Evil and Sin
A post in the Christianity series.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
- The Usual Suspects
And so we come to what's probably the most difficult discussion for any Christian, but at the same time the most important aspect of understanding Christianity and its beliefs. I started with an introduction and list of the core rules of Christianity in What is Christianity and expanded on the consequences of these beliefs and rules in What is a Christian, but to really provide a solid base for understanding Christianity, we need to tackle two oft-asked and difficult questions:
- Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
- Why can proclaimed Christians live lives that are so contradictory to the Christian faith?
The first question is not unique to Christianity, but is as old as humanity itself. Life on this planet can be hard and civilizations throughout history develop entire religions and mythologies to try to explain why disasters happen and why people can commit such heinous crimes. The second question is likewise not new to Christians and is often a stumbling block to Christians and non Christians alike trying to understand human behavior. To answer these two questions from a Christian perspective, we need to define two specific words: evil and sin.
Christianity believes that God is the source of all Good in this universe and that Evil is its opposite, what exists wheret Good doesn't. We also believe that Evil is not itself a manifest force but the lack of one, similar to how cold is the absence of heat or energy. In more specific terms, if Good consists of all that is moral, creative, and life giving, then Evil is all things immoral and destructive.
Did God create evil? I would say no, He did not create evil but He allowed it to come to be. By giving His creation free will, He set up the possibility for evil to happen. The first chronologically recorded incident of evil and sin is when Lucifer, believed to be one of the three head angels next to Michael and Gabriel, became vain, full of pride, and started planning how to become greater than God. God created these angels but He must also have infused them with free will, giving them the option of worshiping and following God, or not. Lucifer, who we now refer to as Satan or The Devil, chose not and was cast out of Heaven for his actions.
Similarly, God bestowed upon Humanity free will and, by restricting access to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, provided the opportunity to manifest that free will to Adam and Eve. Encouraged by Satan himself, they ate of the tree, disobeying God, and bringing evil into this world until the end of time.
I'd like to reiterate an earlier point, that evil should not be considered an entity in and of itself, but a lack of good. While we often define Satan and his demon army as the embodiment of evil, they cannot actually cause evil to happen without the explicit permission of God himself. See the book of Job for the best example we have of this arrangement.
While Job's story is horrific in what he was made to endure, such a story is not Satan's normal method of acting against us. Satan and his demons prefer to work in a much subtler way, providing strong influences and suggestions that encourage people to sin.
Sin, then, is the explicit, conscious choice to engage in acts that violate God's law. Specifically, sin is when we act in a way that violates one or more of the Ten Commandments or the more condensed two commandments. Now, the Ten Commandments seem like easy laws to keep. Don't kill, don't steal, don't worship other gods, etc. are rules that, at face value, are not difficult to follow. However, the truth behind these commandments is far more serious. Every person breaks many of these rules every day, for they are not just about actions, but also about thoughts and intentions as well.
The Ten Commandments, then, are actually impossible for any of us to follow and keep, and even one sin, one mistake, one stray thought is enough to condemn us to death for eternity. This is not an easy concept to accept. God spent thousands of years trying to teach the Israelites this as recorded in the books of the Old Testament and even so, when Jesus came to Earth He still had to make it a large part of His ministry (see: The Sermon on the Mount). Understanding this truth is vital to understanding why Jesus came to Earth to die and rise again.
Why does God let bad things happen to good people? For one, this is a side effect of giving us free will; we regularly have to deal with the consequences of not only our own actions but those of others around us as well. On the other side, though, faith in God is never stronger than during difficult times. As with Job, God let terrible things happen to him to test and grow his faith, and to be a witness to those around him. Likewise, God sent multiple invading and occupying armies at the Israelites for thousands of years whenever they became lax, comfortable, and forgot Him. Bad things happen so that His glory can shine through, for, to be frank, if life was easy we wouldn't need God, would we?
And why do Christians continue to sin? Frankly, because sin is so enticing that we often don't see what we are doing until faced with the consequences of our actions. One of the names the Bible uses for Satan is The Great Deceiver. He loves to encourage short term, immediate, selfish pleasures, but he and his demons will never lie to do so. In fact, they cannot lie. I recently saw a quote, though I cannot find it now, that sums this up nicely, so I'll paraphrase: “To attribute lying to evil is to give evil too much credit. Lying implies creation, and as creativity is a force of good, it cannot be from evil. Thus evil cannot lie.” What they can do is often far worse. Satan makes devastating use of facts and the truth to help a person rationalize their way into choosing the sinful path or action. Satan is also a master at the long game, manipulating towards many small, innocent decisions that can snowball into massively destructive results. What starts as an innocent couple of text messages can quickly erupt into a full on affair, and often it is only after all of the damage is done that the person finally sees the truth of what they've done.
But God will always be there and is always willing to forgive and to help that person get back on their feet. It is because of the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ that sin is not a death sentance, but merely a mis-step. If the person is looking for forgiveness, then forgiveness they will find, for we as Christians believe that it's impossible for us to fight the draw of sin alone. It is for this reason that groups like Alcoholic's Anonymous are Christian groups. They've tried in the past to de-emphasize the religious aspect of recovery but that ended up failing people far more than it was helping them. It is only by including a relationship with God in their 12-step program that AA is able to help an untold number of people over the years. Sin is enticing but destructive and evil is all around us, and Christians and non Christians alike regularly fall into that trap, but there is always a way out.