What is evil?

People define evil in various ways, for example as misfortune, damage, set-back or disease. Most believers think that evil can never come from God. Some even state that it always originates from satan or demons. However, most people understand that evil often is man-made or they see it as a given in Creation. What is written about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

Evil is the opposite of what is ‘good’ and it is a collective noun for all kinds of events that are extremely unfavorable. In religious sense God is often seen as (absolute) ‘good’, but, without realizing it, that also forces evil to be defined in divine terms. Evil, however, is, like ‘good’, neither a person nor and independent power or force on its one. Evil is thinking and/or acting of living beings which is measured as being evil. The measure of the Bible is God’s will, but that measures evil quite different that man. Evil is something one has to reckon with and thus needs to be studied [1]. It is remarkable that neither Christianity nor science & technology are able to end evil.

Word study
Evil is in the Bible the translation of the Hebrew word ra’, which originates from the root ra’a’ – (being) evil. This is the meaning in objective sense. Evil as a given. Evil emotion is expressed by the root jara’ – being discontented/grieved. Also in the Greek language this difference exists. The word kakia represents the general, objective form of evil. For the emotion the words poneria and kakopoi are used.

Types of evil
These can be:

Evil in general

This is evil as concept, the potency for it, the chance that evil will occur and as fact. This knowledge is to be regarded as warning, but also frightens. Christianity can specify such evil and science can express it in statistics as threat or risk and does that partly through calculations. Knowledge about evil grows. Still, it regularly goes wrong. Often because evil is underestimated.

‘Above’ man

This is evil from unforeseen doom, like catastrophic natural phenomenon. Man cannot or hardly avoid, withstand or fully recover from this type of evil. Sometimes man has a certain responsibility for it and could avoid it. For example, not building its house in the near vicinity of a volcano. God is not aimed at causing unnecessary damage, but expressly sustains it to a certain degree [2]. But God does punish and there is surely evil originating from satan and its demons. Only the great reliance on science has blinded people for this. Only but a few have the capability to distinguish evil originating from the non-physical world.

From creatures, like man

According to the Bible all creatures are inherently evil and bent on doing it [3]. Much of evil [4] in creation therefore is explainable from that. That is in itself ‘proof’ that the whole of Creation has come under the power of satan. Satan and the creatures continue to grow in experience about evil. It resides and is visual in the ongoing damages of Creation and its form.

Dealing with evil
What people see as ‘good’, such as success, happiness, prosperity and health, determines their view on evil. Its normal [5] that people want to deflect, ignore, fight and prevent everything that threatens that which they see as ‘good’. They use all kinds of methods for it in the sphere of superstition [6], like using amulets, crucifixes & mascots, avoiding certain numbers and appeasing ‘spirits’.
In principle, God also condemns and rejects evil and wants to transform evil into a blessing. Still, evil sustains. What’s the cause of that?

Evil in heaven
How was it possible that satan could tempt man to choose evil in the garden of Eden? Did God want this to happen or has it to do with the rebellion of satan against God, something which is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible? The enormous fundamental consequences of this spiritual apostasy of man ‘proves’ that this cannot be planned by God and thus has to do with the rebellion of satan. When did this start? This has to have happened before the apostasy of man, since God created man not evil but ‘good’ (Gn 1:31; 3:22). Still, some think that a rebellion from satan against God isn’t possible because He is almighty. They think that even satan and his demons are in the service of God, since no angel can do its own will outside the will of God. But the Bible gives details about a war between God and satan on inter-personal level (Rev 12:7) and also that satan goes his own way (Job 1:7). Still, God is almighty and that puts this war in a different light.

So, evil thus started in the non-physical world; in heaven. Separate from man. This evil was resistance against God [7]. Angels were the first to do evil. Even before man did it. Thus, evil exists in heaven [8].
That angels chose evil before man reveals the fact that man is not the focal point of Creation [9], although people often think the opposite. God threw satan on the earth (Lk 10:18; Rev 12:9) and as angel-commander he immediately made himself tyrant over the earth (Jh 12:31. This explains what he did in the garden of Eden. He seduced man, God’s representative, to further his rebellion against God. He let man make the same choice he made before them. But even afterwards satan continued seducing man to do all kinds of other evil. This goes on until the moment comes that God definitively puts an end to the rebellion of satan.
But satan is not ‘evil’ personified [10], since in the Bible it is written that even he can do ‘good’. He is even able to and often does present himself as the angel of light (a good angel; 2 Cor 11:14) [11].

