Is God to Blame for Human Wickedness?
Introduction. Any concept of God’s involvement
with His creation must (in some way) answer the problem of God’s relationship
before the time of Christ, the Greek philosopher Epicurus, coined what is known
as the Epicurean Paradox, which argued that if God can remove evils and
doesn’t then He must be evil—if He can’t remove them then He isn’t God.
later the eighteenth century Scottish skeptic David Hume, restated this
argument asking of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he
is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both
able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural
In religious discussions this
problem has also arisen.
John Calvin, the
sixteenth century Protestant reformer, argued that that the only answer to this
was to view God as the cause of all things. In citing Lamentations 3:38 and
Amos 3:6 he argued that “good as well as evil was produced by the command of
God” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.17.8).
To answer the
charge that this would make God the cause of things contrary to His will he said
it is “the feebleness of our intellect” that keeps us from understanding how
God “wills and wills not the very same thing” (ibid., 1.18.3).
followers tried to resolve this inconsistency by claiming that the power,
wisdom, and goodness of God caused “the first fall, and all other sins of
angels and men” and yet God somehow did it in such a way that human sinfulness
comes, “only from the creature [i.e. human beings], and not from God” (Westminster
Confession of Faith, “Of Providence,” 5.4). This did not resolve Calvin’s
inconsistency. How can evil be the “command of God” and yet come from man and “not
Does the Bible Teach?
The Bible is not a systematic
philosophical encyclopedia, but it is the revelation of God to particular
people, on specific issues, within given contexts.
what is needed for human beings to “be complete, thoroughly equipped for every
good work” (1 Tim. 3:16-17).
concept of God’s relationship to evil must be carefully framed by the bounds
set within Scripture. This demands some very basic questions:
What Is Evil?
The meaning of the words for evil.
In English the noun evil is defined very narrowly to mean “profound
immorality, wickedness, and depravity, esp. when regarded as a supernatural force”
(New Oxford American Dictionary).
In Scripture, however, the words translated “evil” are much broader.
In the Old Testament the Hebrew verb ra‘a‘ meant “to be bad, to be evil”
In the New Testament, the Greek adjective kakos can refer to things that
are simply “troublesome” or to things that are “wicked” (Thayer).
This is where some of the problem lies.
Everything that is evil (as we use the term) could be said to be “bad,”
but not everything “bad” is necessarily evil in any moral sense.
For example: A
toothache, for example, is a bad thing. I might and even use hyperbole
and say “my toothache is evil,” but a toothache has nothing to do with
“profound immorality” or “depravity.” It is not literally evil in any
God’s Relationship to Moral Evil.
James tells us through the Holy Spirit, “Let no one say when he is tempted,
‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil (Gr. kakos),
nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn
away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NKJV).
James is likely using the word kakos in the narrow sense of moral “evil”
in much the same way we think of it.
God feels no
allurement to “profound immorality” or “wickedness” nor does He seek to entice
us with such things.
declares, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall
evil (ra‘) dwell with You” (Psa. 5:4).
Relationship to Evil in the Sense of Allowing Hardship.
In other texts, such as those that troubled Calvin, we must understand the
Jeremiah, for example, declared that “out of the mouth of the most High
proceedeth” both “evil (ra‘) and good” (Lam. 3:38,
recall that Lamentations is a song of mourning over the destruction of
Jerusalem brought on as punishment for the sins of Judah.
The NKJV translates
this “woe and well-being”—this is not evil in a moral sense.
Amos asked through the Holy Spirit, “shall there be evil (ra‘) in
a city, and the Lord hath not done
it?” (Amos 3:6, KJV).
reminding the Israelites, who had been promised that they would fall to their
enemies if they were unfaithful to God (Deut. 28:15-68), the danger that lay
before them if they did not repent.
The NKJV properly
translates this “calamity” rather than “evil.”
Isaiah, in another text to which Calvin appealed, quoted God in saying, “I
form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil (ra‘):
I the Lord do all these things” (Isa.
How could God
create moral “evil” and yet at the same time say that He tempts no one
the sense of each of these passages is broader than the way we understand the
In this final
passage, the NKJV once again puts it “calamity” rather than “evil.”
To allow something bad to happen is not the same as acting with “profound
immorality” or “wickedness.”
What Is the Source of Evil?
Scripture makes it clear that although God allows hardship or calamity
He is not the cause of evil in its most narrow sense of “wickedness” or
In the same text in which James tells us that God tempts no one, he explains
the source of human wickedness—“ each one is tempted when he is drawn away
by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14, NKJV).
God has created man with desires that alone are neither good nor evil. All
human desires have lawful outlets by which they can be fulfilled.
My desire for food can lawfully be fulfilled by working for a living (2 Thess. 3:8).
My desire for sexuality may be lawfully fulfilled in lawful marriage (1 Cor.
Unlawful satisfaction of desire.
If I choose to satisfy my desire for food by stealing a loaf of bread I have
taken a natural desire and satisfied it in a sinful way.
If I choose to satisfy my desire for sexuality with sex outside of marriage, I
have done the same.
Scripture calls this choice following “ungodly lusts” (Jude 18), or walking
according to one’s “own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 16), and pursuing things that
are the “desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph. 2:3).
The source of this type of evil is not God—it is our own refusal to
submit to His will for the satisfaction of our desires.
The source of all human wickedness can be traced to some unlawful attempt to
satisfy desire in a way that is contrary to God’s revealed will.
Why Doesn’t God Remove Evil?
The Psalmist declared, “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the just; for the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Ps.
Freedom of choice demands alternatives.
multiple-choice test with only one choice for each question really test a
democratic societies criticize totalitarian regimes that stage mock elections
with only one candidate on the ballot?—
choice demands alternatives.
This life is a testing ground. As the text declares “God tests the hearts
This life is a test to determine if we will follow our own desires in our own
ways, or submit to God.
It is in this way that God determines if man will “seek the Lord, in the
hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each
one of us” (Acts 17:27).
God is never the cause of evil in its most narrow sense of moral “wickedness”
but He does grant to man a brief period of time in which his choices to follow
his own “ungodly lusts” can produce “wickedness” towards himself or those
Is it evil on God’s part to allow the opportunity for the evil man
does to harm others? No, first because...
He has commanded man not to do evil (2 Kings 17:13; Ezek. 18:32).
When man does evil it is in rebellion to God.
He has limited the evil that man can do—our lifetimes are temporary (Gen. 6:3;
Psa. 90:12). The wickedness that any man can commit can extend no further than
his own lifetime, or the lifetime of the one he has harmed.
He will punish the wicked for their rebellion and any harm done to others (Jude
14-15). The Psalmist’s plea “let the wickedness of the wicked come to an
end” will be fulfilled when God condemns the wicked and delivers His