On my own, I seek refuge from what I think is harmful and dangerous, disagreeable or hideous, cruel, unjust and the like. I don’t want to be touched by harm or pain, grief and despair, death and illness, from ignorance and poverty and so on. These are what I would say (or something like these) if I were asked what do/should I seek refuge from as a human being. This, incidentally, is not what I find revelation claiming. Revelation claims, among other things, that I seek refuge from “the evil of whatever that He created.” What is NOT remarkable or new here is that i should seek refuge from evil. What is new for me is the claim that refuge is to be sought from the evil of what/whatever He created.
What then is the difference between evil (plain and simple as I already judge it to be) and the “evil of what/whatever He created” that revelation speaks about? In a word, my idea of evil is based on what is lacking – for instance the non-existence of health (hence illness is evil to me). Revelation’s idea of evil is the opposite – it is the evil of what exists (what He created). What difference does this make to my life? What is revealed to me that i can say is true or false?
The claim this verse makes to me is that all created beings, insofar as they are created and hence not self-existent, self-sustaining and self-perpetuating, would be beings that are evil for a creature like me – they would be beings that are subject to imperfections, limitations, death and decay. If my relationship is with created beings alone and they are themselves my refuge – the ones that I count on to provide me all that I need (life, health, beauty, perfection and so on), they would fail me, betray me and would become evil for me EXCEPT that I seek refuge with their maker and my maker, God, as the source of such created beings. The evil of created beings for a creature like me, who hastily and without reflection takes things and beings to be the sources of the qualities and benefits they bear. No one needs to tell me that lack is evil (I already know this). What I need to be reminded about are the things that I don’t see lacking anything (health for instance). Health as a created being, something that depends on the command of another, its owner and sustainer, the Health-giver, can become something I want and something I expect to have. And my expectation (herein lies my stupidity) is that health itself would comply with my need/wish and be there for me. Life too. Life will keep giving itself to me. I never quite think how or why this is true. I assume it and take it for granted, with the result that when a healthy being becomes ill or when a living being dies, I feel health and life themselves are gone! These unpredictable, transient beings, revelation claims, are evil to me! They are created beings and I sought refuge in them as if they were themselves the source of their being. It claims that I need to seek refuge from them with their sustainer/lord so that when a living being dies, i would feel/see that it has returned to the Life-giver from which it was receiving its life as a created being. Living beings, beings subject to death, would not then be evil for me. Without seeking refuge with the Lord, the Living One, who creates beings that are living with His Life, I would find life something that brings me great evil – the loss of such a precious thing is as big an evil as the thing is precious. I understand this.
And so I am reminded (and I find it a truthful reminder) that it is not just that the lack is evil, but that since all beings are created, if I do not relate them and hence myself to their creator and do not see them as signs of my Lord’s existence and His qualities, they would be evil for me. And since they are created beings, I need to seek refuge from the evil of created beings with their Lord (who is the Lord of all – the Lord of the heavens and the earth). The verse asks me to check if I am in the safe embrace of my sustainer or whether I am seeking safety with created beings themselves (in which case it claims there is much evil in them for me).
may God be my refuge always. and yours should you find Him to be a worthy refuge.