Recently a colleague asked my opinion about a theological explanation for the origin of evil. Many Christian writers answer this question by appealing to free will. They argue that the potential for evil is a necessary concomitant to free will. God wanted humanity to love him freely and so necessarily permitted the possibility of choosing evil.
While this may be true, I find little comfort in this argument. I cannot think of any statement in Scripture which confirms the widespread assumption that God was especially anxious to protect the free agency of those who worship him. This seems to be a human rather than a divine concern.
For my part, I do not think the Bible answers this question about the origin of evil in a way that elimnates the tension we feel. It is clear that the Bible separates God and evil. Evil does not originate with God. Yet God’s redemptive plan anticipated the existence of evil. He incorporates the evil actions of “free” agents.
Unless we take the radical position of those who claim that God’s knowledge is limited, I have to conclude that God decided to set something in motion out of which evil eventually sprang. He is not the source of evil but evil would not exist if he had not chosen to create. God will destroy evil in the end but does not spare what he created from its effects. There are many casualties who suffer the consequences of someone else’s evil choice. They do not “deserve” what they experience.
The Bible does tell me that God is not evil. That he is greater than evil. That he has born the brunt of that evil himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And that he “subverts” evil so that what others intend for evil somehow works to further his ultimate purposes. I do not know how this can be so. I do not think I am supposed to understand it or explain it. It is something I affirm. Not a very satisfying answer to the modern mind which feels it is owed an explanation for everything.
What do you say when you are asked how a good God can permit evil to exist?