EVIL

If Christians believe in a God of love and power who created and controls the world, how can they explain the presence and power of evil in the world? This question commonly puzzles people, but the Bible gives no direct answer to it. As usual the Bible’s response to the problem is practical rather than theoretical. It is more concerned with helping people develop character than with satisfying intellectual curiosity. And as people accept that help, they receive answers to some of the problems (cf. John 7:17). (Concerning the superior knowledge that Gnostics claimed to have regarding good and evil see KNOWLEDGE.)

Human nature

God created the world good and he wanted the people of his creation to enjoy it with him (Gen 1:31; 1 Tim 4:4; Heb 4:4,10). But since he created them as morally responsible beings with a freedom to make their own decisions, the possibility existed that they might misuse their freedom. They might choose to do what they knew they should not do (Gen 2:15-17). Maturity would come through making correct moral choices. The self-denial involved in rejecting tempting alternatives would strengthen character (cf. Heb 5:8,14). God wanted people to live in a relationship of love with him and with their fellow human beings; but they could not love if they were not free. If they were robots, they could do what their maker programmed them to do, but they could not love or enjoy anything. However, as freedom produced the possibility of devotion and goodness, so also it produced the possibility of rebellion and evil. Evil was not a product of the creative activity of God, but a product of the wrong use of freedom by morally responsible beings (Gen 3:1-7; James 1:12-13).

Life in a spoiled world

The Bible commonly speaks of evil in two different but related ways. Firstly, it speaks of evil in a moral sense similar to that considered above, where evil is the opposite of moral goodness (Prov 8:13; Jer 7:24; Micah 2:1; Matt 5:45; 15:19; Rom 7:19,21; 2 Thess 3:2; for details see SIN). Satan, through whom this evil entered the human race, is fittingly called ‘the evil one’ (Gen 3:1; Matt 13:19; 1 John 2:13; 5:19; see SATAN). Secondly, the Bible speaks of evil in a more general sense, where it refers to calamities, conflicts, sufferings, misfortunes and even to things such as bad health and bad fruit. The word again means the opposite of good, but with a non-moral meaning (Deut 7:15; 2 Sam 15:14; Matt 7:17; Luke 16:25). Yet there is a connection between these two uses of ‘evil’. Because the evil of sin has infected the world, calamities and misfortunes have become part of life in the world. When the Old Testament says that God sends both good and evil, it is referring not to moral good and moral evil, but to life’s blessings and troubles. Israelites in Old Testament times acknowledged God’s overall control in all the affairs of life, both good and bad (Job 2:10; Isa 45:7). They saw that the evils of conflict, disaster and destruction were often God’s means of punishing the wicked (1 Sam 16:14; Jer 35:17; Amos 3:6).

No cause for despair

Although the entrance of sin into the world has spoiled God’s purposes for the human race, it has not overthrown them. God can bring good out of evil (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28). The troubles of life are not always God’s judgments for specific wrongdoings. God usually does not explain why particular evils occur or why people suffer from them. Nevertheless, he consistently uses those evils to bring positive benefits (Hab 1:13; 3:17-19; Luke 13:1-5; John 9:2-3; 2 Cor 12:7-9; see SUFFERING). This, however, does not excuse the people who cause the evils (Isa 10:5-11; Jer 51:5-10,34-36; Matt 26:24; Acts 2:23; Rom 3:8). Probably the most feared of all evils is death, but God uses even death to fulfil his purposes for good. Through death he has conquered death and delivered people from the power of evil (Heb 2:14; see DEATH). Through Christ’s death, believers can enjoy victory over evil while still living in the present evil world (Rom 6:7-11,14; Gal 1:4; see SALVATION). They will enjoy final victory when Christ returns to remove all evil, even to its last trace, and bring in God’s new heaven and new earth (1 Cor 15:25-28; Rev 21:4,27; 22:1-3).

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