[B09] The Apostles' Creed: The Problem of Evil

The origin of evil is a problem all men have pondered. The heathen nations, from earliest times, were forced to recognize the presence of a destructive power, and tried to account for its origin, and continued activity. Their efforts, naturally, were not satisfactory. The theory most plausible to them was that of dualism, the doctrine that there are two rival powers, a good and an evil, in perpetual struggle for the control of the world. Some of them held that the material world was the product of the energy of the evil power. But their conclusions did little either to enlighten the minds, or comfort the hearts, of the children of men.

Table of Contents

9. The Problem Of Evil

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world…. [Rev.] 12:7—9.

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chain under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. — [Jude] 6.

There is a problem, not mentioned in the brief statements of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, but which presents itself to every serious thinker on the truths therein contained. And it is expressed, in summary manner, in Luther’s explanation of the First Article:

“He defends me against all danger, and guards and protects me from all evil.”

If God created all things, if He created all things good, very good, as He Himself could declare, then, at once the thought occurs to us, things are not as they once were. Things are no longer wholly good. Everything is now tainted, everything is now out of joint. Where good exists it is opposed. If good is to make progress there must be a continued warfare for it.

The question close at hand, whenever we ponder this problem, is that respecting the origin of evil. God is good. What He created was perfect in its goodness. Then where did evil come from? How could it originate? Let us make a study of this subject, going, as we ever do, to the one authentic source of information, — God’s holy Word. We shall consider some of the more fundamental points having to do with the great problem of evil.

The Origin of Evil

The origin of evil is a problem all men have pondered. The heathen nations, from earliest times, were forced to recognize the presence of a destructive power, and tried to account for its origin, and continued activity. Their efforts, naturally, were not satisfactory. The theory most plausible to them was that of dualism, the doctrine that there are two rival powers, a good and an evil, in perpetual struggle for the control of the world. Some of them held that the material world was the product of the energy of the evil power. But their conclusions did little either to enlighten the minds, or comfort the hearts, of the children of men.

Indeed, the problem of evil, its origin, its continued existence, and operation, considered from any point of view, is one of the most perplexing with which the mind of man is called to deal. It puzzles the finest spirits of the race. Many have been brought by it to silent despair. Some have been driven to unbelief. And multitudes have clung to their faith only by forcing reason to sit unquestioning in the presence of the mystery it can neither penetrate nor explain.

Is it not true that the Christian, who believes in the Heavenly Father’s wisdom, and power, and loving-kindness, has the most difficult problem of all on his hands when it comes to considering the problem of evil? If the doctrine of the materialist were true, if things were ruled by mechanical necessity, if the fate of all things was eternally and inevitably fixed, then we would be spared, in some measure at least, the burdens of conscience, the pangs of heart, the perplexities of reason, which must of necessity come to the one who believes in the sovereignty of a God infinite in power, and wisdom, and goodness; and who wills the happiness of his children.

And the very core of the problem of evil, that which most puzzles the mind and wrings the heart of the child of God, is moral evil. Crimes abound, vice spreads like a contagion, lust burns like a fire in the blood; these things bring suffering, they destroy that which is most godlike in men.

Give imagination rein for a moment. Think of the wasted manhood of the world. Think of the races sunk in savagery, the peoples who have lived their little day, played their little part on the stage of hardly human activity, and died scarcely men. Think of the other multitudes, in lands more favored, who have been little more than the causes, or the instruments, or the victims of evil. Think of the tragedies in human life, the diseases, the suffering, the wretchedness, the withered hearts, the dwarfed intellects, the parched souls, which have resulted from the operative presence of evil; an evil which goes on perpetuating and multiplying itself. Think of all this taking place in the lives of those created good, and destined for glory, and who ought to be on their way to eternal bliss. This is, indeed, a thought too painful for one to dwell upon for any length of time. In contemplation of it the heart grows sick, and reason rebels.

All that we can do is to go to the word of Revelation, and focus the light there shed on the problem of evil. Even this light leaves not a few shadows into which human mind finds no way of penetrating, but it does not fail to give us much of comfort. It assures us that there is a path of safety through the labyrinth, and a haven of rest where evil can no longer touch or harm.

The origin of evil was on this wise. God created everything perfect. The angels were glorious beings who stood very close to God, sharers of His glory, the executors of His will. But to be confirmed in their goodness and glory they had, personally, to make choice of that goodness and power for themselves. Virtue is virtue only when it is the free choice of one who could choose the opposite. When there is the power of choosing the good there must exist the possibility of choosing the evil. Where this is not true we have a mere machine, not a rational, volitional being.

