Evil; a transcendent idea that humanity claims to understand. We often do that with transcendent ideas, such as justice and equality. But clearly we have no idea what we’re doing in that regard, otherwise we would no longer require constant protesting and petitions to get the record set straight. It’s a quality of humanity that I believe has been present from the start, aware to few, but there none the less. The quality to notice and identify these transcendent ideas, to present them to the masses in your, more or less honest, way. These individuals do so through tales. The tales that shape entire communities, that have stayed true through the test of time. Tales that warn; tales that define; tales that prepare. Think of your Lord of the Rings, or your Three Little Pigs, and most importantly the Bible. The tale that attempts to define the ideas of justice and morality amidst the violent world of humanity. I’m going to attempt to find out how evil is formulated in various scriptural passages. Ultimately coming to a condition on who defines wickedness and how it is punished, if it even is to begin with.
God, the creator, the inventor, the harsh wind that chills your very soul on a dark night. He speaks the very world into being, “Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:3). He speaks the Earth and its seas into existence and follows that with a conscionable, “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10). Furthermore, God creates all the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and the creatures on the land, and God sees that each and everyone of those is good. And then the Humans are made, in God’s image mind you, and he does not see that they are good. In fact, the only plausible chance that humans may have a morsel of good is in the fact that God finds the whole creation all together as a good thing (Genesis 1:31).
So, we are given an immediate doubt into the goodness of humanity from the start, and in turn the goodness of God. But it is important to note that no part of Genesis 1–2 calls anything evil (Outside of the tree of knowledge, but that’s it’s name and not an assessment of goodness). In fact, he only refers to the goodness of things and the narrator himself loves to point out how good God’s creation of the Earth is, “Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). Human beings, however, are assumed to be a blank slate from the start.
That is until Genesis 3 pops around and we meet our good ‘ole pall The Serpent. See, the kind of blank slate that humans were is a very very sensitive one. Extremely open to any new kind of stimuli, so it was important that God was the one talking to Adam and Eve. For, when He just told them that the Tree of Knowledge would kill them, his words became their truth. So, you throw a talking serpent into the picture, one of which that seems to have no reason for doing what it is doing, conflicts begin to arise in these initial blank slates. God had tried to instill a specific world view on them, and it was working. The serpent undermines that world view when speaking to Eve, claiming “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5). The serpent’s interference is successful, and after some long personal thought Eve bites into the apple and then gives it to Adam who follows suit.
This is the first inkling into the ever complex morality and evilness within humanity present within the Bible. Even though they eat from the Tree of Knowledge, there isn’t really a sense of them feeling like they did something wrong. There’s a vague sense of right and wrong that is set up here. There’s a sense they feel fine with what they did because God had lied to them, or that maybe God just doesn’t terrorize them yet. But their only worry seems to be that they are naked, which fills them with embarrassment. So, now we’re getting a sense that they know good and do in fact contain it.
But all of this is even more fumbled when you look at how they respond to getting caught by God. It’s the greatest depiction of deflection I think I have ever seen. God questions why Adam ate from the tree and he throws the blame at God, “the woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). God then looks to Eve and she deflects as well, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Identifying the morality of humanity becomes slightly easier in this regard, considering there’s a present inability to accept responsibility for their actions, but it’s still left flying back and forth between the gauges.
The first time God presents an actual opinion on the goodness of humanity, a deep stated reality, is in Genesis 6 where, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the Earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God has made his claim that humans are inherently evil and evil is the only route we will head towards. This ultimately ends up erasing the idea of a blank slate from the board and replacing it with an immovable stone. If they’re evil from birth, and all they want to do is evil things, then how could goodness every seep its way into their existence?
Feeling very assertive in his opinion, God plans to just destroy the lands with a flood. Noah is able to find favor in God, and after the flood (which is an absurd amount of years, over 600), the waters subside and God’s anger has been quenched. He speaks to Noah, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth. So now, the stone slides off the table and is replaced with a rigged scale. Imagine the scales of just, but we’ll call it the scales of goodness. From birth, the side that features evil has a minute added weight to it, making it a natural tendency to do evil as a human. But as life is experienced, goodness can be added to that scale to outweigh the evil, or the evil will stay in charge forever.
Now we’ve managed to identify that God considers evil as inherent to existence but not inherent to experience. In other words, goodness is emergent in human life while evil is immanent. The challenge of existence then becomes to be good and stay good. When it comes to incentive, God attempts to provide that through punishment of evil deeds. But who does God choose to punish? Initially, it’s a very clear answer to those who sin; from Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel. Humans commit an act that God deems to be immoral, that God deems to be evil, and then God punishes them accordingly. Adam and Eve are forced to leave Eden and face the burden of survival, Cain is forced to wander the lands, never able to till the ground again. People are ultimately punished without prejudice for breaking the rules or ideals that God holds (even if they aren’t aware of what some of those rules are).
Well, that at least stays true for at least a little bit. Up until the point in which God proves to be just like Humans in regards to his affectability. All it takes is a simple Adversary in the story of Job to alter everything that God’s set up beforehand. Sure, he’s sent violent storms that killed many innocent people along with the guilty, but he’s managed to vehemently provide for those who seem to be righteous. As shown in through Noah in the tale of the flood. Noah is viewed as one of, if not the only, righteous human to walk the Earth. He finds countenance in God and is rewarded in folds for his glory.
But then we are given the book of Job. A story of the most righteous man to have ever walked the face of the Earth. He showed dedication and love for his God and the people around him. He was heralded as a righteous man and he was rewarded for it. God sees that Job is afraid of him and that Job turns away from evil, and so naturally, he decides to start playing with that once he gets even the slightest temptation from The Satan “Does Job fear God for nothing?… stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). So, being the all-knowing and all-powerful God that he is, God immediately agrees and allows The Satan to do with Job’s possessions as he wishes. In fact, God is swayed by the same argument for a second time. He shows almost no constitution in his practices and ultimately is forced to confront this misdeed at the end of Job. But the point is, a simple nudge from The Satan made God completely undo all of the covenants he had made in the past. One could argue this was purely for the sake of the bet, or even just for fun.
So, it becomes clear that God is the definer of what is evil and what is good. But it’s a definition that he isn’t inherently certain on. He seems to progressively get angrier and angrier in his identification of humanities goodness, but then levels his head out and manages to try and be rational with his assessment. While he can’t keep consistency in his identification of what evilness is, he also can’t keep consistency in his punishment of said evil. Job, the most righteous of his creations, is punished simply because the Adversary bet God he could break him. So, God punishes his most righteous for no reason, but also kills all of humanity for being wicked (even though it isn’t said how they were wicked). The one who defines evil and punishes evil is inconsistent in both regards. Ultimately, humanity is left unaware of the rules to their reality and are forced to fight for ideals they don’t know if are true or not. Ultimately boiling the entire conversation down to one of faith.