The aftermath of yesterday’s root canal is a sore mouth, a swollen jaw, and fatigue. I can’t do much about soreness or swelling, except be patient, but I can give in to fatigue. It isn’t my nature to do so. So I am having to heed advice from several readers: “get some rest,” “take it easy.”

That turns out to mean specific actions: stay home from the office, eat a simple PB&J for lunch, do some writing but not all the writing I wanted to do, and get ready for an “NCIS Marathon” tonight. Let lethargy win for once.

California coast above San Francisco

FAITH Q & A: How do you perceive evil?

Q: How do you perceive evil? I was certain we all are very capable of evil thoughts and deeds; that evil came from within, from our shadow or dark side, but now I’m not so sure. Can it be that evil also exists as a “roaring lion,” coming from without as well as from within? And if so, how do we use the power of Christ to defeat evil?

A: It’s tempting to personify evil, just as we personify God. Thus the fallen angel, a figure named Satan with voice and physical presence, waiting to ensnare us. It’s no less tempting to portray evil as a vague reality like shadow side or darkness, which we can recognize and seek to avoid. It’s tempting, finally, to consider all manner of bad behavior and bad choices as evil.

I think evil, by its nature, defies all such shorthand. Evil can be an inhabiting, an infestation, like the ugly presence in a child molester’s eyes that made author Scott Peck shudder. Evil can be a weakness that crosses a line, say, from anger to murder, or from lust to rape. Peck saw laziness as evil. Some evil seems localized in a person or family. But then you have something like the Holocaust, in which millions lost their moorings and committed unspeakable crimes.

Maybe that is a way of saying that evil tends to be a surprise and not easily recognized, insidious and not predictable. Evil’s aim is to destroy, and evil will use whatever tools are at hand. Jesus saw wealth and power as making people uniquely susceptible to evil.

Sin, in the sense of turning away from God, seemed something different, something correctable through repentance and avoidable through sound teaching.

I doubt that we will ever defeat evil. Evil seems baked into the human condition. Rather, we gain from faith the power to stand over against evil, as Jesus did in the wilderness.

Inset photo above isn’t about evil, but hope. A bride and groom pose at Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, NYC.