St. Augustine on Calling Evil Good and Good Evil

Woe to those that call evil good, and good evil!

The Lord’s warning given through Isaiah is surely apropos for our own time, given the cultural and spiritual forces which confront Christians in the West. I was recently reminded of it as I began to read St. Augustine’s Enchiridion, in which he lays out what he sees as the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Isaiah’s condemnation comes up in the beginning when Augustine considers the doctrine of Creation and the goodness of the Creator. God calls what he has made “very good,” and yet ever since the Fall, we encounter evil in this world. Now, for Augustine, of course, evil is merely a corruption or privation of good. Evil does not have its own existence the way good does. In a nutshell, only God creates; God created everything that exists; and God calls it very good. Evil is not a part of God’s creation. On the contrary, every evil thing is a good thing that’s been somehow spoiled–made less than it was created to be. Inasmuch as it exists, it’s good, but inasmuch as it is disordered, it’s evil. Augustine explains:

We must, however, beware of incurring the prophetic condemnation: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” And yet our Lord says: “An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil.” Now, what is an evil man but an evil being? For man is a being. Now, if a man is a good thing because he is a being, what is an evil man but an evil good? Yet, when we accurately distinguish these two things, we find that it is not because he is a man that he is an evil, or because he is wicked that he is good; but that he is a good because he is a man, and an evil because he is wicked. Whoever, then, says, “To be a man is an evil,” or, “To be wicked is a good,” falls under the prophetic denunciation: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil!” For he condemns the work of God, which is the man, and praises the defect of man, which is the wickedness.

It is precisely this reversal which afflicts our culture today, for we are deliberately losing our ability to discern order from disorder. Nowhere is this more apparent today than in our embrace of the LGBT movement.

Going all the way back to Genesis 1, the first thing God says about man is that he would be made in God’s own image. The text goes on to explain, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” As it turns out, being made male and female is a key part of how man is made in God’s image. After all, God is Triune–three Persons but one Substance. Man is much the same way. We are all individual persons, and yet as Adam says of his wife: “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” A man and his wife are two persons, but one flesh.  But it doesn’t end there, for the very first blessing & command that God gives to his new creation is to be fruitful and multiply.  And so a third person proceeds from that marital union who also shares his parents’ flesh and blood.  That is the fundamental purpose of the sexes in mankind: marriage and consequent family as a living symbol of the eternal love of the Triune God. And God calls it “very good.”

It follows from this that disorders of the sexes are that which inhibit this purpose. And the disorders are legion. Certainly we would first and foremost include sins like adultery, fornication, and sodomy–in which we deliberately act contrary to God’s creation and, in effect, spray graffiti on God’s self-portrait. But it is just as clear that the consequences of living in a fallen world are disorders. We encounter evils of infertility, of sexual dysfunction, of genital deformities, of same-sex attraction, and countless others. These are not sins anymore than heart defects, cleft palettes, or cancer are. Nevertheless, through mankind’s sins, we have corrupted this world, and in many respects it no longer functions according to design. We have made it less than what God has designed it to be, and these disorders are the consequences of that Fall into sin.

These are simply a small selection of the things we must endure as we live in this world. And God can bring good out of all these things and more, for he created all things that have being in the first place. As Christ said of the man born blind, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” God redeems the evils and sufferings of this world according to His own good purpose. Evil cannot impede Him.

The deadly problem is when we take these disorders and found our identities on them–confuse the disorders with our very beings and pretend that the corruption is nothing of the sort. In doing so, we deny God’s declaration that what He created is good. We cannot have faith in one whom we denounce as a liar, nor can we ultimately believe his promises.

The evil of the LGBT movement is not the existence of LGBT people. After all, as Augustine would put it, they are good precisely because they are beings–God made them, and He made them good. Neither is it simply the fact of the disorders of same-sex attractions and gender confusion which they experience. These are evils, to be sure–corruptions and privations of good–but they are conditions rather than moral indictments (just as things like infertility or erectile dysfunction are.) No, the fundamental evil of the movement is the deliberate determination to call evil good and good evil. To condemn the work of God in his creation of man as male and female, and to instead praise and revel in the defects thereof which inhibit us from being fruitful as He commanded us.

And to be clear, this kind of thinking is not unique to the LGBT movement. For example, some in the deaf community find their identity in their lack of hearing–to the point that they are offended when Jesus heals the deaf in the Gospels. How dare he steal their identity away from them! In so doing, they bless the disorder and call evil the hearing for which God first created ears.

Neither did it begin with the LGBT movement. These activists were preceded by generations of “cishet” Westerners who denounced chastity as a burden, marriage as a prison, and children as punishment. None of the LGBT propaganda would be in any way compelling had we not already laid down this foundation of selfishness and depravity on which the activists now build. All the same, they are currently embodying the zeitgeist among those who openly condemn God’s creative work and praise its corruption. They are the ones who  actively single themselves out by claiming disorder as their identity. The church does not get to choose which errors its confronted by, and so we are compelled to respond to this movement.

We are so compelled because this kind of thinking is the great Lie condemned by Isaiah. It is also the first deception of Satan–that God has withheld goodness from us through his Law, but that we can recover that goodness by defying Him and resisting his design. When we believe the Lie, we put ourselves in a vicious cycle in which we must pursue ever greater denunciations of good in order to preserve our own evil. After all, anyone who hopes to believe a rotten apple is fresh must first banish any fresh apples from his sight–one way or another. This progression is what Paul describes in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…

…Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling moral man and birds and animals and creeping things…

…Though they know God’s decree that that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

So they are without excuse. And so also, we are without excuse, for we also sin against God. For all of us who have broken God’s Laws and therefore deserve death, salvation does not come from believing the Lie. It does not come from undoing creation or unwriting God’s Law. It does not come by calling evil good and good evil. Salvation comes only through faith in Christ, the One who redeemed us from evil by his blood and created a new, good life within us through his Resurrection.

Repent of the Lie. Believe in the Logos.

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