What’s the Deal with Evil?
I form light and create darkness, make prosperity and create doom; I am the Lord, who does all these things. – Isaiah 45:7
The assignment sounded simple enough for a novice seminarian: a brief paper describing your assumptions about God. Why, this paper could write itself! God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present. The omni “everything” God. The paper came back with a note: See me. In the subsequent conversation my professor said, “If God is all of these things all of the time, explain suffering.” It felt like a kick in the stomach. Then she said something I’ll never forget. “We have to stop burdening God and start taking responsibility for ourselves.” Wow. Do we really do that to God? Two weeks later a new assignment: explain sin and evil—this time with a caveat: “Don’t leave God out.”
These seemingly innocuous exercises (easy enough for a Sunday school kid!) unearthed a challenge most of us avoid. What we say and think about God matters. And if God is who we say God is, there might a dark side to all the omni-ness. Might be.
The ancients wrestled with this problem constantly and learned to make peace with its harder edges. If God is the source of everything—the Unmoved Mover, as Socrates put it—then there are pieces of “everything” that aren’t so wonderful. Evil exists because God allows it. Indeed, as the Creator, we must allow that evil originates with God, either intentionally or as a deficiency—an absence of qualities we “omni-fy” as God’s supreme power: omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on.
In Isaiah, God says flat-out, “I form light and create darkness, make prosperity and create doom.” The presumed readers of that text understood and accepted a God with all power could do anything. It all comes from God—light and darkness, prosperity and doom. (The Hebrew reads, “peace and evil,” and translators’ reluctance to go there shows how easily we try to help God out, which is more of a problem for us than God.)
Evil exists. We don’t need a divinity degree to know that. Why it exists is also obvious if somewhat jarring: because God lets it. But questions about God’s role also obscure more questions about us. If we know evil exists, why do we submit to it? Why, for instance, are so many of us willing to risk others’ lives because we’d rather not mask up during a pandemic? Why do we chase wealth at all costs, knowing, as Paul warned, all kinds of evil grows from greed (1 Tim. 6:10)? Why do we persist in our love of war-making and gun-play and drug-taking and race-hating and other deadly pursuits? And how come we’re so adept at dressing evil up to look and sound like righteousness? (Patriotism, prosperity, personal freedom all get pulled into the mix without concealing the underlying evil.)
Clearly there are some issues between God and us. A clearer understanding our role in perpetuating evil is how we ease the burden it levies on our world, its people, and our own lives. And in the process, we can ease the burden on God too.
Join our weekly study as we continue our “Origins” series with a blunt discussion of evil and its mismatched twin, sin. We meet each Thursday at 7:30p CDT via Zoom.
Meeting ID: 852 1223 1523
Or you can call in at 1-312-626-6799, using the same Meeting ID and Password.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.