What the Bible Says About Evil
What does the Bible say about evil? The Bible helps us understand evil from the most important point of view—God’s.
First, understand that the world and everything in it belongs to God. The Bible says in Psalm 24: 1-2 (NAS):
The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Second, God is way smarter than us. He used His wisdom when He created the universe.
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
By understanding He established the heavens.
By His knowledge the deeps were broken up
And the skies drip with dew. Proverbs 3: 19-20 (NAS)
If that’s true, why is there so much evil in the world? To find the Bible’s answer we must start at the beginning.
God Is Good
Atheists seem to delight in talking trash about the God of the Bible. From their perspective of mammoth ignorance they amuse themselves by heaping up adjectives against God. Consider this abridged list from Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak . . . pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Wow! Richard must have used a thesaurus for that paragraph! Where did you learn those big words—Oxford or some London gutter? Atheists accuse Christians of being clueless. But nothing tops that tirade for being clueless.
The Bible says God is good. There is no evil in God. The Bible says, “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Psalm 5:4 NAS) God is completely and totally not evil. He is holy.
God cannot be tempted by evil. He does not tempt anyone. According to James 1: 13 (NAS), “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Each person is tempted when he is lured away by his own desires.
God is moral perfection. He defines what is good. Because of this, He is able to judge good and evil. In the final verse of Ecclesiastes the Bible says, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 14 NAS)
In addition, God is able to inspire goodness in us. The Bible says, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” III John 11 NAS
Jesus said in Luke 18: 19, “No one is good except God alone.” (NAS)
God Created a Good World
According to the Bible, God created the world in six days. On the sixth day He completed this work.
The Bible says at the end of that sixth day, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1: 31, NAS)
God created man in His own image, “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1: 27). God gave man a specific task to perform. The Bible says,
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis I: 26, NAS)
Is this cold, dark, messy world the best God could do? No. God created a much better world than what we see now. Then what happened? God brought man into His world. God gave man some meaningful work. God gave him a command.
“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Genesis 2: 15-17, NAS
There was only one command to obey. Next, God created woman and brought her to the man. They were a perfect couple in a perfect place. The Bible says in Genesis 2: 25: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (NAS) There was no shame or guilt or sin.
We all know what happened next. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. They disobeyed God and ate. At that moment sin and death entered the world. Not only that but the entire world was subjected to the law of sin and death (see Romans 8: 18-22). Every living thing dies in this fallen world. Everything is corrupted—it rots or erodes or breaks down. There is no long term building up in nature. Over time everything breaks down.
What did God do about this? He revealed a way for man to return to God. His plan of redemption is through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Evil and the Human Heart
Man continued to sin. One of Adam’s sons killed Adam’s other son. Sin became a way of life. Don’t blame God or Satan for this. Satan may tempt man. God may test us to discipline us. But each one of us makes the decision to sin. The Bible tells us about a cycle of sin.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. James 1: 13-15 NAS
The problem is the evil in our hearts. Genesis 6: 5 describes that evil:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (NAS)
In no time at all sin filled the earth. Sin is something man does very well.
Religion is not immune. Matthew 15: 1-20 tells of a visit to Jesus by some of the Jewish religious leaders. They wanted to test Him; to see if His theology was okay. Their question is not very important to us. Why did Jesus’ disciples eat without washing their hands? This particular form of hand washing was not for health or sanitation. It was for religious ceremonial cleanliness. These religious leaders believed if a person ate without doing this ritual cleansing, that person would become unclean, that is, defiled.
Their theology was faulty. Jesus set them straight. He said, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15: 11 NAS) Later, He told His disciples:
“. . . everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” Matthew 15: 17-20 (NAS)
Evil is the result of the wickedness in the human heart. God holds us accountable for this evil. According to Jeremiah 17: 9,
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
What About Natural Evil?
Moral evil and the wickedness in our hearts explains much of the evil in the world. But there are many natural events we consider evil. These are not caused by people. What about earthquakes, floods, disease, famine? What about death? Many people consider death the ultimate evil.
