Evil is anything bad or morally wrong which causes unhappiness, injury, suffering, pain, ruin, or death. Perhaps there is nothing more challenging and confusing to man's faith in a loving and just God than the dominance of evil in our world. All of man's sorrows trace back to one cause—sin. Why did not God prevent man's fall into sin? Adam and Eve were created perfect. Why did God allow Satan, in the form of a serpent, to tempt them to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree?
The Enduring Practical Lesson of Evil
There are some things God cannot do! It is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). Also, “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Therefore, God can only choose the wisest and best Plan for preparing His creatures for a life in eternity. Certainly, God could have prevented Satan's temptation, but God allowed it for an enduring practical lesson for men and angels. God wanted man to experience and see the natural consequences of sin for a wise purpose. Jehovah is “not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness” (Psalm 5:4). God is permitting evil for a time, but what He has planned for man will more than compensate for all the pain and suffering this object lesson has caused.
Every right principle has an opposite wrong principle: truth and falsity, love and hatred, etc. A principle that is right ultimately produces harmony, happiness and good. A principle that is wrong produces harm, unhappiness and evil. Humans were created with an ability to choose between right and wrong—a conscience. However, man’s moral sense has been affected by the fall; some more and some less.
A dog has some intelligence and can make choices based on training gained by certain rewards or punishments from his master. A dog, however, is ignorant of the moral quality of its actions. When a dog rescues or harms somebody, the action cannot be considered either virtuous or sinning; it is merely the result of instinct, not ethics. On the contrary, people do have more or less of a moral sense. When they do good, it is virtuous. When they do evil, it is sinful.
God Did Not Make Man a Robot
God could have made man a robot to always do what is right, but then he would not have been in God's “image” (Genesis 1:26, 27). God could have shielded man from Satan's temptation, but then man would still have been subject to ambitions from within. As a result, his future would always have been uncertain.
In God’s wisdom, he foreknew that what is good can best be appreciated by its contrast. When God expelled disobedient Adam and Eve from His fellowship in the Garden of Eden, they began to learn the exceedingly sinfulness of sin. They began to “know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22)—and to appreciate the difference. During all the centuries thereafter, their posterity has been learning the lesson of evil. Later, during God's Kingdom, mankind will fully experience the contrasting benefits of good.
The moral sense of Adam was an important feature of his likeness to God, but after 6,000 years of degradation, man's natural moral sense has been largely reduced. Now sin is often more agreeable to people than good.
If the opportunity to sin were not permitted, man could not have resisted it, and there would be neither virtue nor merit in his right-doing. But God wishes intelligent and willing obedience, not mechanical service. God already had many animate and inanimate creations to His glory. In creating man, His design was to make an intelligent creature in his own likeness; a master for earth, whose conduct would be based on the value of right over wrong, good over evil.
The principles of right and wrong have always existed, but only the principle of right will continue to be active forever. The activity of wrong will continue only long enough to accomplish God's purpose. Then evil will forever cease (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26).
Learning by Experience
Could the knowledge of sin have come in some other way? Could the dreadful evils the human race has experienced been avoided? Not in so effective and lasting a way. There are four ways of knowing something:
Only God has intuitive knowledge. He knows “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10). Therefore, man’s knowledge of good and evil could not be intuitive. Adam had a knowledge of evil by information, but that proved insufficient to keep him from trying the experiment. Man might have learned by observation, but in order to observe the results of sin, there had to be a demonstration of it somewhere in the universe. Why shouldn’t man be the illustration? The Scriptures tell us that man's experience with sin and evil is, in fact, being observed by the angels (1 Corinthians 4:9). However, the deepest learning is gained by practical experience, and that is primarily how mankind is learning—by personal experience with evil.
Adam did experience good in the garden, but his knowledge of evil was only from information: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). He had no experience of sin with which to predict the pain and suffering that would come. Consequently, he yielded to temptation when it arose.
Adam's offense may seem small compared to the penalty, but at stake was the fundamental principle of obedience. Obedience is essential to the everlasting blessing of God's creation. God above knows what is best for His creation’s welfare and everlasting happiness.
Adam was induced into sin through his wife, whose communication with God was more limited than Adam's. Eve transgressed what she knew was right. But she was deceived by the serpent as to the consequences (2 Corinthians 11:3). Adam, however, was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). Adam willfully shared in Eve's disobedience, evidently choosing not to live without her.
