Description: Why do we do evil when we want to do good?
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Why Do We Do Evil?
by Ernest O’Neill
We are talking about the meaning of life, and we are discussing at present the experiences which we have in
our own life that fit in with the explanation of the reality of life that we have been discussing over these
months. One of these experiences, of course, is known as the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. It can easily be
illustrated if you think of some of the evenings you have experienced yourself.
You know the kind of thing. You are going home for supper or dinner or tea, either to a roommate or your
partner or your family. You buy flowers or ice cream because you think “I really love them and I want to make
them happy tonight.” You get home. Nobody is there. You have a cup of coffee, turn on the TV. Your tummy
rumbles. You nibble a potato chip. You have another cup of coffee. Your tummy rumbles again. Right alongside
the good desire to make them happy there rises another feeling, “What on earth is keeping them?!”
They arrive home at nine-thirty. They forgot to tell you they were going shopping. But by that time you are a
raving lunatic. You blast them with every error they have committed over the centuries. You end up telling
them how they have utterly spoiled your evening. As you stalk off to bed, your eye catches the flowers or the
ice cream with which you were going to give them a happy evening.
The details may vary, but all of us human beings find within us two strong urges that perpetually conflict
with each other: an urge to do good, to be unselfish and to love others. Opposite to that, an urge to be bad,
to be selfish, to love ourselves at the expense of others. There seem to be in us not one person, but two. One
is Dr. Jekyll, who wants to be kind and loving and giving. And the other is Mr. Hyde who wants to be cruel and
hate and get for himself.
The world, of course, is filled with books and techniques that try to lessen the conflict, or modify it enough
to live with it. There are all kinds of writers, both Christian and non-Christian, who try to show us how to
strengthen the good side of our temperaments so that the bad side will be virtually eliminated. But
“virtually” is the word.
Many of us have tried such tinkering and tampering and have discovered even the good side only holds down the
bad side as long as it wants. But even the good side seems shot through with weakness and evil. The two sides
of our personality seem inextricably mixed. They cannot be separated. It seems the only answer is to destroy
them both so you are sure you’ve got rid of the evil. Then you start again.
What is the explanation of this paradox that at the very moment I want to do good, I actually do evil? At the
moment I want to be patient, I am irritable. At the very moment you want to love, you hate. At the very moment
we want to keep our tempers, we lose our tempers. At the very moment I want to be pure, I’m impure. Well, the
truth is the generous urges within us, those desires to help another person and forget ourselves completely,
those come from the influence of what is left of God’s own heart inside us.
His plan was that we would live like Him and so He made us like Himself with many of the desires that He
Himself has. He made us with a desire to love Him and to trust Him. That is what your conscience is always
guiding you to, guiding you back to reality, back to the conviction that there is a God, there is somebody who
made this world. There is somebody that is looking after it and there is somebody that cares about you and
there is somebody that gave you life and heart, and blood circulation and all the other things you have,
because He loves you.
Your conscience is always clinging back to that and stretching towards that and saying, “That’s so!” Our
Creator Himself is extravagant in His generosity. Everywhere you look, you see it. Spring mornings, one bird,
then two, whole hallelujah choruses and orchestras of birds chirping and singing. That is what you hear when
you get up in the morning. Water? One lake? Two lakes? No, here, there, two thirds of the world’s surface is
covered with the stuff.
There’s enough salt in the water so that we can deluge the French coast with oil and that mighty ocean keeps
washing and washing until it is all cleaned up in a matter of 3 years. It is amazing … the generosity of the
love of this Creator who has covered hillsides with hordes and hordes of daffodils, not just with a few
daffodils. Colors? The ocean bed is full of colors never seen by human eyes. That is the kind of generosity He
has. That is the kind of generosity He has actually built into us.
That is the Dr. Jekyll part of us that keeps trying to get out. Our Maker is pure love. He made you unique.
There is nobody like you in the whole world. He gave you unique abilities and sent you here to his earth to do
certain work in it that would express His love and His life through you. As a result of your working close to
Him like this, you would sense His love for you. That would be reward enough in itself.
But, as you fit it into His whole economic plan for this world, you would also find you had all the things you
needed. You would go to bed each night content and at peace in the knowledge that your Maker loved you and was
looking after you. Something of the security and the significance and the happiness of this original plan
survives in you from time to time and sends up the good outgoing and loving desires that you feel.
Years ago our forefathers rebelled against our Creator’s plan and resolved that they would not be in a
subordinate position, however intimate the father-child relationship was to be. They decided they would be god
of their own lives and live by their own directions, choose their own jobs, get their own security and make
their own happiness.
This resistance to the loving life-spirit of the Creator within them urged them not to depend on Him, but on
the world itself. It urged them to live independent of their Maker, to be their own boss, to get things their
own way, to assert and defend their own rights that they felt often rising within them. It is an attitude that
has been bred into our whole race of mankind for generations, by this particular use of our free wills.
Of course, on top of this there developed a tragic flaw in the human personality. It was made by our Creator
to work the same way as He does, from the inside out, receiving His life and love from His Spirit. All the
security we needed from Him, all the significance and identity we needed, all the happiness. And then we would
pour that out to others. But, suddenly, our personalities had to start operating the other way, from the
We rejected God and cut ourselves off from the source of life, so now we had to use the world and each other
to get our security. But the other 5 billion people were trying to get the same things. So we had to beat them
out for the food, shelter and clothing that they needed. We had to beat out a few hundred of them and persuade
them to treat us as important and significant.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is to use our most intimate relationship not to give love, but to get it. To get
happiness first and then give a little, if there’s time left. Today the remains of the influence of God’s
image tries to get out to others through you and me in kindliness and love, but finds that all of this urging
is frustrated and imprisoned by a personality that is enslaved to what it can get from the world of nature and
the world of human beings.
The pure fresh water is available from God, but it cannot escape from the reservoir, because the pipeline now
runs uphill and is constantly being filled with dirty drain water from the surrounding hills. The only answer
is a complete destruction of this flawed personality and a completely new creation. That’s part of the
explanation of this Jekyll and Hyde personality that all of us share.
There is within us the memory of what we were made to be and there is inside us the remains of the nature of
our Creator. There is within us a thing called conscience, a kind of gyrocompass that keeps urging us to live
the way we were meant to.
All this is constantly being suppressed and oppressed and repressed and frustrated by the personality that we
have developed, and that our forefathers and our grandfathers have developed over the years: a personality
that depends not on the Creator for His love, but upon the world for its love. Let’s talk a little more about