Thoughts of evil in the world lies as a heavy burden of doubt in the hearts of many believers. It seems incomprehensible why God allows evil to exist. God in His Omnipotence could have eliminated evil. How can the infinitely merciful God endure having the evil actions of one scoundrel condemn thousands, sometimes millions, perhaps even half of mankind, to deprivation, woes, calamities? What is the true sense of evil? For in God’s world nothing exists that is senseless.
In order to reply to these questions, we must remind ourselves of what exactly is evil. Under evil we must understand not suffering, need and deprivation, but sins and moral guilt. God does not want evil. The Almighty God cannot condone evil. Moreover, God forbids evil. God punishes evil. Evil or sin is a contradiction, a rebellion against the will of God.
The beginning of evil, as we well know, was set by the highest angel created by God, who arrogantly departed from obedience to the benevolent will of God and became the devil. The devil is the cause of evil, since he either suggests or influences the initiation of sin in man. It is not man’s body, as many believe, that is the source of sin, - no, it becomes the tool of evil or good not of its own accord, but by man’s will.
The true faith of Christ indicates the following two reasons for the existence of evil in the world:
(1) The first reason lies in man’s free will.
(2) The second reason or the true sense of the existence of evil lies in the fact that God directs even this evil towards good.
Our free will is an imprint of Divine likeness. This gift of God raises man above all other creatures in the world. In the free choice of good and rejection of evil man glorifies God and perfects himself. The Bible says: “In the beginning He (God) created man and left him in the hands of will,” i.e. God initially created man and left him with the ability of choosing freely. In this manner God gives people with a good will the opportunity to earn paradise, and people with an evil will – the gates of hell. But both one and the other are acquired by means of man’s free will.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: “If you were to do good by nature and not by free will, why should God prepare ineffable crowns for you? The sheep is meek, but will never be crowned for its meekness, because its meekness comes from nature and not from free will.”
St. Basil the Great says: “Why have we not been given sinlessness in our very composition, so that we could not sin even had we wished to do so? For the same reason that you do not consider your servants to be faithful when you impose upon them, but only when you see them fulfilling their responsibilities willingly. Thus God, too, is not served by that which is imposed, but by that which is done voluntarily; virtue comes from will and not from necessity, and the will depends on what is within us, and what is within us – is free. Therefore, whoever reproves the Creator for not having made us sinless, shows his preference for a nature that is senseless, immobile and lacking any aspirations over a nature that has been granted free will and independence.” In other words, he prefers a machine (robot) to a sentient creature.
Under no circumstances does God wish for evil to exist. However, since evil has penetrated into the world through the fault of creation, God in His plan for the world makes even evil serve the purposes of good. For example: the sons of Jacob sold their brother Joseph into slavery. They committed an evil deed. But God turned this evil into good. Joseph attained an elevated position in Egypt and thus had the possibility to save from hunger his family, out of which the Messiah was due to come. When several years later Joseph saw his brothers, he said to them: “You had planned evil against me, but God turned it to good!”
In the days of the apostles the Jews persecuted the Christians in Palestine. And these Christians had to flee from Judea, which was sanctified by the life and blood of the Saviour. But wherever they went, they planted the words of the Gospel. Thus the sins of the persecutors were directed by the Divine hand to the propagation of Christianity.
The pagan emperors of Rome persecuted the fledgling Christian Church. Tens of thousands of martyrs shed their blood for Christ. And the blood of these martyrs became the seed for millions of new Christians. Even in this case the fury of the persecutors, the sins of hate and murder were directed by God towards the growth of the Church. The evildoers thought and committed evil, but God turned all their deeds to good. The entire history of mankind, up to the events of our own times, shows the truth of these words. The greatest catastrophes among peoples were at the same the greatest triumphs of religion, making people turn to God. But even this entwinement of evil into the plan of ruling the world was not some belated addition, some correction to creation. It was an act of the pre-eternal will of God.