How do you distinguish between brokenness and evil?

Hi! My question is: how do you distinguish between brokenness and evil, because it seems our responses should be different depending on which of those we’re dealing with? I know that we are never going to know another’s heart and true intent, but from an intellectual standpoint it is important for me to have an answer to this question because there are situations in my life that I need to figure out how to respond to based on the answer. I don’t want to respond to evil gently because I think that someone is just hurt and/or acting out of what they’ve learned from their environment; but I also don’t want to hurt someone who is already hurting by treating them as if their behavior is just willful sinning. My assumption was originally that we, as humans, do willfully engage in sinful/evil behavior from time to time; however, after writing this, I’m questioning if that is even an accurate assumption? Any way you can shed some light on this conundrum would be greatly appreciated.

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Hi Sarah, great question! I’ve thought about this as well. Sometimes when people talk about brokenness and evil it can sound like the same thing and our responses aren’t guided correctly. The topic of evil/suffering/pain/sin/brokenness is one of the biggest, if not biggest, topics talked about in Christianity and outside of Christianity.

But for the sake of this response I’ll try to stay relevant to your question. Philosophers will differentiate between ‘natural’ evil and ‘moral’ evil. Natural evil being the suffering caused by natural disasters towards humans and moral evil being the suffering caused by human behavior towards other humans. Your question obviously is in regards to moral evil. I believe the core essence of moral evil is fundamentally preferring anything more than God. You could call this sin, as well. Moral evil is an act of the will. Where there is no will, there is no evil. It is not a function of natural disasters or random things, it is a function of willing and evil is always defined in the Bible in reference to willing anything other than God as more valuable.

We all commit this. We all sin. We’re all broken. Evil shows us we are not in full control of ourselves and we can’t figure out how to gain control on our own no matter what we try to do. The sinful condition of humanity blinds in acknowledging our dependence upon God and in turn, we create and manufacture our own independent identity outside of God. We don’t even see that our virtues are as sinful as our sin. So, yes, we do engage in sinful/evil behavior as humans. More so than we are willing to admit.

The only response to evil that has ever worked is the response of Jesus and that is to lead a life of sacrificial love. When God saves us, he does the unthinkable. Through his powerful grace he makes that which is intrinsically evil good, that which is broken whole, that which is dead alive.

That doesn’t mean we become perfect sinless beings. But it does mean we’ve been given new lenses in which to see God. It means we’ve been given a new heart that now wills to make God more valuable, honorable, treasurable than anything else. We will continue to fall. That’s not to be a surprise. Martin Luther once said, “the life of a Christian is one of repentance.” That can seem dismal and depressing almost sounding like Christians never make any progress or are ever happy. That’s not what he was saying at all. He was saying that pervasive, all of life repentance is the way we make progress in our Christian life. ‘Religious’ repentance is basically a way that has been used to try to keep God happy with you so he’ll keep giving you blessings. That’s selfish, dry, and not life giving at all. In the gospel, repentance is always meant to remind us of the joy we have in our union with Christ in order to weaken our dependence on anything contrary to God’s heart.

A truly broken and repentant person understands their need for God. They understand they have the ability to do evil things. God has taken the blindfold off of them. I’m not entirely sure about your current situation but I hope that’s at least a helpful start in thinking about the difference between brokenness and evil.

God bless,
Daniel Rangel

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