Evil from God
If God is the almighty Creator, then it is impossible that evil in Creation exists separate from Him. First of all, evil seems to have existed since the beginning of Creation (heaven and earth; Gn 2:9). Although this original evil was passive, it had a purpose: to test obedience and trust. What kind of evil was that? Failing that test through obstinate rebellion against God. Secondly, God sometimes also uses evil (in the eyes of man) to (definitely) end evil or to box it in (Is 27:1; 45:7). For example, He killed all physical living creatures (humans, animals and plants) in the Flood (Gn 6:7), He strikes (innocent) people with plagues (Gn 12:17), He destroys cities with thousands of inhabitants (Gn 19:24) and makes people blind (Acts 9:8). People sometimes regard God’s punishment of sin as evil. However, God really judges sin as evil. That judgment is righteousness. His ways of punishment can be meant as beneficial (for God’s people). To discipline, aimed at betterment of behavior and growth in believing. But sometimes man doesn’t realize sin and they frequently do not take prophets, who can make aware of sin, serious (Is 30:10). Also, there is ‘evil’ for the better without it having to do with sin (Jh 9:3). Thirdly, it sometimes seems that God puts satan ‘in front of His cart’. God allows satan to do evil. Often being beneficial for God’s will. Lastly, God uses evil against His own people [12] to discipline them (Lv 10:2) and also to prevent that evil of creatures will become allowed or something normal [13] (Lv 15:31; 1 Pe 4:17). That is necessary evil for God’s people. God however doesn’t use evil for revenge [14], but for a ‘higher’ purpose [15].

Human and spiritual evil
Humans have their own definition of evil. Firstly, about what it is, namely thinking and acting that brings lives in danger or gives loss. Death is seen by some as evil [16]. Secondly, the way in which evil is done. How it’s been concocted, purposely been planned with treason and falsehood in doing it sneaky and feigned. By which all possible is done to avoid detection who is behind it. Physical creatures, like humans, can only do evil for a short while and in a limited way [17]. Also, they sometimes do evil under ‘influence’ of spiritual forces, so not all the evil they do can be reckoned solely unto them. Evil in a spiritual sense is much more serious and dangerous. Angels are not limited by a mortal physical body. When an angels decides to do evil it can be endless until God’s righteous final judgment [18] in the end of times.

Evil is put passively ‘into’ the original Creation by God. As test measure [19] of ‘good’ [20]. Both only become meaningful in created life which is meant to function [21] according God’s will. It was in the spiritual world where evil was first ‘picked up’; the rebellion of satan against God. Therefore God distanced [22] Himself from Creation while the rebellion lasts [23].
Satan seduced man to join him in his rebellion and man came under his influence. Therefore man interprets evil quite differently then God [24]. What evil according to God is and what its use is will become clear at His final judgment. However, God doesn’t abandon His Creation. He gave man the power to become His children (Jh 1:12). God’s plan of salvation, which goes ‘above’ issues like good and evil, will bring His judgment already to His people (1 Pe 4:17). This is beneficial for His final judgment on them. Thus more evil seems to befall His people in comparison with the unbelievers. In the new Creation evil will again become passive.

[1] However, in Christianity hardly ever.
[2] God gave Creation over to satan (Lk 10:18; Rev 12:9). Thus it will end badly.
[3] While most people state that man is ‘good’ or that man is able to control its evil inclination by letting the ‘good’ dominate it.
[4] Quantitative aspect doesn’t outweigh the qualitative aspect.
[5] That man still continues to administer evil, like jealousy, envy and hatred, is an abnormality which is seldom recognized. However, egoism often determines what is seen as ‘normal’.
[6] This is also evil and for it the rule applies ‘to repay evil with evil’ (1 Th 5:22).
[7] This is the most fundamental form of evil in the Bible. Thus, it is God Who first of all determines what evil is. Therefore the unbeliever cannot understand original evil.
[8] This should ease the ideal view about heaven. Angels choosing to do evil ‘proves’ that the salvation plan of God is also aimed at them. It is aimed at the whole of Creation.
[9] It points to the central role of the Son of God in it. He was, contrary to man, Witness of the apostasy of angels.
[10] Nor is he the lord of darkness and death.
[11] This is, in itself, also evil, since his appearance as a good angel is also deceit and falsehood.
[12] The area in which satan and his demons principally can’t do evil, since God’s people are outside their reach (Lk 10:19). Although many believers think they can. This is however only so when believers chose to get distracted from their calling.
[13] A policy of allowance of evil is a greater evil than the evil that it allows. Without the necessary punishment of evil it ultimately will become accepted and daily practice. Lawlessness that leads to apostasy (Mt 24:12).
[14] Although God’s revenge is mentioned in the Bible, but that is done to make it understandable for humans.
[15] Return in equal measure. Human revenge is sometimes a spiral of mutual revenge that ultimately leads to the destruction of one of the involved. God is aimed at ending evil definitely.
[16] In the Bible death is viewed as negative, since life is regarded as a gift from God. However, it is never seen as evil. However, death is a place of punishment for the unbelievers, it is the resting place for the believers. It’s the dogma of ‘original sin’ that presents death as evil. But this dogma wrongly defines death as a punishment of God.
[17] God limited evil of physical creatures.
[18] Angels are creatures of God and therefore must do His will. Therefore they are also included in God’s judgment.
[19] Measure of trust in and obedience to God.
[20] This has nothing to do with the imaginary conflict between light and darkness.
[21] By honoring and serving God.
[22] The darkening of God.
[23] The Lord Jesus brought a fundamental turn in this by His teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and ministry as High Priest.
[24] The Tree of Knowledge in reality gave blindness and ignorance about good and evil.