There are many remarkable features on this marvelous planet which God created. Warm sunshine and refreshing showers cause the Earth to produce a magnificent garden of beauty. Our world abounds with an amazing array of curious and delightful animals. The love that humans are capable of sharing in their domestic and communal lives is thrilling indeed. And the blessings that true Christianity has visited upon humankind are too numerous to catalog.
Yes, this is a wonderful world in many respects. Realistically, however, it must be acknowledged that there is much in our environment that can only be denominated as “evil.”
When the term “evil” is employed, though, it should be recognized that it does not denote necessarily that which is morally bad. It is possible to use the term, or some equivalent expression, to describe certain conditions that have resulted as a consequence of man’s fall from his original state of innocence.
Even though the concept of “evil” may be employed accommodatively, it must be conceded that all evil is traceable ultimately to humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.In this study, we will examine several forms of “evil” that are a part of our earthly domain.
The environment of our planet, as such now is, is not that which was originally intended or designed by Jehovah. Initially, the abode of man was a paradise of happiness and beauty.
The Greek version of the Old Testament Scriptures declares that God placed Adam in “the garden of Delight [paradeiso]” (Genesis 2:15). Archaeological data from antiquity speak of a place where the Sun rose (Genesis 2:8), and where there was nothing but that which is good, clean, and bright. It was a place of no sickness or death (see Kramer, pp. 147-149, 277-286).
However, when our original parents revolted against their Maker, a principle of “evil” invaded this world. Moses informs us that as a consequence of human sin, the Earth was “cursed” (Genesis 3:17). The inspired apostle Paul declared that the creation was subjected to “vanity” and the “bondage of corruption” by the will of God (Romans 8:19-20). This indicated that a drastic change occurred in our planet’s features.
There is also a strong case to be made for the idea that the Great Flood of Noah’s day (Gen. 6-8) wrought devastating consequences by the rearrangement of the Earth’s geophysical features. This has resulted in the violent storms, volcanic eruptions, and destructive earthquakes that are now commonplace in our world. (For a discussion of this concept, see A.M. Rehwinkel’s scholarly book, The Flood, Chapter 1.)
These destructive forces, as a general rule, should not be designated “acts of God” (as in insurance policies); rather, they are forms of natural “evil” that are a penalty for man’s apostasy.
In the 47th chapter of Isaiah, the prophet of God announced the impending doom of the pagan Babylonian empire. The Lord said: “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne ...” (47:1). Jehovah declared that He would “take vengeance” upon the haughty nation which boasted, “I shall be mistress for ever” (47:3,7). The wickedness of this heathen power is graphically portrayed, and impending punishment is promised.God warned:
“Therefore shall evil come upon you; you shall not know the dawning thereof; and mischief shall fall upon you; you shall not be able to put it away; and desolation shall come upon you suddenly, which you shall not know” (47:11).
Note that the terms “evil” and “desolation” are used interchangeably. Evil, in this sense, is the opposite of peace (cf. Isaiah 45:7). Depending upon a nation’s spiritual posture, the Lord is able to, and will, visit them with either peaceful and prosperous conditions, or destruction. Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34), and governments that ignore Jehovah’s principles will be judged (Psalm 9:17).
The Old Testament is replete with examples of how the Creator dealt with national powers depending upon their moral and religious fiber. Are we wise enough to learn from those examples (Romans 15:4)?
Job, the ancient sufferer of Uz, lamented that “man,” born of woman, is of “few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). A part of the patriarch’s affliction was a loathsome disease that consumed his entire body (2:7). When some of Job’s friends heard of all “this evil” that descended upon him, they came to comfort him (2:11), though they turned out to be “miserable comforters” (16:2).
What is the origin of disease and death? Why does God permit such things? How can these evils be reconciled with a benevolent Creator?
From the biblical vantage point, physical corruption is viewed as an evil that plagues mankind as a result of Adam’s sin, which, of course, was instigated by Satan. Notice the New Testament’s emphasis on the devil’s relationship to human physical malady.
On one occasion, when Christ was teaching in a Jewish synagogue, He encountered a woman who had been deformed by a physical ailment for eighteen years.Jesus healed the lady, and yet His act incurred the wrath of the synagogue’s ruler, who contended that the Master’s miracle was a violation of the Sabbath law.
The Lord, by use of an ad hominem argument (which reveals the inconsistency of an opponent), pointed out that if the Jews had no objection to loosing a tethered animal on the Sabbath, surely they ought not to object to the unloosing of this unfortunate woman, who had, these many years, been “bound” of Satan (Luke 13:16).Christ attributed the woman’s infirmity ultimately to the Devil.
In his sermon at the home of Cornelius, Peter, in discussing the ministry of Jesus, affirmed that the Lord “went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38). Think of the variety of healings that Jesus effected, in light of this passage.
