Did God Create Evil?

Question
Did God create evil? It appears to me this is a question of sovereignty vs. free will. God is sovereign, and he created Adam and Eve with a free will. God did not directly cause them to sin, but they used the free will he gave them to choose to sin. However, God did make them, and he knew they would sin. Consequently, didn't God cause them to sin? Wasn't he sovereign over their ultimate decision? But how can a holy, righteous and just God create evil?
Answer
The problem of evil is a very old one, and there is really no answer that satisfies everyone. I think, though, that we have to admit that God created evil in some fashion. But we also need to insist that he did not do in a way that makes him culpable or that taints his character.

Traditionally, God has been said to avoid culpability by ordaining evil to come to exist through secondary causes of free moral agents. Augustine took a strange approach by suggesting that evil is not the presence of something contrary to God, but rather the absence of good. As such, he argued evil doesn't exist. Personally, I find that a fairly odd answer, and I don't buy it. But the more traditional approach regarding secondary causes is worthy of consideration. In point of fact, though, the Bible simply doesn't tell us how evil came to exist in way that prevented God from contradicting his own character.

I suspect that there are at least two sources of our difficulty with the question: our conception of the proper attribution of guilt; and our conception of the character of God. On the first point, most people assume that God is guilty of sin if he creates evil. Most people also assume that God is guilty of sin if he makes it certain that a person must sin. But I don't think either of these assumptions can be proven from Scripture. Unless those connections can be established, there is no basis for accusing God of sin even if we grant that God created sin and rendered it certain that people would sin.

This brings me to the point about God's character. If we define sin and evil as that which is contrary to God's character, then it is impossible for God to sin. By definition, whatever God does is not sinful or evil. Since God cannot sin, then if God created evil, it was not sinful or evil for God to create evil. Whatever he does is right, so there is no problem. If God created evil and/or made it certain that man would sin, and if we think these actions were evil, then we are simply wrong in our assessment of the evil of these actions. There is no contradiction because by assigning the action to God we forfeit the right to call it evil.

Anyway, this doesn't satisfy atheists because they want to be able to be God's judge, they demand the authority to accuse him. Of course, they don't have that authority, so their demand is vain.

In any case, I tend to argue from authority and power with atheists when this issue arises. For example, consider this old logical proof for atheism:
  1. If God exists, he is omnibenevolent.
  2. If God exists, he is omnipotent.
  3. An omnibenevolent God would not permit evil to exist.
  4. An omnipotent God would have the power to prevent evil's existence.
  5. Therefore, if God exists, evil does not exist.
  6. Evil exists.
  7. Therefore, God does not exist.
This basically turns Augustine's old argument on its head (Augustine determined that God exists, and therefore that evil does not "exist"). But the problem in my mind is with step 3 -- there is no proof for this, and it is not intuitive. Besides, if we can allow step 3 to stand, we simply refuse to stipulate to step 1 -- there is no proof for step 1 either, except in Scripture. But for the atheist to insist on step 1 and step 3, he must either equivocate or demand authority over God. This is because the Bible teaches that the omnibenevolent God permits evil to exist. All the atheist has done is prove that no god exists who fits his or her definition of omnibenevolence. But this is hardly a sound argument. The fact that the god they define does not exist does not imply that the God the Bible defines does not exist. One cannot reasonably accept the Bible's argument that God is omnibenevolent, and then try to disprove God's existence on the basis of an anti-biblical definition of omnibenevolence.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.