Bible Basics (5th edition): A study manual revealing the joy and peace of true Christianity

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6.1 God and Evil

Many Christians, along with many other religions, believe that there is a being or monster called the devil or satan who is the originator of the problems which are in the world and in our own lives, and who is responsible for the sin which we commit. The Bible clearly teaches that God is all-powerful. We have seen in Study 1.4 that the angels cannot sin. If we truly believe these things, then it is impossible that there is any supernatural being at work in this universe that is opposed to Almighty God. If we believe that such a being does exist, then surely we are questioning the supremacy of God Almighty. This issue is so important that the correct understanding of the devil and satan must be considered a vital doctrine. We are told in Heb. 2:14 that Jesus destroyed the devil by his death; therefore unless we have a correct understanding of the devil, we are likely to misunderstand the work and nature of Jesus.

In the world generally, especially in the Christian world, there is the idea that the good things in life come from God and the bad things from the devil or satan. This is not a new idea; the Babylonians, for example, believed there were two gods, a god of good and light, and a god of evil and darkness, and that those two were locked in mortal combat. Cyrus, the great King of Persia, believed just this. Therefore God told him, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides me...I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create calamity (‘evil’ KJV, ‘disaster’ NIV); I the Lord do all these things” (Is. 45:5-7,22). God creates peace and He creates evil, or disaster. In this sense there is a difference between evil and sin, which is man’s fault; sin entered the world as a result of man, not God (Rom. 5:12).

God told Cyrus and the people of Babylon that “there is no (other) God besides me”. The Hebrew word ‘el’ translated ‘God’ fundamentally means ‘strength, or source of power’. God was saying that there is no source of power in existence apart from Him. This is the reason why a true believer in God should not accept the idea of a supernatural devil or demons.

God: The Creator Of Disaster

The Bible abounds with examples of God bringing evil into people’s lives and into this world. Am. 3:6 says that if there is calamity in a city, God has done it. If, for example, there is an earthquake in a city, it is often felt that ‘the devil’ had designs on that city, and had brought about the calamity. But the true believer must understand that it is God who is responsible for this. Thus Mic. 1:12 says that “disaster came down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem”. In the book of Job we read how Job, a righteous man, lost the things which he had in this life. The book teaches that the experience of ‘evil’ in a person’s life is not directly proportional to their obedience or disobedience to God. Job recognized that “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). He does not say ‘The Lord gave and satan took away’. He commented to his wife: “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not (also) accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). At the end of the book, Job’s friends comforted him over “all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11 cp. 19:21; 8:4).

Thus God, who is in control of all things, uses wicked people to bring evil as a chastisement or punishment on His people. “For whom the Lord loves he chastens...If you endure chastening ...afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:6-11). This shows that the trials which God gives us lead eventually to our spiritual growth. It is setting the Word of God against itself to say that the devil is a being which forces us to sin and be unrighteous, whilst at the same time he supposedly brings problems into our lives which lead to our developing “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. The orthodox idea of the devil runs into serious problems here. Especially serious for it are passages which speak of delivering a man to satan “that his spirit may be saved”, or “that (they) may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). If satan is really a being bent on causing men to sin and having a negative spiritual effect upon people, why do these passages speak of ‘satan’ in a positive light? The answer lies in the fact that an adversary, a “satan” or difficulty in life, can often result in positive spiritual effects in a believer’s life.

If we accept that evil comes from God, then we can pray to God to do something about the problems which we have, e.g. to take them away. If He doesn’t, then we know that they are sent from God for our spiritual good. Now if we believe that there is some evil being called the devil or satan causing our problems, then there is no way of coming to terms with them. Disability, illness, sudden death or calamity have to be taken as just bad luck. If the devil is some powerful, sinful angel, then he will be much more powerful than us, and we will have no choice but to suffer at his hand. By contrast, we are comforted that under God’s control, “all things (in life) work together for good” to the believers (Rom. 8:28). There is therefore no such thing as ‘luck’ in the life of a believer.

The Origin Of Sin

It must be stressed that sin comes from inside us. It is our fault that we sin. Of course, it would be nice to believe that it was not our fault that we sin. We could freely sin and then excuse ourselves with the thought that it was really the devil’s fault, and that the blame for our sin should be completely laid upon him. It is not uncommon that in cases of grossly wicked behaviour, the guilty person has begged for mercy because he says that he was possessed by the devil at the time and was therefore not responsible for himself. But, quite rightly, such feeble excuses are judged to hold no water at all, and the person has sentence passed upon him.

