Does evil come from God?

In a word, no. If you need an explanation, read on.

This subject came up in a discussion at Insanitybyte’s blog with her post, “Mirrors and Conundrums,” which included fellow believers and an atheist.  This is a vast subject which I will only be able to briefly touch here with summary statements.

Here’s the rationale:  If evil exists and God created everything then by inference God created evil.

I hope to show you that this conclusion is fallacious, based on misplaced literalism, proof-texting, and hypostatizing a behavior. I will explain what I mean as I go.

Evil is the consequence of the failure to love

First, God is love (1 John 4:7-21). To know God is to know love. This love is not sentimental, but other-centered and self-giving. The Greek word is agape, which means benevolence (from the Latin bene volentem: to use our volition, or will, for the benefit of another).

God’s love always wills good for the object of His affections. Of course, we don’t always know what’s good for us.

Other-centered, self-giving love is the reason and motivation behind everything God does and the ultimate goal of Scriptural admonition (Matt.22:37-40). If we don’t understand this we won’t understand anything about the nature of God.

Second, love requires freedom of choice. But by giving this freedom comes the risk that love will go unrequited, and we may act contrary to love, even act maliciously toward one another.

So my simple definition: evil is the failure to act according to benevolent love.

Evil is not God’s will but a possible consequence of giving this freedom, for every evil act is a violation of other-centered, self-giving love.  Everything good comes from God; there’s “no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). This means if it’s not good, it’s not God. It’s the consequence of a failure to love.

When we ask why an all-powerful God would allow evil and suffering, we might as well ask why an all-powerful God would allow any freedom at all. Why take the risk? Why allow us to live out this precious gift of life without acknowledging Him, even denying His existence? And why would an all-powerful God allow us to kill His only begotten Son in the most humiliating way possible? All of this is only possible because God is love.

Hypostatizing evil

To hypostatize evil is to make it an actual entity or being. This was the dualistic notion of the Epicurean Greek philosophers. But evil is not an entity, nor is it self-existent. Early church father, Athanasius (298 -373 AD) condemned this pagan philosophy:

“So some Greeks, straying from the path and unaware of Christ, declared that evil existed as a self-subsistent entity [en hypostasei] and by itself….In contrast, we must present clearly the truth of the church’s teaching, that evil neither came from God nor was in God, nor did it exist in the beginning, nor has it any independent reality.” (Against The Pagans)

Evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.” (On The Incarnation)

One of the arguments made during our discussion was that, because God is aseitic (self-existent, uncaused), then evil must come from God because nothing that was made can exist without Him.  Skeptics will point to John 1:3 as their proof-text.

But this line of reasoning is faulty at its premise. Evil is not a “thing that was made” so this verse doesn’t apply. God did not create shadows, they are the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. Ironically, we can only know what evil is in contrast to the goodness of God.

Doesn’t the Bible say God created evil?

Isaiah 45:7 is a Bible verse atheists and skeptics love to point to in order to prove that evil is part of God’s creation, even part of God Himself.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.. (Isa.45:7 KJV *)

But this proof-text is a case of misplaced literalism. Prophetic genre is poetic in nature, and contrasts are often used for literary effect. Note the contrast here: “form the light and create darkness…make peace and create evil.” These are together for a reason. We know that darkness is the absence of light, just as evil (or “calamity,” which is a better translation) is the inevitable product of the absence of goodness.

Evil is therefore not literally created, but manifests in the absence of goodness, just as darkness forms where there is no light.

Incidentally, the word “create” (bara) can also mean “cut down” or “cut out” (Ezek.23:47); or “to clear” (Josh. 17:15, 18).

Finally, to point to Isaiah 45:7 as proof that God literally creates evil may save the appearance but it fails explanatory scope. It is therefore a fallacious conclusion. This is why you don’t make doctrines by taking one verse in isolation, but by finding out the best explanation after taking all of Scripture on the subject into account.

God does not suffer from multiple personality disorder. If our interpretation creates a contradiction in His nature, we are the ones with the problem, not God. For instance, the New Testament revelation of God reveals His goodness in spite of our evil behavior:

44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt.5:44-45 *)

Luke adds…”For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” (Luke 6:35 *)

Since God is light, darkness cannot exist in God:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5 *)

The problem of evil is not with God but with us…

19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  (John 3:19-20 *)

And when we choose to walk in darkness our thoughts become futile and we begin to embrace foolish ideas about God…

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.(Rom.1:20-22 *)

God is love, which means everything He does is benevolent, which requires allowing His created beings (angelic or human) the freedom to accept or reject His good will and, thus, allow the possibility of evil and suffering in the world. Evil on the earth is the tragic consequence of God’s crown of creation failing to walk in benevolent love, which put creation itself in bondage, yet with expectant hope (Rom.8:19-25). God does not cause evil, and “in Him is no darkness at all,” therefore evil cannot come from God.

