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The Problem of Evil

Why does God allow evil to occur on earth? Is God an innocent bystander? This explores the difference between the will and plan of God and between God’s sovereignty and man’s authority.

Category - Short Book

Chapter 2

Defining Evil and Sin

There is no place in Scripture where we are told that evil is a creation of either man or the devil. While it is true that men DO evil, and that evil certainly exists in the world, God always takes credit for it in the ultimate sense.

All evil is the result of Adam's sin. Evil is ultimately the divine judgment for sin. Evil is the result of sin. Therefore, evil is not a CAUSE but is derivative. For example, God told Adam and Eve that in the day they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will surely DIE. Death is evil, and it is the consequence of sin, the effect of a prior cause.

All evil stems from this one act, the “original sin,” and is merely an extension of that first great evil called “death.” Who would question that death was the consequence of sin by the justice of God? Hence, in the great chapter setting forth the sovereignty of God, He tells us in Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and CREATE EVIL; I the Lord do all these things.”

Not only death, but also calamities and pestilence are evils which God may bring upon a nation for their sin. All judgment for sin is “evil” from the perspective of the ones affected by it—until they come to see that such judgments were sent by a just God to judge sin.

This is not to say that God SINS. Most people object to God creating evil on the grounds that it makes God a sinner. But such a view is taken only when one does not know the difference between evil and sin. God creates evil, but God does not sin.

The Hebrew word for “sin” is khawtaw, which means “to miss” or “to fail to hit the mark (goal).” The definition of sin is made clear in both the Old and New Testaments. First, in Judges 20:16 we read,

16 Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not MISS [khawtaw]."

Here the meaning of the word is clear. It has to do with not missing a target. When the target, goal, or standard is the law of God, then to miss has moral implications. We call it “sin.” In this sense, Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, the glory of God is the goal—the mark—and all men, in shooting toward that goal, have found their “arrows” falling short of that goal. All have missed the mark.

God creates evil, but God never fails to achieve His goals. He never misses the mark. If God were ever to fail to reach His goal, He would become a “sinner.” So if we understand the divine plan, which is His goal, and see it, not as wishful thinking but as the divine target of all history, then we will know the end from the beginning, because God will not fail to reach that goal.

There are many who think that God spends most of His time dreaming about what might have been, could have been, or would have been—if only Adam had not sinned. Such a mindset would produce many regrets, spawned from the despair of a great divine Failure. Was Adam's sin outside the overall divine plan? Was God taken by surprise? If so, then God is a failure and thus a sinner by biblical definition.

But no, God forbid! God was neither surprised nor handicapped by Adam's sin. The divine plan will succeed in the end. Neither mankind nor the devil can stop the least part of God’s plan for His creation.

Evil is only sin if it misses the mark. Mankind has been given a mark to hit, a goal to achieve, a perfect standard. It is set forth in Scripture in general, and in the law in particular. The law is the expression of the moral and judicial side of God's character. When men do evil to each other, it is a sin, because they fail to achieve the perfection of the glory of God. However, when God does evil, it is according to His perfect wisdom; it has purpose, and His arrow always hits the bull’s eye. Though we do not always understand what He is doing—because we do not see the end from the beginning—we ought to have faith that He is a good God who will work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28).

Job is set forth in Scripture as a primary example by which we may understand the concept of evil. First, we are told that “Satan” needed God's permission to afflict Job with “evil.” See Job 1:12 and 2:6.

Why did God allow this? The book makes it clear that God had a higher purpose, not merely to test Job, but to bring Job to a greater level of understanding in the end. Job already knew more than the average Christian about the source of evil, for he said in 2:10,

10 Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

The word translated “adversity” (NASB) is the Hebrew word ra’a, which means “evil” and is so translated in the KJV. It carries the idea of calamity and anything which men call “evil.”

Job's friends tried to tell him that surely he was harboring some secret sin in his life. This would explain why God was judging him (or allowing Satan to judge him). But in saying this, they sinned with their lips, and in the end Job was required to pray for them (42:10).

At the end of the story (42:11, 12), Job's family came and “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought on him. . . . And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.”

In other words, when the Lord does or allows evil to befall us, it is ultimately for the purpose of blessing us. This is the basis of Paul's statement in Romans 8:28,

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

It is perhaps no coincidence that God worked anonymously to make men label this verse “8:28.” The number 828 is 2 x 414, which is the factor of “Cursed Time,” and it illustrates the fact that even God's so-called “curses” are ultimate blessings.

There are many other Scriptures that have direct references to God doing “evil” without sinning. Amos 3:6 says, "If a calamity [ra-a] occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?" God always takes credit for bringing judgment upon a city or a nation—including Israel—in order that they might know the Source and purpose of their judgment, which they call “evil.”

Divine judgment is never coincidental, as historians may think. While God uses “natural causes,” He always stands behind history as the First Cause of all things. This is the story presented in Scripture, whether God was hardening Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 10:1) or putting a hook in his jaw (Ez. 29:4) to ensure that they would do His bidding.

We are called to get to know the God of the Bible, so that we begin to comprehend Him and the way He thinks by the mind of the Spirit. This is often difficult, especially the more evil we see and the more that bad things happen to us personally. Our perspective is simply too limited, too personal, too myopic, and so it is fortunate that we ourselves are not God.

We must ultimately come to the same conclusion as Joseph did, after being sold as a slave by his own brothers, and after being imprisoned for years through false accusation. In Gen. 50:19, 20 he said,

19 Fear not; for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you [brothers], you thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive.

This attitude is the primary mark of spiritual maturity in Scripture. All the bitterness and anger of his youth had melted away, once he saw the greater purpose of God in all the “evil” done to him. He had ceased to think of good and evil dualistically. He now saw both good and evil with a singular mind as proceeding from God and having an ultimate good purpose.