We need to remember that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23); sin leads to death. If it is not our fault that we sin, but that of the devil, then a just God ought to punish the devil rather than us. But the fact that we are judged for our own sins shows that we are responsible for our sins. The idea of the devil being a specific person outside of us rather than the principle of sin within us is an attempt to move the responsibility for our sins away from ourselves. This is yet another example of men refusing to come to terms with what the Bible teaches about man’s nature.

“There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him...For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders... pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mk. 7:15-23).

The idea that there is something sinful outside of us which enters us and causes us to sin is incompatible with the plain teaching of Jesus here. From within, out of the heart of man, come all these evil things. This is why, at the time of the flood, God considered that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). James 1:14 tells us how we are tempted: “each one (it is the same process for each human being) is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed”. We are tempted by our own evil desires; not by anything outside of us. “Where do wars and fights come from among you?”, James asks; “Do they not come from your desires for pleasure?” (James 4:1). Each of us has specific, personal temptations. They therefore have to be generated by our own evil desires, because they are personal to us. It has been truly said that we are our own worst enemies.

The book of Romans is largely concerned with sin, its origin, and how to overcome it. It is highly significant that there is no mention of the devil and just one of satan in the book; in the context of speaking about the origin of sin, Paul does not mention the devil or satan at all. In the same way, ‘the devil’ is a New Testament concept. If there is an external being who makes us sin, surely he would have been mentioned extensively in the Old Testament? But there is a very profound and significant silence about this. The record of the Judges period, or Israel in the wilderness, show that at those times Israel were sinning a great deal. But God did not warn them about some powerful supernatural being or force which could enter them and make them sin. Instead, He encouraged them to apply themselves to His word, so that they would not fall away to the ways of their own flesh (e.g. Dt. 27:9,10; Josh. 22:5).

Paul laments: “nothing good dwells in me – my unspiritual self, I mean - ...for though the will to do good is there, the ability to effect it is not...if what I do is against my will, clearly it is no longer I who am the agent, but sin that has its dwelling in me” (Rom. 7:18-21 REB). Now he does not blame his sin on an external being called the devil. He located his own evil nature as the real source of sin: it is not I that do it, “but sin that has its dwelling in me. I discover this principle, then; that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.” So he says that the opposition to being spiritual comes from something that he calls “sin...dwelling in me”. Sin is “the way of [man’s] heart” (Is. 57:17). Every thoughtful, spiritually minded person will come to the same kind of self-knowledge. It should be noted that even a supreme Christian like Paul did not experience a change of nature after conversion, nor was he placed in a position whereby he did not and could not sin. Some elements of the Pentecostal movement claim that they are in such a position, and thereby place Paul well within the ranks of the ‘unsaved’ because of his statement here in Rom. 7:15-21. These verses have proved a major difficulty for their claims. David, another undoubtedly righteous man, likewise commented upon the constant sinfulness of his very nature: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5).

The Bible is quite explicit about the fundamentally wicked nature of man. If this is appreciated, there is no need to invent an imaginary person outside our human natures who is responsible for our sins. Jer. 17:9 says that the heart of man is so desperately wicked and deceitful that we cannot actually appreciate the gross extent of its sinfulness. Ecc. 9:3 could not be plainer: “The hearts of the sons of men are full of evil”. Eph. 4:18 gives the reason for man’s alienation from God as being “because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart”. It is because of our spiritually blind and ignorant hearts, our way of thinking that is within us, that we are distanced from God. In line with this, Gal. 5:19 speaks of our sins as “the works of the flesh”; it is our own flesh (unspiritual nature REB), which causes us to commit sin. None of these passages explain the origin of sin within us as being because the devil put it there; sinful tendencies are something which we all naturally have from birth; it is a fundamental part of the human make-up.

And yet although the heart is indeed a source of wickedness, we must seek to control it. We cannot blame our moral failures on the perversity of our nature. “A heart that devises wicked plans” is something God hates to see in men (Prov. 6:18). A reprobate Israel excused themselves by saying: “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart” (Jer. 18:12). The heart is evil, we are reminded in this very context (Jer. 17:9). But sin lies in assuming that therefore we have no need to strive for self-mastery, and that the weakness of our heart will excuse our committing of sin. We must recognize and even analyse the weakness of our natures [as this chapter seeks to] and in the strength of that knowledge, seek to do something to limit them. “Keep your heart with all diligence [Heb. ‘above anything else’], for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Ananias could control whether or not ‘satan’ filled his heart, and was condemned for not doing so (Acts 5:3). If we think that a being called ‘satan’ irresistably influences us to sin, filling us with the desire to sin against our will, then we are making the same fatal mistake as Israel and Ananias.

