The sixth century Christian theologian and church leader Augustine of Hippo defined evil as a “privation of the good”— that is, an absence of good, or its reduction in something. Pure evil (if that is possible) would be the complete absence good. Darkness is the absence of light. Death is the absence of life. Nothing is the absence of being. God created everything good. Evil is when the good in something is in some way diminished.
“When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good. (Augustine, from the Enchiridion)
So, could it be that there is evil in the world due to the absence of a good God? This is not a way to circle back around and say that evil proves God doesn’t exist. He must or nothing else would. And, as I’ve shown, if there’s no God, then there’s no objective good or right either. For a short time there were a small but vocal group of thinkers who proposed God is dead. The idea here is, the creator may have existed, but doesn’t any longer. There are many problems with this idea, not the least of which is that God is self-existent and the sustainer of existence. God cannot die, and without God everything would cease to exist.
However, could God choose not to be present and/or refuse to take any action the world? Deists believe that God is no longer involved with his creation, and probably has little or no concern with our world. I don’t believe we need to go that far in order to recognize that God could elect to remove his manifest presence from the world. Would this limit God’s omnipotence and/or omnipresence? Not at all. God could remain everywhere, but refuse to make his presence felt and known. Most importantly God can choose not to intervene in the world.
“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
(Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)
Sin separates human beings from God’s presence, even though God continues to surround everything and everyone. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Sin limits us, not God. Sin interferes with our ability to perceive God and enjoy his manifest presence. Sin deprives us of communion and communication with God. In a very real sense every sin reduces good, both in our individual lives and in the world, because it separates us from God, who is good. This is why, although all sin is not equal, all sin is evil because all sin separates us from God’s presence. The absence of God’s manifest presence results in the manifestation of all kinds of evil.
I believe evil is more than a privation, however. Evil is also a perversion of God’s purpose for the world. Over and again in the Bible’s first creation account we read the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” Then, when God finished creating everything we are told: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Evil is a distortion of God’s design, a disruption of the created order. Let me offer two examples. I would ask you to look past how politically charged each has become. Try to understand how each illustration exemplifies human perversion of God’s purpose and distortion of his design.
God created the earth to renew itself. As an example, humans and animals breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Carbon dioxide can poison us, but plants use it to create energy and life for themselves. They take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and create oxygen as a byproduct through the process of photosynthesis. This is an amazing partnership. Rainforests help control excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which makes up the majority of so-called greenhouse gasses, which most scientists agree contribute to climate change. When human beings wantonly cut down rainforests they are disturbing the amazing balance of God’s design for our environment. The consequences are many and varied.
God created sex, gender and marriage. God designed human beings to be male or female. Sexual immorality of all types is a perversion of God’s design for human intimacy and procreation. Jesus reaffirmed this when he quoted from Genesis account of creation in his teaching about marriage.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)
Many people are perverting God’s design in this critical area. Sexual perversion has become more common because many forms have become socially accepted, even celebrated.
Evil is the opposite of good. God is good. Thus, anyone or anything opposed to God would be evil. Anything that perverts God’s purpose and design is evil.