Why is an otherwise good world, so often full of joy, beauty and gladness, marred by events with no meaningful upside? Like the holocaust, rape, measles, still born birth, cancer, divorce, death? Is God really all good or is He just inept? What is evil?
Evil does not exist out there in the world (like trees) as a created being or force. It exists at the tips of our fingers and in our words, as extensions of our hearts. Evil is not impersonal. Evil only exists in a community. Evil is depriving someone of something, like their will, their purse or their purity for the fulfillment of self-gratification. Evil is harming someone else for the fulfillment of self-gratification, like rape, murder or physical violence of any kind.
Who introduced evil into existence? Adam. Evil cannot exist within the Triune God. The Triune God is defined by selfless, other focused service. The Son cannot deprive or harm the Father to gratify the Sons’ desire or will. He can only serve, give and glorify the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit cannot harm or deprive the Father or the Son of anything. The Father cannot harm or deprive the Son or the Spirit. The Triune God is love: selfless, others focused love. God cannot commit evil. No member of the Godhead can gratify their own desires at the expense of the other members.
The Triune God made man. God made man to be a communal creature; male and female he made them. God made man in His image. Yet, God made man with the ability to harm Him. The first evil was Adam breaking his relationship with the Godhead. Adam wanted to see what would happen if Eve ate the apple and wanted to eat it himself. Adam gratified his own desires at the expense of his relationship with God. The first evil was harm committed against God. Adam went against the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for his own pleasure.
The question isn’t why does God allow evil, but why did God create beings who could do evil and harm against Him? The universal standard of right and wrong is the Triune God and the love that exists within that community. Man was made to give glory to and participate in that community. Evil is that which harms or rebels against that relationship of Love. We are not the moral standard of the universe. We are evil in Adam, and if evil befalls an evil creature, can we really call that evil?
The real mystery isn’t why there is rape. Rape exists because men are evil. The real mystery is: why don’t men rape constantly? In the very beginning of man’s fall, God began to limit the effects of our evil and each member of the Godhead participated in the plan to lead mankind back to that original fellowship Adam lost. God restrains evil and works to unweave its hold on mankind, so that it does not consume us. This is the common grace God shows to us all. But why? Why does man continue to exist at all if he is evil?
Nothing displeases us as much as it displeases the perfect, righteous, Holy God who made heaven and earth. Our moral indignation towards child molesters doesn’t begin to approach the moral indignation that God feels toward child molesters.
I, in no way, want to diminish evil. The point I want to make is that God is the standard by which good and evil are judged. God is the sovereign one, and if there is evil, it is because he has decreed it.
What is God revealing to us with the evil in the world? If evil is that which displeases God, why would He decree that which displeases him? What do you mean God decrees it? Let’s look at some biblical passages that place every event, good or evil, in the hands of God.
Amos 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?
Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.
Lamentations 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
Micah 1:12 For the inhabitants of Maroth wait anxiously for good, because disaster has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem.
Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Hebrews 6:17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,
Romans 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 3, section I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
What act or event in Human history was more wicked or evil than the murder of God’s Son Jesus? And God decreed that; the example of evil, of which all instances pale in comparison.
Acts 4:27-28 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
God doesn’t commit evil but He created creatures who could and decreed evil to happen. He doesn’t do it because it is impossible, He ordains within creation creatures that can and will do evil. Why would God make creatures that could displease him? Why would God want a world that He would have to save by coming in the flesh to die for it?
In the beginning was the Triune God and He spoke. The members of the Godhead are telling a story as they interact, and act in History. God is telling a story. A story about how much He loves us. He told Adam in the Garden how much He loved him but knew that for Adam, and all Adam’s children, God was going to have to teach them through experience, how much He loves them. God is telling a story. The shadow of evil is to show the brightness of good; the brightness of a God who is a community of love. God told Adam, but He needed to show Adam because Adam did not believe God. Because, in a world where we have to turn to our Father in dismay, like the frightened children we are, we learn the love much better. God can show us again and again by our turning to him in daily dependence. God comforts us and teaches us His love in our daily fears and uncertainties.
