|Study 6: God and Evil
God and Evil | The Devil and Satan | Demons | Digressions (Witchcraft, What Happened In Eden?, Lucifer, The Temptation of Jesus, "War in Heaven") | Questions
6.1 God and Evil
Many sects of Christendom, along with many other religions, believe that there is a being or monster called the Devil or Satan who is the originator of the problems which are in the world and in our own lives, and who is responsible for the sin which we commit. The Bible clearly teaches that God is all-powerful. We have seen in Study 1.4 that the Angels cannot sin. If we truly believe these things, then it is impossible that there is any supernatural being at work in this universe that is opposed to Almighty God. If we believe that such a being does exist, then surely we are questioning the supremacy of God Almighty. This issue is so important that the correct understanding of the devil and satan must be considered a vital doctrine. We are told in Heb.2:14 that Jesus destroyed the devil by his death; therefore unless we have a correct understanding of the devil, we cannot understand the work or nature of Jesus.
In the world generally, especially in the so-called 'Christian' world, there is the idea that the good things in life come from God and the bad things from the Devil or Satan. This is not a new idea; it is not even an idea only limited to apostate Christianity. The Babylonians, for example, believed there were two gods, a god of good and light, and a god of evil and darkness, and that those two were locked in mortal combat. Cyrus, the great King of Persia, believed just this. Therefore God told him, "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me...I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil (N.I.V. "disaster"): I the Lord do all these things" (Is.45:5-7,22). God creates peace and He creates evil, or disaster. God is the author, the creator of "evil" in this sense. In this sense there is a difference between "evil" and sin, which is man's fault; it entered the world as a result of man, not God (Rom.5:12).
God tells Cyrus and the people of Babylon that "there is no (other) God beside me". The Hebrew word 'el' translated "God" fundamentally means 'strength, or source of power'. God is saying that there is no source of power in existence apart from Him. This is the reason why a true believer in God cannot accept the idea of a supernatural devil or demons.
God: The Creator Of Disaster
The Bible abounds with examples of God bringing "evil" into people's lives and into this world. Am.3:6 says that if there is evil in a city, God has done it. If, for example, there is an earthquake in a city, it is often felt that 'the devil' had designs on that city, and had brought about the calamity. But the true believer must understand that it is God who is responsible for this. Thus Mic.1:12 says that "evil came down from the Lord unto the gate of Jerusalem". In the book of Job we read how Job, a righteous man, lost the things which he had in this life. The book teaches that the experience of 'evil' in a person's life is not directly proportional to their obedience or disobedience to God. Job recognized that "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away" (Job 1:21). He does not say 'The Lord gave and Satan took away'.He commented to his wife: "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not (also) receive evil?" (Job 2:10). At the end of the book, Job's friends comforted him over "all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him" (Job 42:11 cp. 19:21; 8:4). Thus God is the source of "evil" in the sense of being the ultimate permitter of the problems that we have in our lives.
"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth...If ye endure chastening...afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb.12:6-11), this shows that the trials which God gives us lead eventually to our spiritual growth. It is setting the word of God against itself to say that the devil is a being which forces us to sin and be unrighteous, whilst at the same time he supposedly brings problems into our lives which lead to our developing "the peaceable fruit of righteousness". The orthodox idea of the devil runs into serious problems here. Especially serious for it are passages which speak of delivering a man to satan "that the spirit may be saved", or "that he may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Cor.5:5; 1 Tim.1:20). If Satan is really a being bent on causing men to sin and having a negative spiritual effect upon people, why do these passages speak of 'Satan' in a positive light? The answer lies in the fact that an adversary, a "Satan" or difficulty in life, can often result in positive spiritual effects in a believer's life.
If we accept that evil comes from God, then we can pray to God to do something about the problems which we have, e.g. to take them away. If He doesn't, then we know that they are sent from God for our spiritual good. Now if we believe that there is some evil being called the devil or satan causing our problems, then there is no way of coming to terms with them. Disability, illness, sudden death or calamity have to be taken as just bad luck. If the devil is some powerful, sinful Angel, then he will be much more powerful than us, and we will have no choice but to suffer at his hand. By contrast, we are comforted that under God's control, "all things (in life) work together for good" to the believers (Rom.8:28). There is therefore no such thing as 'luck' in the life of a believer.
