The Lie of Doing Wrong to Do Right

“[T]his is the great Western idea: the proper route forward for the redemption of the individual and for mankind as a whole is as a consequence of the redemption of each individual.” Jordan Peterson

In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes that, in classical works, villains “recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black.”

Real people aren’t that honest, even within ourselves. We work to convince the innermost part of our being that, even if we’re doing something others would consider wrong, we’re doing it for a good reason, so that makes it right.

“[T]o do evil,” Solzhenitsyn says, “a human being must first of all believe that what he is doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.”

Solzhenitsyn dates himself with his mention of natural law–a concept now lost to America–to most of the West. (See Robert Bork.) But Solzhenitsyn was writing in the 1950s about great and obvious evil–the oppression of millions in the Soviet gulag system. And in that day, most still embrace the concept of natural law–of an innate human understanding of right and wrong.

We can credit the existence of natural law with producing the classical villains, the Iagos of Shakespeare, the Bill Sykeses of Dickens, and the Jokers and Riddlers of more modern times. Their authors/creators couldn’t conceive of them not acknowledging their evil.

In reality, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson asserts, as we prepare to do wrong, we either heed or ignore an inner sense that what we are conceiving is wrong.

Peterson has evaluated why we ignore that small voice inside ourselves and has come to a conclusion he believes is universal: We know what’s right, what’s wrong. But we have the capability to convince ourselves that what is wrong can become right.

He warns that we engage in a “very, very dangerous supposition” when we assume that we would choose differently from the way others have in the past. When we assume we wouldn’t kill millions, that we could handle power correctly. That we can do evil but avoid replicating results the past produced when others decided to do evil.

Peterson says, “I came to believe that the problem was as Solzhenitsyn said . . . that the line between good and evil runs down every human heart.”

Any one of us can and will choose wrong–grave evil–unless we guard against it.

Peterson: “[T]he way to stop such things from happening, to remember [them] properly, is to understand that you could do it, that you could do those terrible things because the people who did them were like you.”

In order to avoid doing the evil we are all capable of we must stop telling “yourself lies you don’t believe in.”

Redemption, for Peterson, occurs through “adherence to the truth and courage in the face of being.”

Peterson won’t talk publicly about his beliefs about God. Perhaps those beliefs are still fluid, still taking shape.

Sometimes people come to a moral code for good through God. Sometimes they come to God by recognizing a moral code and our propensity to violate it.

Redemption comes through truth. Christ is truth.

But we can never come to truth by lying to ourselves about who we are and what is good. We can only come to truth by acknowledging the truth about ourselves.

We need to listen to the still small voice that only speaks truth.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14~

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18 Replies to “The Lie of Doing Wrong to Do Right”

  1. I’ve lied to myself to justify doing wrong in the past, and at the time, I had no idea I was doing it! That’s why it’s so important for me to walk with God in every moment, checking it all against God’s truth. On my own I can be easily swayed, but with God, I walk the right path.

  2. As I read this, the first verse that came to mind is Jeremiah 17:9-10:
    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
    Sadly, the easiest person to fool is often ourselves.

  3. I agree with the idea that we are at danger of evil when we believe lies. I enjoyed how you wrapped this up,”Redemption comes through truth. Christ is truth.

    But we can never come to truth by lying to ourselves about who we are and what is good. We can only come to truth by acknowledging the truth about ourselves.”

  4. Tough words to hear. I think all of us, including myself, are capable of evil. We can convince ourselves that good is evil and evil is good when it benefits us. I pray for God’s wisdom to continue to show me His truth. Thanks Nancy

  5. Many years ago, when I was a young bride, I convinced myself that something I was about to do was right (it wasn’t). We use all sorts of excuses to reconcile our wrong choices into right ones. “It’s okay to do this because…” But, your message reminds us of the most vital thing–God is truth and the only way for us to make the right choice is “to humble ourselves and pray”–seek God’s wisdom and truth. He doesn’t lie. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Ooooh, so good, Nancy. I have shared this on social media. 😊

    It’s funny, earlier today I was having a similar conversation with another sister in Christ. The Scripture that came to my mind then (and now) is Jeremiah 17:9 which speaks about how deceitful our hearts really are.

    We can get ourselves into a world of mess by ignoring that still small voice of God that guides us ever so gently. I know I’ve been guilty over and over again. Even though God has been merciful, I’ve still suffered consequences of unwise choices that could have been prevented.

    Letting the peace of God be the umpire for the decisions we make in life is so vitally important to our walk with Christ, and the success in our lives.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. God bless you, sis! ❤️

    1. You’re so right, that we needs God’s direction. During a particularly rough time in my life, I so often reminded myself that I had gotten there on my own. Thanks, Holly. God bless!

  7. Whether or not Peterson is a believer, he certainly understands the human heart, the same with Brene Brown. This paragraph: “In reality, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson asserts, as we prepare to do wrong, we either heed or ignore an inner sense that what we are conceiving is wrong.”

    Conscience, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit guide the believer, and yet we are sinful, and we still have the free agency that allows us to hijack our own pursuit of holiness.

  8. So interesting, Nancy! And I recognize the truth of it. I’m reminded of the main character in Crime and Punishment who recognized the wrong he committed and how it wrecked his soul.

    But real people, on the other hand, find ways to justify the wrong they do. I’ve been guilty of this. The most sobering statement “[T]o do evil,” Solzhenitsyn says, “a human being must first of all believe that what he is doing is good…”

    Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.

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