First published in the Bridge Magazine July 2018
Did God Create Evil?
At our newly launched youth group (“The Deep End” – for young people in the yr5 to yr10 age range), one of the young people asked me a great question, “Did God create evil?”
Some people would answer the question “Yes.” After all:
- The Bible says God created the whole universe
- There is clearly good and evil in the universe
- So logically God created both good and evil.
That’s actually a pretty handy thing to be able to claim, because if God is the inventor of evil then he’s responsible for all my failings, and “I was born this way” becomes the perfect excuse for everything from burping in public to mass murder!
The thing is, the Bible says loads more about the problem of evil than just pinning everything on the creator. For starters, it tells us that God is good and that all his works are perfect and just. He is:
“a faithful God who does no wrong” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
So he can’t have created evil.
It also tells us that God’s original creation was completely good (that is, there was no evil in it):
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31
And into that very good creation, God placed the first people, giving them the freedom of a beautiful garden with everything they needed for life, joy and family. But with that freedom came two responsibilities – one was to take care of creation (Genesis 2:15). The other was to obey God’s very simple rule about the garden – they could eat food from all the trees but one. Eat of that one, and they would surely die (Genesis 2:17).
And that second responsibility is the key to understanding the whole question of whether God created evil. By creating a rule that could be disobeyed, God created the possibility of rule-breaking, evil, or sin, as the Bible calls it. Understood this way, evil isn’t a supernatural force like it is in the horror movies and some religious traditions – which tend to portray evil as a ying-yang style balancing force to good. Instead in the Bible, evil is at heart, disobedience to God’s moral law. And tragically the people God placed in that wonderful garden broke his moral law (Genesis 3), and people have carried on in much the same vein ever since.
So God didn’t create evil. But there’s another question we need to ask: Did God do a proper risk assessment on the Garden of Eden? After all, if you create a world in which evil is possible, and put people who are capable of evil into it, don’t you have some responsibility for what happens? Does God have a duty of care?
I’m writing this on the first afternoon of the World Cup, and so I hope you’ll indulge me a footballing analogy…Back in October 1863, the Football Association pulled together the various strands of football to create a unified set of rules for Association Football. I mention this because 47 seconds into the first World Cup game, Russian winger Aleksandr Samedov was hacked to the ground by Saudi defender Omar Hawsawi. So who is responsible for what happened? Was it the Saudi footballer, or the Football Association? Like the referee, I hope you choose to blame the footballer! And it’s just the same with God and creation. Although he created a world where it is possible for us to do evil, God holds us responsible for what we do in that world. One day we can be sure that judgement will come.
But God does still have a duty of care. That’s why the main story arc of the Bible is all about how he responds to the mess we’ve made of his world. He makes a series of promises to put the world to rights and then comes in the person of Jesus to do it, by dying on the Cross to deal with the sins of the world.
But benefitting from God’s duty of care isn’t automatic. As we saw earlier, he created us to be morally responsible choosers, and his rescue plan involves a choice too: a choice to admit our part in the world’s mess and ask for the good gifts of forgiveness and life that Jesus offers through his death and resurrection. And if we’ll do that, something amazing happens: God takes responsibility for the evil we have done, and we’re set free.
So did God create evil? Did he create all the mess in the world? No, we did.
But through the Cross God ends up paying the price to fix it! And as any parent will tell you, that’s what you’ll do for your kids if you really love them!