One of the many questions about Christianity that seems to leave doubts in the hearts of many people (believers inclusive), is one that questions God’s absolute goodness and the source of evil. Many philosophers have answered this question philosophically and as good as they could, including St. Augustine. However, it seems that we have more people who are eager to ask questions, few who have answers to questions and even fewer who are willing to question the answers that they have.
Many of the answers to this seemingly threatening question usually concludes with man as the source of evil because of his freewill. On the other hand, let’s keep in mind that God made man, and gave him freewill. While we cannot blame God or hold him responsible for man’s actions, we cannot also ignore that man was made with the tendency to choose evil. What this suggests is that man is not the source of evil, but rather a victim of it. He could not have created it by simply choosing it (evil). Also, freewill cannot be the source of evil – that is if we are to discuss it as a tool.
This is what I mean, “A blacksmith made several knives and sold them in the market place to women who needed them. A week later, there was news about a woman who killed her husband with one of the knives the blacksmith had made a week before. At the same time, some other women were in the market to buy the same knife from the blacksmith because they heard he made good knives.”
Now, you do not blame the blacksmith for the death of the woman’s husband, do you? So it is safe to say that the knife is not the evil responsible for the death of the woman’s husband. How it should be used was decided by someone else not it, and neither did the woman create evil by killing her husband (it was already an evil thing to do whether she killed him or not). A tool is simply a tool, freewill then cannot be the source of evil, it only suggests the tendency for it otherwise it would be right to say that God is the source of evil since He both made man, and made him a free moral agent. That brings us back to the original question, where does evil come from?
God made all things – at least the bible is bold enough to make such claim (John. 1:3), so did He make evil? If He did, how then is He (absolutely) good? Now that we have questioned all our answers, let us answer our questions all over again.
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…” Gen. 1:1-4a.
The first verse is a statement, something like a brief abstract that tells you how the earth was made. And the proceeding verses begin to give us details as to how the earth was made. We see something similar when discussing the creation of man in verse 26, and then we are told in greater detail how God made man in chapter two of Genesis. Now let us begin to discuss the first few things said about the world just before and after God stepped in to begin creation.
- Without form & Void: First we are told that the original state of the earth was emptiness. The word void can be defined by Strong’s dictionary as emptiness, void, waste. It simply says that the world was in a state of indistinguishable ruin. It was nothing, it had nothing, it was indescribable (without form), nothing could be said about it, it was useless by itself. Think of this properly, imagine asking someone to give you nothing (you can try it), you cannot do anything with nothing, it simply is nothing.
- The world was covered by darkness: In this part of the world (Africa, precisely Nigeria), we are more surprised by light than we are by darkness. Imagine living in a world without light, you would not even know what light is because you have never seen it. What do you need darkness for? Of what use is it to you? Unless of course you want to do something secretive without being caught, what good comes from it? This was the original state of the world, darkness – the absence of light. It is not a thing to be created, it simply is.
- The Spirit of God: God is a Spirit, so this is equivalent to saying ‘God’. Now God shows up on the earth, and we are told that He moved upon the surface of the waters, brooding, contemplating, fluttering. His intention was creation; to give meaning.
- Let there be Light: The first thing created, imagine if we were created first in darkness (absence of light) and then we just suddenly see light flood the entire earth, it would be a strange thing, wouldn’t it? The world was without light, it never knew light until it was created. So we see that God created the first useful thing the world would ever know, light!
- The Light was Good: Like an artist working on a drawing board – who just finished a stroke with his paint brush, God took a step back and looked upon his work and the remark was the one thing that had never been mentioned in the world, ‘It was Good’.
From here henceforth, we begin to see God take a step back after each stroke of creation He performed to see if it was good (vs 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). And when He was done with all His work on that sixth day, the bible records that “…God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” If the intention was never to create anything evil, then we can say that it was a successful mission because all of God’s work had a report written on them, good. It reminds me of a report that was made about Jesus in Mark 7:37, “And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” So then, where does evil come from?
Two Kingdoms (The source of evil)
Let us first properly define evil. Evil simply means bad, malignant, unpleasant, worst, misery, unhappiness, distress. It is the opposite of good, it is the absence of good.
At the beginning of creation, we obviously could see the difference between the state of the world before and after God’s creation. The state of the world before creation was void, it was in ruination. Chaos was the natural order of the world, and the only thing that could have changed all that was God’s creation. He introduced a new kingdom – one of light, goodness, and love. If we were in existence before God began his creation, what would have been strange to us is everything he did. Darkness only has meaning because light exists. Think of these two statements, “I have a pen in my hand” and “I have nothing in my hand”. The first statement means you have something, and the second statement means you have nothing in your hands. When there’s no pen in your hand, you think of it as nothing. Until light was created we could not have known what darkness was, it can be said that it was considered as nothing (void). See what Apostle Paul says about sin (evil) and the law (good), “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been the law I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’.” (Rom. 7:7, ESV).
