Where did evil come from?
This question is the root of some of my strongest objections to Christianity, and the source of many subtle but significant contradictions that, to my mind, demonstrate the manmade qualities of the Christian faith.
As an aside, I will state for current and future reference that when I relate specifics of Christian theology, I will use as my primary references either J.I. Packer’s “Concise Theology” (hereafter CT) or, when the short version won’t suffice, Norman Geisler’s 4 volume “Systematic Theology” (hereafter ST.) I don’t think anyone will argue that these books don’t well represent the state of current Evangelical Christian Theology.
There are a few details we need to determine, then we’ll put them together and see if they fit.
First we have to define “Evil.” Evil is often defined as the absence of Good. Personally I find that interesting, because it implies that Evil is the default state that exists without the application of Good. Considering the doctrines of original sin and human imperfection, this is probably very in line with Christian thought on the matter. Many Christian sources put a finer point on the definition by defining Evil as that which is in opposition to God.
The discussions of Evil in the above books are too long to include here. If you differ on these points, please relate in the comments and we’ll continue that part of the conversation.
The follow up point, and the one that is key to the discussion, is the relation of God to Evil.
The Evangelical theology concerning God and Evil includes several points:
- God is Perfectly Good
- God cannot be in the presence of Sin/Evil
- Which is why people need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to purify them perfectly so God can tolerate their presence.
J.I. Packer puts it thus: “The core of the concept (of God’s Holiness), however, is God’s purity, which cannot tolerate any form of sin (Hab 1:13)…” This overall goodness/holiness is often referred to as his omnibenevolence, simply to bring it all under one term.
For the sake of this blog entry, not to be mistaken for a doctrinal thesis (!), I believe it reasonable to state that Evil, by definition, is external to God, and that the end result of the grand plan of redemption through Christ is to finally eradicate Evil from the universe (except for hell, wherever that may be – a discussion for a later date.)
A few more doctrines regarding God, important to this conversation, (and Biblical of course) are: the total self-sufficiency of God or aseity, his existence independent of time and the universe or transcendence, his creation of all things ex nihilo (out of nothing,) and God’s nature in relation to the universe in that he is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.
This combination of doctrines present a serious problem in regard to evil, though. We return to the original question.
Where did evil come from?
Before creation, there was only God (never mind the whole Elohim/YHWH conversation – that’s for a later post.) There was nothing else. No other reality except God himself, who we’ve already defined as holy and omnibenevolent. There was only Good, no Evil, nothing that could be construed as Sin, because the biblical God cannot tolerate the presence of sin.
So for his own mysterious purpose, he decided to create the universe, the earth, everything therein, and mankind. At the completion of creation, he called it “Good.” The theological position is that creation was, before the Fall, perfect.
We all know what happened next. Adam, Eve, Serpent, Apple, and the Fall, right? What happened there?
Well, biblically, there are two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What? Why on Earth is that tree there? At this point the world and all of creation are still perfect, right? Okay, alright, Lucifer fell prior to that and became Satan, right? So let’s move backwards a little bit, to his fall (and let’s nevermind the fact that the passage relating his supposed fall has nothing to do with any angel, rather the King of Babylon, but I digress.)
The basic story is that Lucifer and all the angels were made perfect, and were in the unfiltered presence of God in heaven. But Lucifer wasn’t happy being just the chief angel, he wanted to be the most high and place himself above God.
Therefore he was flawed, right? We’ll get back to that.
Here’s my first point. Whether you call Lucifer or Eden square one, the fact is that prior to creating ANYTHING, there was, according to Christian theology, only God. Nobody else. No other thing other than God’s whole self and nature, which is perfectly good and perfectly pure. From that ‘nothing else’ God created EVERYTHING.
There was no evil, right?
So God made the angels and created the heavens and the earth and all the animals and, last of all, people.
Now, God is omniscient and omnipresent, right? He is also transcendent – he exists outside of the boundaries of time. He knows the end from the beginning (Is 46:10.)
So at the moment right before he creates Lucifer, at the moment right before he creates people, he already sees the catastrophic tracts of evil, pain, and suffering ahead. God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent sees it all.
Not only that, in the interest of free will, he designed us to be capable of falling, right? If he didn’t, we wouldn’t fall. In order to design us to be able to fall of our own “free will” (again, much more on that later) he had to define what that fall would entail, right? To define free will, he had to create all of the potential for all of the evil ever committed throughout time.
If he had to create that, then does that not mean that evil, the concept, and the particulars thereof, came from within God? Did he not then create every definition of evil that would ever exist?
But God is outside of time, so for him to “come up” with that definition, it would mean it had to always exist. God is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6.) Everything that he created, every idea he ever had, every concept that can ever be anywhere first had to be in him, and if it was in him, then it had to always be, which means that if he designed a world where evil was possible, then that evil, the very concept of evil, had to come from within himself.
This is a grand contradiction. It’s also a serious flaw in the whole doctrine of free will, which we’ll get to in another post.
The point I want to nail down here is that it is not possible for a perfectly pure, all-powerful God to exist, who made everything, but knew no evil, nor could coexist with anything evil or impure. If there was no such thing as evil before the universe was created, then the universe would reflect that lack – it would not exist. The fact that it exists means that it had to already coexist with or within God, and since by Christian definition, only God existed before creation, it would have to come from within God.
Heck, Isaiah 45:7 even hints that God created evil. Christians will gerrymander around this point incessantly, then fall back on *other* verses that say God is not the author of evil (James 1:13, Psalm 5:4, 18:30, 145:17), as if that somehow negates the logic of the argument, or the aforementioned verse in Isaiah. They will also say that the Isaiah verse refers to adversity or calamity. I don’t see how that’s an improvement. If it’s God who sends a tidal wave to kill 240,000 people on Christmas Eve, isn’t that still capricious, possibly even malevolent?
Either way it hardly matters – God is still wholly responsible for all of the evil in the world.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you are an architect and you build a beautiful theater for the purpose of housing the world’s most beautiful works of musical, dance, and theatrical arts. It is gorgeous and perfect for its purpose – the best sight lines, the best acoustics, the best of everything. But you design into it one simple flaw – the doors open inward instead of outward. When a fire starts, and 2,000 people are trapped inside to burn alive, who is responsible? Did they die because they chose to go to the theater? Or did they die because the designer created that theater with a fatal flaw?
A lot of Christian Theology collapses under this particular argument, in my opinion. This is one of the main linchpins that did in my faith once and for all. A few days before I met with my pastor to tell him I no longer believed, I read a news article about a child porn ring that had been busted. It was an online network where members downloaded and uploaded images. Pedophiles had to upload pictures to maintain their membership. The pictures were categorized into thematic sections. One of the sections required all pictures submitted to show a child victim either crying or in obvious pain.
Did God not see that from the beginning? Did he create a world where such vile suffering was possible? Certain? Predestined? And did he, on that day, still pronounce his creation good?
If so, I’d rather risk hell than worship a God capable of creating that kind of evil.