Why Is There Evil In The World?

The problem of the existence and origin of evil has puzzled mankind throughout our history. Many ask the question, "If God is good, then why is there evil?" and, "Where did evil come from?" The Bible clearly says that God is good, pure good and only good. Repeatedly in Psalm 136 we are told, "Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting." 1 John 1:5 says, "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." The account of creation in Genesis 1 tells us that when God completed His work He "saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). God is good and His original creation was good, so it is natural that we should ask this question.

Jesus addressed the question directly in one of His parables and gave us an answer to the problem. His answer may not satisfy those who want a complicated philosophical and metaphysical answer to the question. His answer may be seen to be too simplistic or incomplete. His answer will raise other questions for us and we will want to reach further back into the mysteries of God's eternal plan and purpose, but He does not choose to take us that far. The question is posed and the answer is given in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:

Matthew 13:24-30

He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 "But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. 26 "But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 "And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' 28 "And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' And the slaves said^ to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' 29 "But he said, 'No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

Matthew 13:36-43

Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." 37 And He answered and said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 "Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

The Anomaly of Evil

In both the parable and it's interpretation, Jesus emphasized the goodness of the seed that the landowner planted. He wanted a crop of wheat, and so he prepared the ground and planted good seed in his field. He would not deliberately sabotage his own crop by mixing in bad seed. His servants understood this. When they noticed the tares, they questioned him about it. They asked, "Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?" They saw that the tares were an aberration, an anomaly, and wondered about their source. The tares should not have been there, and Jesus makes it clear that the landowner was not responsible for them. It is indeed an anomaly and a surprise to find that evil exists in God's creation. God is good and what He does is good. We seem to know instinctively that evil is out of place in God's creation, and it dismays us. It just doesn't fit with the goodness of God to allow evil in His creation. When evil things happen in our world, we always ask "Why?"

The tares were not noticed until the wheat had sprung up and produced grain. This is because the difference between the wheat and the tares is not noticeable until the plants become mature. Regarding the tares, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia notes:

The tares referred to in our Lord's parable are without doubt the bearded darnel, lolium temulentum. This destructive weed is almost indistinguishable from wheat in its early growth. At harvest time its true nature is disclosed and the farmer (or his women and children) separates the weed, poisonous both to man and beast, from the good wheat.1

The Answer About Evil

When the servants asked the question, "Why does your field have tares?" The landowner was quick with an answer, "An enemy has done this." The landowner's enemy had come at night while everyone was asleep and had cast the darnel seed in his wheat field. When the darnel was discovered, the landowner immediately knew what had happened, and was not happy about it.

The answer that Jesus gives us about the origin of evil in the world is that it is due to the activity of God's enemy, the devil. He is the sower of the bad seed. Ultimately, Satan is responsible for the evils in the world. The divine Farmer only sows good seed and is incapable of sowing bad seed. It is important to understand this answer the Lord gives us regarding this problem. The devil, God's enemy, is the one who is responsible for the corruption of mankind. It was the devil who tempted the first man and woman and deceived the woman into eating the fruit from the tree that God had forbidden. The man then followed his wife into disobedience and sin and so sin has been passed down to all mankind since (see Romans 5:12). By nature we are "children of wrath" until we are saved and redeemed by the grace of God through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Another important principle in this parable is that the seed that is sown represents two different kinds of people in this world. Jesus tells us the good seed represents the "sons of the kingdom" and the bad seed represents the "sons of the evil one." Jesus mentions no other kind of seed. This is true in all His parables about the world and about judgment. There are only two categories among all of mankind that really matter. You must either be a "son of the kingdom" or you are a "son of the evil one," there is no third category. You cannot be neutral when it comes to the rule of God in your life. You are either a subject of His kingdom or you are a servant of evil.

Because of this, evil in this world is embodied in humanity. The trouble with us is that we tend to think that evil is something external to us and our nature. But Jesus tells us that evil is not something external but is internal, in our hearts and in our nature. He says in Matthew 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" And in Matthew 12:34 He says to the Pharisees, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." In Matthew 15:16-20 Jesus pointed out that evil is not something that comes into us from the outside, but comes out from within our hearts.

Today when we think of "evil," we think of horror movie type of evil, of hideously deformed zombies who torture and kill screaming teenagers, or we think of obvious malevolent evil like that of Adolf Hitler or Osama Bin Laden. We rarely apply the label to ourselves. But Jesus points the finger at each of us and says, "You are evil!" We are reluctant to apply the word to ourselves and others around us; it just isn't "politically correct" to call people "evil." But Jesus does call us evil. In fact, Jesus said, "No one is good except God alone" (Luke 18:19). We deceive ourselves when we think that we are truly good. If we see this it gives new perspective to the question, "Why does God allow evil?" We may as well ask, "Why does God allow me?" If we think of the question in those terms, then we get a different perspective on the subject. Instead of ranting and raving about some perceived failure on God's part to eliminate evil, we should instead be thankful that He has withheld His just judgment on us for our evil. We can be thankful that He gives mankind time to "come to repentance" and be reconciled to Him (see 2 Peter 3:9).

