God and Evil: A Biblical Understanding
Unscriptural Beliefs Regarding Evil
The age-old question for many people is: "If what the Bible tells us about the Lord of the universe is true; if He is both all-powerful and He is loving, then why is there evil? Why doesn't He do something about it?" There is so much pain and disease. And there are so many innocent people who have to endure the most horrible atrocities. Where was God during the Holocaust, for instance? Or why does our Creator allow children to suffer from cancer or be kidnapped by child sex traffickers?
There are three erroneous conclusions that many make about this problem of evil. The first is that this is proof that God doesn't exist. Some would say that evil is consistent with a world without God but isn't consistent with a world that has a Creator.
The second error is that God is not all-powerful. He would really like to do something about the injustice in the world. He is trying His best but just can't do it.
The third and final error is that God is not really a God of love. If He has the capacity to right all of the wrongs in this universe that are happening, and that have happened throughout history, but sits there and does nothing then he simply cannot be loving. The people who believe this see God as either a sadist, enjoying the pain of those creatures whom He created, or he just doesn't care what happens to them at all.
Well, Scripture teaches against all three of these extreme views regarding God. While acknowledging the evil in this world, it also tells us that we have a Creator who is completely in control of everything that happens and is, at the same time, a God of immense love for the creatures that He has fashioned in His image.
So how can these truths be reconciled? In order to answer that question, we need to know several truths taught in the Bible. But first, let us look at a definition of evil.
I. Evil is a Lack of the Good
Those who think that evil in the world is a reason to deny that there is a God don't really understand what good and evil are. Evil cannot exist unless there is a standard to judge what is right and wrong. Just like darkness is not a thing in and of itself, it is a lack of light; evil is a lack of good. A Christian philosopher, J.P. Mooreland said it best:
" “Evil is a lack of goodness. It is goodness spoiled. You can have good without evil, but you cannot have evil without good."
In the beginning, God created things as He wanted them to be and said that they were good. He created life to work a certain way and anything that goes against that standard is sin and it is evil. Knowing these things, let us look at the truths the Bible teaches us about this horrible and persistent problem of evil.
II. There Was No Evil in the Original Creation
Scripture teaches us that: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." He made all that there is in six days from nothing by speaking it into existence and rested on the seventh from all the labor that he had done (Genesis 1-2:3). His original creation was perfect and there was no evil. There was no disease, death or natural and man-made disasters. The universe was pristine and pure from the hand of God.
If we look at the Lord's assessment of creation in the book of Genesis, we see Him say this:
"God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day" (Genesis 1:31).
So, if that is the case, what went wrong? The book of Genesis and the Apostle Paul place the blame on Adam for sin in this world and the curse that happened because of it (Genesis 3:1-18; Romans 5:12). So disease and death take place because of Adam's original sin and the sin nature that we inherited from him. We are sinners by inheritance or nature and by choice. Paul tells us that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
We can see how the evil of natural disasters, sickness, and death were never meant to be by looking at what Paul has to say about the present created world. In Romans 8:18-24 he tells us how the created universe was affected by the curse of sin. He says:
" For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
It is doubtful that Adam and Eve knew the complete ramifications of that one act of rebellion in the Garden of Eden and how it would take a Savior to die on a cross to rid mankind and the world from the horrible consequences of the curse of sin that we see on a daily basis. But despite all the problems that their act of sin caused, they were not the originators of evil. That dubious distinction goes to the one in the garden who was tempting Eve to disobey God. The book of Genesis calls him "the Serpent." He was Lucifer, but now he's known as Satan or the Devil.
III. Satan's Rebellion was the First Evil
God's Word really doesn't tell us when the fall of Satan took place, but we can surmise that it was sometime after the creation of the universe and before the fall of man. If God could say on the sixth day that everything that he made was "very good" then Lucifer had to be included in that since he also was a creation of Almighty God (Genesis 1:31). But he soon went from Lucifer which means "light bearer", to Satan, the great adversary of God and all that is good.
One of the passages which theologians believe is a description of the fall of Satan is found in Ezekiel 28. Ezekiel starts out talking about the King of Tyre, but then goes on to discuss a person who clearly isn't he. He is the supernatural one who is empowering this wicked king. The prophet writes :
“Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created, they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire, you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you" (Ezekiel 28:12-15).
And just what is the great sin that tempted Satan to rebel against his creator? If we look at the book of Isaiah we can see that it was pride that lead to his fall. He, who was a beautiful and intelligent creation of God wanted to be more. He wanted to be as God. Isaiah 14 tells us:
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!“ But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit. (14:12-15).
