In the Christian worldview, God is good and He created everything to be good. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God is not the author of evil, rather evil is simply a corruption of God’s perfect plan. Saint Augustine, one of the Early Church Fathers, argued that evil is a lack of good. Nothing is evil in itself; it is simply the absence of what is good. Good is normal, evil is an abnormality. For example, cancer is caused by cells that misbehave. Rape is a perversion of a normal, good, God-created impulse to procreate. God made everything to be good, and it only becomes bad when it is misused or corrupted. God made gravity, and it is good—it keeps us on planet earth and keeps planet earth in its orbit. But when someone falls into the Grand Canyon, as happens almost every year, the goodness of gravity certainly seems evil.
All evil in the world can be traced back to sin. Sin is an abnormality. When God created the world, He gave humans dominion over all of creation (Genesis 1:28). But, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, brought sin into the world. They did this by disobeying God, who, after giving them the whole world, told them of only one thing they were not to do: “…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2.17). Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and it was through them that sin entered the world. With sin came death, disease, and natural tragedy. Sin corrupted God’s perfect creation.
There are two categories of evil: general evil and specific evil. General evil is the result of general sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they introduced a foreign abnormal element into God’s perfectly functioning universe. It was like throwing sand into the gas tank of a car: the car might continue to run for a while, but eventually the gears will start to grind and the car engine will come to a halt. In the same way, since sin was introduced into the world, the world continues to run but now there are problems like earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, and species that are going extinct. Romans 8:20-22 explains,
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Paul’s idea of creation groaning is like the sound of sand grinding in the gears of a car. When we look at creation, it is obvious there are imperfections. Earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes cause enormous destruction. Because of sin, the further we get from the moment of Creation, the more grinding we see and hear in the world. In fact, Jesus taught that in the last days we would see increased war, pestilence, famine, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:11).
The second category of evil, specific evil, is caused by specific sinful actions of specific sinful individuals. Often poverty is caused by people making poor choices—some people are greedy and grasp at too much; other people act foolishly and end up in want. Obesity is caused by eating too much food—an example of the sin of gluttony. Car wrecks are often caused by someone breaking the law by choosing to speed. War can be caused by greed, hate, and pride. On 9/11 when two planes flew into the World Trade Center, the loss of thousands of lives was the result of the evil choices of the hijackers.
Free-Will is the reason evil exists
God did not cause Adam and Eve to sin. He simply allowed them to have free choice which led to sin. Adam and Eve sinned of their own free-will. For free will to exist, choice must also be allowed to exist. The choice that Adam and Eve were given was the choice to obey God or to disobey God. Adam and Eve needed to have the option of disobeying God or they would not have been truly free. The exercise of his freedom to choose brought sin, pain, suffering, and death into the world. God knew he was taking a risk by making humans free; but, if he didn’t make us free, we would also not be human.
The existence of free-will makes evil necessary. Alvin Plantinga wrote,
A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. 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. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
A world without the possibility of evil, is a world without free-will. A world where free will exists, means the option to choose between something that will have good consequences and something that will have evil consequences. It is a tragedy when people choose evil, but the good of free-will supersedes the tragedy of evil.
We all agree it is a tragedy when a drunk driver hits another car, killing its innocent passengers. We could stop the evil of drunkenness and its consequences from ever happening by outlawing all drinking of alcohol. The United States tried this during Prohibition but gave up the experiment after thirteen years of chasing down bootleggers and moonshiners who illegally provided alcohol to the thirsty public. Perhaps if America had adopted the policy that Singapore has of dealing with drug dealers (executing them) Prohibition would have been more successful. Executing someone for getting drunk would likely go a long way to preventing drunk driving from ever killing another man, woman, or child. But, as a society, we have decided that it is better for people to have the freedom to drink than it is to stop the evil of drunk driving and its sometimes terrible consequences.
God made a similar decision in creating humanity. He decided it is more important for humans to have free will than it is to stop evil from existing. He has the power to stop all evil from occurring, but in order to do so, He would have to remove our free will. God could have created people to be robots, programming them never do anything evil. But a robot has no free choice and experiences no rewards for doing what it is programed to do. When a robot puts a screw in a car, the robot does not earn wages from the company. It is simply doing what it is programed to do. Human robots who did the good they were programmed to do, would not feel rewarded by doing good. C. S. Lewis wrote,
Why, then, did God give [people] free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other […]. And for that, they must be free. Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.
Some might say that God could create a world with both free will and an absence of evil, but this is logically impossible. God can do anything, but God cannot do what is logically impossible to do. It would be like creating a square circle or declaring that 2+2=5. Creating a world with both free-choice and no consequences from making bad decisions is impossible. So, God chose the best possible option which involved giving humans free-choice, even though He knew this free-choice could and would lead to sin, pain, suffering and all sorts of evil.
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About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.