What Is Evil?
By Dr. Mike Murphy
A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were excessively mischievous. The two were always getting into trouble and their parents could be assured that if any mischief occurred in their town their two young sons were in some way involved. The parents were at their wits end as to what to do about their sons’ behavior. The mother had heard that a clergyman in town had been successful in disciplining children in the past, so she asked her husband if he thought they should send the boys to speak with the clergyman. The husband said, ‘We might as well. We need to do something before I really lose my temper!’ The clergyman agreed to speak with the boys, but asked to see them individually. The 8 year old went to meet with him first. The clergyman sat the boy down and asked him sternly, ‘Where is God?’ The boy made no response, so the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone, ‘Where is God?’ Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face, ‘WHERE IS GOD?’ At that the boy bolted from the room and ran directly home, slamming himself in the closet. His older brother followed him into the closet and asked what had happened. The younger brother replied, ‘We are in BIG trouble this time. God is missing and they think we did it.’
Each time evil raises its’ head, we hear the questions start to come. Asking if God is really missing. “If there is a God, why did He not stop this?” “If God was so loving, then how could He allow such evil?” And, “Where was God when this people needed Him to protect them?” Recently, as I heard these questions asked, I heard a pastor respond to the questions. Replying with an answer that troubled me even more than the questions ever could. He told the audience, “God has not given us the ability to understand evil. We are incapable of knowing what evil is, explaining where it came from or how it was created.”
With each tragedy we see today, we watch the world ask these same questions. And with each question, we often watch as Christians today do not have the answers. We make vain attempts to answer, leaving the world with even more questions than they had before. We then are left to watch as the world pushes God farther away.
So why can the Church not seem to answer these question when it is asked? Why are we unable to leave the world with answers of a loving God, rather than leaving them with more questions of why God would allow this? Although sad, the answer to this question is quite simple. We, the Church, no longer understand what evil truly is and what place it has and carries in this world today. We can no longer answer the ‘why” and the “how”, because we no longer follow and understand the words of the “Who”. To truly understand this, we need to take a hard look at two often asked questions. “What is evil?” And, “Who created evil?”
So what is evil? The dictionary defines evil as “morally reprehensible, sinful, wicked”. Evil has become a very broad term to define the malicious and destructive acts we often see around us. In order to truly define evil, we need to look at what it does. Evil can only be defined if we not only look at its’ cause, but also at its’ effect. In order to do this, let us look at a simple comparison.
Walk outside in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the heart of winter, and you will soon hear one phrase over and over. “Wow it is cold!” But ask any scientist and they will tell you that there is no such thing as “cold”. Cold is nothing more than a word we have created to describe the absence of heat. The less heat we feel, the “colder” we say it has become. The same can be said of evil. Evil is the word we have created to describe the absence of God, and the goodness that only He can bring this world (1 Chronicles 16:34). Therefore, the farther we find ourselves separated from God, the greater the chance of evil a situation may hold.
When we see a tragedy on the news, we need to understand that the event we are watching is not evil. Evil is the result or the outcome of the event we see. Evil is not the action, evil is the outcome, or the effect of that action. The action that caused the evil is sin. We often confuse sin, the act, with evil, the effect. When we watch a terrorist strap a bomb to their body, walk into a building and kill all those who were innocently there, we are witnessing sin. The act they commit is sin, evil is the result or the effect of that act.
Sin is the act of behaving against the law and teachings of God, and His plan for our life (Deuteronomy 9:7, 1 John 3:4) Sin is what separates us from God, and prevents us from allowing His love and wisdom to guide our lives. Sin is a choice, one we make each day. Do we follow the ways of God or do we follow the ways of man, allowing sin to rule our lives? Evil is often the outcome of that sin, and the effect of our choice not to allow God’s plan to lead our lives. We must understand, where you see evil you are witnessing a choice that has been made. A choice by someone that has chosen sin over God. We must also understand, evil and God can never be found together in the same sentence. Where God is present evil cannot exist.
Often today, we hear a familiar question every time evil raises its’ head. “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” We can find the answer within the question itself. It is because of the love God has for us that we have the choice we just discussed! Free will allows each of us to choose or reject God, to choose His wisdom or to follow the logic of man. Tragedy, destruction and evil are the outcome of this choice, a choice each of us has the ability to make daily. Although God could easily stop each catastrophic event we see, in doing so He would also take away this incredible gift He has given us, the gift of free will. We would become nothing more than robots, following a path that was chosen or predestined for us.
Way too often, we confuse what God allows with what God desires. God wants nothing but the best for each of us, and no one hurts more when He sees heartbreak come to our lives (Jeremiah 29:11). God has given us the wisdom of His Word, and example after example of what can come from our choices. He has done everything short of stopping free will in order to keep evil from our lives. God knows our future, and has over and over tried to warn us of where our choices may lead, and the devastation that could await us because of those choices. But in the end, God knows that man will often choose sin, and evil will again show its’ face (Romans 3:23). We must never forget, evil has and never will be the result of God’s judgment, but is the outcome of man’s choices.
Now that we have an understanding of evil, we can look at the second question, “Who created evil?”. For years this question has been at the heart of attempts by many to disprove God. They often say that if God is truly good, then evil could not exist. They even go as far as to try and link God with evil. They will often make the following argument, attempting to make God as the cause of evil. If God is the creator of all things, and evil exist, then God must be the creator of evil.
This is a logic that may be sound to the minds of man, but does not hold up when we look at it with the wisdom of God. To accept this argument, we must accept the assertion that evil is something, that evil is a “thing”. Evil is not a “thing”, but the lack of a “thing”. As I stated earlier, evil is the outcome of sin, the absence of God. Evil is not a created thing. I have never met a person who has seen, touched, felt, smelled, or heard a physical evil. It does not meet the definitions and principles of physics, you will not find energy, matter, or dimension associated with it. I have never yet seen a person who went to the store and purchased a bag of evil!
Evil is without question a reality, but evil does not and cannot exist in or unto itself. Evil has no existence of its’ own, and cannot be found outside the action of sin. Unless we first see the choice of sin, we cannot find the presence of evil. We can look to God’s Word to prove this. All of us know the Creation story, of how God created this world and this universe. The Bible tells us that as He finished this creation, everything He made was good (Genesis 1:31). In other words, the universe was without sin. We know that sin entered this world because of rebellion against God, not because God created it. So therefore, evil came into this world because of the action of sin, not by the hand of God.
God did not create evil, but because of free will, He allows for the possibility of evil. And praise the Lord that He does! Had He not allowed for the potential of evil, we would be serving and worshiping God out of requirement and necessity, not out of choice. What a blessing and a gift that we can each choose God!
When we look at these two questions, we begin to see how our nation today defines and labels God. We have continued to push God farther and farther away from our everyday decisions. We define God by our own logic, confining God to our own desires. We paint a picture of God with the broad strokes of a logical brush, not with the precision and beauty that can be found in the brush of wisdom. Looking at this painting, we should not be surprised when we see the face of evil, because in this painting you will not find the true image of God.
The Church needs to understand what evil actually is, and the role it plays in our society and in each of our lives. We need to be ready the next time we hear those familiar questions, “If there is a God, why did He not stop this?” “If God was so loving, then how could He allow such evil?” “Where is God when evil comes?” We have to let the world know that God is right here! Here waiting for us to do with this gift of free will what He has always longed for us to do. Choose Him!
Praying each of you choose wisely!