How did evil get started?

Has evil always existed, or did God create evil to see if we’d choose it, or not?

Scripture is vague on the subject. It doesn’t explain the origin of evil. It does, however, explain the origin of all goodness. God is good (Exodus 33:19, Psalm 33:5), and whatever God made was good (Genesis 1:31). God made us humans good too, stamping us with an impress of his own image so we could enjoy a paradise existence with him forever. God’s all grace and loveliness. On that point Scripture is clear: God’s into goodness, not evil.

But evil exists too, so where did it come from? Scripture hints, without stating it outright, that evil first appeared in an angel, whose attitude then infected other angels. But how did evil get a foothold in the angels’ minds in the first place? Well, God made that possible because he gave the angels a will of their own, which meant they could choose either good or evil, and whether to follow God or reject him.

But why would they reject God when it was obvious, surely, that God loved them and that everything he did was for their good? He’d given them brilliant minds and amazing beauty, so why choose evil instead? Was it because of pride, or envy? Scripture hints at both. Whatever the cause, evil was “out of the bag” and it was deadly, because it could twist even a brilliant mind into rejecting the love and goodness of God.

God then created humans with a will of their own too, and they also experienced a lovely, open, innocent relationship with God in a paradise of his making, which was theirs to enjoy forever so long as they didn’t eat the fruit off one tree. Obey that one prohibition and paradise was theirs for eternity. Disobey and they could kiss paradise goodbye and live in a world where they’d have to cope with evil.

So why did they disobey? It made no sense at all. If they’d simply obeyed God’s instructions they would now be “gods and sons of the Highest,” Psalm 82:6, living in a permanent paradise. But the serpent convinced Adam and Eve they could be gods without obeying God, and they believed him. But why? Why believe the serpent and not God? And why didn’t they consult God first before deciding, too?

Because evil can twist a mind into rejecting the goodness of God. It can even make God seem evil. Wherever evil came from, therefore, we are left in no doubt what it does. The question we’re really faced with, then, is not “How did evil get started?” but “How do you make it stop?”

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Why is there so much evil still?

Christianity says that Christ destroyed the works of the devil, and Christ reigns supreme over all powers and authorities. But if that’s true, why is there so much evil still?

One obvious reason is that a lot of people love evil. They enjoy being tyrants and bullies and making people squirm. They like using their talents to their own advantage, and lying their way to the top. Deceit pays, so does pushing your weight around. It makes you feel superior and powerful.

But evil people are never safe. They make enemies. They get caught. People rise up against them. Their worlds fall apart, their egos are crushed, and the media relishes their come-uppance at last. Evil has shown again and again that it eats up and spits out those who feast on it.

Evil is so powerful, though, it can suck in even those who hate it. Only Jesus managed to resist it. And why was that? Because he trusted his Father to “save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7. When he felt the power of evil suffocating the life out of him he cried out to his Father to rescue him, and his Father always answered.

And now Jesus does the same for us (verse 9). He does for us what his Father did for him. But it’s still our choice whether we trust him, or not. Paul made that clear in Romans 6:12-13, which in the Phillips translation reads: “Do not, then, allow sin (evil) to establish any power over your mortal bodies, in making you give way to its lusts (and temptations). Nor hand over your bodily parts to be, as it were, weapons of evil for the devil’s purposes. But, like men rescued from certain death, put yourselves in God’s hands as weapons of good for his own purposes.”

Faced with the temptation to do something evil, we can either give in to it or be rescued from it. Jesus chose to be rescued, and now he’s there to rescue us, because we’re in exactly the same boat he was in: “These bodies of ours are constantly facing death (and evil) just as Jesus did.” It’s interesting to read, then, why God allows it. It’s to make “clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe,” 2 Corinthians 4:10.

Evil can be overcome, yes, but only by Christ. So it’s only when every person realizes that and trusts him that evil will stop. In the meanwhile, for those who don’t want anything to do with evil, “the Son of God keeps him safe, and the Evil One cannot touch him,” 1 John 5:18.

Why do people do such terrible things?

Humans have done terrible things to humans, but all justified in the minds of those doing them, of course – in self-defence, combatting evil, fighting for freedom, or “because it’s God’s will.” And then in movies and other propaganda we’re constantly fed the idea that justice justifies revenge, “payback time” and settling disputes by violence, and even brutal violence by good people.

So atrocities continue, and God allows them. Why? “In order that sin might be recognized as sin,” Romans 7:13. We can’t see sin for what it is, that’s our problem, so we keep on sinning.

