Why the Devil?

Did you ever wonder why God allowed the devil to enter the Garden of Eden? Obviously, God knew what would happen, and He knew it would be bad, so why not keep that old snake out in the first place? Over at Jon Brisbin's blog he's writing about that excellent question, and inspiring me to write about it, too.

I believe the answer begins in Isaiah, where we read God created evil (ra in the Hebrew). This is Biblical confirmation of something syllogistic reasoning also dictates: God created everything. Evil is part of everything. Therefore God created evil. This is inescapable. So we know God did not allow evil (or the devil) to enter creation (or the garden), rather, God created evil as part of all creation all along. In some ways, this is even more confusing. It certainly means we have to adjust the question. So let's think of it like this:

Why did God create evil in the first place?

The answer begins with a definition of "evil". Evil in its purest form is not a thing; it is merely a possibility, an idea, or a choice, if you will. We can define evil is "any potential which is not morally neutral or good." In this sense, evil and God can coexist (as we see in Job) because holiness coexists with all ideas, including bad ones. Ideas, in and of themselves, are not sin. Sin, like love, is action, and it is the form of action that separates what is holy from what is not. So, since evil alone was not enough to inject the profane into a holy, or perfect creation, Satan required the addition of action. This means he needed free will as a catalyst. Maybe it would help to think about it this way:

Evil + freely choosing evil = sin.

Just as you don't have chocolate milk until both the milk and the chocolate are actually in the glass, so evil alone does not cause sin to corrupt the universe. Without human freewill, the universe would still be perfect, even though God created evil in it, because there would be nothing to convert the possibility of evil into an actual event, a thing that has been done.

Now, again, why would God allow evil, knowing human freewill would convert it into sin and corrupt all creation? The answer, I believe, begins with 1 John 4:8 & 16, where we read, "God is love."

Every exploration of God's motives must always begin with love.

We are told in John 3:16 that God "gave" Jesus to "the world" for the sake of love. So when we read in Col 1:16 that "all things were created by him and for him," we should understand this in terms of love. All things were created by the Source of all love, for the sake of love.

Love, then, must explain evil. And it does.

Consider how we love. Can love be taken from a person by brute force? Can it be purchased? Can it be imposed? Of course not. Love, by its nature, must be a free choice, or it is not love. It cannot be compelled, not even by God. (See Hab 1:13 and 2 Tim 2:13 for Biblical proof that there are things even God cannot do.) Bear in mind that the purest form of love (agape) is not an emotion, but rather a conscious choice to act. Love must be freely chosen. And what must we have before we can freely choose? At least two things we can choose between, of course. In this case, that means good, or evil.

So we need evil if we are to truly love God, because if only good existed we would have no real choice to make in the matter. We would not be lovers; we would be robots. Remembering our earlier equation for sin (evil + freely choosing evil = sin) consider this:

Good + freely choosing good = love.

One equation makes no sense without the other. The free choice of good exists only if the other equation also exists as a real possibility, only if we can also choose the possibility we call "evil," and thus convert it into sin instead of converting the possibility we call "good" into love. Now at last we return to our original question and find we have an answer:

God created evil (and Satan) for the sake of love.

Consider how this must frustrate the devil! Doesn't it make you smile to think of it? And while you're thinking, ponder the connections between our two equations and these famous words from James: "faith by itself...is dead." Christianity is about faith and belief for sure, just as morality is about the possibility of good or evil. But Christianity is also about taking action, about what God has done for us, and what we do in response.

So the next time you are face to face with evil, remember why it's there. Evil exists so you can "do love" to your neighbor and "do love" to your Heavenly Father, by freely choosing good instead. The devil exists to be denied. It is his only function. When I remember this, I find it easier to live with the horrors of this fallen world. I hope you also find it helpful.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:17 PM  


Dayle James Arceneaux said... August 30, 2007 at 7:27 AM  

Well put, Athol. I have heard many ponder - Why did God allow that(generic) to happen? The answer is always freewill. But your answer is better. Because God needed to give us freewill so that we could choose to love him. The yang to that yen is that we can also choose to hate or ignore Him.

And this is the raw material from which evil can be created. Choice.


Kay said... September 5, 2007 at 2:35 PM  

I've pondered this question and one person aswered it for me by saying that evil wasn't created. It is the hole that is left when something was destroyed. I like that answer.
The rest of your argument still holds true. God could have prevented the "destruction" that resulted in evil. But he allowed it. He cannot do anything that is not motivated by love for He is Love.

Athol Dickson said... September 5, 2007 at 4:50 PM  

Kay, the idea that evil is "the hole that is left when something was destroyed" sounds like a reference to the concept that every form of evil is a perverted form of good. It is good to love myself, for example, (otherwise I can't love my neighbor as myself), yet without God's guidance I can twist that into so many sins done in my self-interest: greed, adultery, lies, theft, etc.. This is a helpful way to think about evil, especially when searching for a way to forgive others, because everyone can identify with a selfish motivation.

Kay said... September 6, 2007 at 7:51 AM  

That is one of the enemy's best tools. Take something good and warp it just enough.

This definition could also contribute to the idea of equality - for every good there is an evil and that they are equally strong. Which I don't agree with.

My thinking on this definition has more to do with evil first making itself known. There was perfection in the Heavens and Lucifer destroyed it. Now evil exists. I hadn't really taken the thought any further than that.