If you remove life from the story–all the possible pain, problems and disappointment, what kind of a story would you have? If God made man and let him stand in the glory of His light forever, without any hint of shadow, how could we see the glory for what it was? It is glorious compared to what? Take all the living out of the story of life, thereby removing all possibility of evil and you would have a story of tombs; a story of bland white noise. A story without living would be the story of silent headstones–lifelessness. How would resurrection matter without a body of death? Dying really makes living worth it. Our lives in this world are the epic poems and songs we’ll sing in the next. The pain and darkness are the contours that reveal the brightness and glory of God’s goodness.
Imagine for a moment that you were at the theater watching Hamlet, and at the death of the innocent Ophelia, Hamlet came on stage and began railing against Shakespeare. What if Hamlet told the audience how evil Shakespeare must be for creating characters full of so much pain? What if Hamlet began to cry out that all this “evil” in the play really proved that Shakespeare didn’t exist. Or if he did exist, that he was inept and unable to prevent his pen from turning out anything but this tale of woe. “Shakespeare is powerless, or worse, corrupt,” Hamlet would cry. “How else could Shakespeare write such a story?” he would argue. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?
But this is certainly absurd; we are not mere characters in a story. We have more dignity than that! We have more worth than that! No you don’t. Without the voice spoken that creates you out of nothing, you are not. God looks down and is not mindful of you because you are remarkable; you are remarkable because He is mindful of you.
Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Jeremiah 18:6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Psalm 8:4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
But certainly this is absurd. You are saying that evil is just part of the story? Not just part of the story, but the necessary contour that demonstrates and reveals the Glory of God. Would you know how much God loved you, really, if the Father hadn’t given his only Son, and the Son hadn’t experienced the Passion? If He hadn’t laid down His life for yours? If He had remained a distant entity shouting commands down at you? What would peace be without war, calm without agitation, love without hate, gain without loss and wellness without illness?
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Entering the house of mirth is joyous and good, but if our hearts dwell there, we will forget to consider our fallen condition and fail to number our days. This is why we must dwell in the house of mourning. Only the sick need a doctor. The Father spoke man and man to entered upon the stage to participate in the great story of community of Love; to take part in the glorious revelation of God’s perfect Holiness, and thereby receive it.
Romans 9:21-23 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
2 Timothy 2:20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
What is evil? It is that which harms or rebels against the community of Love. The Son hates and will not stand man disobeying the Father or blaspheming the Spirit. The Father hates and will not stand your rejection of the Son or the blaspheming of the Spirit. The Spirit hates and will not stand you ignoring the Father or the Son. Holy wrath is the zealous, jealous, love each member of the Godhead has for the other members of the Godhead. Your Evil allows God to demonstrate His Love and Goodness.
So, in conclusion, here are three reasons evil exists. First, we can see that God is sovereign because He controls and directs evil toward His own purposes (Genesis 50:20). God made mankind and even rebellion cannot thwart His Glory. Second, evil reveals the justice and Holiness of God. Those dead in Adam will be punished with the very thing God said would happen if man ate of the apple. God is not a liar and will punish evil doers. Evil cannot overcome him; men do not escape the grave or the last day when they will stand before the Lord and give an account of themselves. God will not be mocked and no tear will remain in the eyes of the righteous. Third, evil exists so that God can demonstrate His overcoming, awe-inspiring, mind-shattering sacrificial love: the Father who willingly gave His only Son, the Son who willingly laid down His life and the Spirit who gives access to God, to the redeemed of God.
To a finite creature, evil is very real and very near. But in the cosmic view of the world, all evil is swallowed up in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only offense of evil that matters is the offense it gives God. What do we deserve poor wretched sinners that we are, but evil days? But we have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit and cry “Abba, Father.” We are brought low so that we can see how high God lifts us up. We see Christ lifted up and see how evil is taken away; see the justice of God: when all evil will fade away as the glorious light of our victorious Lord stands at the center of our view and the center of our lives.