« AnteriorContinuar »
The Origin of Evil.
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the
garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it ; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”—GENESIS ii. 16, 17.
M Y purpose in the present sermon is to show
that God is not to be held responsible for the existence of evil.
Assuming that evil is a reality, that it is hateful to God, and that He is more powerful than any other being in the universe, let us ask, How it is that evil exists ?
This is a subject upon which much nonsense and unintentional blasphemy have been uttered. There are certain opinions regarding it very commonly held, which inevitably cast a shadow upon the character of God. Most theologians tell us that evil must have been permitted by Him for some wise purpose; but that it is impossible to
imagine what that purpose can have been, and that therefore the existence of evil calls for the exercise of an unlimited amount of faith. In other words, they talk as if reason, apart from faith, would suggest that God ought to have prevented evil, and that, had He done so, we should have found ourselves much more fortunately situated than we are. Now reason, I take it, teaches no such thing. She shows us, on the contrary, that the prevention of evil would have made our world not better than it is, but infinitely worse.
I must ask you, first, to notice that God works, and cannot but work, under certain restrictions, conditions, or limitations. The most sober theologians have always maintained that He could not make wrong right, or right wrong. There have been some celebrated writers—as, for example, Paley and Occam—who asserted that sins are only sins because God has forbidden them. Occam even went so far as to say that God might conceivably command us to hate Him, and it would then be our duty to do so. The more reasonable view, however — in fact the only reasonable view — seems to be, that the distinction between right and wrong is a distinction not made, but accepted, by God. This distinction
God could not alter, even if He would. He is good and God because He would not alter it, even if He could. This, then, amounts to saying that God, like ourselves, works under moral limitations.
There are other conditions, again, which may be called intellectual, under which He works. He cannot make two and two equal to five. He can create a fifth thing; but that is different. He cannot, again, make the same thing both to be and not to be at the same time. He can annihilate it; but then it has ceased to be. He can recreate it; but then it no longer is not. Now I want to show you that in regard to the existence of evil, God was under a similar limitation.
There are only three conceivable ways in which evil could have been prevented. (1) God might have refrained from creating beings capable of sinning; or (2), having created such beings, He might have kept them from temptation; or (3), allowing them to be tempted, He might have forcibly prevented them from yielding.
Now, no doubt, in one sense, He could have done all these things—i.e., He had power enough. But in another sense He could not have done any of them. They would have been incompatible with His desire to create the best possible world. Had He destroyed the possibility of evil by any of these expedients, He would (as I shall now try to show) have destroyed at the same time all possibility of goodness.
1st, Suppose that He had created only beings incapable of sinning. That would have been to create nothing higher than a brute. If he had not formed creatures capable of doing wrong, He could not have formed any capable of doing right: for the two things inevitably go together. He only is able to do right, who is able at the same time (if he please) to do wrong. Let me give you a very simple illustration. I wish this desk to hold my sermon-case, and it does so. Do I therefore thank and praise it, and feel grateful to it, and call it good and kind, for obeying me? No! Why? Because it cannot disobey, and for this reason it cannot be properly said to obey. Take, again, the case of the lower animals. At first sight it might seem as if some animals could lay more claim than many men to the possession of a conscience. But it is probable that their best actions are done merely from an instinctive and irresistible impulse of affection. They can, of course, be kept from doing certain things by the knowledge that if they do them they, will be punished: they may be cured of steal