Books / Ideas / Parenting / Writing / January 3, 2012

When Evil is Good

Most parents seek to protect their children from evil. We don’t want our children to be frightened, harmed, or attracted by it. But is a parent’s protective instinct always right? Is there a time we should expose our children to evil for their good?

Imagine Frodo on his quest to reach Mount Doom but without orcs, Gollum, ring Wraiths, or Sauron’s eye. That’s not a quest. It’s a business trip trip.

Imagine the Pevensie children entering Narnia and meeting Aslan except without Edmund’s betrayal, the stabbing on the stone table, and the battle with the White Witch. Aslan would be a nice kitty, and it would end with a happy picnic.

Imagine Harry Potter heading off to Hogwarts to learn wizardry but never encountering Voldemort or any of his minions. We’d have ended up with seven books about pubescent crushes, mythical creatures, and quidditch. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Twilight on broomsticks.
In the greatest stories it is evil that crystalizes and congeals the good. Only in the face of evil does character, quality, and morality step forth and play the hero. Without evil we are left with nebulous characters of ambiguous depth and uncertain morals. Without evil there is no real decision to be made as to which character we resonate with and which we would want to be.

A child ought to be scared of the scary, horrified at the horror, saddened by the tragic, but most of all delighted by the delightful and gladdened by the good. If we keep evil, the safe kind, the story kind, from our children then the good loses its luster. Evil is the backdrop against which good shines brightest, whether it be courage, sacrifice, fidelity, friendship, love, perseverance or any other truly good quality.

What is more, if we remove the evil, the good might cease to exist altogether. Without evil Frodo never would have left the Shire, the stone table never would have broken, and Harry never would have had the fortitude to sacrifice himself for the greater good. And this is true in every great story, including the greatest one. What need would there have been for a savior without a serpent?

Our children need evil. Without it they may miss the truly good.




9 Comments

Jan 03, 2012

So, does this mean my eight year old is old enough to see LOTR? He has been chomping at the bit but so far I have resisted even though I love them!


Jan 04, 2012

I would draw a bit of a distinction between reading and watching certain things. In reading, the evil is as big as the child’s imagination, and that is big enough to scare or horrify the right amount. In viewing, a child a is forced to watch what some adult has determined is scary or evil, and that may be too much. I don’t know what is too much for your son, so I won’t say you “should.” I would encourage him to read the books first or for you to read them with/to him.


Jan 05, 2012

I cannot believe this is coming from the ‘son of a pastor’.
How about getting your mind off garbage like Harry Potter, which God clearly is NOT okay with, and instead re-reading Matthew 6:22-24; Matthew 7:13-14; James 4:4-5…and maybe just the whole NT, and not leading people astray with worldliness? Worse still, telling people their children should be exposed to such ungodliness!


    May 08, 2012

    I cannot believe your response to this excellent post…


Jan 05, 2012

Excellent article! I have always believed this and have exposed my children to real literature, with its evil intact, but with me right be their side (when they were younger.)


Jan 09, 2012

So true. Without evil, there could be no Harry Potter center on hope, love, and loyalty, no LOTR center of honour and justice, and no Narnia center on sacrifice. Incorporating evil into literature transforms “stories” into epics that teach important lessons!


Jan 10, 2012

I was just thinking about the utility of evil the other day and ran into a problem:

If evil can be used to produce character, is it a necessary good?

The sceptic may think, “it’s almost as if God needed Satan to show that He is good. Did God create evil?”

How would you respond?


Jan 10, 2012

It’s a risky thing to say what God “needs”, and I’m not sure we are in a position to do so. I do think we can say, based on what the Bible says, that God does *use* evil and Satan for good, whether or not they are necessary.

How God does this, at the deepest level, is a mystery that people must grapple with and come to terms with. But there are definitive statements in the Bible about God’s sovereignty over evil and Satan.


Jan 16, 2012

This is excellent. I’m really loving your blog and finding it so deep and soul-satisfying to read. Thanks so much for sharing.
I read a great quote the other day by Dan Allender: “The purpose for doing good is to destroy evil.” This reminds me a lot of the things churning in my brain the past few days. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I found your blog!



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