What is Evil? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where did evil come from? Did God create it? If God is good and made everything perfect, why do we experience suffering?
What is Evil?
Few would deny that people experience what we would call evil. Sickness, war, greed, injustice, and so on. The question is, what is evil? Is it a tangible force? Did God create it?
There is a story told about the nature of evil. In the story, a teacher proposes that God must be evil because God created everything, and evil exists. So, the logic is that God created evil, and therefore, God is evil. In this story, a student challenges this logic using science.
He asks: “Does cold exist?” And the answer is that scientifically cold doesn’t exist. Heat is a real thing; it’s the movement of atoms. Cold is not a thing; it is just the lack of heat.
He makes the same point in relation to darkness. Darkness is not a thing. Light is a thing; it’s a measurable wave. You can add light, but you can’t add darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light.
The story ends with this quote: “Evil does not exist. It is just like the darkness and cold. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart.”
1 John 4:8 (NLT)
“But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
I think this story captures the essence of the Biblical story well. Genesis 1:31 says that when God had finished making everything, it was “very good.” Our good God created a good world, or in other words, a world without evil.
God himself is goodness and love. When people lack goodness or love, it is, in fact, a God deficiency.
Philosopher J. P. Moreland once said: “Evil is a lack of goodness. It is goodness spoiled. You can have good without evil, but you cannot have evil without good.”
So evil is not a substance, but actually the lack thereof. But if God didn’t create it, where did it come from?
Where Did Evil Come From?
After God created the world good, He planted a garden and put humanity in it to take care of it.
Genesis 2:9 (NLT)
The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:16-17 (NLT)
But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
When we say evil in English, there is most often a moral connotation connected with it. Ra does not necessarily have that connotation. If we take this tree at its most basic meaning and face value, really, it’s about knowing good and bad.
Why would God not want humans to have that? Why would He tell them to eat from it? Well, we have the benefit of history to show us why.
When humans take the job of deciding good and bad for themselves, what happens? Take one look at the news. Humanity has done a very poor job of being its own moral judge. Invariably, when left up to us, we redefine good and bad into whatever benefits us the most.
So rather than give Adam and Eve this responsibility. Instead, He asks them to trust. They were not to decide good and bad- they were only to trust what God said- live in paradise, take care of the garden, eat whatever you want, but trust me in this one area.
Why Give Them The Choice?
Now we can ask why God even gave them a choice to trust or not in the first place. Because love is not love if it is not a choice. Have you noticed that when a couple gets engaged, the guy doesn’t say, “you have to marry me; you have no choice.” Not only is that not romantic, but it also probably wouldn’t go over well!
Rather he says, “will you marry me.” You see, we instinctively understand that for love to be love, there needs to be a choice not to love. What makes romance romantic is two people choosing each other over all others.
God is love, and wants to love us, and wants us to love Him. So, He had to give humanity a choice. God didn’t create evil. God is love, He gave humanity love, and He waited to see what they would choose.
Genesis 3:6 (NLT)
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.
Adam and Eve decided it would be better to decide good and bad on their own terms rather than trusting God. And it can be easier to blame Adam and Eve for all our problems, yet how often do you and I decide what is good and bad on our own terms rather than trusting God?
When they rejected God’s love, they left a vacuum. That vacuum, that lack of God’s love, is what we call evil. It’s whenever we decide to do things our way instead of trusting God. Evil came from the choice not to trust God. It started in Eden, but it happens every day in all of our lives.
Romans 3:23 (NLT)
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Suffering is a Result of Distrust
Genesis 3 goes on to show the consequences of that evil. Relationships are damaged, suffering results, and even the earth is broken. The Bible claims that all the suffering and evil in the world today- injustice, sickness, even natural disasters are the result of the choice not to trust God- sin.
Not only did sin break the physical world, but sin separates us from God spiritually. Because of sin, none of us can stand before God. Hell us a place where people are forever separated from God. Since we chose our way over God’s way in this life, He is being just and fair if He sends us to hell in the next. (Romans 5:12 and Romans 6:2).
God told Adam and Eve if they ate from the tree, they would die. (Genesis 2:16-17). They did not physically die at that moment; that came later since they could no longer eat from the tree of life. But as soon as they sinned, they spiritually died and were cut off from access to God.
Not everything we experience is the direct result of our own moral wrongdoing- but the claim of the Bible is that all suffering can be traced back to our decision not to live in the world God’s way. That choice is what broke the world, and we experience the effects of that brokenness.
What is the Solution to Evil?
That is where evil came from, but rather than leave us in that state, God dealt with the problem of evil once and for all in Jesus.
Romans 3:24-25 (NLT)
Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.
Although evil is a real issue in our world today, and we are all at fault, by believing in Jesus, we are forgiven of our contributions to this fallen world and can look forward to a day when all will be made new!
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