What Does the Bible Say about Evil?
- Alex McFarland World News Service
- Updated Jan 15, 2016
Where Did Evil Originate?
The word evil first appears in the Bible in Genesis 2:17: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” God created humans with the ability to choose good and evil. When they did, sin entered the world, as did judgment (Genesis 3). This judgment also extended to the serpent, Satan, the one who deceived humanity and continues to do so.
Notice that evil did not originate from God. Humans sinned as the result of listening to the lie of Satan. Satan was one of God’s created beings, yet one who turned to evil and brought it to humanity. God did not create evil, but he did create a universe in which evil could exist, including humans with the ability to choose good or evil.
As the result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin passed on to the rest of humanity (Romans 3:23). Theologians call this the sin nature. Many think of evil people as drug dealers or terrorists, but the Bible is clear that every person has a sin nature and sins in life. The penalty the Bible describes for these sins is death (Romans 6:23).
Why Didn’t God Stop Evil?
If God knows everything, he knew how much suffering would eventually come into this world. Why didn’t he stop this process before it all got started, and save us from all of the pain we would face? This line of questioning assumes it is possible for God to know what will happen and that he must do something to prevent it from happening. If God is loving and hates evil, wouldn’t he keep it from happening in the first place? These two areas seem incompatible.
A better question would be, “If God knew what would happen if he created everything the way it is, why did he do it?” This assumes that there are truths about what creatures would freely do if placed in certain circumstances. If there are, then God is constrained by what those truths happen to be, and for all we know, this may be the best world that could be, given what those truths in fact turned out to be. If there aren’t such truths, then God can hardly be held responsible for not acting on the basis of them.
When discussing such matters, theologians and philosophers often talk about “the best of all possible worlds” God could have created. But most Christian thinkers assert that our realm of existence, with all the details as they are, is “the only possible world.” Let’s again look at the facts as we have them: God created humans who were initially perfect, yet with free will (and therefore the capacity to disobey and sin). It would have been a contradiction for God to create free creatures who weren’t free.
In order to act in accord with his own nature (his holiness, righteousness, truth, love, justice) and to act within the parameters of what is logical and reasonable, God created the universe as it is. God populated this universe with creatures as they are. Someone will point out that, in its current fallen condition, the world we live in is not “the best of all possible worlds.” This is true. But God’s plan of redemption and universal restoration is in process (the empty tomb is proof of Christ’s victory over sin and death), and that plan will culminate in the restoration of righteousness throughout the created order. You could say it is “the best way to the best of all possible worlds.” In light of all the known facts, the world could be no other way than the way it is.
Lost in the Weeds?
Jesus told a story known as the Parable of the Weeds, which expresses God’s patience and plans regarding sin and evil. In Matthew 13:24–30 Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
God allows moral evil to exist due to his patience. He longs for many to turn to him in faith before the time is too late. However, his patience is limited and evil will one day be judged. Delayed justice is much different from injustice.
If this were the end of the story, it would indeed be a tragedy. Thankfully, God does have a plan to eradicate evil. The final phase will include his re-creation of the world as described in the final chapters of Revelation. But long before this time, God took the ultimate step of providing an answer to evil through sending Jesus Christ to our world in earthly form. First Corinthians 15:45 shares that Jesus is humanity’s second chance: “‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Jesus], a life-giving spirit.”
[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from The God You Thought You Knew by Alex McFarland. © 2015 by Alex McFarland. Used by permission of Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.]
Alex McFarland is a speaker, writer, and apologist. He has preached in over 1,500 different churches throughout North America and internationally, and has been featured at conferences such as the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Focus on the Family’s Big Dig, Josh McDowell’s Truth Foundations events, and many more. In 2011, Alex became co-host of Explore the Word, which is heard weekdays in the nearly 200 markets served by the American Family Radio Network. Alex and his wife, Angie, live in Greensboro, North Carolina. Learn more at www.alexmcfarland.com.
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Publication date: January 15, 2016