Recently one of my blog followers posted this question: “If God created everything, then isn’t it true that he also created Satan and all the other evils in the world? If he loves us, why would he do this?”
It is an excellent question; in fact, it is probably the biggest obstacle to belief in God for many people. It is the old philosophical dilemma of the problem of evil: if God is so good, why is there evil in the world?
To answer the question properly, we have to discuss what evil is. Let’s begin by saying what it is not: it is not a positive or real identity; it is not a thing. Evil is a privation, a lacking of good where good should be. It’s kind of like darkness: it is not a thing in itself but a lacking of light. Nothing is evil in itself. There is no such thing as a person, place, or thing that is intrinsically evil. Everyone and everything that God created is good. Evil occurs when something is not used for its good purpose but is instead misused. In effect, it is the abuse of an object. For example: fire can do great good. It can heat our homes and cook our food. This is the good use God intended of it. But when someone uses fire to burn not wood in a fireplace but his neighbor’s house down, it is the decision of the person to misuse the fire that constitutes evil, not the fire itself. In the same way, no person is evil. God created all of us in his image and likeness, to show his face to the world in a unique way. But some people choose not to live the calling God gave us, but instead accept the temptation of Satan to use our lives for a purpose contrary to what God intended. That is what sin is, or evil, depending on the context. So sin/evil is failing to do what God has intended for us. This covers every range of the spectrum, from a child saying no to his mother to murderers. We create the evil by not following God, so the existence of evil is our fault and not God’s. We therefore can say that God did not create evil – we do!
Okay, so how about Satan, the great tempter, who started it all? Well, even Satan is one of God’s creatures. Technically, God did not create Satan; he created an archangel he called “Lucifer”, meaning “light-bearer”. God created Lucifer to be an instrument for showing his light to the world. But Lucifer, using his free will, rebelled against God and did things his way. He in effect decided, “I don’t need to listen to God! I can choose for myself what is right and wrong; I’m just like God!” So he rebelled, but quickly discovered that he was not the equal of God and was not all-knowing. He could not in fact choose for himself and be certain to always get it right. He was fallible, God is not. By rebelling, he turns against God and made himself God’s adversary – Satan – that’s what the name means: God’s adversary. It’s an interesting point to notice what the name of the angel who fought against Lucifer is Michael , which means “Who is like God?’ It was a strong reminder to Lucifer that no one is God’s equal and that he cannot survive without God.
After Lucifer fell and became Satan, or the Devil (the slanderer), he could have apologized to God and been forgiven. But he didn’t. Instead, he saw his agony by being separated from God, but rather than apologize, he blamed God for his pain and vowed revenge. Since his own rebellion against God failed, he figured that the best way to get back at God was to get God’s most beloved creature to turn away from him as well – mankind.
Satan found it very easy to trick Adam and Eve. He tempted them to eat of the forbidden tree, the tree which God said that if they ate of its fruit or even touched it, they would die. It’s important to notice the name of the tree is not merely the Tree of Knowledge but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Forbidding them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a beautiful metaphor for God telling Adam and Eve, “I am God and you are not! Don’t try to decide for yourself what’s right and wrong. You don’t have the knowledge to make those decisions on your own. If you try to follow your own heart and your own mind you can be mistaken; I cannot! Listen to me and do as I tell you and everything will be fine.” Satan starts by lying to them, saying, “No you will not die! God knows the minute you eat of the fruit you will be like God yourself knowing right from wrong.” In effect what he was saying is that God was lying to them. “He is tricking you into thinking that you can’t decide for yourself what’s right and wrong because this is the way he keeps you under his power. He has been lying to you to make you think that you can’t decide on your own, when in fact you can! You can decide right from wrong by what you think and believe; you don’t need to listen to God!” Eve believed him and ate the fruit of the tree. With that her eyes were opened, and did she know right from wrong? No. She saw that she was naked. It was a lie by the devil from the beginning. He played on their gullibility, and with that they brought evil into the world, and of course, death. We often make the same mistake. How often do people say “you don’t have to listen to God or the Church! Think for yourself what’s right and wrong and follow your heart and your mind?” Anytime we do this, we are repeating Original Sin; we are making the same mistake as Adam and Eve and are falling into the devil’s trick once again. Therefore, every time we decide to listen to our own feelings and not what God teaches us, we perpetuate the evil into the world. It is our disobedience to God that creates evil and not God himself.
Of course, we must ask the question, “Why did God allow us to be tempted in the first place? Why couldn’t he just create us so that we could not sin?” The answer is that, if God created us without free will, that is, without the ability to choose right from wrong, we’d be just like the animals. Animals can’t choose right from wrong; human beings can. That’s what it means when we say we are created in God’s image and likeness. In order to be created in the image and likeness of God, we must have the ability to love. But to be able to love requires that we have the ability to make a choice. We cannot truly love God if we cannot freely choose to love him. Of course, freedom to choose is a two-edged sword. The ability to love must bring with it the ability to hate; the ability to follow God must also include with it the ability not to follow God. And sure enough, we frequently choose to reject God. Now God knew from the beginning that we would use that free will to turn against him and that he’d have to save us, and yet he created us with free will anyway! It’s amazing to think that God knew from the moment he created us with free will that he’d have to die on the cross to save us, and he did it anyway! It’s as if he were saying that dying on the cross was less painful than not having us to love in the first place! And so God worked our salvation for us by dying on the cross, freeing us from our sins, and now he calls us through the Church’s teachings and the sacraments back to that original unity with him, which is accomplished by trusting him and following what he teaches us and not what our minds and our hearts think is right, which is the source of all evil in the world in the first place! Our salvation will come when we learn not to follow our own hearts and minds but his commands. That is the struggle we face every day, and that is precisely the problem we see over and over again with moral and social issues, where people keep trying to tell the Church to change her teachings to give people what they want. They are in effect telling God he is wrong and we are right! God is not wrong because people don’t like what he’s teaching, and common consensus cannot turn something sinful into something good just because people voted for it. That is Original Sin all over again! Evil, therefore, is not something God created but something we create by continuously following our own hearts and not listening to God. When we finally learn to listen to God and not the voice of mankind and our own hearts, that’s when we will find true justice and the true peace that only God can give.