Jesus teaches that all people are alive to God.
“. . . even Moses showed [all people are alive to God], in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” Luke 20: 37-38 (NAS)
Is death evil? We may consider death to be the end of everything. Death appears to us as the final event of life. But how little we know. Is death a great evil or merely a minor transition in eternity? The Bible says death is the result of sin. Eternal life is given by Jesus Christ. According to I Corinthians 15: 56-57: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NAS)
Someone may say, “Well, maybe death is not so terribly evil, according to the Bible, but that doesn’t explain the suffering caused by natural events. When a tsunami kills a million people and causes untold numbers of people to suffer, how can that be considered anything but evil?”
The Bible does not consider natural events as evil. There is no moral component in such natural events. At times God uses natural events to do His will. For example, in Genesis 6-8 the Bible tells us of a great flood. The entire earth was covered with water. This was caused by God, according to His will.
In Genesis 19 God uses a great earthquake to destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. The people of these towns were being punished for their wickedness. In II Kings 19 the King of Assyria lays siege to Jerusalem. At the very gates of Jerusalem he mocks the power of God. That night the angel of the Lord puts 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to death.
Natural events—floods, famines, plagues, earthquakes, and such—usually take place in response to natural forces in the world. But at times God may commandeer such events according to His will.
A Major Problem—Our Ignorance
Our ignorance is a major problem in this. Ignorance prevents us from understanding the purpose for natural events. No, I am not saying we are stupid. We are ignorant. We do not understand the workings of God. As God says in the book of Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38: 4-7 NAS)
As the psalmist, King David, wrote in Psalm 139: 6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (NAS)
Scottish philosopher David Hume was no friend of Christianity. Even he realized the problem presented by our lack of knowledge.
At least, you must acknowledge, that it is impossible for us to tell, from our limited views, whether this system contains any great faults, or deserves any considerable praise, if compared to other possible, and even real systems. . . . An intelligent being of such vast power and capacity as is necessary to produce the universe, or, to speak in the language of ancient philosophy, so prodigious an animal exceeds all analogy, and even comprehension. “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” Part V
Our modern society is beset with another problem. We tend to see God from a human perspective. Many people think God is just a “people.” They think He’s just like you or me, only bigger. They talk of God as “the old man upstairs.” God, for them, is only a big, strong, giant kind of a person.
But God is much, much more than that. God is wisdom, power, holiness, mercy, goodness, and truth. We cannot comprehend the simplest knowledge of God. We certainly cannot grasp God’s working in the world.
We depend on God for everything. We trust Him. We know He loves us. But we associate pain or discomfort with evil.
How does ignorance affect this? Think of examples of people or animals who depend on us and trust us. Do we ever cause them discomfort or pain?
I once worked for a veterinarian (during high school, a long, long time ago). One day a woman brought her little dog into the clinic. The dog’s leg was broken. The doctor operated on the dog, set its leg, and put a cast on the leg.
When the dog awoke from surgery, it was terrified. It’s like she was thinking, “What is this thing on my leg? Why does my leg hurt so much?” We were not able to calm the dog. She finally struggled free from the cast. The doctor had to take the dog back to surgery and apply a new cast. This veterinarian was a kind, caring person. Did the dog think he was an evil monster? Probably. The misunderstanding was due to the dog’s limited comprehension.
Today I have two wonderful little granddaughters. One is an infant. What does she think when my son takes her to the doctor? When the doctor gives her a shot, does she think the doctor is evil? When she wakes up for a nap with a dirty diaper does she blame my son for all the evil in the world? Again, the problem is her lack of understanding.
These examples do not explain earthquakes or hurricanes or plagues. But they should help us understand our limited perspective regarding God’s work in the world
God Loves Us
Look at that heading. Just like I said earlier, we see God from our limited perspective. We wonder if God really loves us. Does He even care?
God does love us. He sent His Son to die for us. The Bible says there is no greater example of love (John 15: 13). The Bible also says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 8 NAS)
Can we trust God regarding the things we think of as evil? We can.