The Necessity of Evil

The existence of evil in our world has been the grounds for some of the greatest questions we humans ever ask. Why did tragedy take the life of someone so young? Why did a stray bullet hit an innocent bystander? Why did my father die of Alzheimer’s?

Like me, I’m sure you’ve had hundreds of these kinds of questions, and they all seem to come with no answers.

Recently I was reading one of the leading spokesmen for the New Atheism, Richard Dawkins. In his book River Out Of Eden he declares that the universe is made up of “electrons and selfish genes.” He goes further to posit that the universe has no purpose and is a random and chaotic mix of physical forces that can all be explained by physics and chemistry. This, of course, presents a problem when he turns to things like consciousness, and especially the concepts of good and evil. Dawkins states his logical conclusion succinctly: “The universe we observe has exactly the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” He suggests that it is enough to know that “some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice.”

This answer is the epitome of pessimism regarding humanity and life on earth and those joining Dawkins in this worldview might come to view the whole thing as so meaningless as to offer no good reason for living. That’s a conclusion I just can’t accept.

There is another answer to the existence of evil coming from the world of theism. Evil does exist (as is obvious) and it existence is not due either to God being weak or mean. Rather, the presence of evil in our world is proof that God truly loves his creation, and especially, mankind. 

When tragedy strikes we usually hear strong cries of “where was God?” But think with me just a minute. Suppose God did suddenly suck all of the evil out of our world. Suddenly there would be no wrong actions, no evil thoughts, or desires, and certainly nothing that would in anyway reduce the well-being and happiness of mankind. What kind of world would that be?

Before you start cheering, consider this. We would no longer be free. We would be limited only to good choices, measured by what God determined to be good, for all other choices would be unavailable. We couldn’t play a game, for no one would lose. All competition and free choice would be impossible, and our existence would be one-dimensional.

But God, desiring his human creation to act as his image bearers, determined that they could best do that, as free moral agents, in a universe that included evil. As free agents, they would desire, choose, act, and be held accountable for their action. This necessitated the presence of evil. Flowing out of this is the corollary that the presence of evil consequences is essential to showing us how best to live

Finally, the presence of evil allows us to know and appreciate God more than we could without it. Without evil in our world we could never know his mercy, his grace, his wisdom, or his love. And most importantly, we could never know his undeserved redemption, forgiveness, and the grandeur of a transformed life.

All this doesn’t make evil good, but it does help us understand its place. And while we can both restrain and avoid much evil through righteous living, we will never escape it until we pass over to the other side.

So, the next time evil shows it’s face in your world, you can either stand with Dawkins and realize that this life has no meaning, no purpose, and is full of pitiless indifference, or you can see it as a reminder that a sovereign, almighty God has granted you an existence complete with the freedom of desire and action, and press on through the trial in persevering faith.