Why Does the Lord Allow Man to Will, Intend, and Even Do Evil?
In the prophet Isaiah we find the following declaration from the Eternal God:
“I am Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me. I am Jehovah, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Jehovah do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 5-7)
From teachings given already it is evident that the Lord neither creates evil nor wills it to occur. The historical context of this passage indicates that the Jews of that time were coming under the influence of the Persian dualistic concept of God. This belief would have us admit to two gods, one who controlled good, and the other who controlled matter, which was intrinsically evil. Since this would have denied the omnipotence of God – an essential of religion – the Lord gave a revelation in accordance with the state of the people, which claimed for Him power over evil. Within that simple teaching one may see the rational truth. Such revelation is in accord with a universal purpose of the Word
“that men may believe that the Lord governs and disposes all and everything in the universe, even evil itself, punishments and temptations; and when they have received this most general idea, may afterwards learn how He governs and disposes all things by turning the evil of punishment and temptation into good. In teaching and learning from the Word, the most general truths must come first; and therefore the literal sense is full of such things.” (AC 245)
Probably we all know of the most general law governing the Lord’s permission of evil – the need for man’s freedom. Although it seems that the Lord could have organized it so that we would all be good, that is not true. Freedom is life itself, and if man had not the power to choose, he would not be. That is his esse, that he is a power receptive of the Lord’s influx. (See AC 3938) Hence the teaching that “the Lord could lead man into good ends by omnipotent force, but this would be to take away his life, and therefore the Divine law is inviolable that man shall be in freedom.” (AC 5854) Therefore also we are told that freedom is maintained “unimpaired and sacred” in man, (DP 96ff) “not at all to be violated” (AE 1155):and three reasons are adduced. Without freedom and rationality man would not be a man, he could not be regenerated, and he could not have immortality and eternal life. (See DP 96; SD 398; DP 16)
It has been suggested that the Lord loves man’s freedom more than He does man’s salvation, since He will allow a man to have freedom and from it to refuse salvation. The above reasons show that such an idea is not only unjust, but is incorrect. Freedom and salvation are inseparable, so one cannot be loved without the other. The Lord cannot remove man’s freedom in order to save him, because then the man would cease to be a man, and salvation would be impossible for him. In general we sense this, for we know that we, and mankind in general, have held freedom of thought and will as the sine qua non of a happy life. When we are forced to do anything it loses most of its delight for us, unless we are forcing ourselves, in which case there is internal freedom. (See AC 1937, 1947)
Of course, there are some who argue that it is all very well for man to be allowed to will and intend evil, but why does the Lord then let him go ahead and do it? And why does the Lord allow that evil to succeed, without secretly controlling it so that it will always fail? Worst of all, why does it succeed against the innocent?
The trouble is that evil must be permitted to come forth, often even into act. Man must be allowed not only to will it but to seek to do it, otherwise he is still not free. It is not that the Lord allows it to come forth without any control – He still permits only that which He can bend to some good – but it has to come forth to some extent. One may take the very simple analogy of offering a child his choice of cherry cake or apple pie, when you really want him to choose the apple pie. You give him the choice, and he says he wants the cherry cake, and you then say:
“No, you can’t have it; you must take the apple pie.” Surely the choice is then a mockery. So it would be if the Lord allowed man freedom of choice, but when the man chose evil He forbade him the expression of it. Man must be able not only to will evil but also to meditate on it, and to use his faculties to accomplish it to some extent.
The main point is that man is permitted to will and do evil, and then the Lord strives to bend him to good. Through this permission some hope exists of the man’s salvation; without it there would be no hope, for the man would not be a man. (See AC 10,777, 8700: 3)
For the man himself, also, it is very important that the evil which he thinks in his heart have some opportunity to express itself outside of him, for otherwise there is danger that he will never realize it for what it is. Often it has to appear before he will admit its quality and origin. Before that he has justified himself in it and excused it, driven on by the allure of the evil; but when it comes to being in all its nastiness, then he can look at it, perhaps somewhat objectively, and see that it is evil. Then, or later, he can be led to reject it. We have perhaps all had the experience of brooding over an imagined insult or slight, and feeling we were fully justified in our position, until finally we have done or said something to the object of our ire, only to find we then recognized our anger to have been petty and imagined rather than real. The act of expressing the angry spirit within ourselves showed it up for what it was; but before that, we were convinced that we were justified.
