The Creation of Evil, Free Will, and the Image of God

Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden when eating from it would result in our first parents experiencing death and separation? Being created in the image of God appears to entail one more aspect: the ability to choose. While God created everything good (that is without any defect whatsoever) and the day that man was created was declared to be “very good,” a decision had to be made on Adam’s part – would he choose, of his own free will, to follow God or not? In order to accomplish this, God had to give Adam something to choose so that he could exercise his free will. The choice was to obey God or disobey God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Isaiah 45:7 states that God is in fact the very one who created evil. However, we will see that the verse really speaks of God’s creating of this ability to choose. Notice the parallelism between the forming/making of light/peace and also creating darkness/evil. Thus according to the verse, God is in fact the one who created “evil”.

 

I form the light, and create (בֹורֵ֣א) darkness:

I make peace, and create (בֹורֵ֣א) evil (ra’ רָ֑ע):

I the LORD do all these things, (Isaiah 45:7 KJV).

 

To grasp the full impact of this we must go back before God created anything, even before God created the vast black emptiness of space: there was only God, who existed in His own dimension, (though we might say as His own dimension). In other words, God was not floating around in space for eternity past, which I used to imagine as a boy. There was no space, no dimension, or reality outside of who God intrinsically is. This hurts our heads a bit, but it necessarily must be true since to suggest otherwise would mean that something existed before He created it and Scripture is replete with verses saying that all things have been created by Him.

 

We need also to consider that God is light (1 John 1:5). Therefore, light, as it pertains to God, is not something that was created (we are not referring to the light of Genesis 1:3, but God’s intrinsic light). Because Scripture tells us that God is light, then we understand that the quality of light that emanates from Him is intrinsically and inseparably part of His essence. Therefore, when God decided to create a space/dimension outside of Himself, which was not automatically filled with His light, He then by default, created the potential of the absence of light which God called darkness. God then created physical light (photons as waves and/or particles) in order to fill the space.

 

In the same way, God is good (Exodus 34:6) and no evil or sin or imperfection is in Him. We might say that God has the corner on the market when it comes to good. Good, according to the Bible is defined as what is in accord with God’s will, desire, or plan. Therefore, any deviation from that is by definition not good or therefore “evil”. Thus, when God desired to give the angels and man the option to follow Him or to disobey, He must have by default created the potential for them to completely exercise their own will by not choosing the good (that is God’s will, desire or plan). Man cannot choose what does not exist, which is self-evident. Henry Ford once said that people could choose any color Model T they liked so long as it was black. It is also similar to the infamous communist regimes where the people are allowed to vote but there is only one candidate. In reality, having only one candidate (or one color to choose from) is no choice at all. Therefore, God had to create “evil” (the “other candidate” or the “other color”) in order for angels and man to have a real choice.

 

Giving man the choice between two real and viable options, however, is not the same as making us choose the bad option. It is in choosing where we are afforded the opportunity to determine our own path. The two paths are clearly set before us with the consequences of each explained and then it is up to the individual to determine his path. Nevertheless, God created the possibility of letting his creatures choose something that would be contrary to His desires.

The Word Evil (Ra רָ֔ע)

Some translations render the word (ra רָ֔ע) as calamity which seems to be an option in the context of Isaiah 45:7. Nevertheless, the word is the same that we are first introduced to in Genesis 2:17 where God commands man to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (ra רָ֔ע).

 

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (ra רָ֔ע) you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Gen 2:16-17).

 

Why would God place such a tree in the midst of the garden when Adam and Eve just might eat of it? Why not just leave the whole thing out of the garden? How can God declare everything to be very good when he put such a ruinous and abominable tree there? It is like leaving a nuclear bomb in one’s living room and telling the kids not to touch the detonator! Do we know for sure that God actually created this tree? We know that God had to be the creator of that tree for Scripture says that plainly:

The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, (Genesis 2:8,9).

The truth is that having the tree in the garden was necessary for man to choose to follow God and therefore good. It was having an option to really choose evil (with all of its consequences) that gave man any choice at all. Let’s consider just what evil is in its broadest sense. The Bible states that God is light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever. God is also the essence of all that is good. Following God is to do what is right and good. Thus, if Adam only had all the “good” things that God had made to choose from, then there really was not free choice at all. There had to be a way for Adam to exercise his own will independently, even if it meant it would be contrary to God’s. And since everything good was of God, then there needed to be something that would truly allow man to follow his own path and not something that was in accord with God’s desire or what God would choose. Thus evil could be defined as any action (choice) that is contrary to God’s desire. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines evil in the following manner: “what is right was what was ordained by God, and what is wrong was what was proscribed by him, deviation from this paradigm constitutes what is evil.”[i] The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) notes the noun “evil” is defined as “being that condition or action which in his (God’s) sight is unacceptable (Jer 52:2; Mal 2:17; cf. Neh 9:28),” (TWOT רָ֔ע ra).

 

Potential Evil vs. Kinetic Evil

We might think of God creating evil analogous to a large rock on the edge of a cliff. The rock in that position has a tremendous amount of potential energy. It is just waiting for someone to give it a little tap to turn the potential energy into kinetic energy. Just as the rock’s potential energy might never be triggered (made kinetic), so too was the evil (a choice contrary to God’s) potential and not kinetic. God in a sense told Adam not to push the rock (and the consequences if he did), but Adam of his own free will pushed it and suffered the consequence when the rock’s energy became kinetic.

 

The serpent, that is Satan, understood the purpose and the potential of the tree and therein was the cunning of his deception. Satan was once in the very presence of God acting as a covering cherub (Ezekiel 28:14) as well as the chief of all the angels (Ezekiel 28:14). At some point Satan became self-deluded, thinking that he could ascend up to the very throne and importance of God (Isaiah 14:13-14). Iniquity was found in his heart (Ezekiel 28:15); he was cast out of God’s presence (Ezekiel 28:16) to become the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), which he remains until this day. He then set out to trick Adam and Eve, whom God had created in His image and had placed in the Garden of Eden.

 

Satan told Eve the truth about the purpose of the tree (to be like God) but lied about the potential consequence of eating it “You will not surely die,” (Genesis 3:4). God clearly said “the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Genesis 2:17). Eve was deceived because of the truth that the serpent told: “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (ra רָ֔ע),” (Genesis 3:4-5). We know that his statement concerning the intent of the tree was true because after God pronounced judgment on the three of them, God Himself confirmed it: “And the LORD God said, behold, the man is become as one of us (k’akhad mimenu מִמֶּ֔נּוּ כְּאַחַ֣ד), to know good (tov טֹ֣וב) and evil (ra רָ֔ע) […],” (Genesis 3:22, KJV).

 

Certainly, being like God is a good thing; in fact, Scripture is replete with passages that tell us that we shall be in His likeness (Psalm 17:15), “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) “we shall be like Him,” (1 John 3:2) and many others. God also commands us to be like Him:

  • You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. […] You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44-45).
  • You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy, (Leviticus 19:2).
  • Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God, (Leviticus 20:7)
  • And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, (Leviticus 20:26).
  • Because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy,” (1 Peter 1:16).

Therefore, we conclude that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good, just as God declared, because it was through that agent that man could exercise his own will – which was something that man had to do in order to be more fully like God. However, it must be stressed that man could have (freely) chosen to obey God (and resist the serpent), and thereby become “like one of us” – yet without corruption (sin)! In this way, Jesus had to come as the second Adam (in the form of a servant) and through obedience (even to the point of death cf. Philippians 2:8) he was able to reconcile the sons of Adam with God (Colossians 1:22).

 


[i] Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996): Evil.