The Why of Evil
by Bob Burridge ©2017
There is an amazing area where there is agreement between those who confidently believe in God, those who strongly deny there is a god, and those who are not at all sure about it. They all admit that there are things that are very horrible. When we see others caught up in wickedness either as the purpetrators of it, or as it’s victims, we use that familiar word, “evil”. There is a purpose in that evil, though we don’t all agree about what that “evil” is.
There was that moment in history when that man of Nazareth named Jesus was nailed to a cross. Those who were offended by his teachings shouted out for his death. In their hearts they saw him as wicked, evil. To the followers of Jesus they saw the death demands of the stirred up crowds as evil.
Some had no particular interest in what Jesus taught or in the beliefs he challenged. But as they saw the angry cries of the crowd demanding “Crucify him”, and the tragedy that someone would be put to death for what he believed, they saw the whole thing as an evil mess.
There was that ancient time when the Jewish nation had been held as slaves in Egypt for several centuries. A man named Moses stood up to the oppressive Pharaoh and demanded that he should let this enslaved nation go free. Moses and the Jews saw Pharaoh as evil. Pharaoh and his supporters saw Moses as an evil annoyance.
We all know that record of the fall of humanity in Eden. Eve was encouraged by Satan to defy God and eat the fruit that was forbidden, then to get Adam to do the same. The temptation by Satan was certainly an act of evil defiance of the Creator. For a moment, think of what was going on in the mind of the Temptor. His battle with God showed his hatred of the one who made him. He thought of the control that God had over all things as what he would label as “evil”.
While it is seen in starkly different ways, all agree that there is such a thing as “evil” in our universe. But why is it there? Is there a purpose in its existence and persistence? There is a firm answer given to us by God himself and preserved in his written word. The answer is, “Yes, there is a purpose.”
I have a flashlight that looks totally useless out on the beach on a bright sunny day. When I turn it on out there you can hardly see the light it produces. But out in my back yard in the deep darkness of night it shines brightly lighting up all it shines upon. Darkness is the setting that lets the flashlight demonstrate its purpose and power.
In those darkest moments of our lives, when we see moral evil hurting others and destroying families, ruining neighborhoods, and bringing down entire nations, there is a reason behind it all. Evil is the moral darkness that makes the light of what is truly “good” shine brightly – but we need to have the right perspective on things to know which is the evil, and which is the good. Consider the perspective preserved for us in God’s word, the Bible.
The purpose of all things is the display of God’s power and glory. The universe doesn’t exist for our comfort. It’s there to show the marvels of it’s Creator. This is how God’s word puts it.
Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”
Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”
Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”
Evil fits into this purpose. God intended to allow it to exist so that his full nature would be displayed. The Scriptures explain this using the example of the wicked Pharaoh who wanted to keep Israel enslaved under his own power. It tells us what God intended in Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ ”
The story of Joseph in the last part of the Book of Genesis gives us another example of God’s purpose in allowing evil in his creation. Joseph’s jealous brothers conspired to kill him, but decided instead to sell him into slavery. He was preserved alive to later tell his brothers in Genesis 45:7-8, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” Then in Genesis 50:20 he explained the larger picture saying to them, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Even the evil killing of our Savior had a good purpose those who were crucifying him didn’t see. Peter later explained on the day of Pentecost that God intended to use that horrible crime to complete his plan to redeem his people. In Acts 2:23 Peter said, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;” Though God determined that it would happen, those who did it were morally responsible for the crime. There was obvious evil in that crucifixion, but there was more there to be seen.
Satan himself might have thought he had finally destroyed God’s plan by ending the life of Jesus. But his death was the substitute that paid the debt of sin for all God’s people. In the darkest hour the brightest light beamed out revealing the amazing grace and redeeming love of God. In those moments on the cross, the perfect life was given to redeem totally unworthy sinners. The agony they deserved to suffer for all eternity was taken up by God in human form and condensed into those few hours. Only an infinite God could endure that infinite suffering, and to submit to it for people lost in the evils of sin.
We are greatly saddened by the suffering some go through as the victims of diseases, crippling accidents, violent crimes, and the wounds of war. Our hearts go out to little children when we see them in pain or crippled for life and wonder what good could come of such evil? It’s important that we remember that there is a greater purpose in such things. These tragedies humble us before God and drive us to united prayer. In these kinds of sufferings we see what we all would have to deal with if it was not for the sustaining and protecting power of our Good Shepherd. When victims recover we come in thankful worship of the one behind all healings. We also see a sample of the greater agony we all deserve eternally if it was not for redeeming grace. In those dark times we begin to appreciate the bright light of the Gospel and the wonders of forgivenss revealing even more about our glorious and loving Creator.
Even sin itself serves a purpose in the eternal plan of God. When Satan in Eden attempted to destroy the glory of God’s creation of humans, he actually was the means by which the unfolding of grace and the dramatic display of wrath would be declared. While all who sin are held morally responsible for their decisions and actions, yet it is all part of the way our Creator determined would best show his full nature and infinite power. Those left in their lost estate are forever condemned to never-ending agony to fulfil the purposes of God. The Bible also makes this very clear.
Acts 14:16 speaks of God, “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.”
Psalm 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.”
Romans 9:22-23, “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory”
Our salvation is also for God’s glory, not for ours. We take no credit for the faith and repentance we exercise when we come to Christ for forgiveness. We are unable to understand and trust in the gospel until God applies the finished work of Christ turning our spiritual death into spiritual life.
In Romans 3:10-12 Paul quoted from the Old Testament to support his teaching that in the state in which we are born we are all totaly unable to respond to God’s call to repentance and faith, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”
We are made able to believe because of a grace that never fails to accomplish all God intended it to do and does. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Even some hearing the Savior speak turned away when they heard these hard to accept words. Verses 64-66 show what Jesus said when that took place, ” ‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
These are hard adjustments we have to make to bring our fallen undersanding of God and of ourselves into agreement with what the Bible teaches. We tend to think that everything that’s here and happens is for our pleasure. The truth is that everything is for God’s pleasure, which is to display and declare his eternal nature and glory. If we say, “I just can’t accept that,” we show ourselves to be arrogantly putting our own human understanding over the revealed word of God.
When we go through the darkest of times in our lives, or see others struggling as victims of horrible things, we need to remind ourselves about the real purpose behind it all. We need to respond by coming to our Lord in prayer, submissive worship, and repentance. It’s in those times that we can grow in our understanding and appreciation of God’s holiness, glory, grace, love, and power.
Note: Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.