Heschel on Good and Evil

Abraham Joshua Heschel Between God and ManJust another paragraph or two from Abraham Joshua Heschel, these words being from his book Between God and Man.

Seen from God, the good is identical with life and organic to the world; wickedness is a disease, and evil identical with death. For evil is divergence, confusion, that which alienates man from man, man from God, while good is convergence, togetherness, union. Good and evil are not qualities of the mind but relations within reality. Evil is division, contest, lack of unity, and as the unity of all being is prior to the plurality of all things, so is the good prior to evil.

Good and evil persist regardless of whether or not we pay attention to them. We are not born into a vacuum, but stand, nolens volens [willing or unwilling], in relations to all men and to one God. Just as we do not create the dimensions of space in order to construct geometrical figures, so we do not create the moral and spiritual relations; they are given with existence. All we do is try to find our way in them. The good does not begin in the consciousness of man. It is being realized in the natural co-operation of all beings, in what they are for each other.

Clarity in matters of such simplicity and such urgency is a very rare and precious thing. I was going to add my own meandering thoughts, but it would really be better just to re-read those two paragraphs. Excuse me while I do that.

Addendum: For the record, the paragraphs quoted above originally appear in Heschel’s great book, Man Is Not Alone : A Philosophy of Religion. The book Between God and Man compiles a variety of Heschel’s writings.


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