Let us also look at what God says about light and darkness, good and evil;
Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
God makes a claim over good (peace) and evil, light and darkness. And by His name, he controls the existence of all things. The name Jehovah, which is used in this verse but written as the LORD in veneration of his name by the Jews, is translated as “The Existing One” or “The Self-Existent” or “The Eternal”. “All things came into existence through him, and without him nothing was.” (Jn.1:3, BBE). This is also like saying that nothing would exist or have meaning in existence without Him. So to create darkness is to make light, to create evil is to create goodness and peace. Now God’s superiority in all of this is that He is the one who creates – the one who creates has power over his creation. He can decide to withdraw or to permit, this is how God has power over darkness and evil, by creating goodness and light. We must remember that God, just like man, is capable of evil but what makes Him good and just is that He never chooses evil. Goodness and love is His nature, yet He is not ignorant of evil. Let’s look at some controversial scriptures that seem to leave questions on God’s goodness.
1. An Evil spirit from God (1 Samuel 16:14)
“But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.”
Saul became tormented by an evil spirit after the Spirit of God departed from him. The bible was not specific about if God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul nor did it tell us if God simply permitted it to torment him, but it does say it was from God. It also does not say that God has an evil spirit since his name is Holy, and there is a clear distinction between the Spirit of God and the evil spirit which can be seen by their influences (fruits), but rather He has power over them (evil-spirits).
2. A lying spirit from God (1 Kings 22:19-23, 2 Chronicles 18:19-22)
“And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. 20And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. 21And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. 22And the LORD said to him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. 23Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.”
Again God was going to carry out judgement upon Ahab, and sent a lying spirit to persuade him to his death. This shows God’s power over all power and principalities – it shows that all things are indeed in His power. So why then will He allow suffering upon the world, including the innocent? That is the question most of us ask ourselves or ask people in an argument about God’s goodness. How can He then be good if He will not wipe out suffering from the world? Is suffering his judgement on the world?
Two races – Who is on the Lord’s side?
I do not believe that suffering occurs because it is God’s judgement on the world, neither do I believe it is exclusively because of all the wrong choices we have made but rather I believe it is simply a matter of whose side we are on – what kingdom do you belong to? He brings judgement by withdrawing good from the guilty, and brings good by preserving those who trust in him from evil.
You see, God created man for a specific reason, to be born of His nature. God created man to belong to his kingdom. However, there are two kingdoms only and those who are not part of God’s kingdom are part of the other kingdom consequentially. The other kingdom exists outside God’s presence and influence; by influence I do not mean power, but rather the benefits associated with being a part of His kingdom, just like citizens of a kingdom have rights in their kingdom. Those outside God’s kingdom are like rebels, they reject God and so are deprived of the benefits associated with His kingdom.
The first rebels of God’s kingdom were His own angels, one-third of the angels of heaven rebelled against God, seeking to be equal and above Him. These rebels became man’s eternal enemy, the devil and his angels.
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” Isaiah 14:12-15, KJV).
The devil was banished from the presence of God, he was cursed to be a wanderer around the world, having no place to call his dwelling. This was all before God’s creation of the world (and man). When God created man, it was a creation that even the angels had not seen. Man was made in the image of God, blessed with dominion over all of God’s creation. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalms 8:4). As a rebel, it’s no surprise that the devil would try to hurt God by turning His precious creation (man) against Him. He achieved this by tempting the woman into seeking to be like God, rebelling against His only commandment, and the consequences – death, separation from God’s presence just like the devil and independence from God (Genesis 3:1-24).
The first man and woman were manipulated into betraying God, however, those who realized their mistake still held on to the promise God made to them, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” hoping that one day they would return to the presence of God. This was the beginning of God’s redemption plan, and Genesis 4:25-26 tells us that men began to call upon the name of God again. But this was also the beginning of two different races, the sons of God (those who are led by the Spirit of God) and the seeds of disobedience (those who remain rebels to God). The ‘rebelling race’ began with Cain in Genesis 4:5-7 when he gave into his desires of jealousy and hatred, even after God cautioned him of what would happen if he did not take dominion over sin. The ultimate consequence of his action can be seen in verse 16, “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”
The human race grew in sin as ‘the sons of God’ began to marry without discriminations including daughters of Cains descendants who were rebels against God. Only a handful remained faithful to God causing Him to destroy the world according to His judgement, preserving only Noah and his family. Noah and his family were spared of the judgement of God because they chose to be part of God’s kingdom while the others were destroyed because they refused to repent from their evil even after Noah’s warning and God’s patience for an entire century. So like I said before, it is a matter of whose side you are on.
