Q&A: What is evil?

What is evil?

Question

What is evil? Who created it? What isn't evil? Please give me an illustration.

Answer

Thanks for your question.

First, God did not create evil (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4). This is revealed in such passages as Habakkuk 1:13 and Psalm 5:4-6. God is light, and there is no darkness in God at all (1 John 1:5); there’s not even in him a shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17). He is unchangeable. God can’t even be tempted with evil (Jas. 1:13). Therefore, it necessarily follows that he could not create it, because to create evil one would need to be evil in the first place.

Second, though it produces some very real things, evil itself is not a thing like a home or a car. Evil is actually the absence of something. 1 John 3:4 states, “… sin is lawlessness,” so sin, being evil, is without the law or law-less. Titus 2:11-12 tells us to “renounce ungodliness.” Therefore evil is that which is un-godly; it is un-godliness, un-righteousness (cf. Rom. 1:18). In the simplest terms, evil is everything that God is not. It is everything and anything that sets itself against God.

An illustration: Imagine someone creating a "very good" four-legged table that functions as intended. Perfect! Wow, it's nice. But what happens when a leg is removed from it? Something good (a leg) is removed from something good (the table), and you have something other than what was originally created. The table is no longer complete. Part of the glory that once was the table's has vanished because it is now corrupted. It's no longer what it originally was and no longer what it's supposed to be.

God, in his glory, created the universe. He created a Genesis 1:31 table. It was very good - absolute perfection. God gave his Genesis 1:31 creation to Adam, his covenant agent, to manage. Adam was in charge of a very good four-legged universe. But in time, Adam removed one of the legs through disobedience. In his mismanagement, Adam allowed the glory of another to replace the glory of his Creator. So, now we have an imperfect, fallen, three-legged universe. The universe is out of balance. Sin exists. Evil exists.

But, in the fullness of time, Jesus, the Carpenter, inaugurated reattaching the leg through his life and the Cross. And in the consummation of all things he will create/re-create all things new. His people look forward to the new heavens and the new earth. It will be a new four-legged universe, an even better one incapable of being corrupted!

So, evil is not something that needed to be created; rather it is the absence or subtraction of something good from what was created. All that was needed for evil to exist was the ability to choose to reject or deny God, and both Satan and mankind [in Adam] did this!

For more about why God ordained things in this fashion, please see, “Why the possibility of evil in creation?” below.

Related Topics

Why the possibility of evil in creation?
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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).