What is the Origin of Evil?


This question has been asked by men since time began, I suppose. Since this is an origin question let’s look at the book of beginnings, Genesis, for a possible answer. First, however, let’s look at a related, somewhat more general question; does evil exist?

There is a philosophy among many that absolute good or evil (right or wrong) does not exist rather the ideas of good and evil were developed by societies as a means of living together in organized groups. The concept that good and evil are man’s invention is held by those who also believe that man is at the pinnacle of evolution, that God does not exist and is in effect man’s creation. These are humanists, as opposed to theists, those who believe in the idea of god. For example, to a humanist the act of cannibalism could only be judged as good or evil by the societal norms in which it occurred. In a society of cannibals eating another human may be defined as acceptable, however reprehensible we might view the act. The book of Genesis rejects the humanist idea that there is no God in the very first phrase, “In the beginning God…” (Gen 1:1). Also the first chapter of Genesis rejects the humanist idea that good is solely defined by man, when the creator, God, describes His creation as good (vss: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21,25) culminating at the conclusion of His creative labors in Gen 1:31 with the description of the whole of His creation as “very good”. Genesis 1 defines the good of God’s creation, as compared to the dark and formless void from which it was created.

Chapter 1 also introduces the concept of obedience in Gen 1:28-30 when God commands His creation to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth. In addition, people and animals were given every type of plant for food. When God gave a command it implied that He expected those commanded to obey. In Genesis chapters 2 and 3 obedience/disobedience are linked to good/evil (or if you prefer right and wrong) when the specific command is given to man and woman prohibiting them from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:16, 17; 3:3) God directly acknowledges the existence of both good and evil in the name of this tree. In addition, the events surrounding Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience illustrate that people could disobey. This shows that God created humans with the capacity to choose to obey or disobey, that is, they had free will. God condemned disobedience as evil (wrong) when He links disobedience with punishment, death, in Gen 2:17; 3:3.

Not only does God acknowledge that good and evil exist, but also begins to define these. We see in chapter 1 of Genesis that good is bringing order to chaos by the will of God. Similarly, good in mankind is defined in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 as obedience to God’s commands and disobedience is viewed as evil that results in death (separation from access to the tree of life and the presence of God).

This does not answer the question concerning the origin of evil. Did God create evil? A related question is; “How can a God who is good and loving create evil that ultimately leads to man’s downfall?” That God is good is acknowledged by Jesus who proclaims in Mar 10:18: “And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.' ” Although God knows good and evil (Gen 3:22), God alone is good defines what it is to be good. Thus evil is defined as not being of God, that is, as a consequence of God’s existence. Also, the concept of choice or free will requires that there are at least two differing things to choose between: light/darkness, good/evil, etc.; without this there is no freedom of choice.

When Eve disobeyed God she reasoned and made a choice to do what God had specifically forbidden; to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-7). The outcome of eating of this tree brings about a change in the understanding of Adam and Eve. Consider that prior to eating of the forbidden fruit they were naked and unashamed in the presence of God (Gen 2:25). However, after eating the fruit, when they came in God’s presence in the garden, Adam and Eve were afraid because they were naked and standing in the presence God their creator. In Gen 3:10-11: "And he (Adam) said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.' He (God) said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?' " Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “opened their eyes” as noted by Satan in Gen 3:5. It changed the way they perceived the world making them now ashamed at being naked. God’s questions to Adam in verse 11 shows this change was a direct consequence of their disobedience. Did God create evil? No, not directly, but by defining good and permitting disobedience (allowing freedom of will), defined that which is evil.