Salvation is a change of citizenship from one kingdom to another, from one race to another. By heredity, all humans were rebels to God, but those who put their faith in Jesus, the only Son of God have been given the power to become the sons of God, (John 1:12). Everyone who preaches about God is in a position like Moses was, crying with a loud voice, “who is on the Lord’s side?” The Israelites chose the image of a calf as their god who delivered them from slavery in place of God. God is always willing to forgive us whenever we disobey Him and turn in repentance, but if we remain in rebellion then the only gain is an eternal separation from His presence. As God’s chosen people, the children of Israel had protection, wealth and peace from every side. God always defended them without them having to fight for themselves, at a time He caused three nations who ganged up together to fight Israel to fight and kill themselves.
God has power over all things, and those who belong to His kingdom enjoy all the benefits of His kingdom. We often ask ourselves why we suffer, have we asked ourselves whose side we are on? What are His promises you ask? “I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 3:11). “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13). “And this is the confidence that we have in him, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:” (1 John 5:14). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
God takes care of those who are His own. The situations in our lives can only change if we belong to His kingdom, those who refuse to be led by the Spirit of God are left independent of His purposes and plans for a better life. This is not falsehood, God gives His peace to us like He doesn’t need it. A peace that can be found in the midst of any trouble, He uses our darkest moments in our favor He turns our darkest night into the brightest day, these are the benefits of being a part of His kingdom. Personally, I know what it means to go through suffering and I also know what it means to have joy in the midst of troubles that never seem to go away. While chasing everything that seems beautiful, you will end up losing sight of all God’s plan for your life and that’s why He said “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mat. 6:33). ‘All these things’ here mean everything that really matter in life – peace of mind, love, goodness, joy.
What about faithful Christians who suffer?
We might wonder if God remains faithful when we lose people we love even after asking God to protect them or heal them, but he truly remains faithful. Why are our prayers then unanswered sometimes? It could be a result of faithlessness, it could be our guilt preventing us from God’s healing power when the situation is a consequence of our own actions, it could be God’s own decision also – why, for our own pruning unto perfection.
God is faithful to hear us when we pray to him, he will answer every prayer made in faith. However, there are times we go through such trials, and we do not know why until he shows it to us, or until we look back at our journey through the process. God sees things differently, seeing through Gods lens is faith. Let me show you something significant, have you ever wondered why God sent his own chosen people to be slaves in another land for four-hundred years? What seems to be funny about it is that he told their ancestor Abraham about it, what did Abraham have to say? He simply trusted in God’s goodness, He knew God was not going to just let them endure such suffering in vain. He knew God was going to be with them through it all, he was certain that God was going to strengthen them through their sufferings, and God did.
Gen.15:13-14, “Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14But I will bring judgement on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.’ ”.
Exo. 1:12, “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.”
God taught me on this a certain time I had to suffer somethings, he showed me how by letting them be in slavery he protected them from his judgement that would eventually come upon the world because of their rebellion. Israel knew no other god since they were in slavery, God prevented them from being mixed up with the rest of the world who were rebels, serving other gods. He then delivered them, making them into a great nation as judgement to those whom he had waited patiently to repent but instead grew in sin. “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen. 15:16, ESV).
We can also talk about Job whose trials at first seemed unreasonable and unfair, until God revealed his self-righteousness to him through the trials. It was not just a ‘test to see’, it was for a more perfect Job who was already precious in the eyes of God. Even Jesus had his own trials and prevailed. He was born without sin could have declared himself righteous and rightly so, but humbled himself to God’s own declaration of righteousness by allowing himself to be baptized of John’s baptism of repentance, as if he had a sin to repent of. (Matthew 3:13-17).
Does God then play with our emotions to simply prove a point? Absolutely not. First, the points made are vital to the salvation of our souls. If he truly loved us, then he has to make those points. The real question is “At what expense?” What do we really lose? Our lives? Our time? It is befitting for us to remember that nothing in this world, not even our lives are eternal until we put them in God’s hands. Those who are in God never die, they belong to eternity – a life of peace and joy, without tears. We have this hope in God, and so we can endure all things, even though our pains seem like they will never end. God assures us that Joy comes in the morning, and there will be no more night. One of my favorite scriptures says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes…” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).