. pressed and harassed by labors; b. bringing toils, annoyances, perils. Then it goes on to define it in terms of a bad nature or condition – leaving your imagination to deciding what that might be.
When I learned the Aramaic word (the language Jesus spoke) associated with evil was bisa, I came to a new understanding of ponēros that did not leave as much to the imagination. Bisa is something that is unripe. It’s not fit for its intended purpose. It’s “not ready.” It’s out of rhythm with the right timing. Its roots point toward a sense of what delays or diverts us from advancing, as well as a sense of inner shame for not producing the right action at the right time (Neil Douglas-Klotz). The short ways of saying that are: unripe, corrupt (over-ripe or rotten), immature, a diversion.
Now, every time I read the word “evil”, I change its meaning to one of the Aramaic definitions. Every teaching takes on new meaning and makes more sense to me. It removes the satanic or bad intention component from the context. And that helps me to have a different perspective on people or other things that are considered evil.
Some people do harmful things because they are unripe. They are not well-developed. Maybe they did not have access to an education suited to their needs. Or they are not doing what they were created to do, so their action is a result of their frustration. Or they are not suited to be doing what they are doing, and they feel inadequate. Or who they are trying to be is not in rhythm with who they are created to be. People act according to their level of ripeness. And most of us still have some developing to do.
Sometimes traditions are good and sometimes they are evil, or at least, unripe. Some traditions are rotten. They have passed their useful time. And they can be harmful. You wouldn’t eat an orange that had green fuzz all over it and expect good to come from it. Traditions are not good because they are traditions. Traditions and laws are good when they help everyone toward peace and harmony. Anytime they begin to disrupt the harmony and start to divert a person or group from their true purpose, those traditions and laws need to be destroyed.
Jesus was no promoter of laws or traditions that were hurting others or disrupting the harmony that he was trying to bring among people. He followed traditions when they were ripe, suited for their purpose, and bringing goodness to people. But he fought against laws and traditions that were past their time.
Maybe we ought to do a little more sorting out of the rotting laws and traditions that promote harm to certain groups and traditions that cause more hardship than good. Maybe we ought to help people to develop to their full capacity through education and respect for each other. That might help us love each other more so that we can work together in harmony. I think that’s what could help deliver us from some of the evil, or unripeness, in the world.