Evil was conceived and brought to birth from the inner life of one of the angels of light. There was nothing without to suggest it. There was no lack of sustaining grace. But from within there was a reaching out after imaginary blessings, the attributes and prerogatives which belong to God alone. The creature rebelled against being a creature, though the most blessed. He wanted to be God. To this inner suggestion one of the princes of heaven yielded, and succeeded in leading many others astray. As a result, they all (the rebels) lost their perfection. Their holiness, their purity was gone. Their knowledge was greatly contracted, their power diminished. Their freedom of will was lost, so that henceforth they could only choose evil. Thus these sons of light, God’s own nearest children, became irreclaimably rebellious, were cast out of heaven into an existence of darkness and misery. This was the origin of evil.

Evil, then, is not a separate living entity existing in and by itself. There was no original nature of wickedness. Evil is the corruption, the perversion, of that which was good. Evil exists in the nature of personal beings fallen from their original estate. Evil is the condition of ethical creatures who have turned from virtue to vice, from love to hate, from the love and pursuit of truth to falsehood, from liberty to bondage.

Evil did not originate in the earth. It was introduced among the children of men from without. Our first parents were part of God’s perfect creation. But they, too, being moral creatures, were endowed with the power of choice. They could remain permanently good only by choosing the good. The opportunity for choice soon came. The difference between the temptation of the heavenly creatures and our first parents was that with the former it came from within, on the part of our first parents it came from without, — the leader of the fallen host of heaven acting as the tempter.

Another great difference between the fall in heaven, and the fall on earth is that when the angels sinned they fell, it seems, beyond the possibility of being reclaimed. Man, having fallen by seduction, is given a chance for rehabilitation. God wills his restoration. He has made all necessary plans, and provided all necessary means, for its accomplishment. There is much in man that makes the process of restoration difficult. And the devil opposes it with all his cunning and power.

The Conflict With Evil

The results of the introduction of evil into creation are felt everywhere. Even the physical world has become a sufferer because of sin. “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). There is a conflict going on everywhere. There are storms, earthquakes, tidal waves, and devastating fires. Some mock, and say, these things are but the inevitable result of the operation of natural laws. There are such laws, but we are simple enough to believe that things would not be as they are were it not for sin.

That there is a conflict being waged in the lives of men universally needs no argument. It is a fact of everyday experience. And we have in mind not alone the hellish conflagrations of hate and murder which break out periodically, and gather with insatiable maw the flower of earth’s manhood, and blight earth’s womanhood. In its entirety, more trying, more pitiable still, is the treadmill grind, the never-ending pull of evil. This is the conflict of the ages. This is the summation of the tragedies of life.

This conflict was sketched in broad outline immediately after the catastrophe in Eden. The words contain a precious promise, the first Gospel message to a fallen world; but at the same time it makes a statement, the working out of which has hung like a pall over all humanity. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The seed of the woman is Christ, who was to break Satan’s power, while Satan was to bruise His heel. The bruising of the heel may seem a minor matter. But it means the weakening of power, the lessening of speed, the being overtaken by the enemy, and grappling with him under disadvantages. Just think of what the bruising of the heel meant to Jesus. It meant the wilderness temptation, Gethsemane, and Calvary; and who knows how much that was practically just as trying all the way between. And Christ’s life-long passion was but an accentuation of what we, according to our measure of strength, have to endure.

We have become so accustomed to the disturbed, distorted, perverted condition of things on earth that they no longer affect us as they should. Our senses have become dulled by the pain. But if we sit down and think soberly of the condition of things in the light of heaven as it may be caught by renewed natures, we are still appalled. All around us we find never-ceasing wrangling, endless distractions, irreconcilable differences, disquieting thoughts, discouraging prospects, unaccountable delusions, bitter animosities and cruel strifes. We see about us demoniac hate struggling with immortal love for the mastery of men’s souls. We are conscious of impoverishment, and that peril stalks near at hand, filling our souls with dark fears, and weakening doubts. On the other hand, we are conscious of something brooding over us, bidding us be of good courage, filling us with fair hopes and fond anticipations. We are conscious of the presence and operation of two powers, one of which would ruthlessly plunge us into the depths of endless night, another which would lead us into empyrean heights where reigns eternal day.

And then there is the bitter, biting cup of physical suffering. In some form it comes to all of us. It comes in the line of business, our possessions take wings and disappear. It comes in the form of bodily pain, and vanished strength. It comes in the form of anguish of mind and spirit. It comes in the form of a thief, snatching away our loved ones, leaving the homes once cheery and full of life empty and silent. And to add to our perplexity, it not infrequently seems as if the wicked were the ones to whom it is given most to flourish, while on the good adversity descends in showers.

