Evil

Q. What is evil?

A. Some people, including many college professors, say that evil is the absence of good. That is not correct. Evil is the perversion of what is good.  To describe it merely as the absence of good is almost like an optical illusion.  Evil is real, drawing its reality from created things; it is the perversion and corruption of God's good creation.  This makes evil more heinous than it would be if it was simply the absence of some good in some thing.  Evil originates in Lucifer, the devil, and it resides in the fallen human nature.  Inanimate objects and the actions of nature cannot rightly be described as evil (Ex: A hurricane is not evil, although it brings disaster. The hurricane may well be an instrument of eternal good in the hands of a sovereign God).

The Bible separates evil from God's creation in Genesis 1, 2, and 3.  At the end of Genesis 1, God looks at all He has created and declares it "very good," just as He declared things "good" at the end of each day of creation.  We see a picture of a good world without evil in Genesis 2, where God, man, woman and creatures dwell in a sinless harmony.  In Genesis 3, an evil creature, Satan, introduces evil as an option for Adam and Eve.  God had warned them in Genesis 2:17, saying, "In the day that you eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall surely die."  This "knowledge" of good and evil indicates that good and evil are two opposite realities, and not merely good or the absence of it.  Sin is the radical source of all evil, without sin, things are naturally good, as God created them to be.

Evil is not only the corruption of God's good creation, but also presented in the Bible as God's punishment for sin.  Theologians call this "penal" evil, in contrast to God's blessing and wellbeing.  God judges sin, and one of His judgments is to allow men to experience the evil results of their evil deeds.  In so doing, God does not become the source or author of evil, but rather displays his sovereignty of using evil for holy purposes (i.e., the judgment of sin).  We call the natural ramifications of sin and the resultant sufferings sin brings the “remedial judgment” of a good God.

Q. Where does evil come from?

A. There are times in the Bible where God is said to cause or bring disaster upon men.  Isaiah states in Isaiah 31:2 that the Lord can bring disaster, but "disaster" is not synonymous with evil.  Jeremiah asks the probing question: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" (Lamentations 3:38).   James 1:13 tells us that "God cannot be tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone;" hence, God can never be the source of evil even though He may sovereignly allow it or "cause it" in the rightful course of His government and judgment of a fallen creation.  The Bible clearly teaches that God hates evil and that God is essentially good (that is, in His essential nature - the very essence of who He is).  But it also teaches that God can use evil to do His good.  Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”  (Genesis 50:20).  God is sovereign even over human evil (Romans 8:28).

The devil, unlike humans, is not partly evil and partly good.  The Scripture indicates that no good thing dwells within him.  The reason this is so is that angelic nature is vastly different from human nature.  Angels are spiritual beings, pure spirits.  That means that they are "simple in nature," as God is.  Human beings, on the other hand, are complex in nature, being both body and soul.  God and angels possess a form of immutability.  God is eternally immutable - He cannot/does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).  Angels appear to have been given a time of probation in which they chose whether to be good or evil (see Revelation 12:7-9).  Once they chose good or evil, they were locked into that state.  This means, for example, that Michael, the archangel, can now choose only to do good; and Lucifer can now choose only to do evil.  This is why the devil will not and cannot respond to the Gospel; he cannot repent because repentance necessitates change.  If Lucifer were partly good, there would remain in him the potential for repentance, faith, and obedience.  The Bible teaches that this is not possible for him.

Q. Why does evil exist?

A. This whole subject is the theological topic of theodicy - or why a good God permits evil in His world.  Ultimately, this question cannot be answered.  Nor does the Bible answer the question of theodicy.  The book of Job is the classic text dealing with theodicy.  In the end, God never explains to Job why such disastrous things impacted his life, or why he permitted Satan, the evil one, to afflict Job, the righteous one.  But God does confront Job with these two realities:  His complete righteousness and Job's limited goodness.  It is the sin of Job that God questions in the end of the book, not the question of evil.  This forces us to accept three truths and to live within this triangle: the perfect goodness of God, the complete evil of the devil, and the evil nature of our fallen humanity.

This is the prelude to the Gospel: Christ came in perfect goodness and righteousness to atone for the evil in you and me and to call us to repent of evil and to do good.  Christ has triumphed over evil, and evil by its very nature cannot sustain itself over time.  Every evil construct will inevitably implode upon itself.  The innate goodness of God's creation and the righteous dominion of Jesus Christ will bring all evil structures and sinful patterns to an end.  Our comfort in the midst of evil in a fallen world is Jesus Christ.  The Son of God became incarnate (i.e., took on human flesh and human nature) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  He encountered the world’s evil firsthand.  He suffered evil, even to the point of death on a cross, “killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).  His resurrection guarantees the ultimate victory of God over all that is evil.  God does not tell us why we suffer and experience evil in this world.  But He does suffer with us in Christ.  God has not distanced Himself from evil, nor is He disinterested in human suffering.  Quite the contrary.

God triumphs over evil in Jesus Christ.  John tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” – evil (1 John 3:8).  And the last words of Jesus Christ in the Bible are the promise of a new world without evil: “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).  The Bible ends with this triumphant statement:  "Now the Kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever"  (Revelation 11:15)