All that God created – from night and day to animals and humans – was good.[1] At the end of creation, only God and his creatures existed, and they all were good. From this we observe that evil has no independent existence. Nowhere in the biblical account is evil “created.”

A little further along in the story, though, Adam & Eve (who were good) disobey God (sin).[2] And that act of disobedience opened the world and all creation to evil. Every generation from then on suffers under the truth that “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.”[3] Indeed, the whole world becomes under the control of the evil one.[4]

So where did the evil come from?

1. God?

We know evil did not come from God. First, all that God created was good – completely devoid of evil. Second, God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all;[5] His eyes are too pure to even look on evil;[6] and He cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.[7]

However, in Isaiah 45:7, we read that God “makes peace and creates evil.” This verse could easily confuse a reader unless care is taken in interpreting the word “evil.” The original Hebrew reads ra‘, which has two meanings: 1) calamity or misfortune, and 2) offence, wrong, or immorality. In this case, it must have the former meaning because the latter is inconsistent with what scripture tells us about the nature of God.

In fact, God-created calamities (or ra‘) throughout the Bible are expressions of His judgment, which is limited (compared to the pervasive evil we read about in Genesis) and necessary to restore His good creation. Sin ushered in evil and destroyed God’s good creation; justice demands this wrong be punished; and after the wrong is punished, God’s holy order is restored, His name is glorified, and His people are delivered from evil.

We also see that while evil does not come from God, it depends on his sovereign permission. For example, we read that God punishes those who refuse to turn to Him by giving them over to their sins. We also can infer that people sin when God is not at work in them to do what is good.[8] And, although God is omniscient, He allowed Adam & Eve to sin.

The divine permission of evil remains a mystery. However, it does not lessen the hostility or distance between God and sin. While God permits evil (sin/wrong/offence) and creates calamity and woe to render justice, He is not capable of evil (sin/wrong/offence) has no evil within Him. This is stated no more clearly than by Jesus Himself in responding to Pharisees who accused Him of being possessed, “How can Satan drive out Satan? . . . If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”[9]

2. Satan?

There is more truth to this response than the previous one, although ascribing evil solely to Satan is not completely accurate.

We know that evil occurred in heaven before it entered the world. The Bible describes a war in heaven in which the archangel Michael and his angels fought against Satan (also described as the “Devil” and the “ancient serpent”) and his angels, Satan lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven – or cast to the earth.[10] We also have some insight into the cause of the war: the angels did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them.[11]

Sometime after this battle, the same “ancient serpent” appeared in the garden of Eden and tempted Adam and Eve.[12] Like the angels who fell with him, Satan tempted Adam & Eve to exceed the limits of authority God gave them. However, Adam and Eve’s temptation was not in itself sin. After all, Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert multiple times, but Jesus never sinned.[13] Therefore, Satan’s tempting of Adam & Eve, in and of itself, did not cause evil to enter the world.

3. Human Beings?

Humans were created and intended by God to be good. And one of the good things with which God endowed humans was human will or freedom. However, in Genesis 3, this freedom gets corrupted and evil enters creation.

Ultimately, then, evil was caused by the perversion or corruption of freedom or human will. [14] Sin is always the corruption of something good, and is expressed as such throughout the Bible.[15] Its existence is parasitic: it steals its existence from whatever it corrupts. It makes sense that evil must have been the perversion of something that was once good since evil had no independent existence.

In perverting our God-given freedom, we enslaved ourselves to a life of bondage. And the only way our freedom could be restored is through divine judgment for the wrong that had been committed. Justice had to be served. And that judgment fell on Jesus, the holy Son of God. Through him, our good, God-given freedom has been restored.

Another topic for exploration is why God created human will/freedom to begin with? Why did He give us the capacity to choose sin? I will turn to that subject at a later time.

[1] Genesis 1
[2] Genesis 3
[3] Genesis 6:5; see also Ps. 14:1-3, Rom. 3:9-18, and Matt. 12:34 and 39.
[4] 1 John 5:19
[5] 1 John 1:5
[6] Habakkuk 1:13
[7] James 1:13
[8] Phil. 2:13
[9] Mark 3:23 and 26; Matthew 12:26.
[10] John 8:44; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9, 20:3.
[11] Jude 6
[12] 2 Corinthians 11:3
[13] 1 Peter 2:22; Matthew 4.
[14] Proverbs 1:29; Isaiah 42:24 and 65:12; Matthew 23:37).
[15] Genesis 6:11-12; Revelation 19:2.