Even on the part of the renewed of men there is not only this conflict with the evil which assails from without, and the consequent suffering of mind and body; but the conflict is still waged from within. We have learned to loathe the creed of the sensualist, and detest the mark of the beast, which so many wear on their brow as the mark of Cain; we scorn the principles, or lack of principle, which bring the dark-browed felon to his cell of shame; there is something in us which recoils from those base passions which convulse and distort human lives; but in spite of all this there is a conflict, a ceaseless conflict waged within. In spite of that in us which loathes the evil, and yearns for the good; in spite of our wrestling in prayer, our resolving and reresolving, we are often caught in the clutches of the power which carries us off our feet, and bends us to the thing we hate; and even when we do the good, we are conscious of the failure to realize the full measure of our own ideal. And, oh, the pain of it all. How many have been constrained to cry out: O Lord, it is more than I can bear. “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me.”

The Conquest Over Evil

Let us turn from the perplexing thought about the origin of evil, and from the depressing thought of the age-long conflict with evil, to contemplate the triumph over evil.

Is there any real ground for speaking of a conquest over evil? There are those who seriously question whether there have been any such real conquests, and are pessimistic as to whether there ever will be. Others, at times, at least, pretend to believe that we have entered, or are about to enter, millennial days; that goodness is all but supreme, and evil scarcely more than a shadow to heighten the beauty of the picture. Both are wrong. In this world, and while the present order continues, the good will never be unmolested, never fully triumphant. It will ever have to struggle for every inch of ground it gains. But evil is never going to fully and finally triumph. The good, all that is of God, is going finally to fully and eternally triumph.

Indeed, we must not overlook, what only ignorance, or incurable pessimism, can overlook, that great, far-reaching, victories have already been won in this world over evil. This is asserted by Revelation, it is corroborated by history. Innumerable thousands of human lives have been transformed, not a few of them being lifted out of the very pits of pollution. Nations have been transformed. Beneficent institutions have had a wonderful development. Many untoward conditions have been ameliorated. Conflagrations of hellish rapine and murder still occasionally break out; and enough of sordidness everywhere abounds, to teach the world, and a vacillating Church, that wickedness still inheres in all men’s hearts, and that the substitutes they would so often put in place of God’s quickening Word, regeneration, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, will never be able to preserve the world from destruction. But all in all, and in many directions, the kingdom of God has been winning great victories, and will continue to win them.

Let us not forget that the first real victory over the power of evil among men was won by that great representative man, the God-man, Christ our Savior. The very purpose for which He came into the world, as the incarnate Son of God, was to meet the great arch-enemy of mankind, the one in whose seared breast dwells the fountainhead of the torrential stream of all evil, and break his power over humanity. And He fully accomplished His purpose. The great battle between the Prince of light and life, and the prince of darkness and death has been fought. It waged for three trying years with but brief cessations. It was ended on Calvary. There the devil did his worst, but in his blind rage overstepped himself, and caused his own undoing. When the dying lips of the God-man uttered the words, — “It is finished,” Satan had to slink away acknowledging his defeat. This was the beginning of the end with him.

The prince of the powers of evil manifests a determination, a persistence, in assailing and perplexing the children of men, worthy of a better cause. He is permitted still to do this because we are still on probation. We need still to be tested, to have our mettle proved. The devil finds many who are perfectly willing to continue in his service. They like it. It is in keeping with their unregenerate nature. Some weak ones, who would feebly like to escape, he succeeds in wheedling, or browbeating, into continued submission. But the old tyrant’s power is broken. Not one, however, who fights under Christ’s flag; not one who has learned the true nature of sin, who hates it, and fights against it; not one who claims Christ’s help, and appropriates His victory, can be held by Satan. The old enemy may succeed in tripping him occasionally, for his snares are numerous, and artfully laid; but he rises every time with still greater determination to be more careful, to cling more closely to his Savior, and fight with perseverance the good fight of faith.

Finally the decisive victory will be won. God has His day, some think it is near at hand, when He will write His finis to earthly history. Then evil will not only be curbed and overruled, but it will be forever banished from the regions in which God’s children dwell and have their activities. Evil will not be annihilated. The devil, his angels, and all those who have given themselves over to do his will will be confined to regions exclusively devoted to the activities of perverted, distorted lives. But no influence from that dark region will ever be able to reach and disturb the good. Those who have appropriated, by faith, Christ’s blood-bought victory during their earthly life, and have fought with Him for personal victories in their own lives, shall enter with Him into His eternal kingdom of purity, righteousness and blessedness, nevermore to feel the blighting breath of evil.

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0