Where does evil come from?
“The devil made me do it,” is sometimes heard. The comedian Flip Wilson made it one of his catch-phrases.
But I disagree. There is no devil, there is no Satan.
Instead, I’m convinced that evil is a necessary condition for Free Will; that is, without evil, Free Will has nothing on which to operate, no alternatives from which to choose. In order for Free Will to be of any use, “good” and “evil” had to be created.
Let’s make “Free Will”, which is the central premise in this, completely clear.
“Free Will” means you have the power, the wherewithall, the free and unencumbered ability to make a choice.
If you are walking down the road and come to a fork, you can choose to go right or left. In making the choice, you exercise Free Will.
But if you are walking down the road and the road just keeps going on and on and whether or not it follows the straight and narrow or meanders first through dark adn scarey places and then returns you to sunlit, flowered hilltops, if there is only one path to follow you aren’t making any choices. If there is only one path to follow, then in “walking down that road” you have no opportunities to use your Free Will. And if all the roads placed before you are constructed in that choiceless manner, your Free Will is of no use.
To use this gift of Free Will, you have to be able to choose. The road has to split and, facing it, you have to be in a quandry. What should I do? Which way should I go? You have to be able to choose either the left fork or the right fork, or to jump the fence and cut across Farmer Brown’s field.
Then your Free Will can be expressed, then God’s gift of Free Will can be used.
When God gave us the gift of Free Will, he had to also grant us the possibility of choosing good or evil. Both possibilities, “good” and “evil”, must both be in front of us. We must have the choice.
God had to create both “good” and “evil”. They are a necessary precondition to the exercise of Free Will.
And “Satan”, therefore, is nothing more than a personification, of taking a quality and giving it human characteristics, an identity so that we can talk about it.
The “devil” doesn’t make us do things. Be honest: we choose to do things. And sometimes we choose to do horrible things, some worse than others. For those who do horrible things that we deem as “criminals”, we lock them up, ostensibly for rehabilitation but, in reality, so they can’t harm anyone else.
We choose to do evil. It is our choice.
There is no devil sitting on my shoulder. Instead, he’s very much a part of me. He has to be because he’s an essential component of my Free Will.
Similarly, that angel on my other shoulder? He’s not there either. He is also inside me, a necessary element of my makeup.
God had to give me both that devil and that angel so I could use His gift of Free Will.
Now, here’s the biggee. Are you holding on?
For the same reason that there can be no all-bad Satan, by the same token there can be no all-good God. (I didn’t say “there’s no God”. I said “there’s no all-good God.”)
Ask yourself, how could an all-good God create evil? It’s a contradiction in terms. It just can’t be.
God gave us both “good” and “evil”. He had to be the one that did it. After all, that’s what we mean when we say “God” in the western, one-god view of theism. He is the omnipotent being and everything, every quality, every “every” is His creation.
So, God must know both “good” and “evil” as well as left and right, up and down, existence and nonexistence, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
God is “all” and He must know “all”. That is His omnipotence.
So God created us in a way that let’s us conceive of an all-good God as well as an all-bad Satan. Those perceptions of ours, of good and evil, are the essentials that make “choice” possible as we move through our lives.
Although we sometimes think of God and Satan as opposites, they really are just the two sides of the “choice” coin. They are simply two views of what we perceive as the ultimate core for making choices, for exercising our Free Will. We have to see the choice, and the choice has to be truly there, in order for us to really have Free Will. Without a choice, if it’s all fake and there are no forks in the road, then there is no choosing, no Free Will.
But, by the realization that occurs with “I think, therefore, I am,” so to can we say, “I think, therefore, I choose.”
In any given situation, we can see the good possibilities. We can see the evil possibilities. We can scratch our heads, ponder the pros and the cons, the benefits and the detriments. And then we can choose.
The real God made us that way, the ultimate God, the God that encompasses all possibilities.
This all encompassing, all knowing, omnipotent God gave us Free Will and the forum in which to exercise it. He makes the good and also the evil possible so that we can choose.
And in so doing, He surrendered His power for all knowing. He can no longer predict what we will do.
He gave up part of His omnipotence. He agreed to take His hands off and allow us to run the show. (But that doesn’t mean He won’t intervene if we ask Him!)
He chose to not only pass along His ability to choose, but also to sit back, withhold His future actions, and leave things up to us.
We get to choose.
Does this frighten you?
I think it should!
What an awesome gift gift but what a terrifying consequence!
The world and its future is ours to choose.
Yes, there are laws of physics that apply and our powers of choice must operate within the confines of the reality in which we exist, but we know how to split the very elements of existence, we know how to poison ourselves, we know how to go to other planets.
God set up those laws, and gave us the ability to master, to use, to exploit them.
He had to give us those abilities, and the possibility of learning them, of accumulating knowledge for millenia to master the intricacies of the physical world so that we could make the choices that determine, for good or evil, the future.
God granted us one of His most awesome abilities, the ability to choose.
You get to choose. I get to choose. Sometimes those choices conflict and we, you and me, get to choose how we will resolve our differences, sometimes by word, sometimes by one of us acquiescing to the wishes (choices!) of the other, and sometimes by violence. (I’m not being a proponent of violence in putting your choices into action. I’m simply stating that some do choose that method, not whether it is good or bad. That choice is simply the reality that some choose.)
So, the choice is yours, and the choice is mine.
I choose. You choose. And collectively we enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences of our choices.
“The devil made me do it,” is a nothing more than silly denial of responsibility.
You get to choose. Right and wrong are both there before you. The all-encompassing God gave you the ability to choose. He has assembled this reality so that, before you are possibilities, both the evil and the good, and then He lets you choose.
This ability to choose is a gift of this penultimate God.
That ability to choose, that’s God’s most awesome gift.
The Bible says He made us in His image. This doesn’t mean He has two arms, two legs, a mouth, nose, eyes and ears because all of those are needed only in the physical realm in which we exist. God doesn’t needs hands to fabricate the universe. He simply wills it into Being. (He’s omnipotent, remember?)
The “image” of Him in which we are created is in the powers He gave us.
The power of observing, evaluating, weighing, choosing and then operating on this reality, those powers are our God-gifts.
He granted us some of His God-power and, by then leaning back and letting us go, He also granted us Free Will to determine our own lives and our own futures.
And one of the choices He granted us is to believe, or not believe, in Him.
That, too, is a choice He gave us the ability to exercise.
So I choose to believe in God, in both His omnipotence, and in His choice to give us the gift of Free Will and to withhold His guiding of every little thing that happens. I believe He turned much of that over to us.
And I do believe that, if asked, and if in His judgement He decides to intervene, He can do anything we might ask.
And, of course, He might also choose to answer our requests with a simple, benevolent, loving as a father to a child, “No.”
Lord, help me to see both the good and the evil before me; I know that sometimes one hides inside the other and what sometimes appears to be good can turn out to be evil. I wish to find the good, to do the good, to further the goodness. Help me to find it in the possibilities you lay before me. And give me the strength to realize it. And, Lord, in those times and places when the evil is thrust upon me, help me find the good that lies within them, and to accept all of this, the good and the evil, as necessary to Your Gift.
Thank you for the gift of Free Will. And help me — sometimes it terrifies me, Lord.