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Did God Create Evil?
Part 2: An Awkward Truce of Disparate Truths
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Steve Schmutzer

In the first part of this article, we noted that God has created everything. Nothing exists without Him. This position is clearly supported in the Scriptures just as the case for His omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent nature is also supported. These are matters which are beyond question if one studies the Scriptures responsibly.

All that being so, it’s tempting to feel that if an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God really exists, then evil should not. If God is who the Bible claims He is, then how does evil fit in?

This awkward truce of disparate truths is not the only dilemma of this tone in the Word of God. The “free will of man” and the “absolute sovereignty of God” are also Biblical truths that co-exist with some unease. The Triune nature of God is another such matter. Doctrines like these cannot easily be explained in terms that satisfy the natural human spirit. 

We would do well to properly receive a solemn warning at this point.  As humans, we tend to value those things which are most measureable, not necessarily those things which are most important. As earlier noted, strains to our understanding of the ways of God keep us faithful, and they help us to preserve a right relationship with Christ (Heb. 11:6).

If everything concerning God is easily explained, readily measured, and effortlessly known, faith becomes unnecessary as Heb. 11:1 reminds us. The contradictions of logic which are inherent in some of the doctrines of Scripture are intended for our own good. They keep us on the right path.

It is therefore dangerous to our spiritual well-being to become too partisan about matters which the Scriptures present with built-in tensions.  A choice to emphasize one side of a particular truth to the exclusion of the other may satisfy our desire to have clear structure, but Matthew 7:13-23 underscores the perils of embracing partial truth.  It has the same consequences as full deception. 

So, did God create the universe with evil a part of it the same way He created the universe with the sun in it?  Some may feel that’s the point of Isaiah 45:7 which says, "I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things."  Personally, I don’t think that’s the right way to see the situation as that notion contends against other Scriptures which clearly encourage a different thought process.

Let’s ask that question another way: “Did God create a universe in which it’s possible for evil to find form and flourish?” I think that’s a more accurate way to think about it, and I believe that satisfies the language of Isaiah 45:7 as well.

Let’s see if we can make some sense of this as we start with the very basics.

Let’s begin by examining the word “evil.” The most common term used in the Old Testament appears over 200 times. That Hebrew word is awon which means "perversion," and it seems to be related to the verb awah which means "to bend" or "to twist." Other Biblical words used to describe evil include the sibling-like nouns of awel and awla, and both emerge from a root term which means, "to deviate." Inherent within all these words is the notion of “moving away” from a prior standard or virtue.

A chief intent of these Biblical terms is to denote something contrary to the character of God.  Stop.  Go back and read that sentence again. Okay - now read it one more time. This is very important; the full implications of this statement should not be regarded casually.

As their Biblical contexts show, these Hebrew terms are generally associated with words describing wickedness, rebellion, and violence. This is the opposite of words which denote faithfulness, justice, and honesty, and so the Biblical passages in which these Hebrew terms for evil are used often reveal a corresponding divine response of judgment.

You see, evil is not an object like a brick or a tree. You cannot place evil into a container or measure it when you find it. As words like awon, awah, awel, and awla suggest, evil has no inherent existence of its own.  Evil is the absence of something, just like darkness is the absence of light which God called “good” when He created it (Gen. 1:4). 

It’s most helpful to see evil as a departure from something good or as a perversion of something proper, because that also argues that something good and proper was the righteous standard to begin with.  For example, God intended men to be in a sexual relationship with women, and so within an appropriate earthly relationship, heterosexuality is good and proper. Conversely, the Bible teaches that under no circumstance is homosexuality to be regarded as good or proper. Homosexuality is a perversion of God’s good standard, and so by Biblical definition it is therefore evil.  Make sense?

We’re getting back to where we started.  As John 1:3 reminds us, God created everything, and all those things were good. Some of the good things God created were creatures who had the freedom to decide for themselves and to make choices. In order for real choices to exist, God permitted an alternative to any choice for good. And so, God allowed these creatures - free angels and free humans - to choose what is good or to reject what is good.

That’s how Lucifer became Satan.  He started out just fine, but he made choices that were wrong.  When one rejects good, then that choice becomes evil. With the aforementioned ‘awon’ and its derivatives in view, this makes total sense. Evil - in all its forms - emerges when there is a decision to depart from God’s perfect standard.

The conclusion is evil originated with God’s created beings - angels and humans - who had been provided with a free will. They misused this free will to make wrong choices. They disobeyed and denied the truth, and they chose standards which failed to conform to the goodness of God.  This is evil, and we call it sin. 

God did not create sin, but He created beings that could abuse their free will and thus fall into sin. And so it was that “….sin entered the world” (Rom. 5:12) which God had created and which He had called “good.” This is the consequence of self-determination, and this same dynamic still rears its ugly head within our present world in so many ways.

