It is fair to ask why this is so. If God was pleased with his original creation as he said he was, why then the apparent failure? We are exploring the reasons for that, and learning why we should not judge the works of God too hastily. Also, it is why we need to grow in our understanding of what God is doing. God’s creative work, in essence, is a work in progress.
The question today about the original creation is why God allowed evil to exist at all. This perhaps is even the greatest of our questions. If the original paradise was faultless, would not have it been better to banish Satan from the garden from the very beginning? And why, after everything else is said, is there a Satan at all? Did God also create Satan, thus in a round-about way, being also the creator of evil?
Banished from the Old Paradise
The corruption to God’s creation came quite early. It came with Satan who, in the form of a serpent, beguiled Adam and Eve to join him in his rebellion against the sovereignty of God. With that rebellion came an immediate and a severe punishment from the Lord God of all creation.
To the serpent God said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and every beast of the field! On your belly will you go, and dust you will eat, all the days of your life” (Genesis 314 BSB).
To the woman he said, “I will sharply increase your pain in childbirth; in pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (vs 16).
And to the man God said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat, cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground—because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (vss 17-19).
God then drove Adam out of the garden. The ground on which the man was to toil was not to be in the garden paradise of Eden, but outside of the blessing of God. Significantly, it was also away from the Tree of Life, which from that time on was guarded by a “whirling sword of flame” so that Adam and Eve could no longer eat from it, “lest they live forever,” as God said.
The first man and the first woman became mortal, destined to live their limited years on a now cursed earth, only to finally die and have their bodies decompose back into the soil.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Welcomed into the New Paradise
As dismal as this outcome appears, it is not the ultimate plan of God. At the other end of the Bible, in the Revelation, John is shown what God’s eventual and final vision is for his creation. This proposal includes the reappearance of the Tree of Life:
Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the main parkway of the city. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be within the city, and His servants will worship Him. (Revelation 22:1-3)
The reappearance of what must be multiple “Trees of Life” that are growing along the banks of the River of the Water of Life are part of the new creation. Of this, John the Apostle also writes the following words:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 BSB).
This is the ultimate perfection of God’s creation—no more curse and none of the things associated with the curse. God dwelling with us, and we with Him, just as it was at the beginning before the rebellion. The “whirling sword of flame” that guarded the access to the Tree of Life will be removed, and it will again be our food. There will be no more Satan in the garden to entice us to rebellion against God.
Why the Delay?
Seeing God’s ultimate and perfect vision for his creation, we might ask, “Why did not God simply create these conditions in the first place?” Did Satan ruin God’s first plan? Was he able to throw God into confusion so that God had to try to do the best with what had happened?
That actually was not the situation. From our perspective, we may look at what Satan did as temporarily ruining God’s plan for his creation, but this is not the case at all. God knew beforehand what Satan was to do, and he knew that Adam and Eve would fail. God actually allowed for the failure. It was the very reason that he did not create the final conditions as the first step, and he had some very good purposes in doing so.
The Origins of Evil
Even the existence of Satan and his presence in the garden was something that God allowed in order to accomplish his eternal purpose. This we try to understand, but it all is something that is outside of our comprehension. We are earthly beings. Our knowledge and experience has to do mainly with what we can perceive on earth—that which we can see and touch and study.
Satan is not an earthly being, but one of a great multitude of what we might call “heavenly beings” who exist outside of our experience. We do not know much about the origins of Satan, and what we do know is based only upon a few vague Scriptural passages. However, from those passages, many people including myself believe that Satan was originally one of the highest angels in the echelons of the angelic hierarchy.
But like us as earthly beings, God also created the angels with a free will. They also are able to choose whether or not to recognize God as the Sovereign Lord and Creator. Satan chose not to be faithful to God. He instead proudly desired to replace God as the sovereign lord and rebelled against him. Not only did he do so personally, but he also led a coup d'état, a great uprising and insurrection of other angels. Perhaps a third of all angelic beings followed him in this rebellion.
Satan was not satisfied with this. He still was not able to replace God. In his evil controlled mind, be believed that he needed more allies, and decided also to attempt to enlist the earthly beings into his rebellion—men and women. The enticement for the humans in this was the same as Satan’s own enticement at his rebellion.
Satan told Eve, “You shall be like God.”
This is actually the same lie with which we are tempted, not literally that we will “be like God,” but that we can be our own masters and not responsible to the Creator who made us. We can even deny that there was a creator, and that we, by some magic that we falsely call “science,” made ourselves. Satan has entrapped the world into thinking that everything that they desire in life is within their reach here in the present creation.
Writing the Code for Creation
Seeing where these lies have taken us, we may wonder why God allowed for there to be a Satan at all. It is difficult for us to understand why, if God had the ability and power to create an ideal and perfect environment without the possibility of failure, he would actually “plan in” a potential uprising.
We do not do this when we are developing software for a computer program, for instance. We try to write the code so that it does not malfunction. We try to avoid a breakdown in the system.
Thus, it is difficult for us to understand why God did not write the “code of creation” in this way. It is difficult for us to understand because we are not accustomed to creating beings whom we wish to endow with a free will. God wished to give men and women, and even the heavenly beings a volition of their own and able to make choices about their own destinies.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, in some ways, it was necessary for there first to be the imperfect so that the perfect could come. There is more involved with having a free will than we at first might suspect. Arriving at perfection in which people of free will are involved is a multiple-step process. It is a process that requires these creatures, including you and me, to understand the choices that we are making, and knowing full well the consequences of them.