Athol Dickson said... September 6, 2007 at 9:34 AM  

Kay, I think you're very wise to mention the fact that good and evil are not "equally strong." Dualism, or the idea of a yen/yang balance between good and evil or God and the devil, is not Biblical. God is one, and this means God alone is in control. God's oneness also means He alone is the creator of everything, and that includes both Lucifer and evil. Evil was created by God "in the beginning" along with everything else. It was not in any way created or imposed by the devil in the garden. Such a belief would give the devil far more than his due. Isaiah 45:7 leaves no room for it, when God speaks through the prophet to simply and unmistakably announce, "I create evil." But we need not be concerned at this thought. We need only remember why our good Father made evil in the first place, as explained in this post. When Paul says, "In all things God works for the good of those who love him," (Ro 8:28) the words "all things" should be taken literally, to mean even evil works out for good in God's loving hands. I think of Joseph's words after all the evil done to him: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Gen 50:20 NIV)

Kay said... September 6, 2007 at 12:42 PM  

Ok, I'm not going to take your word for it, even though you are a better thinker than I am. :)
But I will take God's Word for it. So I am going to look at that Isaiah passage and delve into the Scriptures more on this.
It's not that I can't deal with the idea that God created evil. If He did, He did. He's God. What's it to me?
I can't really grasp "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated", either, (even though I've heard various explainations that sound more like they are trying to excuse God) but I accept it.
Can't understand how predestination and free-will can both be true, but the Bible says they are. So I'll believe it.
If I could understand all God does, what would be the point in worshipping Him? So I trust His wisdom and goodness and love. Bottom line.
I think that was the point of your post in the first place wasn't it, before my bunny trail?

Athol Dickson said... September 6, 2007 at 2:05 PM  

Kay - Absolutely, you should search the Bible on this! The Hebrew word you're looking for at Isa 45:7 is rendered as "evil" in most English translations, although the NIV uses "disaster." It is pronounced "RA" (like the ancient Egyptian sun god, which may not be a coincidence). The best way to see what it meant to ancient Jews is to see how it was used in other places. Toward that end, here are a few of the more famous verses where the word appears: Gen 2:9 & 17 (which supports the blog post above); Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21; Gen 13:13; Job 1:1; Ps 23:4; Isa 5:20; Amos 5:14 & 15; and Jonah 1:2. Happy studying!

As for "Esau I hated," bear in mind that hate can sometimes be a good thing. It is good to hate sin, for example, and that is what the Lord meant in Malachi 1:1-3, when he said "Esau I hated" through the prophet. He speaks first to the people of Israel, whom he calls by the name of their ancestor Jacob, and then of an entire Canaanite people, the Edomites, who are called by the name of their ancestor, Esau. Edom was the sworn enemy of Israel. They worshipped the Canaanite gods Ba’al and Asherah with orgies and child sacrifice. As Paul interpreted the verse in Romans 9, God speaks this way to remind Israel that they are brothers to the Canaanites ("Was not Esau Jacob's brother?") therefore His favor flows not from birthright, but from behavior. God loves obedience, and hates sin. In Mal 2:16, for example, he goes on to again use the word, saying "I hate divorce." It is good to hate divorce, because divorce is an evil thing. In the same way, it is good to hate a people who sacrifice their babies in fires.

Richard said... September 10, 2007 at 10:17 PM  

Very good, bro'. May I add what I feel. Being that God is love, He is out to create more of what He is (love). Evil, the fall, our sin, His compassion, mercy, and love, redemption (the cross being preordained before the foundation of this world); all created by Him to bring about us learning to be merciful, compassionate, and loving. To be like Him. I love one of Jesus' last prayers, that we may love one another as Jesus and His and our Father loves eachother.

wit4life said... September 28, 2007 at 10:41 AM  

It was interesting to learn in my Old Testament grad class this summer that the ancient Hebrews would not have considered the serpent in the garden to be "the Devil". If we look, it never says "Satan". The point of the story as written by Moses to the people of his day, was to show that God showed incredible mercy after disobedience, and it was part of the Historical Prologue of the Sinai Treaty, similar to other treaties found in those eras.

Devil or not, I agree with you, brother. God is willing to put up with a lot for love.

Athol Dickson said... September 28, 2007 at 11:17 AM  

Interesting point, "wit4life".

If I might riff on it a bit: you're right that the serpent is only called that in the account of the Fall, never "devil" or "Satan." Because of that, it may also be true that the ancient Hebrews did not understand the serpent as we do now (although this is not easily proved).

We can speculate in similar ways about the ancient Hebrews' understanding of God himself. Given passages like, "You shall have no other gods before me" versus a flat statement "There are no other gods", and given their propensity to engage in idolatry well into the time of the Kings, it seems the ancient Hebrews were probably polytheists in spite of their ancestor Abraham. Many theologians believe God refrained from a purely monotheistic pronouncement on Sinai because he knew people's paradigms are best shifted slowly, or incrementally, rather than in massive doses. So he took them from full blown Egyptian style paganism to henotheism first, instead of straight to monotheism, by letting them spend those forty years in the wilderness witnessing the reality of his presence in daily miraculous ways, before adding the statement in Dt 4:35.

Of course, the ignorance of the ancient Hebrews never changed the fact that God was always one, and "besides him there is no other". Nor does the absence of words like "the devil" or "Satan" necessarily mean the serpent was mere symbolism. We may not know for sure until the world-to-come, if then, but either way, it is good to know God uses everything for the sake of love somehow, even evil.

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