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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

To Define Evil: Nature and Origins

The fact remains, however, that creation is good. God, as the ultimate of being and goodness, created a world that is wholly good, for it is indeed the work of the omnipotent Goodness.19 All of creation is good, and this includes the material, physical aspects. Additionally, within creation is a fixed order that God has placed there, for order and justice are always present in God, and thus these are passed into the work of His hands.20 Consequently, if the universe is good and ordered as such, there is no room within the realm of creation for evil. The truth is that evil is only said to have occurred when it affects the human creature. Events such as disease, earthquakes, storms, droughts, tornadoes, etc., are only evil insofar as they create difficulty for people. There is much debate as to whether events that do not touch humans can still be considered evil - events such as animals preying on one another, the death and decay of plants, or the extinction of a star.21 Consider for a moment a tornado that destroys a city. The tornado itself cannot be declared evil for the tornado is simply acting by the governing rules it has been placed under. A thunderstorm that occurs may create a rotating cyclonic vortex of air within it - known as a mesocyclone. As rainfall increases, the storm drags to the earth an area of quickly descending air, which accelerates and drags the rotating mesocyclone with it. This is nature in action, and the effects of a tornado are well-known; however, it is not seen as evil until people have been injured or have died as a result. Granted, such events are tragic, but this condemnation of nature rings back to the discussion above of personal misery - a relative evil, which is not an evil at all. This also implies that death should be seen as evil, whereas for the Christian death is not an evil. Throughout the Bible, death is not good only when it occurs to a person who is unsaved, for they will experience a worse thing than physical death. Robert Farrar Capon can further this line of reasoning, as he speaks of the event that occurred on November 1, 1755:

[T]he Lisbon earthquake was not God's fault for any of the reasons assigned to it by unrealistic theologies. It was God's fault simply because he made the earth the kind of thing it is. If he had made it out of one solid homogeneous block, then it would not have developed a surface condition liable to cracks and shifts. But since he actually made it out of molten slush - and set it to cool not in an annealing oven but in frigid space - it was bound to develop a somewhat unstable crust before its center cooled and hardened. . . . It was indeed horrible for so many to die such a dreadful death; it was not at all horrible for the crust of a partly cooled casting to shift a bit under the circumstances.22

Indeed, '[t]he tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again,'23 as such is the case in the wake of Katrina for New Orleans. Evil then is not found in creation until the human creature is formed, as evil cannot be a relative inconvenience, but is in fact that which is against God Himself. As we have noted above, the question of good and evil is theologically concerned with the divine purposes for the world. Thus, whatever attempts to thwart God's will is evil, whereas whatever promotes His purposes is good.24 Humanity is a unique creation in this sense, for humanity was endowed with the gift of free will. That is, humanity was created with the possibility to turn away from God - a liberty granted to no other creature. It is at this point that evil has its origin: In the turning away of the soul from God - in the freedom to stray from God's purposes. It has been alluded to, with the discussion above regarding natural evil, that evil is not a mindless happening - that is, an inanimate object cannot spontaneously do evil.25 A beast can only behave according to its nature. Therefore, only a creature with a mind of its own is capable of acting against Good and bringing about evil.26 Despite the fact that we are created in the image of God - or perhaps indeed because we are created in the image of God - we each have this dark potential. The possibility of sin is in fact necessary for the distinction between Creator and creature.27 Since the Creator and His creation are distinct and dissimilar a conflict between them can and indeed must arise. Without the possibility of conflict within creation, creation is not distinct from God - that is, in order for God to have truly created another outside Himself there must be a possibility of conflict.28 If a creature is freed from the possibility of defection it is not really a creature, but a second God - and since no second God can exist, the creature would then be God Himself.29 Therefore, what is essential to the human creature is also its very downfall, for the source of evil is its uniquely given good free will.

  1. Hick, God of Love, p.50.
  2. G. R. Evans, Augustine on Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p.98.
  3. Hick, God of Love, pp.18-19.
  4. Robert Farrar Capon, 'The Third Peacock,' The Romance of the Word: One Man's Love Affair with Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p.190.
  5. Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986), p.25.
  6. Hick, God of Love, p.15.
  7. Evans, Augustine, p.95.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Rodin, Theodicy, p.83.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.