In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 7:15 speaks of “evil diseases,” and in the New Testament, the hardships (sickness, etc.) that had plagued Lazarus’ life were called “evil things” (Luke 16:25).
Christ, in a heated discussion with certain Jewish leaders, indicated that Satan had murdered the human family at the very beginning of time (John 8:44). This would surely be an allusion to man’s corrupted condition, which eventually leads to the grave.
Paul approached the matter from the standpoint of human responsibility. “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Again, we need not be reminded that the New Testament views death as our enemy, finally to be abolished by the Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:26). Leon J. Wood has summarized why God permits natural and physical evil in the world.
“Because the world was rendered imperfect by the entrance of moral evil into this realm by the fall of man, the powers of nature are allowed by God to work to the detriment of human beings.God tolerates this kind of evil in His universe in view of the final victory. And although He sometimes uses it to punish individuals and nations (Lam. 3:38; Am. 3:6), He also uses it to further His glory and purposes among men (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:7). Suffering resulting from physical evil may chasten, but it can never separate from the love of God (Rom. 8:38,39), and in fact it may well prepare the individual for a greater glory (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Eph. 3:13). It must also be recognized, however, that many human calamities under the providence and sovereignty of God are created by human stupidity. With this in mind, man has a responsibility to ‘study God’s creation, to control it and subdue it according to His command (Gen. 1:28)’” (p. 131).
Acts of Moral Evil
There is a concerted effort in modern society to deny the reality of actual moral evil. Some atheists allege that since there is no God, nothing can be classified as “evil”; thus, every exercise of human determination is either neutral or right.
Evolutionists contend that moral consciousness has been naturally developed as a societal mechanism for the preservation of our species; hence, evil is flexible, and definable only by the individual.
Sociobiology is the recently-developed notion that man cannot be charged with evil since human conduct is merely the programmed response of one’s genetic background.
Even some religionists have distorted the picture. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the “Christian Science” movement, argued that: “Evil has no reality. It is neither person, place, nor thing, but is simply a belief, an illusion of material sense” (p. 237).
The fact is, however, the Bible clearly recognizes the existence of moral
evil, which has to do with man’s relationship to man; it is perverted human behavior.
The New Testament employs three Greek adjectives (and a variety of cognate forms) that are rendered as “evil” in the English Bible. Although a distinction in the different terms is sometimes difficult to recognize, kakos (50 times) denotes that which is evil in character, whereas the synonym poneros (78 times) emphasizes the malignant influence or evil that results from certain acts. Phaulos (6 times) suggests that which is bad in the sense of being worthless (Vine, pp. 272-273).
The New Testament acknowledges the presence of “the evil one,” i.e., Satan (Matthew 5:37), who, in the first century, was able to afflict certain people through “evil spirits” (Matthew 12:45). There are “evil workers” who speak evil words (Matthew 5:11), thus producing evil fruit (Matthew 7:17). Murder, lying, adultery, stealing, etc., are all forms of evil and are never right under any circumstances (contrary to the assertions of situation ethicists).
Jesus taught that moral evil commences in the mind of man.
“For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed; fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).
In addition to actions that are initially formed in the mind, there are forms of mental evil that may never overtly express themselves, yet, are condemning nonetheless. The Lord declared that lust is the equivalent of mental adultery (Matthew 5:28), and the apostle John argued that hate is actually murder in the mind (1 John 3:15).
Jealousy and envy are twin mental dispositions that are characterized as works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20-21). The former term denotes the desire to own that which others have, whereas the latter word is more intense. It describes the person who possesses a feeling of displeasure at the blessings of others, and who would deprive his fellows of such things if he could. It represents a mean-spirited person.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemned what is called the “evil eye.”Note this interesting text:
“The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23).
What is the evil eye? “Evil” in this context stands in contrast to “single” (Greek, haplous), which signifies singleness of purpose, liberality, andgenerosity. An adverbial form of the word is rendered “liberally” (James 1:5; cf. Romans 12:8).
If the single eye is the generous eye, it follows that the evil eye suggests the stingy, niggardly disposition. The book of Proverbs warns: “Eat not the bread of him that has an evil eye” (23:6) — the meaning being, do not dine with the stingy host who counts every bite you take!
The Lord thus taught that the person enslaved to greed is the individual whose life is enveloped in darkness. It is interesting that Christ’s comment came in a section which cautioned against laying up treasures on Earth (Matthew 6:19-20), and being torn between God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).
Mental evil is a real problem in this world, thus Paul’s admonition to think upon right things (Philippians 4:8).
To make a special class of social evil may be rather arbitrary; nevertheless, we make the distinction for the purpose of this study.
Slavery is an example of societal evil. It was never the ideal will of God that one human being should “own” another. Regardless, slavery was a part of the fabric of the antique world, and the Old Testament sought to regulate it and minimize its harshness.
