10 Questions about Evil Answered by the Bible

We have been discussing over the past few weeks the documentary hosted by Morgan Freeman titled The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. On Sunday, May 1st, 2016, Freeman presented the fifth episode of the series. This episode dealt with the problem of evil. I originally thought that the episode would deal with the issue that is popularly known as theodicy: that is, how can a loving and all-powerful God co-exist with a world full of evil? Rather, the episode dealt more with evil in the human sphere. How do we understand evil? Where does evil originate? This article will present 10 questions that were raised over the course of the episode. The answers to these questions are found in the pages of the Bible.

  1. Is a person wired to do evil?

We will discuss the concept of original sin and its influence on our lives (see question 2). However, we must ask, “Are some people wired to do evil?” Morgan Freeman interviewed a psychopath at a federal imprisonment facility. The psychopath had raped several women killing many of them. Let me pause and say that I have to give serious props to Freeman and the show for not publicizing the prisoner’s name and for refusing to show his face. They did not want to glorify the man or his actions.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, claimed that the prisoner lacked emotions and the ability to control his impulses, something that the prisoner confessed as true. However, it is interesting that the prisoner admitted that what he did was wrong. He said that if he were released that he would probably do the same, admitting the evil of his deeds. While I admit that there are psychopathic tendencies in individuals which may stem from physical abnormalities, one still has the choice to act on one’s impulses. Later, a theologian named Kutter Calloway admitted that each of us have a little of that psychopath in us. Each of us holds the ability to do great good or great evil. The Bible gives a great point on this issue. Joshua tells the people of Israel, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).[1] Each day, we also have that decision.

  1. What is original sin?

Charles Hodge defines original sin as “The effects of Adam’s sin upon his posterity are declared in our standards to be, (1.) The guilt of his first sin. (2.) The loss of original righteousness. (3.) The corruption of our whole nature, which (i.e., which corruption), is commonly called original sin.”[2] Paul notes that “if by the transgression of the one (meaning Adam, mine), death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Paul notes in verse 18 that all are condemned as guilty because of the sin of Adam. A sin nature is passed from one generation unto the next.

  1. Are humans inherently good or inherently evil?

Freeman interviewed Kutter Calloway, a Baptist minister and theologian. Calloway said quite accurately that there is “something in us that bends itself towards death and evil.”[3] This is true. The Bible illustrates the dichotomy that exists in each human being. Humans are made in the image of God, or imagio dei (Genesis 1:27). Thus, humans have the potential to do good because of bearing the imprint of God’s image. However, humans have been incapacitated to do complete good due to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Goodness comes from God. So it stands to reason that ultimate good can be brought from those who have been regenerated by the grace of God. To answer the question, humans were made to do good, however bearing a sin nature, humans are swayed to do great evil.

  1. Is the devil real?

Calloway noted that the devil is a real being, but yet the devil is a metaphor for the inner demonic influences of a person’s life. So, to answer the question, the devil is a real entity. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat the apple in the garden (Genesis 3:4-5). The devil tested God in the instance of Job’s life (Job 1:13-22). The devil also tempted Jesus on three occasions at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is also shown to be defeated at the end of days (Revelation 20:1-15). So yes, the devil is real.

  1. Can our ancestors influence evil behavior?

Some cultures believe that a person’s ancestors can influence a person’s behavior. In a manner of speaking, this could be true to a degree. For instance, Moses understood that a person’s sin could influence several generations in the future (i.e., Numbers 15:18). In many ways, the sins of today can lead to the problems of tomorrow. Therefore, in some degree, we are influenced by the evil of previous generations, but maybe not in the way that it was presented on the show.

  1. Can evil be purified?

Yes! Evil is purified by the Messiah. See question 8.

  1. Should we blame spiritual entities for our behavior?

While we have all heard people use the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” In reality, each person must answer for their own actions. Spiritual entities can tempt and try to persuade a person to do a particular thing. However, no one can blame the entities for their decisions. For instance, the devil tempted Adam and Eve. Yet, Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their actions.

  1. Does the purging of evil require a Messiah?

Yes! Sin stains a person thoroughly and completely. The writer of Hebrews notes that “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Thus, a perfect sacrifice was required to rid the world of evil. That perfect sacrifice was found in Christ. As Jesus himself noted, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

  1. Can faith lead us to redemption?

Absolutely! A person is made into a new creation because of the work of Christ. The old ways, attitudes, and behaviors are transformed. A person can be forgiven, learning how to forgive, and can be molded into a much better person due to the work of Christ. The resounding truth that rings through the ages is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  1. Can people change?

Some people hold the assumption that people cannot change. Such beliefs stem from an ultra-determinist ideology that would lend the ideas of law and morality as invalid. It makes little sense to have laws and ethics if people cannot choose to do good rather than evil. In the end, one must note that there are certain things that a person cannot change. Personality traits and tendencies may follow a person for a lifetime. However, behaviors and attitudes can change! Christianity is built upon the idea that people can change. That was the purpose for which Jesus came. Jesus came to set people free. Jesus came to bring forth change! As Paul notes, a person can choose not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good an acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). People cannot change themselves necessarily, but God can change people.

Error Alert:   Did the idea of the devil originate with Zoroastrianism?

The fifth episode presented what I believe to be an error. The show seemed to picture Zoroastrianism as the father of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief in the devil and the fight between good and evil. Zoroastrianism is pinpointed to be around 3,500 years old stemming from the teacher Zoroaster. However, it does not appear that the monotheistic religions may have adopted the concept from Zoroastrianism. Rather, Zoroastrianism may have adopted said concepts from Judaism. The book of Job may be the oldest book of the Bible. Elwell and Beitzel note that “The language of the book may also point to an early date. Certain linguistic elements indicate more archaic forms of Hebrew, as preserved in the epic material from Ugarit. It may be that Job himself lived in the 2nd millennium b.c.”[4] If it is true that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah, or Pentateuch, (and remember Genesis mentions the devil), then the latest that the earliest form of these writings would have appeared would been the 13th century BC. Many scholars, and rightly so, argue for an older date for the Exodus. If so, Genesis would have appeared in the 15th century BC. This would have been much earlier than Zoroaster.

In addition, studies indicate that the writings of the Bible may be much older than previously thought. The Associated Press reports,

“Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than what some scholars think. Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works…The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts. Instead, they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort’s deputy quartermaster were able to write. The tone of the inscriptions, which suggest they were not written by professional scribes, combined with the fortress’ remote location, indicate a wide spread of literacy at the time, according to the study. A high level of literacy would support the idea that some biblical texts had already been authored by this time. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known collection of certain biblical texts, are believed to date several centuries later.”[5]

With this in mind, it is safe to assume that Zoroastrianism was probably influenced by ancient Judaism rather than the other. This is not to say that Zoroastrianism could not have influenced Judaism during the Babylonian captivity especially with the influence of apocalyptic literature. However, I do not think that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam adopted as much from Zoroastrianism as was presented in the documentary.
 

© May 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 227.

[3] Kent Calloway, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Why Does Evil Exist?, The Story of God: The Story of Us, aired on the National Geographic Channel, Revelations Entertainment (May 1, 2016), retrieved May 1, 2016.

[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1169.

[5] Associated Press, “Handwriting Study Finds Clues On When Biblical Texts Written,” DailyMail (April 12, 2016), retrieved May 2, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3535745/Handwriting-study-finds-clues-biblical-texts-written.html.

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