by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
There is no doubt that sin, and the evil that accompanies it, exists in this world. When atrocious examples of evil come to our attention, people commonly wonder why God allows such evil to happen. Atheists will use the very existence of obvious evil to argue against God. "If God were so good," they smirk, "why is there evil in the world?" Since evil exists, these people conclude that God must not exist.
Have you ever thought about reversing the argument? If evil is so prevalent, why is there righteousness in the world? Since righteousness exists, should we conclude that evil does not exist? Obviously, the existence of one extreme does not preclude the existence of the other extreme.
Yet, still, the question needs to be addressed. As Christians, we are to have a ready answer for every question regarding our faith (I Peter 3:15). Perhaps you have studied this question in the past, but given the tragedies of recent days, it will do each of us good to review the Scriptures so we may answer the questions that are bound to come up.
But, before addressing why evil is allowed to exist, we need to define what is evil. We don't have to look far to find recent events that most people agree are evil. There is no doubt that the taking of thousands of innocent lives in New York, Washington, D.C, and Pennsylvania is a prime example of evil at its worse.
In fact, we can go farther and note that evil always involves sin. The two are equivalent: Sin is evil. Some sins are much more abhorrent than others. The loss of thousands of innocent lives strikes us as more evil than an individual's lie. Yet, we must understand that both are wrong. Both are different facets of evil.
John defines sin as the breaking of law (I John 3:4). The very existence and recognition of evil argue that a law or several laws are being broken. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, was evil because innocent people were murdered. This means that we recognize the fact that murder is wrong. In other words, we acknowledge that a law exists making murder sinful. If such a law did not exist, then there could be no violation of that law (Romans 4:15).
Recognizing this, some have foolishly argued that here lies a quick way to remove evil from the world - remove every law! Too hard to believe? We all recognize that this nation has a drug problem. What has been touted as a solution to the drug problem? Why, legalize the drugs! As if this would solve the problem!
It was once against the law to have sex outside of marriage. Those laws have been dropped from the books as being unenforceable. Has the sin of fornication, therefore, disappeared with the removal of the law? Has it even decreased? No, the exact opposite effect has been recorded. People are living together in staggering numbers and the rate is increasing phenomenally.
The problem we must face is that evil still exists even when we do not acknowledge it in our laws. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned - for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses ..." (Romans 5:12-14). Notice that even before God gave the law to Moses, sin was still in the world. Yet, God did not impute the punishment for sin against mankind.
Consider the age-old exclaim, "I didn't know that was illegal!" Does our ignorance of a law mean the law doesn't exist for us? Obviously no. We are still held accountable to uphold a law even if we did not know of its existence. Yet, if we truly had no way of knowing the law, the judge might be lenient in passing sentence.
In a similar vein, though people sinned (broken the law) before God gave the law to Moses to record, he did not count the sins against the people who broke the law. Yet, the consequences of sin, in this case, death, remained even though sin was not imputed.
To summarize, sin exists even when the written laws do not acknowledge a particular action as sinful. Putting on blinders to avoid seeing evil does not make the evil go away, nor does it make it any less evil. In other words, laws do not create evil.
Where, then, does sin originate?
If we come to a fork in a road, we must choose which direction we will take. Because a decision must be made, I can guarantee that everyone approaching the fork will not choose the same path. Even if I put up a sign explaining the desirability of one direction over the other, I can still guarantee that the less desirable path will still be used.
James 1:12-18 explains that sin comes from people making the wrong choice. Sin comes from man and not from God. We all have desires that are necessary for us to live. Satan uses these natural tendencies to put us in situations where the satisfaction of our desire would cause us to break a command of God. It is a trap, but it is a snare that we willingly walk into because we want what is offered.
Not only does Satan tempt us, but our fellow men, already caught up in sin, will use our desires to gain their own goals (II Peter 2:18-19). Temptation is so prevalent in this world that none are immune to sin (I Corinthians 10:12). Yet, the situation is not hopeless. God remains in control, even when we are tempted to violate God's laws (I Corinthians 10:13).
Yet, if evil exists, and people will choose to do evil, why did God bother giving men a law? Paul explains that the law does not cause people to sin, but it does clarify our sins (Romans 7:7-12). The law, being from God, is holy and good. It defines for man what God sees as sin. It helps us understand the nature of sin and evil.
Unfortunately, the law is also exploited by Satan. By defining sin, it lets us know about options we might not have considered before. Every parent faces this dilemma. We want to warn our children against the dangers present in this world, but we don't want our children to lose their innocence toward life. Paul spoke of this same problem in Romans 7. He, by nature, would not be one to covet what belongs to another man. But when he learned about coveting through the law, he faced the temptation to covet from the simple fact that he was now aware of the possibility.
This does not excuse our decision. We have been warned in advance by the law. Hence, the law leaves us with no excuse when we violate the law.
Perhaps now we can address why evil continues to exist in this world. Sin exists because people want it (Jeremiah 5:30-31). God tolerates its existence because it creates a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (Romans 7:13). When we sin, and we see the effect of evil on our lives, then we learn, however reluctantly, that God was right. We are forced to see that God's laws are actually the best path because we see the devastation caused by people who sin. The existence of sin and the existence of people willing to commit sin to show us just how bad off mankind is (Ecclesiastes 3:16-18).
When we battle against sin, we are strengthened by the effort (James 1:12). What kind of shape would I be in if I laid in bed all day? Many of us work out in some type of physical exercise. Yet, why do we bother? Simply because we understand that exercise, even when we don't fully enjoy it, helps us to enjoy life more fully. What kind of shape would I be in if I never exercised my faith? Even though the choices are not always enjoyable, I need the opportunity to make them so that I may be better able to serve God.
We must also acknowledge that evil continues to exist in this world because we refuse to recognize sin. This is the trap the Jews fell into (Romans 2:17-24). When you don't pay a bill, are you not stealing? If you leave out some of your income at tax time, are you not lying? How can a person lead others out of sin if they wallow in sins that they feel are not so bad?
This was a major point in Jesus' sermon on the mount. Murder is awful, but it is preceded by the sin of anger (Matthew 5:21-22). Adultery is evil, but it is preceded by the sin of lust (Matthew 5:27-28). We cannot make a half-hearted stand against evil. Evil will not go away if we accept some sins but reject others. This is an all-or-nothing war. Evil cannot be defeated if we allow sin to continue to exist in our own lives.
Where do you stand in this battle against evil? Either you are for righteousness and God or you are against him (Matthew 12:30). There is no middle ground.