Have you ever heard this question: “If God is all good, then why is there evil in the world?” You might have heard this question put another way, such as – “As a Christian, we believe that God created all things. We are told that He created the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. He then told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of that tree or you shall surely die. If He created this, then it must mean He created evil. So, how can a loving personal God create evil?”
There is nothing in tradition that claims the “tree of good and evil” was evil. In fact it wasn’t evil, it was good. The tree symbolized that it held the knowledge of what is good and evil. God told Adam and Eve not to acquire this knowledge of good and evil. The command was, “refrain from the experiential knowledge of good and evil.”
What is meant by the nature of “evil?” Well, evil is not a substance. In other words, it is not made up of matter such as water, iron, silver or mercury, etc. There’s not something we can point too that says that there is this clump of stuff over here that is called “good” and this clump of stuff over here that is “evil.” Evil is the name we give whereby rational free creatures choose a lesser good over a greater good. That’s what is meant by evil.
Let’s say that my wife and I are sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake. I begin to get hungry and so I take out some pizza we brought with us. Now, I love my wife, but I also happen to love eating pizza. And so I begin to eat the pizza. While eating the pizza, my wife falls out of the boat without her life jacket on. Because she doesn’t know how to swim, and because the sides of the boat are to tall for her to latch onto, she begins to drown. Now, it is at this point I have a decision to make. Should I continue to eat my pizza (which I love) or put it down and try and rescue my wife (who I love) before she drowns. Let’s say I choose to continue to eat the pizza and not worry about my wife. Even though eating pizza is a good thing, the greater good in this situation would be to save my wife. I have essentially chosen the lesser good over the greater good of saving a human life.
It is the misplaced judgment of priorities that one makes by picking the lesser good in which moral evil consists. This is only possible for someone who has rational reasoning and the ability to deliberate. Animals on the other hand do not have this ability. Animals are controlled by instincts, and so that’s why we don’t impute evil to them. For instance, an animal would pick eating the pizza and would not even think of saving a persons life. They don’t have the capability to make a rational decision.
Is rationality a good? Yes, rationality may be the greatest good we as human beings possess in our nature. Is human freedom good? Absolutely! It gives us the ability to deliberate and make choices to do the greater good. It enables us to be more like God.
So, all that God created is good, and the greatest created good out there is the good of this rational intellect. But, in our freedom, it allows for the possibility to choose a lesser good over a greater good. And it is precisely this choice that we call evil.
Now, if God would have made us like robots without the freedom to choose and make decisions, then you could possibly conceive of a world without evil. But, that world would be lacking a substantial good, mainly that good of rationality. Of course, with rationality comes sin. But even so, God determines to bring a greater good out of our choice of sinfulness. And, because of our freedom and rationality, we have the ability to not only know God, but to be like him and to receive in our soul a participation in the devine life.
Until next time, God bless.