Where did evil come from?
Is it God's fault that there is evil and suffering in the world?
Many people reject the concept of a God because of evil and suffering. If God truly loves us, why did He create evil? If God truly cares for us, why doesn’t He put an end to death and suffering? In this article, we’ll look at what evil is and where it came from. Tomorrow, we’ll examine why God allows evil and suffering to continue.
What is evil and where did it come from?
Although the origins of evil are unclear, the Bible tells us that when God created the world the devil was already at work to destroy the perfect work of His hands. Genesis says that God attempted to protect humanity from evil by instructing Adam not to eat the fruit that would open his eyes to the distinction between good and evil (Gen 2:17). God informed Adam that if he ate the fruit he would “surely die.”
We all know how that story ends – with Adam and Eve choosing to eat the fruit and from then on becoming aware not only of the difference between goodness and evil, but also of the actions that may lead to one result or the other.
The story suggests that evil in our world does not exist because it was created or devised by God, rather it exists because Adam and Eve – and we as their descendants – made and continue to make choices that allow evil to exist.
How do we choose to allow evil to exist?
Moral philosophers have argued that because of our ability to make choices, we are able to make morally good choices (like showing love and affection), and equally we can make morally bad choices (such as theft and abuse).
Evil can exist when, for example, rather than living in harmony we choose to focus on our differences and create conflict as a result. Here's a few ways that may show itself:
- when we choose to bully a schoolmate because they’re just not cool
- when we choose not to be friends with someone because of their looks
- when we are disdainful of those who make different food choices
- when people are killed because of their religion, race, or political beliefs
Evil can also occur when, rather than placing others’ value, dignity, and needs in equal standing to ours, we make the choice to assert ourselves over them. We see the consequences of this choice in particular crimes; human trafficking, prostitution, and the assertion of political control from one country over another.
Is God responsible for evil and our suffering?
If the possibility of evil arises from our choices, then surely the God who gave us the ability to choose is responsible for evil.
This is as wrong as saying that the parents who conceived their child are entirely and completely responsible for the misdeeds of their child. Our actions are not caused by God, in the same way that a child’s ultimate decisions are not caused by their parents. God gave us the gift of choice and what we do with that gift is, ironically, our choice.
A prominent Christian philosopher called Alvin Plantinga summarises this when he explains that because God wanted to give us the ability to choose, there was always the possibility that we would choose to do evil. He says,
"To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil." (1)
What does that mean for you and I? It means today we still have a choice. We can choose to do good, or choose to do evil. But for Christians, we have the Holy Spirit who works in us to help us want to do good.
(1) Plantinga, Alvin (1974). The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.