Once in a while, FaceBook challenges me. Some time back, someone posted asking if I had prayed for Satan. This opened up a lengthy internal debate about the nature of evil.
I never believed much in evil. I never thought much about it until I studied theology at Loyola Marymount University. There, I encountered theodicy: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, how can evil exist? After reading a fair bit about how others answered this question, I came to the conclusion that evil cannot exist, and that any other answer is inconsistent with the Bible. Yes, there are things that happen that I don’t like. People make bad choices that cause suffering, sometimes for millions of people. I wouldn’t wish those things on my worst enemy (if I had an enemy). But, in my view, that didn’t make them evil.
I noted the book of Job, where Satan is described as God’s prosecutor. He can’t touch Job without God’s permission (Job 1-6-12). “Satan” is also a generic term in Hebrew, not a proper name. It literally means “adversary” or “one who opposes.” Clearly in this passage, the character identified as “Satan” opposes not God, but Job.”
When I was working hard to end the war in Sri Lanka, I was given a realization: While the work I was doing was both good and consistent with what God wanted from me, in some way beyond my understanding the war was also consistent with God’s plans. Yes, it was God’s will that we end that war, but the war could not exist if God didn’t allow it.
A wise man once said, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.” After that realization, I no longer doubted that wisdom.
Then came my struggle with darkness and my eventual deliverance. I saw dark spirits and was tormented by them. I was asked to believe that they were minions of Satan, who is seen as the source of evil in this world. I accept what I experienced, but I have no theology to explain it.
Then came that fateful FaceBook post. It challenged me with this inevitable question: Is it possible for Satan to be redeemed? Could he turn his heart back to God and renounce evil? Or is he excluded from God’s promise that all who repent are forgiven?
I’m not saying that Satan (assuming he exists and that he opposes God) will repent. I’m just asking if he could.
I can see no basis on which to argue that he could not.
Then another analogy occurred to me: Suppose a wold is prowling my yard. That wolf is clearly dangerous, even deadly. But is it evil? It was made by God as a predator, and it is doing exactly what God created it to do. Predators fill an important role in God’s creation of nature. How can that be considered evil?
Likewise, these dark spirits I struggled with were doing what was in their nature to do. They are dangerous, perhaps deadly, and perhaps worse than deadly. But does that make them evil, or were they created (like the wolf) to do exactly what they are doing?
Was it consistent with God’s will that I be tormented by darkness in order to find a way to a stronger faith? Was it God’s will that Jesus be tempted in the desert? I think the answer to both questions is, “Yes.”
I don’t deny that there are events in this world that I dislike. The Holocaust is one, a dreadful loss of innocent lives that I would be tempted to call evil. (On the other hand, good things came out of it, like the philosophy of survivor Viktor Frankl, the awareness of genocide throughout the world, and (arguably) the restoration of Israel. Can evil produce good? I have serious doubts.) Surely the Israelites could say the same after first Israel was destroyed and its residents scattered, and then Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews taken into exile. Yet the Bible clearly tells us both were God’s will. And restoration followed.
Then there’s the issue of free choice. Surely a person can refuse to follow God’s wishes, and therefore cause evil, right?
Ask Jonah, who refused God’s command to go to Ninevah. God gave him a ride to Ninevah.
God tends to get what He wants.
So, is there really evil, or are these “evil” events merely things God ordains that I cannot understand?
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)
I may never know. But I choose to believe that God can do anything, and nothing can happen if He wills it to not happen. Thus, everything that does happen is somehow consistent with his will. And despite this, I am called to love Him, his Creation, and all the creatures in it, both human and otherwise.