Thus both Adam and Eve were “in the transgression,” and both were cursed. Eve shared in the sentence which she helped bring upon Adam. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Created with Freedom of Choice
God created man with freedom of choice, even though He foresaw that man's moral nature would stray. God is permitting man's present experience with evil to teach him the exceeding sinfulness of sin. The result will develop in mankind more love and appreciation for the Creator and demonstrate the brilliance of virtue in contrast.
However, though God permitted sin, God did not cause sin. God did not force our first parents into sin. Adam and Eve had the power of choice and could have chosen obedience; just as children can choose to obey or disobey their parents. Man, designed to be lord of the earth, certainly had this power, and God allowed him to exercise choice and learn from the experience. Meanwhile, because of His great love for man, God planned to redeem His human creation from the consequences of Adam’s choice. In God’s Kingdom, under better circumstances, another opportunity for a better choice will be offered to people.
“Evil” can mean “Calamity”
God is not responsible for evil in a moral sense. There are two scriptures which might seem to imply that He is, but the explanation is in the meaning of the word “evil.” Sin is always an evil, but an evil is not always a sin. Calamities are often referred to as evils. In this second sense, God may bring evils—calamities—as punishments.
In the books of Isaiah and Amos, God said He would protect Israel from disasters if they were faithful, but if they forsook Him, He would bring calamities (“evils,” KJV) upon them. In the two scriptures below this is the case. Note how the New American Standard translation clarifies the meaning of each text:
KJV – “I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
NAS – “...creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”
KJV – “Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
NAS – “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?”
The same Hebrew word translated “calamity” is sometimes translated “affliction,” “trouble” and “adversity.” God is not the author of sin or immorality, but because of some of Israel's poor choices, they were chastised with a “calamity” or trouble sent by God
The Just Penalty for Sin
God has the power to force man to worship Him, but this is not His desire. God seeks the worship of man from a free heart, willingly, “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), and this is in the best interests of His creatures. During the Millennium, the world will worship God of their own choice, appreciating God for His goodness.
In the meantime, God allows man to learn by practical experience. He allows man to taste sin and its consequences. He has also planned for man's recovery by providing a Savior at great cost. In due time, the “ransom for all” will be appreciated by the world as a remarkable gift from God (1 Timothy 2:3- 6). Thus man's misuse of free will was foreknown and overruled for their good.
Some might agree that imposing the penalty upon Adam was just, but think it unjust that all of his descendants suffer the results. The question is would we have done better if tried individually? Would not at least the majority have been tempted to disobey eventually?
By allowing Adam to pass his condemned life on to us all, God allows experience with death and dying to educate us all. Then, because we were all condemned in one man, we could all be redeemed by one Man—Jesus. God’s standard of justice is “a life for a life.” Thus, God's arrangement actually proves to be a very great blessing. If we had been individually tested and individually condemned, it would have required a Redeemer for each one who sinned.
Death is a reasonable consequence for sin. Those who, after having a full experience and knowledge of sin and its suffering, do not choose to follow the wise counsels of God would be a source of unhappiness to themselves and others. There is no reason to continue their existence for the ages of eternity. The present dying process that mankind experiences is a somber lesson to impress the gravity of disobedience.
Meanwhile, life even as we have it now is a favor and is so esteemed by the vast majority. From cradle to grave, life has blessings sufficient so that nearly everyone wants to keep living. It is a small foretaste of the everlasting, wonderful and glorious life God plans for all who will accept His reasonable terms for life.
Penalty of Death—Not Torture
Sadly, many have misrepresented God's character and plan by saying that God plans to punish unbelievers with eternal torture. This is very wrong! God's penalty for sin is clearly stated: “You shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 NAS). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “The soul [person, being] that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Only a few texts in the symbolic book of Revelation, or in the parables, suggest a torment of fire. In each of these cases it can be demonstrated that fire represents destruction. The penalty for sin is death—not life in torture.*
* The “lake of fire” in Revelation is a symbol of destruction, “second death” (Revelation 20:14). The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is acknowledged by thoughtful commentaries to be a parable. The Rich Man represents Judah and Benjamin and his “five brethren” represent the other 10 tribes, who “have Moses and the prophets.” The fiery tribulation represents the fiery trials Israel experienced after rejecting their Messiah (compare Deuteronomy 32:22-26). Lazarus, received into the bosom of Abraham, represents the outcasts of Israel and the Gentiles who embraced the spiritual features of the Abrahamic Covenant by accepting Jesus, the “seed of Abraham.”
Condemnation to death passed upon the whole human race by one man's disobedience. One man sinned with an unborn race in him. Thus he and all his posterity were condemned. That condemnation could only be removed by the death of one perfect man who would take the condemnation we deserve upon himself. That one unblemished man, a perfect race unborn within him, was “the man Christ Jesus” who died a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5) to satisfy the demands of justice against Adam and his race.