For instance, having a free will means little if there is no other significant choices that are open to us. We can gain some understanding in this by taking the example of presidential elections in a communist and strongly authoritarian country. The elections are held, but there is never any question about what the outcome will be. The government touts the elections as open and free and that the citizens freely cast their ballots using their own volition, but there is not actually any choice that they have that is significant in any way.
In a similar way, if every single person in creation would choose to follow God, would it not leave us questioning if our “free will” actually had any meaning at all? Would it not leave open the possibility to be accused of choosing to follow God only because there was no other choice that had any meaning—no opposing candidate who was offering anything comparable?
This is the angle that Satan used in his attempt to indict Job. As the devil stood before God, he brought his accusations saying that Job’s faithfulness to God actually meant nothing. Satan alleged that Job only remained faithful because he actually had no other choice that had any significance.
To Reveal the Depth of Our Faithfulness to God (The Example of Job)
Satan spoke to God: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not placed a hedge on every side around him and his household and all that he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:9-11 BSB).
So began the test to see if Job was faithful to God only because God was so good to him. One by one, God allowed Satan to bring hardship and disaster upon Job until the afflicted man was left sitting almost naked in a pile of ashes, using a broken piece of a clay pot to scrape the boils that had erupted all over his body.
Through it all, Job’s faithfulness to God did not fail. Even in the depths of his suffering, the man fell to the ground and worshiped his creator. Despite everything, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing (Job 1:20-22; 2:10).
He had lost everything: His wealth, all of his children, and even his health. Perhaps few would have faulted him for denying God. The faith of his wife, for instance, did fail her.
She said to her husband, “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Job would not have it. “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept from God only good and not adversity?” (Job 2:9-10)
Job demonstrates to us a free will that is truly free. It is a choice not based upon present circumstances, but based upon what is a proper response to his Creator. Job’s choice was not based on what he was suffering at the moment, but on what he saw was the completion of God’s creation.
Job was looking toward the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. He declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end He will stand upon the earth. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I will see Him for myself; my eyes will behold Him, and not as a stranger. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27 BSB)
The existence of evil in this world reveals what is truly in our hearts.
To Reveal the Depths of God’s Love Towards Us (The Example of Jesus)
The existence of evil not only demonstrates who is truly faithful to God, but it also demonstrates God’s faithfulness to us. Evil has caused us to be the most unlovable of creatures.
The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk was frustrated by the evil that he saw in his society and voiced his complaint to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look upon evil, and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do You tolerate the faithless?” (Habakkuk 1:13 BSB).
But the plain fact is, we are all evil, and evil repulses God. He cannot even look upon it. And yet, the Apostle Paul writes that despite the evil that we allow to abide within us, God loves us even at our very darkest. He sent help for us when we had no power to help ourselves:
“For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8 BSB).
This shows to us the incredible depth of God’s love for us. Christ died for us in order to redeem us from the power of the Evil one.
One of the biggest complaints that the critics of Jesus had when he was on earth was that he associated with the “unlovable” people of society, at least in the opinion of the more “acceptable” class of society.
The gospel writer Luke tells of the time when some of the local tax collectors (considered the bottom of society by the Jews) and sinners were gathering around to listen to Jesus. There were also a few Pharisees and scribes present. These self-righteous people began to grumble: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded to them by telling them three stories. The first of these was the parable of the lost sheep. “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
The second story was of the lost coin. “Or what woman who has ten silver coins and loses one of them does not light a lamp, sweep her house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
And the third was the well-known parable of the prodigal son, who deserted his father with much of the family wealth and spent it loosely and foolishly. When he had lost everything, he returned home. He expected nothing but was instead welcomed by his father with open arms.
The brother of the foolish son however, was not in the least bit welcoming. He refused to take part in the joy of the father and acted with great disdain toward his brother. The response of the father to the angry son gives the perspective of God toward any rebellious man or woman who come to him and asks for forgiveness:
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The point of all three stories in much the same. There is no length to which God will not go, no height that he will not ascend, no depth to which he will not descend, nor any obstacle too massive for him not to reach the one whom he is seeking. As a matter of fact, these are the four dimensions that Paul uses to describe the limitless love of God, a love that is greater than any understanding that we possess.
Paul writes that it is only by Christ dwelling in our hearts through our faith that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, will have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19 BSB).
This is the surpassing love of God. Part of the reason that God has allowed evil to exist is so that he would demonstrate the full dimensions of his great love for us. Despite any idealistic opinions about how things might have been if we have never been introduced to evil, one thing is clear—even at our most rebellious condition, God responds to the contrite and repentant one not with anger but with love and even great joy.
“In the same way,” Jesus said to those same Pharisees and scribes, “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 BSB)
What Sort of Love is Revealed in Your Heart?
What has been your response to the love of God? If you have continued to spurn his love, how long will you do so?
After some years of fighting, I myself could no longer resist. I have given myself to learn to reject the evil things in my life that still find an abode, and live in the love of God. It is my prayer that each one of you will also do the same.
The LORD your God is among you; He is mighty to save.
He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love;
He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 BSB)
In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 BSB)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love 1 John 4:7-8 BSB