What is “evil”?

President George W. Bush gained a lot of media attention when he called certain countries an “axis of evil”. Though the word doesn’t seem to get a lot of press coverage today, evil still exists. Anyone with a bit of familiarity with current events knows the existence of evil. We all know evil when we see it, but what does the Bible say about evil?

In normal use today the term “evil” is usually reserved for things that are really bad. Cheating on taxes is bad, but most people would not call it evil. Genocide is not just bad or wrong, it is evil. Though most rational people acknowledge the existence of evil, not everyone is agreed on the nature of evil. Some describe evil as an outside force working in this world. Satan is believed to be nothing more than the personification of evil. The Bible describes Satan as evil but never mentions evil apart from an act or an individual. Evil in the Bible is not an impersonal force. Evil is not an outside agency working upon people and events of the world.

Evil describes beings and actions. Angels are evil. People are evil. Deeds are evil. That which is evil is diseased and corrupted. It is infected, rotten and malignant. Evil is a corruption of what should be. Evil is not passive. Evil implies a willful, intentional action. Evil is not like a man being tripped. Evil is active in turning from the right path to follow a forbidden one. Evil is a moral description of a being’s or a deed’s corruption or sinfulness.

The Bible most often uses the word evil to describe something that is morally corrupt, but there are times when evil is used to describe something that is afflicted or destroyed. When God punished Jerusalem for her idolatry it is said He brought evil upon the city. God did not sin against Jerusalem. He brought destruction, sorrow and misery to the city as judgment for its sin. Evil describes events have bring ruin and calamity. They are evil in consequence though not evil in morality.

The presence of evil is a constant reminder that humans are moral creatures. People have a conscience and know the difference between right and wrong. The existence of evil is a testimony to the fact that things are not as they should be. The problem of evil points men and to women to God who will eradicate evil.

Though most people do not think of themselves as evil (the latest gunman probably did not think of himself as evil), all are evil. Everyone is corrupted by sin. No one is as God designed humans. All have turned from the proper path to follow their own corrupted desires. Evil is a reality, but not just in the world out there. Evil is a reality in the hearts of every person. Every heart has been corrupted by the rottenness of sin. This is why man needs a Savior. The wonderful news of the gospel is that through Jesus evil men are forgiven of their sin and made righteous. Evil exists, but God’s grace is much greater than the worst of evils.

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