Why Do People Do Evil?
Updated: Feb 2
One of my former youth ministry students asked me to respond to the theme, “Why do people do evil?” My responses to her questions are below. Although just scratching the surface of a very complex conversation, these are some clues about the causes, desires, and actions of evil.
> In your profession, what part of the population do you serve?
Working at a church, I serve people from all walks of life and all generations. This is both a beautiful privilege and a unique challenge. It is a privilege because I get to see the young and old inspire each other and grow together. I get to see people who are farther along in their maturity walk with those who need guidance and help them take steps forward. This is a challenge because generations understand things differently and have different preferences. To meet the needs of all these people is a challenge.
> What types of trauma have you encountered and provided rehabilitation for?
Marriage conflict, family brokenness, marriage infidelity, pornography addiction, identity crises, sexual identity struggles, and addictions of all kinds.
> What outcomes can you share in terms of victims overcoming trauma?
I have seen transformation in people’s lives who realize Jesus Christ understands their trauma, was with them in it, and can heal them from it. Individuals who realize their life experiences (both positive and negative) provide opportunities to shape their identity can learn to thrive. Instead of getting stuck as a victim of trauma, they can learn to be victors by trusting that Christ is working all that they’ve been through for their good.
“..We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” -Romans 8:28
It doesn’t make logical sense that God could use trauma for our good, but those who believe this promise see how he does it. The the broken couple who did the hard work of healing is an inspiration to other couples who are about to throw in the towel. What once threatened to separate a marriage is now being used to help a marriage stay together. Only God can do that kind of healing and restoration!
> How has your work impacted you personally?
I would be lying to say all the people I work with find breakthrough. In the end, counsel is no good until acted upon. Life change depends upon the individual to act on the truth and new understanding they’ve learned. If they will not do the hard work to apply what they’ve learned to their lives, they will not change. That said, when I witness people who do apply truth to their lives and allow God to transform them, there is tremendous satisfaction for me.
When I have conversations with people who are hungry to learn and grow, who are willing to confront their own stubbornness, who allow Christ into their hurts to heal them, I come alive with new life. Their steps of growth light me on fire with a passion to help others become who they were meant to be.
God has greatness in store for each and every person on the planet, but Satan wants to steal, kill and destroy that greatness so we will never realize it (John 10:10).
Those who overcome the Great Enemy by the power of Christ and their story (Revelation 12:11) can continue to take steps to activate and fulfill their potential. It is my greatest passion in life to help people do this.
> What advice can you provide that may enable an individual to overcome trauma in his/her life?
In a nutshell, I tell them, "God created you. He knows you and what you’ve been through. He’s been with you every step of your life, including the trauma that you faced. He grieves with you. He hurts with you. And He can heal you."
Your scars can tell the story of God’s glory. He can transform your biggest mess into your greatest message.
"Let Him show you how. Let others walk with you to help you realize this. When you get stuck and feel like you need professional help from a counselor, don’t hesitate, don’t think about what people will think about you, don’t think about how much it will cost, JUST GO!
Counselors are trained to help you heal on the inside. They are doctors of the soul. Let them work on you to help you find healing.”
> What do you think makes people be violent or cause trauma to those you work with?
This is a very complex question that I won’t claim to resolve in my response, but I do know what starts the whole process of violence. God designed us to do good to one another. Those who act violently toward others have been derailed from their design. Here’s what causes them to go off the tracks…
“Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” -James 1:14-15
Evil actions start with desires: evil, selfish emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and actions that are not shut down. When we allow these evil desires to take root in our lives, they entice us – capture our hearts and our affections. They hook us, change us, distort our conscience.
When this happens, we are dragged away from the natural moral law God has stitched to our souls. We walk off the path of life and start heading down the path of death. This movement away from truth and life causes us to move toward sinful, broken actions. The more we grow in this sinful way of life, the more we cause trauma and death in ourselves and others.
> Do you think that people know and are aware that they are doing “evil” when they are doing it (or after they do it), or do they see nothing wrong with their actions?
At first, they know they are doing wrong because their conscience warns them. But after continually ignoring their conscience, it becomes numb and they justify what they do. Once their conscience is numbed, their moral compass is broken. There is no longer a guide to right and wrong. Everything is acceptable as long as they have the urge to do it.
It is not possible to classify right and wrong without a moral compass to guide our decisions. Without a moral guide, anything can be justified as a right thing to do.
> Is evil a choice or an ingrained characteristic in a person?
Evil is a progression. It starts with evil desire left unchecked that turns into evil action that is allowed to grow and results in many forms of death. I believe all people are created in the image and likeness of God. All people are destined for goodness and greatness. Those who do evil are consciously choosing to turn away from the goodness God created them to live in. Some do evil as a result of trauma in their lives. Those who were sexually abused as a child are more likely to abuse others. In order to break free of this pattern, those who have been wounded need to be transformed by renewing their minds with truth in the presence of an infinite God who can heal and restore every person who has experienced trauma (Romans 12:1-2).
> What are some actions people in general could take to stop evil from thriving in our society?
Instead of following the evil progression listed above, they can learn to follow godly desire, which gives birth to life-building actions. When these actions are allowed to grow, they result in many forms of life. Choose to serve others over self. Listen to the voice of conscience instead of numbing it. Let the time-tested truth of Scripture and morality guide your decisions, actions, and identity. Fight for what is good. Ruthlessly eradicate evil every opportunity you get. Speak up against injustice. Fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
> Has your perception of people, evil, and/or trauma changed since you started working in your field and how?
No, it has only gotten more crystal clear. My experience has proved all that I have written above is true in real life.