by George Sidney Hurd
What is evil and how did it come to be so prevalent in our daily lives? Where did evil come from originally? If God is omniscient, all-powerful and all loving, why would He even allow it to enter His good creation, much less permit it to continue throughout entire ages? What higher purpose could the presence of evil serve so as to justify its continuance?
These are some of the questions I hope to present answers to for your own personal consideration in the following three blogs. Many of these questions are answered for us in Scripture, while others must remain a mystery to us until we can see the big picture, much as was the case with Joseph and Job. Those of us who have tasted that the Lord is good can rest assured that He is somehow working all things together for good in our lives and that His creation story ends with a much greater glory than it began (Ps 34:8). He makes all things beautiful in His time (Eccl 3:11).
The answers are much easier to discover for those of us who believe that God’s plan for the ages culminates in the final restoration of all, believing that all evil will have been finally removed when God becomes all in all after the ages have run their course. However, the Eternal Infernalists, who believe that God Himself perpetuates evil, inflicting unending torments upon the vast majority of mankind along with two thirds of the angels, have more than mere questions to resolve: they face real moral and logical dilemmas which defy all reasonable explanation. For them, it is not simply the question of evil, but the problem of evil.
Only Biblical Universalists can reasonably explain the presence of evil in God’s creation without diminishing God’s essential nature, which is love, nor His immutable attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. Calvinists maintain God’s omnipotence but at the expense of His love and mercy, saying that God decrees and punishes evil for His own self-glorification. According to the Westminster Confession, Calvinists say: “He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His Sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice (emphasis mine).” 
Arminians, on the other hand, seek to preserve God’s love and goodness at the expense of His omnipotence, saying that God loves all, but He must allow evil to enter His good creation, and eternally exist within it, out of respect for the free-will decisions of fallen men and angels. God who wills that all be saved, and has sworn that all will bow the knee to Him, must Himself bow to the free-will of lost sinners. Arminians ultimately sacrifice God’s sovereignty in order to preserve man’s sovereign free-will, only to turn around and deny man’s free-will forever the moment one’s heart stops beating.
Open Theists go a step further, seeking to justify God by not only sacrificing His sovereignty, but also His omniscience, saying that God could not have foreseen the entrance and perpetuation of evil since, either He cannot foresee the future, or else He chose not to see it out of respect for our sovereign free-will. I discuss this and other difficulties with Open Theism in a series of two blogs entitled Does God know my Tomorrow?
In contrast to the Eternal Infernalist’s model which presents God as creating an everlasting dualism, once we understand that God’s eternal plan for the ages culminates in the final restoration of all to a much more glorious state than that enjoyed by Adam and Eve before the fall, it becomes much easier to understand the question of evil. In this first of three blogs, we will begin by seeking to better understand what evil is.
Evil is not some “thing” which God originally created
To those who ask whether God Himself originally created evil, the unequivocable answer is no. In the Genesis creation account, it says: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Contrary to Eastern thought, in the beginning everything was very good. Good and evil have not eternally coexisted, nor will evil continue forever, as traditionally taught. It entered into God’s time/space creation at a specific point in time and will cease to exist when God becomes all in all, at which time we will enter into God’s eternity where evil cannot exist (1Cor 15:28; Rev 21:4).
Some have mistakenly thought that evil predated creation and that God included evil in creation when He made the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, the evil was not contained within the fruit of the tree itself, as if evil were some tangible created substance which could be ingested. Rather, evil was first conceived in the heart and mind of Adam and Eve and was then actuated by their transgression against God’s command to not eat of the forbidden tree.
Evil is not a created thing such as a fruit tree. Rather evil consists of the subsequent actions of God’s creatures who choose to act in disobedience, independently of His will. Evil is not a thing, but rather an action. Evil is first conceived in the heart as a desire, which in turn gives birth to the sin or the evil act. God was neither the source of evil, nor was He the source of the temptation. As James, the half-brother of our Lord said:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” (James 1:13-16)
The deception James warns us about is the lie that God is somehow the tempter or the originator of evil. God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5). While it is true that God inhabits eternity and there has therefore never been a time when He didn’t possess the knowledge of the evil that His creatures would commit, evil is not in Him, nor did evil come from Him as to source. Evil is not a creation of God, but exclusively a creaturely act.
Two kinds of evil
We have seen that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. He is the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17). Moses, to whom God is said to have shown His ways as none other, said of Him:
“His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.” (Deut 32:4)
Considering the fact that God’s creative work is perfect and that He is just in all His ways, any theodicy which presents God as being the primary source of evil of any kind is a misrepresentation of God’s character as revealed in Scripture. There are two distinct forms of evil described in the Bible, 1) moral evil and 2) natural evil. However, neither were originally a part of God’s good creation, but entered through the fall.
As we have already seen, moral evil is not some “thing” which God created, but rather sinful and unjust actions which originated in the minds and hearts of free moral beings. As Jesus said:
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matt 15:19)
We already saw how James warned against being deceived into thinking that God is in any way the source of moral evil. (James 1:13-16). If God were in some way responsible for our moral evil, then He would be unjust in punishing evildoers. Paul emphatically denies that God is in any way acting unjustly when He judges evildoers, saying: “Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) 6 Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? (Rom 3:5-6). If God were in any way liable for our sin, then our redemption would have been His moral obligation, rather than an act of His free unmerited grace and mercy, as it is revealed to be in Scripture.