The Origin Of Sin
It must be stressed that sin comes from inside us. It is our fault that we sin. Of course, it would be nice to believe that it was not our fault that we sin. We could freely sin and then excuse ourselves with the thought that it was really the devil's fault, and that the blame for our sin should be completely laid upon him. It is not uncommon that in cases of grossly wicked behaviour, the guilty person has begged for mercy because he says that he was possessed by the devil at the time and was therefore not responsible for himself. But, quite rightly, such feeble excuses are judged to hold no water at all, and the person has sentence passed upon him.
We need to remember that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom.6:23); sin leads to death. If it is not our fault that we sin, but that of the devil, then a just God ought to punish the devil rather than us. But the fact that we are judged for our own sins shows that we are responsible for our sins. The idea of the devil being a specific person outside of us rather than the principle of sin within us is an attempt to move the responsibility for our sins away from ourselves. This is yet another example of men refusing to come to terms with what the Bible teaches about man's nature: that it is fundamentally sinful.
The idea that there is something sinful outside of us which enters us and causes us to sin is incompatible with the plain teaching of Jesus here. From within, out of the heart of man, come all these evil things. This is why, at the time of the flood, God considered that "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen.8:21). James 1:14 tells us how we are tempted: "Every man (it is the same process for each human being) is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust ("of his own evil desire", N.I.V.) and enticed". We are tempted by our own lusts, our own evil desires; not by anything outside of us. "From whence come wars and fightings among you?", James asks; "Come they not hence, even of your lusts?" (James 4:1). Each of us has specific, personal temptations. They therefore have to be generated by our own evil desires, because they are personal to us. It has been truly said that we are our own worst enemy.
The book of Romans is largely concerned with sin, its origin, and how to overcome it. It is highly significant that there is scarcely a mention of the Devil and Satan in the book; in the context of speaking about the origin of sin, Paul does not mention the Devil or Satan. In the same way, "the devil" is a New Testament concept. If there is an external being who makes us sin, surely he would have been mentioned extensively in the Old Testament? But there is a very profound and significant silence about this. The record of the Judges period, or Israel in the wilderness, show that at those times Israel were sinning a great deal. But God did not warn them about some powerful supernatural being or force which could enter them and make them sin. Instead, He encouraged them to apply themselves to His word, so that they would not fall away to the ways of their own flesh (e.g. Dt.27:9,10; Josh.22:5).
Paul laments: "In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing...for the good that I would I do not...if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Rom.7:18-21). Now he does not blame his sinning on an external being called the devil. He located his own evil nature as the real source of sin: "It is not I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law (within me), that, when I would do good, evil is present with (i.e. within) me". So he says that the opposition to being spiritual comes from something that he calls "sin dwelling in me". Every thoughtful, spiritually minded person will come to the same kind of self-knowledge. It should be noted that even a supreme Christian like Paul did not experience a change of nature after conversion, nor was he placed in a position whereby he did not and could not sin. The modern 'evangelical' movement claims that they are in such a position, and thereby place Paul well within the ranks of the 'unsaved' because of his statement here in Rom.7:15-21. These verses have proved a major difficulty for their claims. David, another undoubtedly righteous man,likewise commented upon the constant sinfulness of his very nature: "I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps.51:5).
The Bible is quite explicit about the fundamentally wicked nature of man. If this is appreciated, there is no need to invent an imaginary person outside our human natures who is responsible for our sins. Jer.17:9 says that the heart of man is so desperately wicked and deceitful that we cannot actually appreciate the gross extent of its sinfulness. Jesus also branded human nature as fundamentally evil in Mt.7:11. Ecc.9:3 (Hebrew text) could not be plainer: "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil". Eph.4:18 gives the reason for man's natural alienation from God as being "through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart". It is because of our spiritually blind and ignorant hearts, our way of thinking that is within us, that we are distanced from God. In line with this, Gal.5:19 speaks of our sins as "the works of the flesh"; it is our own flesh, our very being and nature, which causes us to commit sin. None of these passages explain the origin of sin within us as being because the devil put it there; sinful tendencies are something which we all naturally have from birth; it is a fundamental part of the human make-up.