We often think in terms of good and evil, governments describe political enemies as being evil and their policies and followers as being good. The decisions of who to trust and who to attack depends on who we understand as the good guys and the bad guys. From our Christian perspective in modern times we have come to associate sin with evil, and more often we associate evil with sin as being the same thing. In similar ways we tend to associate social or political evils as being sin. But to directly identify sin and evil is to misunderstand the nature of sin.
Paul Janz describes sin as being the fall not into evil but into the knowledge of good and evil. Sin is not evil actions and nor are evil thoughts or deeds necessarily sinful, but rather evil is descended from sin, is the effect of sin. However our supposed goodness is also a descendent of our sin and is as far from righteousness as the evil we do may be.
If instead as looking at sin as being our direct actions and instead as our state of separation from God then this allows to perhaps understand this better. It is perhaps more accurate for us to think of sin as being the nature of of our currant relationship with God outside of salvation. Sin is the separation between us and God which breaks our relationship with him. It is a disruption of our ability to obey God.
Just as sin is beyond evil so too is God beyond good. The righteousness of God is not defined by its opposition to evil as human good is, but is sufficient in and of itself without comparison to any other activity or source. In this way sin is beyond evil, it is not evil but evil stems from it. Sin is our separation from God through our knowledge of good and evil which leads us to suppose that we have moral freedom.
Our supposed freedom to chose between good and evil is actually the very thing that has taken away our true freedom. What we suppose enables us to be truly free moral agents does by the very nature of what we think should give us freedom in fact takes away our freedom. Outside of the divine will there is no objective morality only a subjective choice based on a degree of selfishness enlivened by what might be mistakenly assumed to be altruism.
In his novel starship troopers Robert Heinlein creates a moral philosophy based on scientific principles whereby every moral decision can be analysed and figured by an algorithm or equation. For Heinlein moral philosophy becomes expressed by the concept of duty whereby the individual participates in the group selfishness. Thus to be good is to take on a feeling of personal responsibility for the safety and well being of others because the individual comes to associate the group as belonging to him. Choice becomes an act of violence as one imposes his or her will upon the world and so to give up this choice to the group is to empower the group by the submission of the individual. Whilst a science fiction novel is an unusual place to find an example of moral philosophy Heinlein gives us a way of seeing how morality, good and evil, can become without a divine and ultimately ‘other’ source of moral authority.
Rather our intention to chose between good and evil is flawed because of humanities original sin which is to be separated from God by this supposed moral freedom. Even when we try to chose to do good we fall short because of our very fallen nature. Our knowledge of good and evil, of this separation and this choice, seems to imply that by our reason we could chose to do good over evil. However this is not possible, even in our attempts to good we fall short and cannot even reach out and touch righteousness let alone inhabit it.
instead our only chance of freedom is in obedience to God through coming into relationship with Jesus Christ thanks to the reconciling power of the incarnation. We are in bondage to our own will and our fallen nature which makes any attempt to do good as righteous as our evil. It is only when we accept the external locus of our moral and ethical code as being God that we truly become free moral agents. As Christians we should think less about good and evil and more about righteousness or disobedience. And in doing so we will come to understand the importance of our relationship with Christ.