So, what does it mean to “create?” This specific question returns to the original query, “Did God create evil?” Are there latitudes here which are permitted to be part of the creatio ex nihilo processes?

Let’s consider how you and I might “create” or make something. We take a little of this and a little of that, and we make a batch of chocolate chip cookies for example. As a matter of fact, that’s not unlike how man was made. God took the dust of the earth and He “formed” Adam (Gen. 2:7). He took Adam’s rib and He made Eve (Gen. 2:22). He took pre-existent elements and He made something totally different from them.

For the larger purposes of this document, I would argue that both Adam and Eve arrived on the scene in conformity to the basic definitions of “make” or “create” as did the rest of God’s creation.  It is obvious from the Biblical account that God could have made Adam and Eve through the same creatio ex nihilo process as He made everything else before them, but - -  God chose not to. In no manner does that detract from God’s divine abilities.

Because God made Adam and Eve using His own pre-existent conditions and materials to do so raises some interesting speculations concerning His “creative” role behind evil. Since nothing exists apart from God, and since God created a world in which He knew that evil could – and would – find expression, then one might argue that His direct sovereign oversight of evil’s emergence was a creative process in its own right.

It’s completely true that God actively employs evil in the affairs of mankind. God used a pagan Babylonian empire to bring judgment upon His chosen people. In more recent history, God employed the horrific holocaust as an agent in the birth of Israel. God is sovereign over all events and nothing escapes His full control.

The Bible is quite clear about this. Amos 3:6 asks, "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?" Here lays another awkward truce of disparate truths, because God’s Word also declares that God’s character is without flaw, and James 1:13 says “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man...”   The whole complexion, once again, lies beyond our ability to easily explain.

Some scholars try to settle their anxieties by saying that God “allowed” evil.  In their pursuit of an “easy-to-package-and-easier-to-measure” answer, they see a difference here, but I do not.  God only “allows” that which is already within His full control to change should He so desire.  Nothing has ever eluded Him or caught Him by surprise, nor will it ever. God is not subordinate to any power or processes greater than Himself because no such thing exists.   

The fact is God is aware of all evil from its inception, and He is able to deal with it into eternity future. This is not awareness in the sense that evil was introduced from “out there somewhere” and into His sphere against His control as one is aware of crime and locks their doors each night to cope with it. Rather - and as much as it is challenging to comprehend this - God is aware of evil as part of His own sovereign plan and purpose. 

The concept that evil fits into God’s sovereign plan and purpose is an apex issue that stands high above all chatter and babble about the matter.  If God had not allowed for the existence of evil, both mankind and angels would still be serving God out of obligation and not by choice. Scientists today are forging new programmable circuits and robotic technology, but God did not want robots and programmable responses, nor does He still. God allowed for the existence of evil so that you and I could genuinely exercise our free will and choose whether or not we wanted to serve Him.

This comes full circle back to the original claim that God creates only good things. He permitted the introduction of evil in order to manifest an even greater good, and that greater good is His grace to redeem sinful human beings. If evil (sin) didn’t exist, His grace and redemption would be meaningless.  Salvation would be entirely unnecessary.

But grace and redemption by a just and holy God, when placed against the backdrop of evil, manifests His unfathomable love and unsearchable ways as nothing else is able to (Rom. 11:33). For this greatest of all good things, God permitted evil a path to existence.

This is what it’s all about! This was God’s plan before he ever created the world (Eph. 1:4), and He knew even at that point how it would all work out.  God knew that sin would enter the universe, first through Satan, and then into the entire human race through Adam. God knew evil would be introduced as choices were made against His good and proper standards, and He devised His magnificent plan of grace and redemption based on that divine knowledge.  

I still have a lot of questions, and you probably do too. But what I most need to be convinced of right now is this:  Without evil, there would be no need of a Savior.  Without evil, there would be no need for God’s grace.  Evil is an element of God’s plan from the very beginning, and so in that light it is part of a far greater good.  God did not create evil the very same way he created the heavenly bodies, but he created human beings capable of evil and therefore in need of a perfect Savior. 

In the end, you and I are finite and physical beings trying to gain insight into The Most High God who is infinite and supernatural.  While in His great grace and mercy He has provided us with the absolute truth of His Word, it remains that this life there will always be questions that we may not fully settle within the milieu of the human condition. We must humbly accept that on this side of eternity’s door, we will only see shadows of the things that someday we will understand with blazing clarity (1 Cor. 13:12).

Meantime, our faith must express itself by setting firm guards against those doors through which human error can enter. The God we proclaim does indeed know the answers, and in His omniscience, in His omnibenevolence, and in His omnipotence, He absolutely has a reason and explanation for everything. 

How small our God would be if we could explain Him fully and know all His ways.  

May our faith be increased!

About Steve Schmutzer
thewordwithsteve.com

Last week: Did God Create Evil? Part 1: An Apparent Contradiction of of Logic



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