Bible Basics: Contents

Part 1: "The things concerning the Kingdom of God" Study 1: God 1.1  The Existence Of God || 1.2  The Personality Of God || Belief In Practice 1: Knowing God || 1.3  God's Name And Character || Belief In Practice 2: Grace (John Parkes) || Belief In Practice 3: The All Seeing God || Belief In Practice 4: God Is Omnipotent || Belief In Practice 5: Responding To The One God || 1.4     The Angels || Belief In Practice 6: God As Creator || Digression 1: God Manifestation || Digression 2:  Why The Trinity Was Accepted || Study 1: Questions Study 2: The Spirit Of God 2.1  Definition || 2.2  Inspiration || 2.3  Gifts Of The Holy Spirit || 2.4  The Withdrawal Of The Gifts || 2.5  The Bible The Only Authority || Digression 3: Is The Holy Spirit A Person? || Digression 4: The Principle Of Personification || Belief In Practice 7: The Implications Of Inspiration || Study 2: Questions Study 3: The Promises Of God 3.1  Introduction || 3.2  The Promise In Eden || 3.3  The Promise To Noah || 3.4  The Promise To Abraham || 3.5  The Promise To David || Belief In Practice 8: Covenant Relationship With God || Study 3: Questions Study 4: God And Death 4.1  The Nature Of Man || 4.2  The Soul || 4.3  The Spirit || 4.4  Death Is Unconsciousness || 4.5  The Resurrection || 4.6  The Judgment || Belief In Practice 9: Judgment Now || 4.7  The Place Of Reward: Heaven Or Earth?|| 4.8  Responsibility To God || 4.9  Hell || Digression 5: Purgatory || Digression 6: Ghosts And Reincarnation || Digression 7: The 'Rapture' || Belief In Practice 10: The Motivational Power Of Understanding Death || Study 4: Questions Study 5: The Kingdom Of God 5.1  Defining The Kingdom || 5.2  The Kingdom Is Not Now Established || 5.3  The Kingdom Of God In The Past || 5.4  The Kingdom Of God In The Future || 5.5  The Millennium || Digression 8: The Kingdom Of God Now (Graham Bacon) || Belief In Practice 11: What The Kingdom Of God Means Today || Study 5: QuestionsStudy 6: God And Evil 6.1  God And Evil || 6.2  The Devil And Satan || 6.3  Demons || Digression 9: The Implications And Origin Of The Belief In A Personal Satan || Digression 10: Witchcraft || Digression 11: What Happened In Eden? || Digression 12: Lucifer || Belief In Practice 12: Battle For The Mind || Study 6: Questions

Part 2: "The things concerning...the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12) Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus. 7.1  Old Testament Prophecies Of Jesus || 7.2  The Virgin Birth || 7.3  Christ's Place In God's Plan || 7.4  "In the beginning was the word" || Digression 13: Jesus The Son Of God (Michael Gates) || Digression 14: Did Jesus Create The Earth? || Belief In Practice 13: Jesus Didn’t Pre-exist: And So What? || Study 7: Questions Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus 8.1  Introduction || 8.2  Differences Between God And Jesus || 8.3  The Nature Of Jesus || 8.4  The Humanity Of Jesus || 8.5  The Relationship Of God With Jesus || Belief In Practice 14: The Real Christ || Digression 15: How The Real Christ Was Lost || Digression 16: The Divine Side Of Jesus || Study 8: Questions Study 9: The Work Of Jesus 9.1  The Victory Of Jesus || 9.2  The Blood Of Jesus || 9.3  Jesus As Our Representative || 9.4  Jesus And The Law Of Moses || 9.5  The Sabbath || Digression 17 The Crucifix || Digression 18: Was Jesus Born On Dec. 25th? || Belief In Practice 15: The Meaning Of Christ’s Resurrection For Us || Belief In Practice 16: Christ Died For Me- So What Should I Do? || Belief In Practice 17: The Real Cross || Belief In Practice 18: The Inspiration Of The Cross || Study 9: Questions || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus 10.1  The Vital Importance Of Baptism || 10.2  How Should We Be Baptized? || 10.3  The Meaning Of Baptism || 10.4  Baptism And Salvation || Digression 19: Re-baptism || Digression 20 The Thief On The Cross || Belief In Practice 19: The Certainty Of Salvation || Study 10: Questions Study 11: Life In Christ 11.1  Introduction || 11.2  Holiness || 11.2.1  The Use Of Force || 11.2.2  Politics || 11.2.3  Worldly Pleasures || 11.3  Practical Christian Life || 11.3.1  Bible Study || 11.3.2  Prayer || 11.3.3  Preaching || 11.3.4  Ecclesial Life || 11.3.5  The Breaking Of Bread || 11.4  Marriage || 11.5  Fellowship || Study 11: Questions ||