The origin of evil
What is evil. The origin of evil in the universe. The cosmic conflict between good and evil. Why does a good God allow an existence of evil?
Good God—Bad World. Why?
Gene Roddenberry, creator of science-fiction TV drama Star Trek, made the point starkly: “We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.”
As a script for the universe, the reality of evil points against the goodness of God, as so many have recognized. In fact the very existence of evil is the number one objection to God. For example:
- If God is all good, then He is not all powerful. If God is all powerful, then He is not all good. Norman Mailer
- The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis. Bertrand Russell
- It’s not that I don’t accept God—it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept. Dostoevsky
- The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. John Stott
- The only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist. Friedrich Nietzsche
- The problem of evil…Why does God permit it? Or, if God is omnipotent, in which case permission and creation are the same, why did God create it? Sir William Temple
The Greek philosopher Epicurus framed it well some twenty-three centuries ago:
“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so, cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are both able and willing. If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can, but will not, than they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, then they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, how does it exist?”
So either God is not all-powerful—because he does not remove evil even though he can.
Or God is not all-knowing—since he cannot know or admit that evil exists.
Or God is not all-good—since he either created or permits evil to exist.
Or to phrase it classically, in the words of sixth century Boethius: “If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good?”
So what’s going on?
The argument is surely right. Either God could end evil, and does not, or is not powerful, and cannot.
So if God is truly good, and evil does exist, then what? Then there must be another answer. And the answer must be that there are deeper reasons than this simplistic “either/or.”
Imagine the scenario. You are confronted by someone who calls you all the names under the sun. Liar, cheat, extortioner, blackmailer, attacker, thief, rapist, even murderer. How do you respond?
You defend yourself. You reject the charges. You complain that they are completely and utterly wrong.
But your accuser continues to maintain your “crimes.” You protest your innocence.
And you’re into a childish game from the playground saying “’Tis so, ’tisn’t so!”
A no-win situation. The only way out is to examine the evidence and demonstrate truth. And that’s where we all are right now in the ongoing cosmic conflict.
The situation in the beginning is described in the last book of the Bible—Revelation. Here is revealed that “there was war in heaven.” Revelation 12:7. Interesting! To most people, heaven is the place of perfect peace and tranquillity. So how could there be war in heaven, the place of perfection? What went wrong—right there in the heart of God’s government? What was the war in heaven about? And how is it being resolved?
The cause of the conflict came from the choice of Lucifer. As the highest created being in God’s universe, this “being of light” (Lucifer means light-bringer) had freedom to choose. Ultimately his choice was to go his own way and to challenge the character of God, the legitimacy of divine government. The story is told briefly in Ezekiel under the representation of the King of Tyre: “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god…’ You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you… Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.” Ezekiel 28:2, 12, 13-15, 17 NIV.
In other words, Lucifer decided he could be greater than God and do a better job!
Isaiah adds some further details that explain the self-centred motivation of this challenge to God: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star [=Lucifer], son of the dawn…You said in your heart, ‘I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:12‑14 NIV.
The Devil’s highest ambition is to be like God, yet use all the tools that God would never use! His greatest device in his rebellion against God is defamation. He even had the gall to demand worship of God himself, when God came as Christ to this world: “The devil took him [Jesus] to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour.’ All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” Matthew 4:8, 9 NIV.
The Devil charges God with his own nature—evil, selfish, vindictive, cruel, severe…. He says that God is not to be trusted—in fact, to be opposed and fought against. He wages an ongoing spiritual war, full of lies and deceptions, that stretches down to the present, vilifying and misrepresenting the truth about God. The Devil claims to know best—and calls God a liar.
Lucifer ended up not only deceiving others, but deluding himself into exchanging falsehood for truth. Right from the beginning, Satan has been lying about the kind of person God is.
How does God respond to this challenge to not only His authority, but to the very nature of truth and right? By demanding obedience? By asserting right based on divine power? By eliminating the source of this perversion? By killing Lucifer? No.
Ultimately Lucifer is ejected from heaven, having had the opportunity to demonstrate his character and methods. Jesus recalls the scene: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18 NIV). Yet Satan, the Accuser, continues his attack on God and His truth, and we are part of it. Which is why we become “a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men,” (1 Corinthians 4:9 NIV), a demonstration of God’s answer.
