Genesis 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Then it details out how He created everything on the earth, how He placed the stars in the sky and put the sun and moon in their places and hung the earth on its axis. Elsewhere in the Scriptures we are told about other things He also created, such as angelic beings, and a spiritual world or dimension in which He lives that we like to call heaven. In short, the Bible tells us that God created EVERYTHING. And as Christians, we believe that. But if God created everything, and there is evil in the world (we know this to be true), then did God create evil? And if He didn’t, then who did?
This is a tough question because the Bible tells us about a God that is both all-powerful and all-good. We see this in the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, which is a brief account of the creation of all physical things. It says that God created amazing, wonderful and mighty things (such as space, the sun, all of the stars, every animal, every plant, and human beings), and the narrative takes a breath at the end of each of the 6 days of creation to tell us that He looked back on what He had created and saw that it was very good. So to start with, let’s dispel any notion that God created evil or sin. What God created was good. In fact, the goodness of God is one of the mainstays of His character and we see this all throughout Scripture. It’s also the basis of the Gospel itself.
But hold on a minute…so evil exists, and God did not create it, yet God created everything that exists…how does that work exactly? This is a philosophical question. The problem is not that there is no answer, the problem is that there is a misunderstanding in the question. It’s the part about the existence of evil. Evil does not exist in the same way that your dining room table exists, or your hands, or your car keys. It’s not a physical thing. In this tangible sense, evil does not exist. However, we can all see that something is severely wrong with the world. Everything is not ‘very good’, as Genesis says it was created.
Well, first let’s break down what ‘sin’ is. The definition of sin is ‘lawlessness’ or ‘missing the mark’. The definition of ‘evil’ is ‘profound immorality’. Notice how these definitions (lawLESSness, MISSING the mark, profound IMmorality) are in the negative. In other words, they are not things in and of themselves. They are opposites of things. They are the lack of things that should be there. Perhaps a more tangible example would be light and dark. Darkness does not exist. Darkness is simply the absence of something called light. In the same way sin (evil) does not exist, it is simply the lack of something called good.
Goodness was a part of God’s creation. That includes order, obedience, generosity, diligence, friendship, all of these things were part of the makeup of God’s creation. The world God created was made to run on these good things. We know from our own experience that when we try to use things in ways they were not meant to be used, we don’t get the result we may expect. Take a car for instance. Most were made to run on gasoline. If were to put Pepsi in the tank rather than gasoline, what would happen? Stuff we may not expect, such as the engine cutting out, or maybe even nothing happening at all. The engine wasn’t made to run on Pepsi. Pepsi doesn’t light on fire the way that Ethanol does. In the same way, our bodies were meant to breathe a combination of oxygen and carbon dioxide, but in certain proportions. When we start injecting tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from factories and cars, and we cut down the trees and plants that were replenishing the air with oxygen, the air we breathe is now in different proportions than it was meant to be. What happens? We get asthma or become allergic, or perhaps even get some forms of cancer. These are natural responses to an unnatural environment. Evil works in the same way. We don’t see only the good that God created because we have shirked the natural order of how He created the world (and ourselves) to operate.
So what happened? One of the core doctrines of salvation is the ‘fall of man’, which we are told about in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and He punished them for it. We can see in this account that Adam and Eve made free-will decisions to disobey God. And that’s the answer. God created all good things, and those good things were meant to operate in certain ways that corresponded with that goodness. Disobedience to God’s plan for creation is what brought sin and evil into the world, and these were not created by God, but are the natural byproduct of man’s disobedience. It’s like trying to fix a toaster but using the operating manual for a vacuum cleaner as a guide.
God told Adam and Eve that because they had disobeyed Him, they would surely die. Was this a curse from God? Or was He simply sharing with them the bad news – like a doctor telling you that you just had a heart attack and that you were unlikely to pull through? You’re not going to die because the doctor said so, but because you had a heart attack. It’s cause and effect, one of the key particulars of God’s creation, one that is so consistent and reliable that it gave rise to the invention of something we like to call the Scientific Method.
So evil does exist in this world. We see it all around us, every day. It’s on the news, it’s in our governments, it’s in our workplaces, it’s driving around on our city streets, it’s in our movie theatres, it’s in the browsing histories on our cell phones, it’s in the words we say to our family members, it’s very much in our own minds and hearts. It’s apparent in everything and everyone that something has gone horribly wrong with this world. But in order for something to go wrong, there had to be a right way for it to be in the first place. God’s original plan is that right way.
So God did not create evil because evil is not a thing. God created everything to operate in a certain way, and evil is the natural byproduct of mucking up that way. So a perfectly good God could have created the world we find all around us, and His goodness is made even more manifest in the free-will decisions He allows us to make that caused the problem in the first place. The Bible tells us that the only way to get back on the right path, to operate according to the original manual, is to bring the problem to Jesus, who is like the great mechanic (the Bible uses the word ‘healer’). He, and only He, can set us right again. In fact, we are told that in the end He will hit the reset switch on the created order and everything not operating according to spec will be destroyed.