The beauty and wonder of the world assure us there is a loving God. Yet the picture is marred by evil and misery. Where does evil come from? Is God powerless to stop it? Or will it cease to be?
Why does our world see such horrors as genocide, terrorism, mass murder, torture and serial killing? Why are senseless wars always in progress somewhere, worsening or taking the lives of already impoverished and desperate people?
In the past 100 years there has been a marked increase in such atrocities, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of millions, with billions more left impoverished and enslaved politically and economically.
No matter how much the evil committed in wars, riots, misgovernment and societal decline is decried, nothing really changes to improve it. On the contrary, with more powerful means to cause global devastation, the probability of human annihilation looms ever larger.
Behavioral norms are sliding. What was once considered sinful, appalling and immoral is now increasingly acceptable. A recent Facebook meme attributed to author and broadcaster Dwight Longenecker describes it this way: “First, we overlook evil. Then we permit evil. Then we legalize evil. Then we promote evil. Then we celebrate evil. Then we persecute those who still call it evil.”
Clearly, we have come to the point described by Isaiah the prophet: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21).
One obvious example is abortion. In the 1950s and 60s, abortion was illegal. Killing a newly conceived child in the womb was unthinkable—it was murder! Public awareness and community conscience respected life in the womb as sacred and maintained that we must practice moral responsibility when it comes to that life. But that has changed! A child in the womb with a beating heart has now been downgraded to “human tissue” that can be destroyed and unceremoniously discarded as waste.
It’s even claimed as a right and done with no shame. Challenges to this heinous practice are met with strident statements like “Keep your laws off my body!” What was once illegal and immoral has become legal and approved, resulting in more than 60 million abortions in America since 1973. And new legislation allows for almost full-term pregnancies to be terminated.
The apostle Paul foretold a marked increase in wicked, upside-down thinking that would put society in grave danger: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis added throughout).
We live in these prophesied days of unrestrained anger, hatred, revenge, selfishness and the psychological trauma of evil! This is what we see reported daily in the news. And things will yet get worse.
Just where did all of this evil come from, why does God permit it and how will evil ultimately be dealt with?
If God is good and all-powerful, how can evil exist?
Many atheists claim that a major reason for their not believing in God is that they cannot reconcile how there can be an all-powerful and loving God who is not able to stop war, suffering and injustice. How can a loving God who created us in His image and likeness not put an end to all the evil? How could He be so callous and blind?
Key biblical figures asked these same questions. Note this prayer from the prophet Jeremiah: “Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
Job likewise complains: “Why do the wicked prosper, growing old and powerful? They live to see their children grow up and settle down, and they enjoy their grandchildren. Their homes are safe from every fear, and God does not punish them” (Job 21:7-9, New Living Translation).
The question is similarly asked in the Psalms: “Lord, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph?” (Psalms 94:3).
We may be vexed as well. It’s contrary to our sense of justice when evil continues unabated. With all the philosophers, religions and pundits who have spoken out on evil, is there a reputable place we can turn to get some straight answers? What will be the end of evil? Will evil be overcome, or will evil overcome us?
Various cultures and religions have tried to understand the perceived dichotomy between opposing aspects of good and evil in human nature. They have tried to explain this in various ways with terms such as dualism or negative and positive forces. Eastern religion presents the principles or energies of Yin and Yang as shaping this dynamic. There are numerous theories among secular and religious thinkers that try to explain the dark side of human nature.
But what are the actual answers?
The Bible gives credible, clear and truthful explanations to these questions. Those who take the Bible at its word and learn what it actually teaches will find an explanation and timeline for the origin, development and ultimate end of evil. Just as human beings have a history starting with man’s creation and ending with destiny beyond this life, so evil has its own story.
The origin and future of evil revealed
In the King James Version of the Bible, the word “evil” appears 613 times in 569 verses in 343 chapters. It shows up in 60 out of the Bible’s 66 books. In addition to that are many synonymous terms, such as “wicked” and “iniquity” and “sin.” Safe to say, the subject is covered extensively in Scripture.
So what can we learn?
The Bible reveals that the origin of evil was long before the creation of the first human beings. The story begins with the dysfunction of a mighty angelic being referred to in Latin translation as Lucifer. The prophet Isaiah relates how this being’s pride led to an ill-fated attack against God and what was to come of that:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’
“Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities, who did not open the house of his prisoners?’” (Isaiah 14:12-17).
A century after Isaiah, the prophet Ezekiel wrote in parallel of the final outcome of the same corrupted rogue angel, who had been one of the covering cherubim at God’s throne, as portrayed in sculpture over the Ark of the Covenant:
“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.
“You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
“By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones.
“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you.
“You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever” (Ezekiel 28:12-19).
The ruler of this world and god of this age
This is where evil—thinking or acting contrary to God and His way—started. It began with Lucifer’s distorted self-aggrandizement and pride. This led to discontent, criticism, bitterness, rebellion and a failed attack on God.
God had allowed Lucifer and the other angels moral freedom—whether to choose God’s way of love, of outflowing concern toward others, or to pursue selfishness. Lucifer and his angelic accomplices, now demons, chose the latter. And Lucifer became known as Satan or the devil, meaning an adversary or accusatory liar.
The rebellion of Satan and his demons—one third of the angels—was beaten back, and they were thrown down to the earth: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads [symbolic of worldly powers springing from him]. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven [symbolic of the angelic hosts] and threw them to the earth” (Revelation 12:3-4; compare Luke 10:18).
