By Aaron Brown, Crosswalk.com
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)
As Christians we understand God’s character to be among many traits, benevolent. God is the reason we understand and know how to love (1 John 4:19). If God’s nature is all-good, then naturally everything He creates is good also. That’s the logical conclusion. And as David poetically worded, the Earth and all of humanity belong to God.
“The earth and everything in it,
the world and its inhabitants,
belong to the Lord.” (Psalm 24:1)
However, though we belong to God, there is evil in the world. The reason is sin. All across the world there exist people who commit robberies, murder, rape, among other harmful acts. These sorts of people exist, have existed, and will continue to so long as humanity exists. They are the reason we understand evil exists in the world.
Still, the question remains. Why does God allow evil? We understand that God is all-powerful or omnipotent (Matthew 19:26). Therefore, He could eliminate evil within the world, but does not. The answer to why resides in the very first book of the Bible, where God created the first man and woman. There in the Book of Genesis, the first man and woman made a decision that brought evil into the world through what we call sin.
What Does the Bible Say about Evil?
One way to understand what the Bible calls evil is to equate evil with the word sin. Jesus defined sin as, “So it is sin to know the good and yet not do it” (James 4:17).
Today we hold to that same definition. When defining the word evil we use definitions including, “morally wrong,” or “bad”. In order for an action to be morally wrong, someone would have to understand morality - having a sense of right and wrong. With these two definitions, we can conclude the evilness is sin and sin is evil.
In addition to Jesus’ words, the Bible gives greater context to what God qualifies as evil. The Book of Leviticus is a great example of God laying down expectations for His followers of how He wants them to behave. God has used such terms as “detestable” or “perversion” in place of evil, but still signifying the same meaning. Scripture also speaks directly to evilness in the following passage.
“When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time, the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and he was deeply grieved.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
God reacted to evil in the world during the biblical era, and we can rest assured He reacts to evil today. He responds to evil in the world and within ourselves because He loves us. What believers of old and of today can learn from God’s treatment of evil is how we should also respond. We define what is evil based on our sense of morality. In America, a country with a Judeo-Christian foundation we define morality based on what we know from the Bible. Therefore, the greater our sense of God’s Word the more we understand what behaviors are to be encouraged and assuaged, whether within ourselves or as a society.
If Evil Did Not Come from God Why Does God Allow it to Exist?
We can do our best to beat the evil, or sin, that dwells within us or someone else. However, sin will continue to remain a part of everyone’s lives (Romans 3:23). This does not mean sin should be ignored. Scripture admonishes us to be conformed to the image of Christ as much as is possible while we are alive (Romans 12:2). Still, why must evil continue to exist and persist? Another way to ask this question is why does God allow suffering, which is the byproduct of every sinful/evil act. God has given us free will.
One way to understand free will is the ability to make a choice without being compelled by an external force. We can choose to follow God or not. Jesus admonished His followers to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). He did not force them to do this though and there were many people who did not follow Christ. There are people today who do not subscribe to the faith. God does not force a change in their hearts or minds because He has blessed us with free will. Adam and Eve were the first humans to showcase the power of free will. God gave them a commandment - to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). Yet, they did. They committed an evil act, sin, and suffered the consequences.
“He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24)
The more complicated question is why does God give us free will. There is no singular answer to this question. God’s wisdom is profoundly above our own (Isaiah 55:8). We do know that free will exists (James 4:17). We also know that if we had no free will to choose Jesus Christ for our lives, that would take away the significance of faith (choosing to believe without seeing), and render Heaven and Hell obsolete. Everyone would live life as automatons, never experiencing the highs and lows of life and choosing how they respond.
That is not the life we live. God has given us free will, and we can be encouraged by that truth in spite of the evilness we create or endure. God will ultimately use all things for His purpose (Romans 8:28)
How Does God Use Evil Done by Others for His Purposes?
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
This verse is delivered to the Christian church in Rome by the apostle Paul. His words encouraged them, and us today, that God will use all of our experiences to make us into more Christ-like individuals. All things working together includes both positive and negative experiences. We naturally see positive experiences as making us better because we often feel good about ourselves. This conclusion is not as easy with negative experiences. However, whether positive or negative originally, each experience will be used by God for an ultimately positive outcome. Our growth is that outcome. This verse is all the more encouraging when we consider not just the negative experiences that occur by our own faults, but also the devastating situations outside of our control. Much like Job in the Bible, some situations happen to us for no fault of our own and threaten to tear us down with sadness, hurt, or trauma. These experiences God will make right in the end.
Can God Prevent Evil from Happening in This Fallen World?
“‘No weapon formed against you will succeed, and you will refute any accusation raised against you in court. This is the heritage of the Lord’s servants, and their vindication is from me.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (Isaiah 54:17)
God can restore and heal us after evil occurs. God can also prevent evil from happening. God protected a number of His believers from harm, such as David from His son Absalom, or offering some protection to Job from the schemes of Satan. How God discerns between what He wants to happen and what He does not is unclear. What we know is that if something occurs God has allowed for that to happen (Matthew 10:29).
Something that occurs could be something God made happen, or He simply allowed. The best we can do with what we know is allow that experience to transform us into better people. God has given us a declaration, a promise, no weapon formed against us will prosper. No evil deed that occurs in our lives is unseen. No matter what God allows, His love is consistent and He continues to care for our wellbeing.
How To Find Comfort in a Fallen World
“Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Believers have known throughout the ages that evil exists in the world. Jesus spoke about the troubles Christians would face (John 16:33). He didn’t share this as an occasion for fear, but rather to be joyful knowing we could overcome the world as He did. Evil and sin exist in the world. This is an unfortunate reality since the first man and woman. However, we know because of the many stories in the Bible that we can still live life close to God and in a way that pleases Him.
No matter what sinful desires may grow in our hearts, no matter what evil deeds are done against us, we can always use our free will to turn to God.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AlessandroPhoto
Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, dance teacher, and visual artist. He currently contributes articles to GodUpdates, GodTube, iBelieve, and Crosswalk. Aaron also supports clients through the freelance platform Upwork.
This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian questions important to the Christian faith. From core beliefs to what the Bible says about angels, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.