Why is there evil and suffering? Because the Devil chose this way, which is the opposite of God. And we have bought into the Devil’s way, and experience the consequences of trying to go our own way. Not under the punitive hostility of God, but because choosing wrong instead of right has its own natural results.
Restoring trust and demonstrating truth and right takes time. The ongoing battle reveals that lies, deceptions, innuendoes, gossip, misrepresentations all require much time to refute. And to refute the charges against His character, God could not simply say, “They’re not true!” To prove the charges false, God has to show His true nature in practice over time, to reveal to everyone that the Devil is wrong in his accusations.
While God wants trustworthy friends, the Devil enslaves those he forces to submit to his demands. “God seeks comrades and claims love, The Devil seeks slaves and claims obedience,” writes Rabindranath Tagore.
You pick up some new piece of equipment. You put all the parts on the floor ready for assembly. And then you pick up the instructions. “Place knurled wheel (5) over sprocket (b) until it engages threaded spline (f2) and the grommet (see fig. 31) achieves a convoluted spiral.” You shake your head in confusion at such an apparently meaningless piece of “help”.
So you call in a friend who’s an expert with this particular item. “Oh yes” he says, “That’s easy.” And he picks up the pieces and there before your very eyes the many bits are put together until assembly is complete. “And this is how it works…”
A real demonstration—and once you’ve seen it, you say “Yes, of course!”
That’s why we are still here in a world of evil—not because God cannot and will not end it, but because of the higher cause of demonstration. Without this time of proof, the charges of Lucifer would never be answered. Words are not enough—we all have to see the inevitable results.
The question at heart is: who can be trusted? Who is telling the truth? Who is right, and who is wrong? The great controversy is between Christ and Satan, and the situation in which we find ourselves provides the evidence from which we must make our decision. Is God the cold-hearted tyrant, the divine dictator, as the Devil suggests? Or is the truth with God, and the ongoing battle the process by which the Devil’s lies are made plain?
The heart of a good God aches to heal this world of evil, to wipe away every tear from every eye, to be with his people and be their God, face to face. (See Revelation 21 and 22). But because he is God, and he wants all to understand him and love him without compulsion, he waits. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 NIV. Something to be happy about!
Why is there evil and suffering? Because the Devil chose this way, which is the opposite of God. How can we say that God is uncaring, that he willingly allows sin and suffering? So often we or the Devil cause evil, and then all of us blame God!
Think for a moment. What is the alternative? For God to intervene in every situation? To stop the car crashing, to prevent the earthquake, to defuse the terrorist’s bomb? The result would be a world in which evil is never seen for what it truly is, for it never has its diabolical consequences—a world of eternal evil that can have no end.
Only as the conflict is resolved through the unmasking of evil’s real face, only as God is demonstrated to be the loving, compassionate Being he says he is, only as all his creation agrees with him that he was right all along—only then can God bring this rebellion to a close. Those who have chosen the Devil’s way will be allowed their choice of final non-existence in the end-time destruction. And then, and only then, can God create a new heaven and a new earth, a place where righteousness dwells and where the goodness of God reigns supreme (see 2 Peter 3:13).
Truth in Person, Answering the Question
Why did Jesus come? So we could know and understand the truth. For all the lies have blinded us to God, so that we cannot see. We almost prefer the lies. Isn’t it true that “A lie travels round the world while truth is still putting his boots on”? God couldn’t leave it like that. God wants to make sure we understand the difference, that we don’t confuse truth and lie, so we can make a real choice.
“I am the truth,” said Jesus. God speaks of walking in the truth and abiding in the truth and the truth setting us free. For in that sense, seeing is believing—truth revealed. That is why God says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Check it out—and find out for yourself how this truth operates in reality. Experiment with God, examine what he says and does. See how God does make sense, in contrast to all the lies of the Arch-deceiver. Examine God’s evidence that answers the Question.
Find for yourself the joy of knowing the good, all-loving, all-powerful God, who—as he proves the truth—wants to save and heal his fallen, deceived, and dying children.