So how do we recognize sin for what it is? By what it produces. And look what it’s produced: never-ending atrocities and death, and insane, twisted minds that hate and kill and don’t think twice about it.

But “sin is deceitful,” Hebrews 3:13. It’s very clever. It makes us think we’re right even when we’re blatantly wrong, like the husband who says he loves his wife but he’s having sex with someone else. Who does he think he’s kidding? But there’s “another law at work inside us, waging war against our minds” that’s very good at deceiving us, Romans 7:23. So what’s the source of this law of sin? According to Paul it’s “The ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” Ephesians 2:2.

But note what he’s saying here. Yes, there’s a real devil at work, but where he works is in the disobedient. Disobedience, then, is what gets things started, as we see in the Garden of Eden. God gave a clear command to Adam and Eve but along comes a serpent with a pathetic excuse for disobeying it, and they’re hooked. It didn’t take much for them to disobey God.

And nor does it today, either. Any excuse to disobey God will do, but unfortunately that opens the door to the devil and he can convince us of anything after that, including the idea that God supports our atrocities, witness the prayers of people on both sides of a conflict believing God will bless their bullets.

So what makes us disobey? It’s our weakness for putting self before God. That’s why we need the mind of Christ, because he never put himself before God. Result? Sin never deceived him, he was never tempted into disobedience, and the devil couldn’t mess up his mind. And we can have that too. How? By the Spirit who is now at work in those who are obedient, Acts 5:32. And therein lies the solution to all atrocities. It’s a mind in tune with the Spirit of God, not the spirit of the devil.

How can we trust God when we don’t understand him?

God was quick off the mark in making himself hard to understand. He creates a tasty looking fruit and tells Adam and Eve they’ll die if they eat it, but he lets an evil, crafty creature into the garden to entice them into eating it. Then Cain kills his brother but God issues a warning in Genesis 4:15, that if “anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” So an evil man is allowed to live, which in time leads to the entire population becoming so evil that “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain,” Genesis 6:6.

God then makes an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants to solve the problem of evil, but tells Abraham to kill the only descendant he’s got. And around that same time a “blameless and upright” man who “feared God and shunned evil” called Job had his family and business destroyed by a deal Satan made with God, to which God so strangely agrees. And when God frees Israel from an evil Pharoah it’s only to scare the liver out of them a few days later when they’re jammed up against the Red Sea and the Egyptian war chariots are thundering towards them.

And then we find out in Romans 9:17 that God deliberately stirred up this evil Pharaoh and killed him off to spread the word, verse 18, that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” It sounds like God does whatever he wants, including allowing evil free rein, and humans don’t have a choice in the matter. Nor did Esau (verse 13), when God loved Jacob the rascal but hated Esau the victim. Clearly, God doesn’t play by our rules, or rules that make sense to us, which surely makes it difficult for us to trust him.

Oh really? says Paul. But aren’t we rather glad that this entire existence of ours “does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” verse 16? In other words, if it wasn’t for God’s mercy we’d be extinct. And God has set up all kinds of scenarios in history to illustrate that fact, that first of all evil is so powerful it would have destroyed us, and secondly, that God has every right to destroy us as well (verse 22). So, hopefully we get the point that everything God does in his dealings with us humans is to “make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy,” verse 23, because without his mercy where would we be? And understanding that we can trust him.

We don’t play by the devil’s rules

The devil plays a simple game with two simple rules: Get people to hate God and hate each other. Whereas Jesus said the whole point of human life and law is to love God and love each other, the devil tries to turn people off God and turn humans against each other.

It’s a game the devil’s played with great success from the moment humans first appeared. How many days of peace did he allow Adam and Eve to enjoy with God and each other, for instance? Pitifully few, it sounds like, because Eve already thinks God can’t be trusted by Genesis 3:6, she and her husband hide their nakedness from each other in verse 7, Adam hides from God in verse 10, and he’s accusing his wife in verse 12 of forcing him to eat the forbidden fruit. By verse 24 they’ve upset God enough he banishes them from the paradise he’d made for them.

It’s a frightening tale of how easy it is for the devil to get humans playing by his rules. And look how many people are turned off God today too, thinking he’s an ogre out to get us every time we mess up, and he’ll throw us in an ever-burning hell if we don’t repent. The world hates God, wants nothing to do with him, and creates its own gods instead. And as far as turning people against each other, it’s been a skip in the park for the devil to get us killing and maiming each other in hate and revenge.

