Posted by: minnow | January 9, 2009

So How Did Evil Get Here?

I am not so sure this is the best way to start off 2009 but if not now, when do I write this post? I keep bumping into this question in various forms and so it must be one with which I am supposed to wrestle. I have heard all kinds of “answers” to the question of evil in the world but so far none of them is really an answer. And, most of them lead right back to the original question: Where did evil originate?

As an example of one of the answers, some say evil originated when one of God’s chief angels (along with 1/3 of the rest of the heavenly hosts) rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven to earth where he “rules” until the second coming of Christ. It was this angel, now Satan, who approached Eve in the form of the serpent and deceived her. Problem: If evil did not already exist how could God’s angel have rebelled in the first place? Now we might not think of someone who rebels as evil in the same way we think of a Hitler or Dahlmer as evil, but when it is rebellion against God rebellion certainly cannot be called good. So where did the “evil” that caused the angels to rebel originate?

Another issue which at least parallels what we have been talking about is the “evil nature of man”. Now I have been taught that when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge their natures became “evil” or as Calvinists would say “totally depraved”. The problem is, if they did not have the potential for evil before they chose to eat of the fruit they never would have chosen to eat it in the first place. In other words, evil did not suddenly come into being because they chose to disobey. That would be like saying the effect proceeded the cause which is impossible.

Now some will argue that the potential for something is not the same as the thing itself. For example, a bottle of arsenic is sitting on a dock that sits on a lake. The potential for that lake to be totally polluted is sitting on the dock but the lake is not yet polluted. Only if someone dumps the contents of the bottle into the lake will the lake become polluted, totally polluted, not even a little bit clean. The problem with this example is that the arsenic still exists; it just has not been poured into the lake yet. And, if it were to be poured into the lake it is not the lake doing the pouring. The lake, so to speak, is an innocent victim.

So if evil did not begin with the rebellion of angels or when Adam and Eve ate the fruit when did it begin and how did it come into being? Perhaps a definition of evil would help. Sure you may laugh, we all know what evil is. At least we can point to examples–the holocaust, 9/11, rape, murder, terrorism, but examples are not quite the same as a definition. According to the dictionary evil can be an adjective  meaning morally bad, wicked, or marked by threatening misfortune or distress; or it can be a noun  meaning that which is morally bad or injurious. Finally, it can be an adverb  meaning badly. These definitions however do not really bring us any closer to understanding the origin or nature of evil. Perhaps if we turn to scripture we can find a better answer.

Often when scripture speaks of evil it refers to the Israelites doing  evil, as if it was an activity.  Scripture pits doing evil in opposition to doing good, setting up the concept of choice.  Like the dictionary, it also uses evil as an adjective in describing individuals who do that which is not good, ie: evil  men, and as a noun meaning the individuals themselves or a separate entity, ie: evildoers  or the evil  in their hearts.  But the important distinction scripture provides is the idea that evil must be propagated or acted upon.

When God created man He provided everything man needed to live.  All goodness was available to him, including an innocent mind.  Still, in order to have relationship with man, which is what God desired, God also  allowed man the choice, the option, to reject His will.  In other words, man was given free will.  This option was represented by God’s instruction to not  eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and man’s ability to ignore God’s instruction. 

Now the tree of knowledge is the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  So, when man disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge his eyes were suddenly opened to both the good he had experienced in the garden (protected by God’s good provision) and the evil he had never experienced, yet which, by the shear option man had to chose it, nevertheless existed.  Man’s choice to ignore God’s will and warning did not, in my opinion, change the nature  of man–we were created with  the potential to reject God’s will for our lives.  Rather, it changed our relationship with God.  Because we rejected Him, we must now chose Him.  Because we ignored His warning, we must now suffer the consequences of a life which includes death.

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Responses

  1. This is a very big topic, though before giving you my thoughts I wanted to say that I think you are spot on at the end when you say that what changed after the original sin was not man’s nature, but the relationship we have with God. I’ll come to that in a second!

    As a philosopher, I do not think that evil has an ontological status. It is not some ‘thing’ which exists in the same manner that ‘good’ does. Rather, what evil is is the absence of good. Kind of like how we can’t add cold to something, instead we take heat away. We can add dark to something, we take light away. So we can’t add evil to something to make it worse, instead we take good away. Does that make sense?

    Now, the Eastern Orthodox understanding of how that impacts us is pretty much in line with your thoughts I think. Humanity was created with the potential to grow into perfection and a necessary component to that is free will. We believe that sin is any action which goes against the will of God. So when Adam and Eve went against the will of God by eating a fruit they told not to, they commit the original sin. What this did was somehow break the ‘link’ which humanity had with God and made it so that we could no longer reach perfection. Our train jumped the tracks might be a way of thinking about it. This is the changing of the relationship you spoke about.

    Anyways, I don’t want to outline the whole theology, but there you have my own and the Church’s view of evil!

  2. wow I was just thinking of how I missed you minnow!

    so glad you posted. wow that was really powerful. you are extremely intelligent & wise. I loved this post.

    I totally get what you’re saying. Now I just wonder where does this leave me/us. If we agree with what you’re saying – can other conclusions be drawn in other areas… such as arguments between calvinism/ (what’s the other one?)…. I have to believe that in your mind – these thoughts delve into another process of thoughts…. what’s next?

  3. p.s. hope u had a great holiday season 🙂

  4. p.s. again — as I was posting. the other commentor was as well — and then I went back and read hers and also totally agree with her. about evil not being a ‘thing’ but absence of good —- like darkness just being the lack of light.

    very intersting 🙂

    but as usual. now I’m just confused haha

  5. Thank you Pilgrim and Randi for your comments.
    As for you philosophical argument, Pilgrim, I have a problem with thinking of evil as the absence of good in the same way that you talk about darkness being the absence of light since you can think of good as the absence of evil just as easily. And actually heat and cold are similar. What do we do if the bath water is too cold?–Add heat. But, if it is too hot we can add cold. It’s as much a “thing” as heat.
    I will be writing more about free will but the post was already quite long so…until the next installment–peace on your journey.

  6. Hi everyone,

    Minnowspeaks is gutsy, isn’t she? Great topic to start out 2009, Minnow! Like Pilgrim, I also felt a little “that’s it!” prick in my mind when I read, “Man’s choice to ignore God’s will and warning did not, in my opinion, change the nature of man–we were created with the potential to reject God’s will for our lives. Rather, it changed our relationship with God.”

    And, like Randi, I also wonder, “Where does that leave us?” No matter the origin of evil, I think a lot of barriers have erected between God and man at the hands of well-intentioned people trying to protect themselves from “evil.” I’ve seen this in myself as much as anyone else. I wrote a poem about it and think I will post it over at my blog.

    Another question, just to add to the growing list of thoughtful insights…After God finished creation, the Bible said God called everything “good.” Does that mean the “Tree of Knowledge and Good and Evil” was good? Or, does God’s reaction say more about God’s merciful, longsuffering nature?

  7. […] Jump to Comments In response to Minnowspeaks’ recent blog on “So How Did Evil Get Here?” I thought I would post a poem which I wrote a few years back called, “My Captain Has Already […]

  8. […] Is in Control? Referring to my previous post: “So How Did Evil Get Here?” another major question regarding evil is: who is in control of this world? Recently, I came across […]


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