Many people wonder: “How is it that God, the Benevolent, the Omnipotent, Who is Love - allows evil to exist?”
If one does not think this question through, it can often lead to a denial of God’s existence. “If God knows everything, foresees everything and yet allows evil to exist, then He is either not Benevolent, or not Omnipotent!” Thus say those who doubt… And the logical conclusion follows: “If God is not Benevolent or not Omnipotent, then He cannot be God, or, in other words, there is no God.”
Such doubts and such atheism are sometimes inherent to serious and honest people as, for example, the French writer Albert Camus. But even deep believers such as Dostoyevsky are also beset by doubts before they reach the final stage of absolute belief.
These doubts are based either upon a lack of knowledge of the basic truths of the Christian faith, or upon an inability - or more often an unwillingness - to accept the Truth.
From ancient times to our own days the Church Fathers and many other Christian writers have provided us with conclusive answers to these doubts. The answer is quite simple, but it is not enough to understand it and remember it, one must likewise experience it, because supreme truths are revealed not only to the mind, but also to the heart.
The Church teaches that, naturally, God is benevolent, that God is omnipotent, but that His omnipotence is the omnipotence of love, because God is Love. For this reason God has not created evil and one may even say that He could never have created it.
According to the teaching of the Church, evil appeared only because God made His highest creations - angels and men - in His image and likeness, i.e. beings who are totally free and can thus even follow a path not planned by God.
God is Love first and foremost, and man embodies the image of God, i.e. becomes most like Him, when he loves, when his capacity for love grows. But is it possible to love not freely, but out of necessity or constraint? Of course not! Love can only be given freely; consequently, it must be said that love is the true incarnation, manifestation or realization of freedom.
It is for this reason that God has created angels and men as free beings. He has created them for Love, in order that they may share in that rapture of mutual love in which He Himself, the Triune God, dwells.
But, as it was said, freedom presupposes the risk of making the wrong choice, the risk of deviating from the true path and, unfortunately, this wrong choice was made by some of the angels and by the first people, which gave rise to evil.
It is impossible to explain why this treacherous choice was made. Each creation, having been made by the All-wise God, is filled with deep substance and can be described. Evil, however, has not been created by God, and thus in itself it lacks substance, it is nonsense that is hard to explain. The Holy Fathers teach that evil, not having been created by God, does not exist in reality.
Evil is a phantom, a vice, an illness, a negative value, a minus, but a minus which can dominate by force. This force is like the force of a parasite, (and evil is a parasite), it lives only by means of the organism on which it feeds. The power of evil lies only in its acceptance by the will of a free being that has been created by God. Evil can exist on earth only while the will of man inclines towards evil, and this situation shall continue until man freely returns to the only true path of a voluntary and loving acceptance of God’s benevolent will.
God naturally foresaw that angels and men could make the wrong choice; moreover, He knew that the wrong choice would be made, and He pre-eternally (speaking in human terms) “took measures” to correct man’s terrible mistake. In accordance with His boundless love, God responds to all man’s mistakes, all man’s evil, all man’s suffering with Self-sacrifice. He takes all the mistakes, all the evil, all the suffering upon Himself, as though He - innocent of all evil - is to blame for it.
Man turns away from love, strays from the path of love, but God always remains Love and only Love. The meaning of the Lord’s sacrifice is that it gives mankind the opportunity to once again choose the right path. God does not wish to and even “cannot” save mankind by force. He only calls us and encourages us, but in Jesus Christ God now calls men to Himself in a totally new way. Now the fullness of divine love has been revealed to us (Christians), the curtain has fallen and in the Lord’s sacrifice divine love has revealed itself fully, while His glorious Resurrection has revealed the all-victorious power of this love. It is only left to us to partake of this divine love: “O taste and see how good is the Lord.”
Such is the teaching of the Church on evil and escape from evil, and this is how St. John of Kronstadt, one of the last righteous ones in the Russian land, comments on the matter: “The Creator is accused - why did God not create us in such a manner that we would not fall into evil? Should He rather not be considered more benevolent for having given us this gift (freedom), disregarding our ingratitude? And has He not indeed proven His boundless love in granting us freedom, when after our fall He sent His Only-begotten Son to us and gave Him unto suffering and death for us?” Evil has obviously no positive basis and there could not be and should not be any justification for it, but since it exists, God wishes to turn it to good use, and for this reason temporarily allows its existence. St. John says the following about this: “If you do not experience the actions of the evil spirit upon yourself, you will never know or truly value the bounties bestowed upon you by the benevolent Spirit; if you do not learn to recognize the spirit who kills, - you will not recognize the Spirit Who gives life…”