We’re further told of a future war in heaven (Revelation 12:7-8), wherein Satan and his minions will again be thrown down: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (verse 9).
Since his initial rebellion, Satan has been filled with hatred against God and man, corrupting the world to which he was remanded. He is actively preoccupied with destroying God’s creation and plans.
This wicked being is also referred to as “the ruler of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” “Beelzebub,” “Belial,” “the father of lies” and “the tempter.”
The world we live in is Satan’s domain—at least for now. Paul tells us what Satan is actively doing today among the world’s people, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Paul reminds Christians that they had previously been under this great deception and control by Satan—“in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:2-3).
When Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in Luke 4, we learn that Satan bore rule over “all the kingdoms of the world” and offered to turn them over to Jesus if only Jesus would worship him. He was still reliving his dream of overthrowing God: “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours’” (Luke 4:5-7).
Yet Christ rebuffed him, and the devil slunk away.
Evil enters into the human experience
Returning to man’s origin story, we find that human beings were made with divine characteristics and features: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Man was singled out with a higher significance and purpose than any other created form of life. He was made to have a special relationship with God as God’s family.
God placed the first human beings in an ideal environment called the Garden of Eden, allowing them direct and personal access to their Creator. As Genesis 2 shows, also put within the garden were two trees. Both were purposefully placed within man’s grasp. God gave explicit, straightforward instruction about these trees.
Here is where the word “evil” first occurs in Scripture. One of the trees was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” while the other was “the tree of life.” Adam and Eve were told they could eat of the tree of life freely. They were also warned that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would end in death. It was their choice. They could not have both.
The tree of life, as is obvious from its name, represented perpetuation of life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolized determining or finding out for oneself what is good and evil. It’s a tree of probing for understanding through trial and error with uncertain and dubious outcomes.
After God gave His instructions to Adam and Eve, He stepped away and observed what the pair would do.
At this point, a serpent, which Revelation 12:9 tells us was Satan the devil, crept through the garden and accosted the first human couple. Satan’s domain was still this world. He quickly seized onto what God had said to Adam and Eve and dismissed God’s instruction and warning.
He also accused God of hiding from Adam and Eve what he himself coveted—to be as God and have it all: “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Satan could not restrain his preoccupation and lust for power.
Eve, followed by Adam, did exactly what God told them not to do. They ate the forbidden fruit, and the result was catastrophic. They were expelled from the Garden of Eden and cut off from access to the tree of life. They were thrust into the world of the evil being they had followed into sin: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). We, too, have inherited death and those things that bring on death.
The world Adam and Eve chose and were exiled to was not the paradise they had been in. It would soon be corrupted with more sin and violence. Adam and Eve’s first son Cain murdered his brother Abel. The world carried on for some 1,600 years until the Flood of Noah’s time. God’s assessment of that period is: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).
God dealt with the evil of that day in divine judgment. The Flood He sent reduced the human race to eight people. However, He did not intend to remove all evil from the world at that time. Noah’s family grew and soon began to repopulate the world, which was still heavily influenced by Satan’s evil spirit! The history of the world from biblical and secular sources is a torturously painful chronicle of endless disputes, war and every imaginable and unimaginable evil.
Does God care?
God is indeed all-powerful and could eliminate evil at any time. But that would negate the reason He allows it to exist and to continue for the time being. God’s purpose in creating people with free will necessitates letting them make evil choices. Further, by allowing consequences to follow these choices, powerful lessons are learned. And while Satan’s temptations sway the world to evil, they also result, for those who resist with God’s help, in building godly character.
God will only allow evil to persist for a finite time—until His purposes in allowing it are complete.
God certainly cares about what you and I see in the world that is our home. Jesus Christ came in the flesh to bear in himself the penalty of death and suffering that evil has caused—for those willing to repent. And Jesus will return to set the world right.
The rule of Satan is bent on destroying what God is doing. But, rest assured, he is not thwarting God’s purposes. And Satan’s evil reign will soon come to an end!
Jesus is returning to earth to set up and restore God’s Kingdom. In the model prayer that Christ gave His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13, He tells us to pray regularly for the coming of that Kingdom. That Kingdom is coming and will remove Satan from his power over the world. In that same prayer outline Jesus tells us we are to pray that God “deliver us from the evil one.” We are to pray for protection in this dangerous environment and from the hostile ruler of it.
Satan and his demons will be imprisoned for 1,000 years during Christ’s righteous rule over the earth, to then be released for a brief period (Revelation 20:1-3)—again, to ultimately fulfill God’s purposes in helping people to learn lessons and grow in resisting temptation.
Satan’s day will come to an end as he and his demons are thrown into a burning lake of fire (verses 7-10; Matthew 25:41). And finally all people who ultimately choose the devil’s way in continuing to reject God and refusing to repent will be cast into the lake of fire as well and will be annihilated (Revelation 20:13-15; 21:8). Evil will then be no more.
Of the time beyond the final end of evil we are told this: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Yes, God cares! All the evil and resultant pain will be abolished. Access to the tree of life will be open (Revelation 2:7; 22:1-3, 14).
What’s more, all the misery resulting from the evils of this age will come into perfect perspective. As bad as they are, Paul nevertheless says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). In the end, all that people have endured in this life will all have been worth it.
Evil will be gone at last and forever. God speed that wonderful time!