The popular philosophical maxim goes: if God is good, then he cannot be all powerful because evil exists. And if God is all powerful then He cannot be good, because evil exists. Something to that effect. The problem of evil is one that most people always struggle with when they try to understand how there can be both God and all the evil, injustice and perversion we see in life. It hardly makes sense. How can a good God watch innocent babies die? How can a good God ignore wars and disease? Etc.
And in a more specific Christian tradition, if we accept that evil came into the world through Adam and Eve eating of the fruit, (whether literal or metaphorical) in Eden then how can a good God plant such a tree in the first place. Is that not setting them up for failure?
I struggled with these questions for years, until through studying the Bible, praying for understanding and reading different writings on the subject I came to an answer for it. I’ll share that answer but I must clarify that I’m not being dogmatic. I don’t claim infallibility. We’re all reaching for understanding, this is just my contribution. Feel free to critique it and also suggest other ways of making sense of it. If this gets too long I’ll break it up into two parts.
To understand the presence of evil in our universe we have to go back to it’s source. The Bible places responsibility for evil squarely in the laps of Satan. Satan and all angels are free will beings. He rebelled against God, took a third of the angels with him and introduced evil into the universe. But you see the first thing you have to understand is that Satan didn’t think what he introduced was evil. He saw it as freedom. Bible tells us he wanted to be like the Most High. He didn’t think it was right that everything had to be done God’s way. He figured every being had a right to pursue their own will. And he saw himself as far more deserving of the adulation and worship of the angels. It’s a sentiment that even I can understand and relate to. Pride, rebellion, independence, self will, ‘freedom’. These are sentiments I understand really well, and I suspect many of us do. If you have free will, you don’t want to be told what to do, and you want to be the center of your universe. We can all relate, deep down. That is why it is often said that evil is rather banal. It’s in all of us. I’ll come back to that point.
So Lucifer, having made that challenge and gotten a third of his angels on his side, was kicked out of heaven. Okay. God could have destroyed him immediately, but think about this. If a subordinate raises that kind of a challenge to your authority and you squash it and eliminate him, does that settle the idea? Not really. And to those who still serve you, are they going to serve you out of love or fear? Fear. So now they not only fear you, but they also think there really is another way out there that you don’t want them to discover. That will only spur more rebellion. God decided to allow the devil room to work out his ideas on a cosmic scale. Let all of creation see the result and know that outside of God, there is no good.
That means naturally, that when Adam and Eve were made, either the rebellion already existed, or God knew it was coming. Because the tree was already in the garden, I believe the rebellion was already active because prior to Lucifer’s fall, evil did not exist period. Now, God made a perfect earth. He made his own rules the default state. And everything was good. Now he had to give Satan a fair stage to play out his own ways as well. The tree therefore had to be in the garden so that humans would have an honest choice. Free will isn’t free if your choices are removed, is it? No. So God placed the tree. Now he also knew that humans didn’t really know the implications of a lot of this, so he gave them the command not to eat of it and what the result would be. Now Satan’s challenge to God was essentially that given the choice between doing their own will and doing the will of God, most people would choose their own will. And when he came as a serpent, he tempted Eve with doing her own will, being like God and knowing good and evil. She fell, and Adam fell with her. Satan won that round and the world fell over to evil.
Now here’s the crux of it: why does evil happen in the world? Because everyone wants to do what is good for themselves. If you trace almost every evil or sin you can think of, from the heinous to the mildly unpleasant, it boils down to the self. It’s the foundation of all the evil in the world, people would choose their own satisfaction, their own needs, their own desire over that of everyone and anyone. That’s what Satan counts on.
God allowed it because if he shut it down by force, he would not only violate the free will all his creations have, but also he would perpetuate the idea that he was a tyrant and the creation he wants a free-will based love relationship with, would only serve him out of fear, not love.
That is why and how we have the situation where evil exists. But God, being God didn’t just leave it at that.
He had a plan that would not only solve the problem of evil, but do it in a way that would make up for all the pain of the past, prove that He was actually a loving God and also do it in a way that all creation would see the folly of Satan’s path and then worship God out of both love and full understanding.
That is why the Bible said that God had laid down the plan of redemption from the beginning and calls Jesus the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world. We’ll discuss that aspect of God’s plan and how it deals with evil and sin in the next part.
Thanks for reading. Let me know any questions you have in the comment section below.