Natural evil is a term used to refer to things like cancer, birth defects, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other phenomena. Contrary to modern secular theory, God created all things good, and natural evil did not exist in creation until the fall when death entered the world and creation was subjected to vanity as a consequence of man’s sin (Rom 5:12; 8:20-22).
Man was originally given dominion over the earth, but when Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation through the serpent, they forfeited that dominion to Satan. He is presently the god of this age and the whole present world system is under his control rather than man having dominion over the earth (2Cor 4:4; 1Jn 5:19). The earth was cursed as a result of man’s disobedience when he forfeited his dominion to Satan. That is when the earth began to produce thorns and thistles, and rather than the animal kingdom being submissive to man, they became hostile to man, making it necessary for God to put the fear of man within them. The first mention of natural disaster is when the fountains of the great deep were broken up, bringing the flood because of man’s unbridled moral evil (Gen 7:11).
Therefore, God is neither the author of moral evil, nor natural evil, since neither were part of His original creation. Many have misconstrued Isaiah 45:7 as translated in the KJV as meaning that God created evil. There God says:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace (shalom), and create evil (ra‘): I the LORD do all these things.” (Isa 45:7 KJV)
Having already seen that God originally created all things good and perfect and that all His ways are just, it is clear that God is not saying here that He directly created evil in the beginning, whether it be moral evil or natural evil. I had previously understood this verse as meaning that God was saying that He accepted responsibility for indirectly creating evil by creating free moral beings capable of conceiving evil in their hearts, which would be true, since He created them knowing that they would introduce evil into His creation. However, upon a more careful consideration of what is actually being said in the context of this verse, it became obvious that the original creation is not even in view here.
In Isaiah 45 God is addressing the Persian king Cyrus, whom He here calls by name, years before he was even born. When He said that He is the one who makes peace and creates evil (present tense), He is not referring to the original creation, but rather what He brings about in the present. He is contrasting Himself with the Persian pantheon of gods. The Persians worshipped Ahura Mazda, who was the king of the gods. However, he wasn’t considered to be all-powerful. They also gave tribute to Angra Mainyu, who was the prince of ra‘ or evil, chaos and discord. They also had Mithra, the God of light, or the rising sun.
The Lord is here telling Cyrus that He is the one and only true God, the source of all things, including both light and darkness, of peace and evil (ra‘). The Hebrew word ra most commonly means “moral evil or bad” in Scripture. Even when referring to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, ra‘ is the word used.
However, there are many instances where ra is used to refer to bad things in general, such as Job’s “painful” (ra‘) boils (Job 2:7), a “calamity” (ra‘), such as a plague, (2Sam 24:16), or a “disaster” (ra‘) brought about by an invading enemy (Jer 4:6), as opposed to peace (shalom), just as we see here in Isaiah 45:17. What God is saying to Cyrus is, “I am the God to seek for an abundant harvest, not Mithra. If you want peace rather than wartime disaster, look to Me, instead of offering sacrifices to Angra Mainyu, the demon god of ra‘ evil, chaos and discord, to persuade him to leave you in peace.”
Throughout Scripture we see that God, for His own good purposes, does create natural evil, either directly or indirectly. For reasons we will be considering in the third blog of this series, God often allows His children to suffer affliction, but, as with Job and Joseph, He delivers them out of them all more than conquerors. As the psalmist says: “Many are the afflictions (ra‘) of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps 34:19).
God also brings evil (ra‘) upon obstinate and unrepentant sinners so that they will repent and be restored. As Amos 3:6 says, “If there is calamity (ra‘) in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” We even see that God speaks forth judgments of ra‘ as punishment for unrepentant sin. Lamentations 3:38-39 says: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities (ra‘) and good things come? Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?”
Does this make God evil or unjust? Certainly not! From the moment moral evil entered into the world, often the only effective form of correction for the obstinately wicked is to repay moral ra‘ with natural ra‘. Our own innate sense of justice tells us that the Judge of all the earth would be unjust if He were to let an unrepentant Hitler or a Putin off the hook without measuring out a just retribution which would be natural ra‘ for moral ra‘.
Indeed, this is what we see throughout Scripture. To those who would accuse God of being unjust for punishing moral ra‘ with natural ra‘, Paul responded: “Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?” (Rom 3:5-6). He also said to those believers under persecution: “it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you” (2 Thess 1:6).
Those who believe that God’s love is exclusively cruciform must reject such passages which present God as a righteous judge executing justice against the unrepentant. Sadly, many today overreact against the diabolical dogma which teaches that God inflicts infinite punishment for finite sins without any restorative purpose, by rejecting any portrayal of God as Judge in Scripture.
Rightly understood, God’s judgments in which He inflicts natural ra‘ upon those who do moral ra‘ are good, since the execution of His justice always has correction as its purpose and restoration as its end, just as a loving father’s corrective ra‘ is applied in order to correct the moral ra‘ in his disobedient child. The Psalmist understood this and could say:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word… It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes… I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Ps 119:67,71,75)
In summary, we have seen that moral evil is not some “thing” that God created, but rather evil refers to the evil thoughts and actions of free moral beings who were originally created good. Neither was natural evil originally present in God’s good creation, but rather came later as a consequence of man’s sin.
In the next blog we will be considering the second question of evil – where did evil originate? Then in the final blog we will consider what to me is the most important question of evil – the why of evil. What purpose did God have in determining to allow it, and how do all things work together for the greater good of all?
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 3 — Articles 6 and 7.