If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11
When Richard Smith spoke at a workshop on a Christian approach to counseling, he talked about the fact that we were created in the image of God yet the human heart is depraved and evil. A pastor objected, feeling that he had gone too far. As Richard explained what the Bible says about both issues, the man responded, “It depends on what side of the horse you get off.” Looking back Richard says, “I should have responded, ‘Why can’t we just stay on the horse?'” The reality is that both positions are true.
Looking down into the innocent face of a sleeping baby, it isn’t difficult to believe that we were created in the image of God, yet two years later as we watch the same little child grab a toy held by another child, or push him out of his way because he wants something the other child has, we have to say, “Just a minute! Maybe this kid wasn’t delivered by an angel from heaven after all.”
For centuries the oldest textbook on living, the Bible, has outlined exactly what Richard Smith was trying to get across: that humankind is fallen, that evil and depravity exist in the human heart. How else explain the flow of history, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, the baseness and evil that result in our prisons overflowing and our homes in shambles? How else explain what happens both in the nursery as well as in the halls of justice?
When George Bush spoke of an “axis of evil,” he hit the hot buttons of a lot of people who said, “Whoa! He’s gone too far.” Yet, what he was describing was a moral reference that drew a line in the sand, separating life into two spheres: good and evil. Though his detractors screamed and cried “Foul!” they could not answer him.
What is evil? If you have trouble framing an answer to that question, ask yourself what is good and then draw a line 180 degrees away from what you have described. And you will have defined evil.
The issue is not only a moral one. Like it or not, it is theological as well. There are over 400 references to evil found in the Bible. It pictures it as a small trickle that began in the Garden of Eden and became a vast flowing river with no boundaries that spread upon the entire world, terminating with the fall of Babylon or the world system described in the book of Revelation.
At the flood God said that the thoughts of men’s hearts were only evil continually (see Genesis 6:5). And what you may have never noticed is that the text says the evil was from childhood (see Genesis 8:21).
Jesus challenged the corrupted religious leaders of His day. “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9:4).
Evil is part of the fabric of redemption because had there been no evil in the hearts of men and women, there would have been no need for forgiveness, for salvation, and for redemption.
The reality is that sin is evil and that which is evil is also sinful. The term “an axis of evil” suggests a philosophical or political alignment of wrongdoers, yet the same evil which is endemic in the hearts of the worst is also incipient in the hearts of the best.
As the German pastor Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “The final enigma of history is therefore not how the righteous will gain victory over the unrighteous, but how the evil in every good and the unrighteousness of the righteous is to be overcome” (Michael Novak, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7, 2002). And resolving that issue required the death of God’s Son, who will someday return and purge the world of evil. Until then, good and evil coexist, and it’s up to you to decide which side you come down on.
Resource reading: Revelation 18.
- Matthew 7:11
- Genesis 6:5
- Genesis 8:21
- Matthew 9:4