It sounds strange to us to hear Jesus refer to people as "sons of the evil one" and to read of Him saying to the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). Today when "tolerance" seems to be the highest value, the words of Jesus here sound harsh, intolerant and judgmental. How can He call anyone a "son of the devil"? Isn't He the loving, gentle Son of God? We certainly are too tactful to say such things to people today even if we believe it is true. But this is consistent Biblical teaching. Some are sons of God and others are sons of the devil. Some are righteous and others are wicked. Some are saved and others are lost. Some have been made "alive together with Christ" and others are still dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-6).

Often it is difficult to distinguish initially between those who are "sons of the kingdom" and those who are "sons of the evil one." It is when the fruit is seen that the difference can be discerned. Jesus said "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-20). The inner character of a false prophet is that of a wolf, but he wears "sheep's clothing" so that he appears to be a sheep. It is the inner character that makes the difference. Just as wheat seed produces good edible grain, the sons of the kingdom produce good fruit in their lives that God wants. Just as darnel produces toxic grain, so those who are sons of the evil one produce bad fruit that is toxic.

The Allowance of Evil

After asking about how the field of the farmer had darnel mixed in with the wheat, the servants asked what he wanted to do about the problem and suggested a solution, "Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?" Having just been discovered, they asked if he wanted them to do something immediately to correct the problem.

The master's reply tells us why God allows evil to continue in the world and forms the heart of the message of the parable, "No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'" He did not want the servants to take immediate action to eliminate the tares. Instead, he decided to allow the tares grow alongside the wheat until the harvest came, then the tares would first be removed from the field, and then the wheat would be harvested and saved. There would be a time in the future when the tares would be removed, but that time had not yet come. His concern was for the wheat. He did not want the wheat to be uprooted along with the tares. He wanted to allow the wheat to grow to full maturity so that he could harvest a good crop. He did not want to lose any of his wheat.

The judgment of God upon the evils of this world is delayed is because of the presence of the righteous among the wicked. God does not want His people to be swept away along with those who do not belong to Him. This is why He warned Noah and had him build the ark to save himself and his family. Noah was the one righteous man of his day. This is also the reason that He sent angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom before He destroyed the city (Genesis 19). In fact, before the angels of the Lord went to Sodom to destroy the place, Abraham, the uncle of Lot, had a discussion with the Lord about this principle, and the Lord affirmed that He would not "sweep away the righteous with the wicked" (see Genesis 18:17-33). God spares the wicked on account of the righteous among them.

There will come a day when the wicked are separated from the righteous. It will be at the "time of the harvest" when the reapers will be sent out with instructions to first remove the tares from among the wheat and bundle them to be burned. Then the wheat will be harvested and gathered into the farmer's barn. Jesus tells us that the harvest time is at the "end of the age" and the reapers are angels. There are boundaries to history. The present age as things are now will not continue indefinitely. The age will come to an end, and a new age of righteousness will be inaugurated. There will be a "new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). Of necessity this involves the removal of evil and wickedness. It is not the righteous who are taken out from among the wicked, but the wicked are removed from among the righteous. This is the way that God will deal with evil. He has already set a precedent for this in the past in the flood and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God's judgment comes, all those who are "sons of the evil one" are swept away, and only the "sons of the kingdom" remain.

The way this will happen is that "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The people removed will be those who are "stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness." A "stumbling block" is someone who entices or causes someone else to sin. It is one thing for a man to stumble himself and fall into sin, but it is a much more serious matter to cause others to stumble. Those who "commit lawlessness are those who have no regard for the Law of God, who live without paying any attention to it. Those who live in submission to the rule of God will love His Law. A "Christian" who disregards the Law of God is a contradiction.

The stumbling blocks and the lawless will be cast "into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The worthless darnel will be burned. It is toxic and cannot be mixed with the wheat or it will ruin the whole crop. Evil cannot mix with good. Paul points out in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that righteousness and lawlessness can have no partnership. The wicked cannot be allowed to continue to exist among the righteous. A day will come at the end of this age when evil will be removed and righteousness will shine forth. The furnace of fire is a place where people will weep and gnash their teeth. It is a place of agony and torment and eternal suffering.

Once the wicked are removed the righteous will shine brightly in the kingdom of their Father. The kingdom will be free from anything that obscures the light of the righteous. At the judgment the final separation takes place. The wicked can no longer impede the righteous, and the righteous find their full potential.

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