As we begin this study of evil, our first duty must be to find out its source. We really don’t know how it originally began. As far as we know from scripture, it first appeared in Lucifer (Satan), who was God’s wisest and most beautiful angel—whom He created for His own glory. Indeed, his beauty and glory were like none other. However, scripture tells us, in Ezekiel 28:15, that one day “unrighteousness was found [in him].” Also, in Isaiah 14:13-14, we read that he willed to usurp God’s position of authority. He said, “I will make myself like the Most High.” In other words, He wanted to take God’s place—to be God himself.
So this is the only information we have as to when evil began. And we could go on and on with a discussion about why God allowed it, etc.; but I will leave that discussion for someone else. What I want to do in this study is to discuss how evil began with man and how it begins with you and me. Then we will also talk about what it is and who it affects.
As far as we can see from scripture, all evil is a consequence of one disobedient act by Adam and Eve. When they disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, their disobedience and sin brought physical and spiritual death not only to themselves but to the entire human race (Gen 2:17; Rom. 5:12). That spiritual death that each of us is born with is evil. Let me say it again. Spiritual death is evil. Why? Because spiritual death is totally void of God, and he who is spiritually dead does not know God and is inherently against God.
Furthermore, we know that this act of disobedience has brought evil to us because of the name of the forbidden tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hence, when they partook of that tree, they gained a knowledge (or an experience) of evil.
What else do we know about evil? Well, we know from the bible that evil has two aspects; moral and physical. Moral evil or spiritual evil is nothing but sin—or I think a better word would be sinfulness. A person is evil because he is sinful (which means to be in rebellion against God). Even a Christian has evil in him because he has the sinful flesh. It is true that a Christian has a new nature, and that new nature is not evil; however, his old flesh is sinful and evil. Physical or natural evil came to us and to this earth as a result of man’s sin. It may also be termed in the bible as disaster, calamity, trouble, and also as the curse upon us and upon the earth.
How else can we describe evil? I think Ezekiel 28:16 is especially helpful. Here it gives us a clue as to how evil began in Lucifer. It says (in the NLT), “Your great wealth filled you with violence, and you sinned.” This tells me that evil is a prideful, violent force against God. Furthermore, the passage in Isaiah 14:13-14, tells us that evil is a force or a spirit that compels us to be selfish, prideful and willful, just as Satan was willful when he said, “I will make myself like the Most High.” Moreover, we also see here that evil has with it a lust for power and greatness over and above what God our creator intended for us.
So far, to summarize, we said that evil is a consequence of the original sin; it is spiritual death; it is rebellion and disobedience against God; it is sinfulness; it is pridefulness and selfishness; and it is a lust for ultimate power—to be greater than God.
Who is affected by evil? In one sense the bible indicates that we are all evil. But in another sense it seems to say that some are good and some are evil. Let me explain. In Romans 7:18-21 Paul testified that nothing good dwells in him, or in his flesh. And that is true of all of us. We all have sinful flesh. So looking at ourselves in that light, even if we are a Christian, we are evil—or there is evil in us. And that evil side of us is always at war with our new nature, trying to make us sin (see Matthew 7:11).
On the other hand, the bible indicates (in Matt. 12:35) that there are good men and evil men.
The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.
So what are we to make of this Matthew passage? It seems to contradict what Paul said. I think there is no question that we all have sinful flesh, and therefore we all have evil dwelling in us. So in that respect we are all evil. We are evil as far as our flesh is concerned. But I think what Jesus is saying in this verse is this: He is looking at the real person. That is, he is seeing people for who they really are—for how God sees them. That is, people can be seen (as God sees them) as either saved or not saved. Thus he is saying that some people are good because they are children of God, and they naturally store up for themselves good treasures in their heart, and thus they do good works. But there are also people who are evil because they are not children of God, and they naturally stores up evil treasures in their heart, and thus they naturally do evil works. So in this respect, as God sees it, saved people are good and unredeemed people are evil.
But some would say that not all people are evil, even if they are not Christians. They would say that only those who are extremely sinful and corrupt and the like are evil. And I can understand that. However, we must remember that all unbelievers are in rebellion against God, and even if they have not sinned as much as some, they still are against God and will suffer eternally in hell. For that reason, I think we have to be careful not to say that evil is not found in all of us, and especially in all of the unredeemed. I would rather say that we are all evil, and if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and grace, given to those who would receive Him, we would all suffer the eternal consequences of our sins.