It was that same sin of pride that lead to Satan's downfall which Satan himself used in tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. He told her that if she would eat of the forbidden fruit that she and Adam would be "as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4,5). And with that deception of Eve and Adam's willing disobedience, sin entered the beautiful world that God made. And we have been feeling its repercussions ever since.
But ultimately it is not Satan that is to blame for the mess that we are in. Man didn't need to give into the lies and temptation of the Devil. We are to blame for the evil in this world. As Walt Kelley said in his classic comic strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us!"
The sad thing is that the wages or payment for sin is death. Each of us without Christ is now spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and had to be given new life in order to be saved (Ephesians 2:1-3). Someone had to do something or we were headed to an eternity in Hell. The Bible teaches that there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves (Titus 3:5). If we were to be saved and evil destroyed, it would have to come from another source other than ourselves. Fortunately, the Bible solves this dilemma.
IV. God Has Done Something About Evil
We now need to answer the questions that plague us: "If God is Holy and loving, then why did he allow evil in the first place and why doesn't he do something about it?
To answer the first question, we need look no further than seeing that the Lord made us with free will. If He had made robots that He could program, then there would be no possibility for evil ever occurring. However, you cannot make a universe in which creatures have a will of their own without allowing for the possibility of rebellion and sin. God wanted creatures who would worship and serve him freely and not those who could do nothing except bring Him glory by their obedience. However, if they could freely serve Him, they could also choose not to do so as well.
But what about the second question? Why doesn't God do something about evil? The answer, according to Scripture, is that He has! Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God became a man, that he might live a perfect life on this earth for 33 years and die on the cross for our sins as our substitute. He took our sins upon Himself and gave to us His righteousness through faith in Him. Paul says it best in II Corinthians 5. The great Apostle tells us:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (5:17-21).
Jesus made it possible for all who come to Him by faith to be saved from sin and evil and to be reconciled to God. And he rose from the dead so that one day believers in Christ will live in a world without murder, or child abuse or theft etc. It will be a New Heaven and a New Earth without the mourning or crying or pain and death caused by sin (Revelation 21:1-4).
Some may ask: "Then why doesn't He do something about the present evil? Why isn't sin dealt with immediately?" I would answer that by saying that I'm glad he didn't do it before I was saved. We should be grateful for the patience of God. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth (II Peter 3:8-10). The justice of God may seem slow but it is sure.
However, there is another fact that we can tell people who don't think God sees and acts upon the present evil that we have all around us. That is where the Church comes in.
V. God Uses the Church to Lessen Evil Presently
There is an old public service announcement from years ago for the Peace Corp, which is a volunteer organization run by the U.S. government to help other cultures and do things that promote world peace. The add ended this way: "Don't ask what the Peace Corp is doing. Ask what you are doing."
The same thing can be said of the Body of Christ. Jesus is not presently on the earth. We are now his hands and his feet to bring the Gospel of God's Grace to a lost and dying world. Paul calls us Christ's ambassadors in II Corinthians 5:19-21. And with that, we are also to be the salt to lessen the decay of sin and to bring some flavor into a tasteless society (Matthew 5:13). It is our duty to alleviate the pain, suffering, and sadness caused by sin anywhere and anytime we can. The good news of salvation is not just spiritual. It includes helping the widow and orphan and anyone who cannot help themselves (James 1:27; Galatians 2:10; II Corinthians 8:1-15).
God has given us all gifts (I Corinthians 12). And with those gifts, the Lord has placed people in our path that we can serve in a tangible way every day of our lives that we live in this world. Evil is still present in the universe. However, everywhere that God's people are, we should be overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21). So rather than asking what God is doing about the horrible conditions that are all around the world, we need to ask ourselves, "Have I done anything today to make life better for someone else in need?" If not, then instead of blaming God, we each need to blame ourselves!
William E. Brown tells a story about an atheist farmer from the Midwest who hated religion and those of faith. As he plowed his field one Sunday morning and Christians passed on their way to church he would shake his fist at them.
In October, it turns out that this pagan farmer had the best crop in the entire county. When it was completely harvested he decided to put an ad in the local paper belittling Christians for their faith. At the end of his diatribe, he wrote this: "Faith in God must not mean much if someone like me can prosper!"
Well, the following week, the local Christians put a polite but pointed response to the man in the paper. Their response was this: "God doesn't always settle His accounts in October."
Our God hates evil more than we do and He would never let it go unchecked and unjudged. He has done something about it. Further, He is using us to alleviate the pain and suffering in this age. And finally, there will come a time when evil will be no more. As the hymn writer has so beautifully said: "The wrong will fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth good will to men." God will have His day and we who are His people will live in a world without the curse of evil. What a day that will be! May God make it so! Amen!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley