The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
THE basic truth of divine revelation, that all is of God (Rom. 11:36) is so severe a strain on the faith of some of God’s saints, that they instinctively reject it, excusing their unfaith on the ground that it is repulsive to their spiritual natures. They seek to shelve it by making the devil the source of all evil, yet they fail to tell us how the enemy could originate it, unless the power or capacity were given him by his Creator.
We sympathize heartily with the motive of those who shrink from associating evil with God, because we find that their conception of evil and sin is such that they cannot believe God’s plain statements concerning them, but must modify God’s Word to suit their misconception. There is dire need, therefore, of further searching of God’s Word on this subject.
There are many passages in God’s Word which bear out the great truth that all things—the evil as well as the good—find their source in the one and only God, Who alone can originate. Whence are the sufferings of creation, the evil that has perplexed philosophers and confounded the wise? Paul writes that the creation was not subjected to vanity voluntarily. It had no will or choice in the matter. God is subjecting it against its will (Rom.8:21). And the reason is not far to seek. It is only temporary. It is in expectation. Our sufferings will lead to an overwhelming glory, for which these sufferings are essential. Creation is enslaved by corruption with a view to a liberty which can only be enjoyed by that which has tested its opposite.
There is one feature which is common to all opposition to this truth, and that is the failure to distinguish between evil and sin. We have quoted the words of Yahweh Himself, “I . . . create evil” (Isa.45:7), and immediately we are accused of teaching that God is the author of sin. Now we did not write the passage in Isaiah, nor is the prophet responsible. It is the word of Yahweh Himself, and He ought to know. Speaking of the physical creation, He challenges Job,
Where wast thou when I earth’s foundations laid?
Say, if thou know and understandest it!
Well might He say to those who deny His creation of evil, “Where were you when evil was created, since you know I had no hand in it?” We admire their zeal for God, but we deplore their denial of His words. What causes the confusion which leads to such dire misunderstanding? It lies largely, we believe, in the lack of discrimination. Instead of the Creator of evil being the Author of sin, we are sure that He cannot sin.
In the languages of revelation evil and sin are clearly distinguished by terms not in any way related to each other. Our translations are only partially consistent, so that there is some excuse for cloudy conceptions on these momentous themes. With very few exceptions (Job 24:21; Psa.41:8; 111:11; Prov.12:21), the Hebrew word rahgag underlies the English rendering evil. A few of its renderings are, break, displease, ill, effect, harm, hurt, mischief, punish, vex, wicked. The adjective adds to these adversity, bad, calamity, distress, grief, grievous, heavy, ill favored, misery, naught, noisome, sad, sore, sorrow, trouble, wretchedness, wrong. It is evident that such diversity of translation will not aid us in forming a correct or concise conception of the real meaning of the term.
What is its exact import? This is best discovered in such passages as Psa.2:9, where it is rendered, break, or Dan.2: 40, also translated break. Perhaps our word shatter is its nearest equivalent. In Daniel it is used with the same force as the Chaldee d‘’kak, break in pieces, or pulverize. In the second Psalm it corresponds to nahphatz, which is rendered dash in pieces. In its literal root meaning it describes the effect of iron, the hardest of the common metals, when used to shatter and destroy.
It has no moral bias, such as we usually associate with it. In the passage quoted the evil is done by the hands of the Son of God. He shall deal out evil to the nations with a rod of iron when He comes again (Psa.2:9). The fourth kingdom that will be on earth at the time of the end will deal out evil to the other nations before it, in turn, is the object of His evil work (Dan. 2:40).
The adjective is used of the “ill favored” kine of Pharaoh’s dream (Gen.41:3-27). They were lean, no doubt, but what moral evil were they guilty of? The wonders done in Egypt were great and “sore,” or evil (Deut.6:22). Who doubts that the Lord Himself did this evil? Who would insist that it was morally wrong? The same is true of all the evil brought upon Israel in the land (Joshua 23:15; 1 Kings 9:9; Neh.13:18).
How firmly immorality is associated with evil by theologians is evident from their desire to shield God from all association with it. Our common translation quite correctly states that an evil spirit from Yahweh troubled Saul (1 Sam.16:14). Newberry changes this, in his margin, to a sad spirit! This literally shows the “sad” effect of the unfounded fallacy that evil is, in itself, tainted with sin. The evil spirit was not an emissary of Satan, but of God. Our translators have tried to hide this at times, as when, speaking of the waters of Jericho, they say “the water is naught” (2 Kings 2:19). It was evil.
Job had learned this simple lesson long before his testing. In answer to his wife’s reflection on God, he replied “What? Shall we receive good from the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” We can almost hear someone shout “Blasphemy!” when they read this. But the divine comment is, “In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2: 10). “Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?” (Lam.3:38).
The neutral character of evil is evident when both words are used together. Zimri “sinned in doing evil” (1 Kings 16:19). From this we may freely infer that evil is not necessarily sin.
The claim has been repeatedly made that, since evil is contrasted with peace, rather than good, it denotes calamity rather than “moral” evil. This method of discovering the meaning of a word is a good one, but, in this case, suffers from unskillful use. First we must be sure of the significance of the contrastive term. Then we must determine its real opposite. Moreover we must not base our conclusion on a solitary text, but upon all available occurrences. And, above all, we must not allow one instance to completely overrule the plain teaching of a multitude of others. All of these precautions are thrown to the winds when evil is denied to “moral” evil because it is the opposite of peace. “Peace,” in Hebrew, has a much wider range than in English. “Calamity” is not its antonym, even in English. Evil is seldom contrasted with peace, but often with “good,” which, it is allowed by all, gives it a universal range, to include all species of evil.
While evil and peace are in contrast a few times, evil and good are set over against each other often. The following are most of the occurrences:
Gen.2:9,17; 3:5,22; 24:50; 31:24,29; 44:4; Lev.27:10,12,14, 33; Num.13:19; 24:13; Deut.1:39; 30:15; 1 Sam.25:21; 2 Sam.13:22; 14:17; 19:35 (36); 1 Kings 3:9; 22:8,18; 2 Chron.18:7,17; Job 2: 10; Psa.34:14 (15); 35:12; 37:27; 38:20 (21); 52:3 (5); 109:5; Prov.14:19; 17:13; Ecc.12:14; Isa.5:20; Jer.18:20; 42:6; Lam.3:38; Amos 5:15; Micah 3:2.
If God intends us to understand “moral” evil when it is contrasted with “good,” here is evidence sufficient for anyone.
We are not trying to prove that God creates “moral” evil, but that the distinction is unfounded and futile. The word evil has no “moral” bias. It may or may not be wrong. Is it “moral” evil in the following passages, where it is coupled with good! “Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of Yahweh our God” (Jer.42:6). Moral evil is sin, and God does not demand that His people sin. Much will be gained if the term “moral” be discarded in this discussion, and “moral evil” be given its true name, sin.
Calamity usually heads the catalogue of evils that are not “moral.” Yet it is impossible to consider a single calamity which has not a moral effect. Take the recent Japanese earthquake. No one doubts that it was a divine infliction. And who can doubt its moral effect? Japan cannot strike back at God. If the destruction had been occasioned by some other nation, however, it would be considered one of the greatest wrongs ever perpetrated against a people. It was much worse than anything done in the great war, for they were given no warning and no chance to defend themselves. So that, in reality, the proposed distinction is not between various classes of evil, but that which is from the hand of God and that which is from the hand of man.
Perhaps the most notable and striking dissimilarity in the usage of evil and sin lies in their relation to sacrifice. Indeed, that blurred idea, which struggles so unsuccessfully to crystallize in such unscriptural expressions as “moral evil,” may be clearly conveyed in the question, Does evil require a sacrifice? A careful consideration of the hundreds of passages in which it occurs will lead to the startling conviction that it is never connected with the altar and the blood. The many occasions where God is said to do evil are, of course, as righteous and holy as all His acts must ever be. In the hundreds of cases where men do evil, the presumption is that the evil is also sin and this is pointed out on rare occasions (1 Kings 16:19). Nevertheless we have found no passage in which the evil, as such, is to be covered by sacrifice.
In convincing contrast to this, the student who will go over all the passages in which sin occurs, will find sacrifice and sin such close companions, that in scores of cases, in the feminine form, the word sin has been rendered sin offering. In Leviticus, evil is mentioned scarcely half a dozen times, and then mostly in the latter part, and never in connection with the sacrifices, while sin (including the rendering sin offering occurs over a hundred times.
Never is there the slightest hint that evil must be expiated by an offering. This is necessary only when it is sinful. A striking sentence is found in the midst of one of the definitions of the so-called trespass or guilt offering—the very place where we would expect to see evil condemned. “If a soul swear pronouncing with his lips to do evil or to do good, whatsoever it be . . . then he shall be guilty . . . ” (Lev.5:4).
Until not only the true significance, but the moral bias of our vocabulary agrees with the divine usage, we shall not be able to fathom such truths as the origin of evil and the source of sin. We have an innate repugnance, an instinctive abhorrence of any suggestion which seems to associate sin with God. So long as we think of evil as essentially sin the door is barred to an understanding of its introduction into the universe.
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, usually uses one of two different Greek words in rendering the Hebrew for evil. One is the element -kak- and its derivatives, which we render EVIL, and the common text translates evil, wicked, harm, ill, bad, vex, hurt, etc. This corresponds closely with the Hebrew in its usage. The other word is -ponˆr-, literally MISERY-GUSH, or wicked. This is usually translated evil, wicked, iniquity, etc. It carries with it a moral taint. Its contexts, associated with the word evil, have given the word the moral bias which has gradually spread until it seems to taint the acts of Yahweh Himself.
We may be sure, then, that evil, as spoken of in the Scriptures, is an act which shatters and demolishes and brings with it a train of trouble and distress. But it is neither right nor wrong in itself. This leads us to consider the subject of sin.
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