The Hebrews acquired slaves in two ways. First, they frequently made
war-captives their slaves. Second, since property was a family inheritance and could not be sold, a poor Hebrew needing finances would sometimes sell himself into servitude.
It must be observed, however, that the treatment of servants, as regulated by the Old Testament, was far superior to the antebellum slavery of southern America. Slaves, under the Mosaic law, had civil, domestic, and religious rights. If a man killed his slave, he could lose his life; if he maimed a servant, the bonded one was to be set free. Slaves were frequently treated as family members, afforded certain liberties, and even shared in the religious life of the Jewish community. A Hebrew slave who had indentured himself was to be released after six years of service (see Tenney, pp. 453ff.).
The slavery of the first century Roman world was quite a different matter. It was extremely barbarous. It has been estimated that there were some 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire; they were considered a constant threat to governmental authorities. In Rome’s view, a slave was not a person, but a thing. He could be beaten, branded, or crucified.
Many have wondered why the New Testament writers did not boldly condemn this horrible institution. In the first place, it was not the essence of the Christian religion to precipitate a violent revolution — and that is what would have happened if the cry, “Emancipation!” had gone forth.
Rather, it was in the nature of the teaching of Jesus to provide a leavening influence that would enter the hearts of humanity and initiate a disposition of equality respecting human rights, which, in time, would reveal the evil of human bondage. The “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12) strikes at the very heart of this matter. William Barclay’s discussion of slavery, in the introduction to his commentary on the book of Philemon, is a masterpiece in addressing this theme.
Racial bigotry is also a societal evil that has plagued many cultures, including our own. In the first century, the Jews hated the Gentiles and despised the Samaritans, and the disposition was mutual. Peter’s proclamation at the house of Cornelius — that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34ff) — and the Lord’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25ff), struck a deathblow at ethnic prejudice. In Christ, racial barriers are forever dissolved (Galatians 3:28).
Religion is Godward-directed attitude and action. It is the divine system whereby estranged humanity may be reconciled to their Heavenly Father.
It is tragic that so many people labor under the delusion that merely being “moral” represents the totality of human responsibility. It does not. Man must be correctly religious as well; morality is included in religion, but it does not exhaust it. There are numerous forms of religious evil.
First, dismissing God from one’s life is an evil common to infidels and apostates alike. In a passage addressed particularly to those on the verge of abandoning Christianity, an inspired writer warned:
“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
Observe the connection between the words we have emphasized.
Second, a refusal to accept the evidence regarding the nature of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice reflects a mentality that is evil. In chapter one of the Gospel of John, we are informed of the work of John the Baptizer, whose mission was to prepare the way for the coming Christ (John 1:6-8).
Our Lord, in this context, is symbolically portrayed as “the light” who purposed to provide illumination for this world of darkness. Later, however, the apostle declared that most men have rejected that light and loved darkness instead, the reason being, “for their works were evil.”
Again, “Every one that practices evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, lest his works should be reproved” (John 3:19-20).
Third, perversion of God’s truth concerning the divine plan of redemption is a form of religious evil. In the first century there were certain Judaizers who contended that the Gospel system alone was insufficient to save. They argued that the Mosaic regime (circumcision in particular) was a requisite to forgiveness of sins (Acts 15:1ff.).
Paul, in his epistle to the Philippians, alluded to such false teachers when he warned: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision [a word-play on ‘circumcision’ — WJ]” (3:2).
Here is the important principle that may be deduced: any alteration (whether by addition, subtraction, or modification) of Heaven’s requirements for salvation is evil in the sight of God.In view of such passages as Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Pet. 3:21, and others, those in the current religious community who advocate the dogma of “salvation by faith alone,” i.e., without obedience, should seriously reconsider their position.
Fourth, a corruption of Jehovah’s ordered pattern of worship is a manifestation of evil. When Jeroboam assumed the role of northern Israel’s new king, he proceeded to revise the Hebrew system of worship. Golden calves were set up at Bethel and Dan, an unauthorized feast-day was instituted, and a new, non-Levitical priesthood was appointed (1 Kings 12:25ff). This novel program of worship was that which the king “had devised of his own heart” (v. 33).
More than twenty times, the inspired narrative of the Old Testament record speaks of the sins of Jeroboam “who sinned, and made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:16). Even though Jeroboam was rebuked by a prophet of the Lord (whose message was confirmed by a divine sign — 1 Kings 13:1-6), his “penitence” was short-lived, for, as the sacred narrative reveals, “after this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way ...” (13:33).
Any attempt to worship God apart from divine authority, regardless of one’s sincerity, is a form of evil.
In conclusion we would reemphasize that the term “evil” is used in a number of different ways in the Scriptures. The context must determine the meaning in any given instance.
Every sincere Bible student should try to understand (as much as is revealed in the Divine Record) the reasons for the existence of natural and physical evil in this world, and, correspondingly, attempt to avoid the presence of moral and religious evil in his personal life.