Did God create evil?

Photo by  David Clode

Photo by David Clode

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
— Genesis 3:1

Enter: Satan.

The beautiful story of creation abruptly takes a sinister twist. But who is this serpent, and why did God let him mess everything up?

At first, everything was fine.

The Bible makes it clear that everything God created was without evil. In Genesis 1:31, only a few verses before the fall of humans, it says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” In fact, throughout the creation story in Genesis 1 it’s mentioned six times that God called his creation good.

The entire earth, from the grandest expanses of the universe down to the smallest particle, is filled with such perfect detail that centuries of human research has yet to unlock all its mysteries. Of course, God could have done this by uttering a single word, causing the universe to burst forth in an instant with the same amount of perfection and detail.

But instead, the Lord took his time. There are distinctly separate moments for the different aspects of creation, each set apart by a new day. This intentional, measured account hints at no accidents; nothing slipped by unnoticed.

So then…what went wrong?

Since nothing at the beginning of creation indicates the existence of evil, this means that at some point Satan chose to rebel against God. For some reason, the Lord created at least one being powerful enough to defy him and wreak havoc on the world.

Who exactly is Satan?

It’s interesting, yet puzzling to determine Satan’s story because it involves an overlap between heavenly and earthly realities. The clearest origin account is in Revelation 12:7-17. Here, we discover that he was an angel who tried to fight against God, was kicked out of heaven, and in revenge, seeks to lure humans away from God. There are other passages that can be interpreted as poetic allusions to Satan’s fall from heaven, such as Ezekiel 28:11-19.

“You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.”

Here, it appears that Satan once held an elevated position, until it went to his head; he wanted to be on the same level as God (Isaiah 14:12-15). After getting thrown down to earth, his mission is to attack God’s followers and win them for himself.

It started with Adam and Eve.

God’s curse demonstrates how Satan’s first deception set the world on the downward track we are still in today. When we question the evil around us, this passage is a sobering reminder of what went wrong. There is an Enemy waging war against both us and God, and he has great power to deceive humans and turn us into his agents. So often, we swallow his lies instead of serving God. Adam and Eve chose to believe the serpent, and they instantly became alienated from each other and their Creator. The enmity between genders and between humans and the earth comes as a direct result of their choosing to reject God and trust in Satan.

Okay, but why didn’t God destroy Satan right off the bat?

This is one of my biggest questions when reading this passage. When Satan first rebelled against God, why didn’t the Lord condemn him to eternal death right then and there? Why banish him to earth, where he starts attacking humans?

Until writing this blog post, it had never occurred to me that God might place value in Satan as one of his creations. The Lord originally created Satan as a beautiful and good “guardian cherub.” He is not something worthless, to be destroyed before he gets a chance to do more evil.

Like all of creation, God’s angels are a reflection of his might and power. God himself is too great and generous not to imprint beauty, honour and dignity into all his creations. I find it fascinating that we see Jesus paying heed to the requests of demons in the New Testament. Although he clearly has the authority to do whatever he wants, Christ allows an army of demons who’d possessed a man to enter a herd of pigs (Mark 5:2-13). He not only listens to them, but grants their request.

With freedom comes the risk of evil.

God made good creations (like angels and humans), but those good creations have the capacity for evil as well as good. I’ve written about this before: giving humans the ability to make decisions opens the world to the risk of evil.

Because God places value in what he creates, he does not eternally destroy those who actively rebel, even to prevent them from causing further harm. It seems that nothing, not even Satan or his demons, will be eternally condemned until the time of judgement (Revelation 20:10-15).

Why does God let Satan exercise his power at all?

God clearly has the ability to stop Satan whenever he wants to. For example, Satan has to receive permission to test Job; there are also many examples of Jesus having power over demons. Most significantly of all, Jesus died on the cross to thwart Satan’s main goal of dragging people away from God. Because of his death, we all have an opportunity to receive eternal life — something we’d never be able to do through our own merit.

We may be less powerful than Satan, but we too, are capable of defying God in our own lives, causing harm to ourselves and others. And yet, we in no way have the power to actually defeat him (we can’t control how long we live, let alone anything else). As dangerous as Satan can be — especially within people or countries that have completely turned away from God — we know that he doesn’t have a say in the outcome. One day, Satan will be utterly defeated (Revelation 20:10).

So, no matter the number of battles Satan has won throughout history, he will not win the war.

In summary: God created a good world, giving the beings he created (including Satan) the ability to choose his perfect ways or reject them. But even though humans continually reject him, the Lord provides us a way back to him until the time when he will set right all our injustice, cruelty and violence.

FURTHER READING:

If you want to dig deeper, here are a few other voices who’ve weighed in on this topic.

The Gospel Coalition: Who made Satan?

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries: Why did God create Satan?

John Piper: Why does God allow Satan to live?

Ilana ReimerComment