* New King James Bible translation unless otherwise noted. All emphasis added.
Advertisements

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
This entry was posted in Doctrine, Freedom, Love, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Does evil come from God?

  1. Well said, Mell. God is good, always.

    I had a child once who always insisted on sticking her whole hand in my coffee cup and than licking it off. Disgusting little creature. Can’t tell you how many times I told her “hot” and “no.” Anyway, I drank lukewarm coffee for a long time because I didn’t want to turn my back on her and she would burn herself. When she was about two,sure enough she plunged her whole hand in a cup of coffee, except this time it was really hot. Wails of offense and indignation as if I had done this thing to her. You made me do that, you burned me, you made the coffee too hot, horrible, very bad mom, mean even,downright evil.

    I really saw my own self in that moment, the way I often responded to God, that same wail of indignation. In truth, He made coffee and it is good. It’s designed for a purpose. You can’t plunge your hand in the cup, burn yourself, and then blame the coffee and the Designer. Alas,we are all about two yrs old sometimes.

    The Lord does have dominion over our evil, and that one can kind of mess with your head sometimes, but that is also why He sent us a Savior. He is in control, He has dominion. He can make good use of the bad things. There’s a saying, “everybody serves a purpose God’s kingdom, you’re either going to serve as a good example or a stern warning. Either way you’ll serve.” Pharoah served the Lord’s purpose. So did Judas. In the Divine comedy of it all, the Lord actually built my own faith around the flawed thinking of atheism. I used to hate it, but with all good gallows humor, today I feel really blessed. I have no idea where I’d be if the church had taught me. 😉

    • Mel Wild says:

      That’s a good analogy, IB. We’re a lot like indignant children sometimes.

      I see the fundamental problem being that we don’t really understand love and how freedom plays a critical part in that. This life of truth and reality is hidden for us, not from us, so that we can find love and intimate communion where there is no guile or evil. This is the faith journey to truth (Heb.11:3). And the truth about God and reality is Jesus Christ. He is God revealed in the physical world, so we don’t even have an excuse that we can’t see God. We now KNOW what God is really like. Not only was He real but we have eyewitness testimony.

      The bottom line is, we can either have a world where love and freedom are possible or one where it’s not. We can’t have it both ways. And a world where love and freedom are possible must include the freedom to be unloving, stupid, foolish, and hurtful. And since we were given responsibility over the earth, it suffers the consequences of our misguided foolishness.

  2. Citizen Tom says:

    Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    How do we explain evil? In our post Christian society, where God has been set aside, most of us do not find the answer to that question easily. Many discuss the issue, but few consider the matter with reason and logic. So it is that some years back I featured a popular chain email that was floating around the Internet, GOD VERSUS SCIENCE. Supposedly, a smart and courageous Christian student put an Atheist professor in his place. Since the point of the email was to make ourselves feel good about ourselves, I criticized that email.

    Here, however, I would like to praise the author of this post. If you need a good, concise, Biblical explanation for the existence of evil, I think this is a good one. With careful reasoning and logical explanations, the author examines what we mean we say God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Tom.
      I agree with you on having to make up stories where we “show up” atheists and skeptics to feel good about ourselves or “show them.”. The truth stands on its own. And we can share that truth with grace and humility.
      Blessing to you.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Btw, if one wants to check out whether a story is an urban legend, Christian or not, you can go to http://www.snopes.com. They have most of them catalogued there.

  3. It goes back to one of your earlier teachings on Subversive Kingdom. Adam operated only on a plane of faith, life, joy, peace. Yet, there was a reciprocal side that he was not aware of because he had never dealt with it.

    After the fall, life turned to death, faith turned to fear, joy to anger, and the peace to unrest. This is seen in Romans 8:2… “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Jesus came to right the wrong created in the fall…He came to offer the reciprocal of death by bringing back life… He did not create the evil but allowed it in the form of free will… I hope that made sense.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Makes sense to me.
      The irony of the “problem with evil” is that it could not exist without love. For love requires freedom to choose, even reject love and do the opposite. God gave Adam freedom in the Garden, even warned him of the consequences ahead of time. Adam chose poorly and God honored his choice, and we’ve been suffering the consequences ever since. But God didn’t leave us in our suffering; He sent His Son to free us and experience His love again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s