Sign-up for free e-newsletter

Why did God create a world with evil in it?

JamesKnight2Network Norwich columnist James Knight addresses the question of good and evil and why God created a world in which bad things can happen.

Before we explore this question further we must first establish a standard by which we can say that one thing is ‘good’ and another ‘evil’. If our ideas of good and evil are part of an uncreated universe, then the accidental cerebral motions which cause us to think of good and evil at all must be untrustworthy from the outset. If ‘good’ and ‘evil’ happen to be events that we see and hear then both terms are superfluous. If all actions are merely parts of the accidental event then no ascriptions of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be made. Even the Darwinian model of improvement is only a fact about survival. 
Before we go much further we must make a distinction between what is perceived as human evil (such as murder and cannibalism) and what is perceived as natural evil (such as earthquakes and tsunamis that result in mass devastation and loss of life). Now we could talk for hours about what constitutes ‘evil’ and what constitutes ‘tragedy’, but to save lots of time, we are really enquiring as to why an all-loving and all-powerful God created a universe with any of these bad things in it. If we are to escape the tautology of that particular question, we must begin by accepting that there must be some reason why God allowed these things in creation; that is to say, it seems that He foresaw a reason to create a world in which evil and tragedy regularly occur. 
The harsh realities which result from God giving fallen creatures free will are an inevitable outcome if such choices are bestowed upon us - but that explanation is, in one sense, too simplistic. Such an admission must be coupled with another explanation. The existence of suffering must be necessary in eliciting feelings, emotions, and responses in humans that a world without suffering could not elicit. Sympathy and empathy are two of the most powerful things when it comes to human progression; for they are able to help a bad man to become good - they are the two things which direct a man’s moral conscience into a position accordant with God’s position. The changes they bring about in us are the exact changes necessary for a man to realise his need for positive growth and, as a result, his need for God. Try to separate any positive change from spiritual growth and you will fail (although change won’t always bring about an awareness of this at first). This is the only solution that seems to vitiate the spurious free will/determinism problem. 
What we are really talking about here is vision and cause - a vision is not much good without a cause and a cause is not much good without a vision. Human vision is supplemented with a ‘cause’ from God, therefore it is inevitable that God will sometimes use tragedy, suffering and (sometimes) human evil to elicit sympathy and empathy on a devotional level. Elicitation in this sense shows our real dependency on external things which are beyond our control; that is, we are never free in the sense of elicitation, therefore we must always choose actions which are in accordance with the cause and vision of God. If creation itself is a blessing then the bad things in it (including evil) must be useful for the good of mankind - perhaps only at a perceptual level. 
But now we must return to our knowledge of what is good. If we believe, as most of us do, that we are progressing towards better things, that we are becoming better at being moral, the very idea admits a standard that we are gravitating towards. We have no business talking about becoming ‘more moral’ if ‘more moral’ is simply a fact about what we are becoming. 
Having established that ‘good’ is a real thing, given to us (I believe) from God, we then have to answer the question of where evil came from. If good and evil are opposites then they must also be secondary things; for you cannot have two divergent entities which both claim to be the ultimate Absolute Fact of anything - that would be self-contradictory. Having seen that it is impossible to have two self-comprehending things, we are admitting straight away that neither good nor evil ‘caused’ the universe. We must then take it to mean that either one is accordant with the ultimate truth or that the other is discordant to it. 
If the universe was created by a sole God that is evil by nature, then I see no reason why there would be any goodness at all. If such a malevolent Being existed it seems to me that His pleasure would be derived from the prolonged (or permanent) torture of His creatures. But if the Creator of the universe is good, then it is easier to imagine how the opposite effect might be true. That would make the badness in the world parasitic; that is, the only time that evil occurred would be when goodness was clearly absent. The ideas of good and bad would not themselves be the source of creation; they would be two parts contained within creation itself. 
That is why we say ‘God is good’ not ‘good is God’. The difficulty would go much further if we took the naturalists’ view that good and evil were merely facts about naturalism itself; for in asserting this, we must claim that there is no moral standard outside of the two parts ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In which case, to say that John giving money to charity was good and Frank evading his taxes was bad would merely be to confer a preference for one action. But if there is no moral standard then the preference for tax evasion is no worse than the preference for charitable donations. 
HellFireDo you see the difficulty we are faced with? If we admit this we have to admit that evil is merely an alternative preference to preferring good. This seems to me to be highly irrational, and not at all in accordance with how we understand things. If a sound decision is to be valuable then it must involve seeing good as the original thing and evil as a parasite of that goodness, just as heartbreak is not an original thing in itself, it occurs because of an absence of love. One does not become heartbroken without losing the relative or beloved to which the special fact belongs. It seems to me that to avoid absurdities we have to see good as the flowers and evil as the weeds, or as Christianity goes, ‘good’ as the very nature of God and ‘evil’ as the very nature of Satan. If evil is a parasite, a perversion of what is good, then it must be a conspicuous solecism - just as a mis-spelt word (or words) stand out in an otherwise grammatically correct article. The repercussions will be very significant if one rejects such a view; for to dismiss this is to say that badness is ‘felt’ in the same way that goodness is. 
We have seen some awful cases of evil in the news recently. The depraved man who murdered Sally Ann Bowman, the debased mind responsible for the deaths of five prostitutes in Ipswich, the emergent horror which occurred in the care home in Jersey, and the man in Austria, Joseph Fritzl, who held his daughter captive in a basement for 24 years while subjecting her to the most awful abuse. Evil of this kind and other comparable evils involve an unspeakable perversion - usually of a sexual nature. We have all seen the levels that people will go to in order to satisfy a prurient urge, from the gravest misogynist disrespect that occurs in nightclubs to the most gruesome acts which cover the front pages of our newspapers. 

These acts are condemned not because we happen to prefer something else, they are condemned because all of us know that they are a gross disfigurement of the real thing. It is true that the better something is, the worse its opposite will be. But when we talk of one thing and its opposite we must see these things as parts of an even bigger fact or ‘standard’ by which they become opposites. An English teacher can mark the spelling mistakes on an exam paper, but he can only do so because they belong to the grammatical law of language. 
From this we must conclude the following. If evil is a parasite then it cannot be equal to ‘good’ - therefore if we are able to see that good is to be preferred over evil, we can begin to see how we should live our lives and to whom we should be thankful - the very originator of good and of creation itself. 
But, you might say, why can’t we just admit that good is good, that it is necessary to our survival and serves us the greatest evolutionary advantage as regards progression? Indeed it does, but not all good acts contain within them any thoughts of survival or selfish notion - in fact, many of the very best ones are best because they do not. If we go down this route we end up back at the relativistic crossroad, making goodness merely a fact about our preference. 

The facts about good and evil will never be understood properly until we see that they are parts of a much bigger standard, and that behind that standard there lies the doorway to belief in the One who created us. Good and evil are like so much of creation - they are reflections of supernatural powers far beyond anything that we can, as yet, fully understand. But both offer us, through the embrace of one and the repudiation of the other, the chance to develop better ideas about the self, about creation, and about the plans that God has for us when He creates the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1)

The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here. You can also contact the author direct at 

James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich.

Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit:  


By courtesy of