Evil

Preaching and Worship Resources about Evil

Evil is disturbance of the way God wants things to be — that is, disturbance of the justice, fulfillment, harmony, and delight among God, all humanity, and all creation. Evil is vandalism of shalom.

In Scripture

God uses evil for good [Joseph said to his brothers,] "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today" (Gen. 50:20).

Israel does evil by abandoning the Lord "Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. . . . So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies" (Judges 2:11 - 12, 14).

King David does evil "Why have you [King David] despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites" (2 Sam. 12:9).

Job turns away from evil "There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1).

Yet Job experiences evil "But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came" (Job 30:26).

Evil a violation against God "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment" (Ps. 51:4).

Turn from evil "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isa. 1:16 - 17).

Isaiah speaks against the evil of God's people "[W]hen I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my sight, and chose what did not please me" (Isa. 66:4).

God brings evil to the disobedient "Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, do not delay, for I am bringing evil from the north, and a great destruction" (Jer. 4:6).

The evil one "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path" (Matt. 13:19)

Jesus crucified despite having done no evil "Then [Pilate] asked, `Why, what evil has he done?' But they shouted all the more, `Let him be crucified!'" (Matt. 27:23).

Evil produces evil "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).

Jesus heals from evil "Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind" (Luke 7:21).

Not the result of evil "As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, `Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, `Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.'" (John 9:1 - 3).

Hate what is evil "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good" (Rom. 12:9).

Evil overcome by good "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).

Evil abolished in the new creation "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, `See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away'" (Rev. 21:3 - 4).

Points to Ponder

Shalom is the way things ought to be The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom (see separate essay on it, with biblical references). We translate shalom as "peace," but it means far more than just peace of mind or ceasefire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and speaks welcome to the creatures in whom God delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. In the biblical metanarrative, shalom was and will be the state of affairs at the beginning and end of history.

Evil is whatever disrupts shalom. And, of course, the list of disruptors is depressingly long. In every season in every land, nature herself causes injury and death by way of fire, wind, water, lightning, or sudden burial under earth or snow. Birth disorders and disease cause still more harm. Human error causes still more evil, from mechanical accidents to car crashes to naval disasters. Then there are the miseries — loneliness, rootlessness, anxiety, a sense of futility, estrangement, shame over perceived personal inadequacy. There is an almost inexhaustible number of ways human beings can suffer, and evil is behind them all.

Sin, the culpable disruption of shalom, is a subset of evil, and, again, the list of ways to sin (which itself causes misery) is almost inexhaustible. People attack or neglect each other. Parents abuse children, and those children go on to abuse their children. Tyranny, robbery, assault, malicious gossip, fraud, blasphemy, envy, idolatry, perjury, dereliction of duty, and a thousand other forms of sin disrupt the harmony God intends and inflict suffering on millions every day.

Impetus for lament Evil, including sin, is the impetus for psalmists and others in Scripture to lament the present evil state of affairs — and to long for the final coming of the kingdom of God — the return of shalom when God will wipe away every tear. Sometimes psalmists lament what can only be called the mystery of evil, asking questions such as "Why, Lord?", "When, Lord?", "How long, Lord?", or "How soon, Lord?"

Prima facie evils Some of the things called evil in the Old Testament (Jer. 4:6, e.g.) are prima facie evils, but not actual ones. God brings judgment on his sinful people. Judgment brings suffering, which on the surface seems evil. But judgment may be justified. Then Israel's suffering may be a form of retributive justice and may ultimately be restorative — particularly when God tempers justice with mercy.

The final restoration Christians believe that at the center of the hope for final restoration of all things is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the prince of shalom. Jesus' death includes absorption of evil without passing it back — a stoppage of evil. So an evil act (the crucifixion of an innocent Jesus) becomes in the mercy of God an event worth the name of its day: Good Friday. And Jesus' resurrection vindicates the hope of shalom by extending Jesus' triumph over evil. Roman tyranny could not defeat him; death could not hold him.

Jesus' resurrection is the platform for every attempt by Christians to overcome evil with good. Every Christian hospital, college, orphanage, counseling service, housing ministry, and AIDS clinic builds on this platform. Christian hope of shalom builds on this platform.

So Christians have two things to say about evil. It's real and tragic and awful. But it's not the end of the story. At the end of the story "mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Rev. 21:4).


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.