Church to Bless Mankind
The first to be blessed by this redemption is the Church. They are lifted up out of condemnation by the merit of Christ's sacrifice for their justification. After the Church is completed in glory, Christ will resurrect the remainder of mankind and offer them everlasting life on earth. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed...and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus will adopt Adam’s children as his own—with the Church as his Bride.
Jesus promised, “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth” (John 5:28, 29). Paul affirms, “In Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Those who did not have “part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6) will then have an opportunity to come alive again in the “world to come.” Then “whosoever will” may “take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
Mankind’s First Real Opportunity
This opportunity for reformation during the Kingdom seems to some as though it is “a second chance” for life. Certainly for Adam and Eve, it will be, but for all others, it will be their first full opportunity. When Adam disobeyed, “judgment came upon all men to condemnation” (Romans 5:18). Adam lacked the experience which would have developed in him full confidence in God’s laws and character. After experience with the consequences of sin—with Satan bound so he cannot deceive and under a New Covenant with a better mediator—the world will have a full, blessed opportunity for everlasting life (Hebrews 12:24).
Though Satan will be bound, perfect obedience will not be immediately expected (Revelation 20:3), but progress must be made! Man will come out of the grave with the same mind that went into it. Physical and mental perfection will be achieved gradually. Moral perfection will be required by the close of the Millennial Kingdom. Then at the end of the Millennium, Satan will be loosed for a “little season” to test the true heart condition of those who might be only outwardly obedient (Revelation 20:7-9). An individual's trial for life in the future at the close of the Millennium will be more favorable than Adam's trial in Eden. By then mankind will have had a full experience with evil, suffering, heartache, death, and also with righteousness and its blessings of life, joy, peace. They will know the distinction firsthand and make a better choice than Adam did.
However, even with all the advantages of the Kingdom, a few will rebel. Some, as Satan their leader, will refuse all of God's goodness and mercy. They will be destroyed in “second death” (Revelation 21:8), never more to trouble anyone else or themselves.
Would Another Plan Work?
Could this misery which the world has experienced for 6,000 years have been avoided? If God had arranged a favorable Edenic condition for all, with individual trials for all, so that only the disobedient would suffer, would the result have been better?
Suppose that one-fourth, or even one-half, might have gained life in such a trial. They might still forever feel a curiosity about things forbidden. Their service and worship of God would never be as whole hearted—not having tasted both “good and evil” (Genesis 2:17).
What would be the fate of the half who did sin and die? Might that great number of sinners be redeemed in some way? Justice might allow this, but a separate ransomer willing to sacrifice his life would be required for each one individually condemned. Then 50 billions of perfect obedient ones would have to die to redeem 50 billions of sinners. Such a plan would involve no less suffering than is at present experienced.
First, God’s Plan is the most logical and efficient one for man’s glorious eternal destiny. All are allowed to learn by experience the fruits of sin. Because all are condemned in one man, all can be redeemed by one man. Thus, Jesus was a “ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). As the reward for Jesus’ service, God “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:20, 21).
Secondly, God planned the selection of a “little flock” to follow in Jesus' footsteps. These members, now on trial for life, are invited to develop a character of perfect love under the present reign of evil. This true Church will be “joint heirs” with Christ and reign with him in his kingdom (Romans 8:17; Revelation 19:7; 3:21; 20:6).
Then, during the Millennium, Christ and the Church will raise all the dead from their graves, teach the Truth universally, and bless all the willing and obedient of the entire human race. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
The Great Plan of Restoration
Because of God's permission of evil, His great Plan of redemption will be gloriously successful! All the misery, pain and tragedy caused by evil will be more than offset by the wonderful blessings of the Kingdom.
Mankind will benefit eternally from the experience with evil. This experience will also be a monumental demonstration to the angelic hosts of God's glorious character. All will see God's Justice in condemning disobedience. All will see God's immeasurable Love in sending His own Son to satisfy justice in order to redeem us. All will see God's Power in the perfect uniting in Christ of all His intelligent creation “both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). All will see God's far-seeing Wisdom in using even unwilling agents to accomplish the glorious destiny planned for His creation.
God's law of the universe for all intelligent beings is summed up in one word: LOVE. Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), He has chosen the very best Plan for us all.
Ultimately, when God's purpose in the temporary permission of evil is complete, everyone will appreciate what He has done. Until then, with the eye of faith we look forward to the time when all mankind will be restored, as planned since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).