Christians don’t play by the devil’s rules, though, do they? Disciples of Christ are known instead for their love for each other (John 13:35). They wouldn’t condemn other Christians, therefore, would they? Or use and expose the foibles and weaknesses of their fellow Christians to elevate their own spiritual superiority, right? They wouldn’t dare say their own denomination and its doctrines, rituals and traditions are the only way to be Christian. They would much rather just call themselves “Christian” rather than by some human name like Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian, etc. Perish the thought that any Christian would think his own castle of Christianity was the one and only bastion of strength and accuracy against the devil’s deception.

Christians play by different rules, because the reason why we “purified ourselves by obeying the truth,” as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:22, is to “love one another deeply, from the heart.” We loved God by obeying his truth, which then led to loving our fellow Christians, regardless of what they believe or do. And that’s what identifies us as Christians; we love God and we love each other, the only rules we play by.

Pain, suffering and evil

So how come pain, suffering and evil still exist, despite the fact that Christ in his death “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3), and in his resurrected state he’s now at God’s “right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come“ (Ephesians 1:20-21)?

Surely our hope rests in clear evidence that those two scriptures are true “in the present age” – in life in this world right now, in other words – and we can see with our own eyes too that Jesus rules supreme, “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). If peace is what Christ died to create, then shouldn’t we be seeing pain, suffering and evil becoming less and less?

Yes, if by “peace” it means an obvious decrease in pain, suffering and evil worldwide. And isn’t that the world’s great hope, that one day all pain, suffering and evil will be eradicated? But in Colossians 1:21-22, that’s not what peace means. Peace isn’t the opposite to pain, suffering and evil. Peace is defined as no longer being “alienated from God,” and “enemies in our minds because of our evil behaviour.” Peace is defined in context here as the eradication of our hostile attitude to God, because at the heart and core of all evil is thinking God is our enemy.

Remove that thought in our heads and, hey presto, we have peace. But that’s what Christ died for, to reconcile us to God (verse 22) so we don’t see him as our enemy anymore. But how can he be our enemy when it was God, in Jesus, who died to cancel out every evil thing we’ve ever done or thought of, and now “through his death presents us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (verse 22)?

We brought pain, suffering and evil on ourselves by our hostility to God, but God shows through Jesus’ death that he feels no hostility to us. It’s so hard to keep that in mind, though, when evil things happen, because it looks like God doesn’t like us at all, and he makes us suffer to show his disapproval.

But we can keep it in mind, Paul says in verse 23, “IF we continue in our faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” The hope of the gospel is that Christ’s death will end everyone’s hostility to God, and it’s keeping that in mind that keeps us remarkably and miraculously at peace, despite everything happening to and around us.

A real devil with a real plan

If the Bible was published in chronological order, it would start with the first 11 (or 22) chapters of Genesis and then straight into the book of Job. And in both Genesis and Job the devil pops up very quickly, first as a serpent and then as an angel called Satan. So right from the very beginning, the devil’s already striding into human history as a central figure to be reckoned with, and, what’s more, he soon makes it obvious what his plan is. And his plan never changes either, from the beginning of the Bible to the end of it.

He lives for one thing – to get God to curse us so we curse God in return. The devil’s very good at it, too. In the book of Revelation, for instance, God curses humanity horribly with “the seven bowls of his wrath,” Revelation 16:1. And the people’s reaction? They “cursed the name of God,” verses 911, and 22. It doesn’t cross their minds that they’d brought God’s curse on themselves; their focus is entirely on blaming God for cursing them.

But that was the devil’s plan with Job, too. In Job 1:11, the devil believes that if God hits Job with a few disasters, “he (Job) will surely curse you (God) to your face.” Get God to curse Job and Job will curse God back. It worked with Cain: When God cursed Cain for killing his brother, Cain’s reaction to God was, “My punishment is more than I can bear,” Genesis 4:13. Cain’s reaction to being cursed was to blame God for cursing him – the same reaction as the people in Revelation 16.

And the devil’s got us doing the same thing today. When we’re hit with a disaster we call it an ‘Act of God’, not an ‘Act of the devil’. We’d much rather curse God than the devil, which fits in perfectly with the devil’s plan yet again. And it never seems to enter people’s heads – Cain’s head included – that the devil is playing a clever game. He’s got us thinking it’s God’s fault when bad things happen, and instead of questioning our own behaviour, we question God’s behaviour.

But why would God LET the devil turn people against him? For the same reason God let the devil try to turn Job against him. It was to face Job (and all humanity) with a question: “Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Job 40:8. Because isn’t that, in fact, the devil’s ultimate aim, to find reason for condemning God to vindicate and elevate himself? Is it any surprise, then, that we humans, under the devil’s influence, condemn God to justify ourselves too?