Sunday, April 21, 2013

Did God Create Evil?

One of the most common objections to Christianity and the belief in a personal, loving God, is the question, "If God is good, and He created everything, where does evil come from?" It's important to have an answer, because as atheism/agnosticism grows in our world, believers are being confronted with these questions with increasing frequency. We should be prepared to give a good response. 1 Peter 3:14-16 says, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed."

So where does evil come from? First of all, it's important to understand that God created all things. That doesn't mean God created all actions and intents of the heart. For the English majors out there, He created all nouns, but not all verbs (at least of the voluntary sort). Evil is not a substance. Not even the devil himself is evil in substance. What God did create was free will and the ability to act on thoughts and desires. He created human beings with the ability to make choices on our own, whether good or bad, and a creativity that in a small way reflects His own. We are given a choice with what to do with our lives. We can choose to honor Him or live for ourselves.

Romans 1:18-21 says:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

It's clear from the above passage that God's wrath is a result of our choice to reject Him. It goes on to describe how God "gave them up to" a variety of sinful desires and actions. It's important to distinguish between God's "letting them do what they want" and any kind of action that is initiated by God. I think of this all in light of many acts of evil that we've seen in our world, whether it be the bombings in Boston, the 9/11 attacks, or the many school shootings in recent years. God doesn't cause such horrible things to happen. That being said, He does allow us to do evil things, and sometimes those evil choices have tragic consequences for those undeserving.

Now I understand that free will is a foreign concept for many agnostic-types. They would generally reject the idea, arguing that all our choices are the result of random interactions in the universe causing a kind of domino effect. The result of this chain reaction is what you are and how your brain is wired, which determines how you act. For them, our entire existence is "random acts of meaninglessness." You are what you are and there is nothing you can do to change anything about yourself, including your actions. The thing is, if they're right, how can they be so certain? According to their own beliefs, they have no choice but to believe or disbelieve what they do, regardless if it's right or not. And likewise, they can't really blame me for believing what I do. And how can they make any moral judgments? Morality cannot exist without free will. They will likely agree, and say something about morality being some kind of construct of humans to make sense of the world we live in. But nonetheless, they will proceed with decrying the morality of Christianity, and consequently, God Himself. They will question His goodness in allowing evil to exist. For example, they might ask, "If God is good, why won't He stop me from going to hell?" Good question, if you're open to hearing the answer.

The important thing to understand, is that without the potential for evil, there can be no good. Likewise, without the potential for hate, there can be no love. God's plan for humanity is built on a desire for a loving relationship with each of us individually and collectively. Love is meaningless if there is no choice not to love. The very reason for this life is to separate those who truly love God from those who don't (Matthew 25:31-46). Some might believe that mankind ruined God's plans when Adam and Eve took of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, and sin entered the world. No, God had a greater plan in mind. God has a way of working our free will choices to do evil into a greater good. One of the finest illustrations of this point is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Out of hatred, they sold him to Egypt into slavery, but God used him to later save Egypt, and his family the Israelites, from famine. Genesis 50:20 records Joseph's reassuring words to his brothers, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." In fact, the entire narrative of the Bible, from the Fall of Man to Jesus' sacrificial atonement of sin on the cross and subsequent victory over death (the wages of sin, see Romans 6:23) through His resurrection to the promised glory of eternal life with Him in the new world someday, demonstrates how God brings some pretty amazingly good things out of the bad, for those who love Him.

So how does this all work? In the case of Joseph and his brothers, it was very easy to see looking back how God had a plan for him and for all the people whose lives would be saved through his actions. But in most cases, it's not so clear cut. All of us have gone through or are going through various trials in our own lives, and we can't always make sense of the good that God has in mind. I know in my own life, I have my own burdens that I don't understand. The truth is, and this won't satisfy the skeptics, but much of who God is and how He works is a mystery. We, in our finite minds, cannot grasp the infinite complexity of God. Someday, God will reveal these things to us, and we will understand. But for now, there is much we don't. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."

For now, we are called to walk in faith. For that, we should be thankful. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Without faith, there is no hope of salvation. We can't do enough good deeds to save ourselves. The only way is by placing our trust in Him, that the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, is sufficient to save us from our sins. 1 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." God's desire is for all of us to be with Him eternally, but His plan takes into account the fact that many will choose to reject Him. What will we do with Jesus Christ? This is the test of our lives. Revelation 3:20 says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." My prayer is that each of you, if you haven't already, will take the step of faith and open the door. Then you will live to see the amazing things He has planned for you.