“All evil that does not appear finds fuel for itself.” (DP 278) It is likened to fire in ashes, to matter in a wound, or to cancer or gangrene in a body which must be cut out or it will kill. (See DP 278, 281) This is a problem which we tend not to see, because we do not realize that the enemy is within. We think of ourselves as being basically good, afflicted with evils from without. But man’s old will from his birth is like a “little hell,” and it is vital that “he sees that he is there.” (DP 251) (Of course, from remains a part of him is like a little heaven, too.) The evil is within, and since it does come into our will, it should proceed from there into our intentions, so that it may be made manifest to us and we may fear for our internal state, and want to reject it. An external illustration is given in explaining why the Israelites were permitted to worship a golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai. They had become subject to idolatry during their stay in Egypt, yet were not aware of that tendency. If they were to represent the church of the Lord this had to come out and be shown to be a danger, and it had to be removed by means of severe punishments. Only then could they undertake the representation, for only then did they recognize the tendency within themselves. (See DP 243)
In the case of man, we would observe, the evil will come forth, and then be removed by repentance, not punishment.
There is still another reason, involving the man himself, which makes it necessary that his evils appear. In bringing evil into act, a man rejects internal good and truth and becomes unable to profane it. If, however, he is forced by miraculous means to admit what is good and true, and to enter into it in some degree while he still loves evil, he will profane. Profanation is the worst of evils, destroying a man entirely, and the Lord’s Providence is very special against this. (See AE 375, 46; DP 264) It is impossible, from Divine power, for the Lord to make anyone believe. Often, when we sorrow over the fact that a person for whom we care deeply is apparently leaving the church, we wish that something great and magnificent would happen which would “bring him to his senses.” But it is possible that the Lord foresees that were this to happen at that particular point in the man’s life, it would lead, not to eternal belief, but to a temporary faith followed by profanation! The reason would be that the man had not yet entered into a state receptive of faith because of some evil within. That evil has to come out first, and be seen.
Thus we find a universal law, which is that “man is not permitted to enter interiorly into the truths of wisdom, and into the goods of love, except in so far as he can be kept in them even to the end of life.” (DP 233) “On the recognition of this law,” we are told, “depends the recognition of the laws of permission.” (DP 232) A man is not led by too much power to see what he would not be able to maintain as his faith.
He is therefore allowed to stay in evils and the exercise of them without being struck down by God, or punished in some esoteric manner which convinces him that he is doing wrong. His evil is allowed the appearance of success. So, for example, the Israelites were allowed to lose all internals of worship before they took on their representation, so that they would not plunge into those holy things and profane them. (See AC 1327) Those in faith alone were allowed to falsify the externals of the Word, for “if they knew them, so as to think of them interiorly, they would profane them.” (AR 686) Solomon and others were permitted to have many wives and concubines because they had no good and truth to see the need for monogamy, and it was better that they remain so. (See AC 3246) In the most drastic sense, the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, were allowed to wipe out a whole village – that of Hamor and Shechem – so that these remnants of the Most Ancient Church could not profane their worship by acceding to the ritualistic externals of the Jewish religion. (See AC 4493: 6)
The Word also puts this concept in another way by saying that the effort of the Divine Providence is to see that truth and good are not mixed with evil and falsity. It is possible for man to be in good and in falsity, or in truth and in evil, or even in good and evil together; but the effort of the Lord is to alter this situation, even to permitting that the man be in evil and falsity. (See DP 16. Cf. AC 1159: 5) “Would that thou wert cold or hot!” (Revelation 3: 15)
The argument still comes out, however: Why do the evil have the power to hurt the innocent? This is what seems so unfair. To my knowledge the Writings are not specific in answering this, apart from the general observations already made, and I think the reason is that the answer lies in common sense guided by these teachings. Consider the alternative, that the Lord allowed only evil men to be hurt by other evil men, and miraculously preserved the innocent from all harm. A thousand questions immediately come to mind. How innocent are the innocent? Are they, then, harmed to the degree in which they are not good? If such a situation did exist, could we not tell from the punishment of a man that the Lord had allowed it because he is interiorly evil, and could we not therefore judge him spiritually, and reject him? If an evil man were to be punished the moment he did evil would he not then be removed from freedom, because fear of punishment, and the knowledge that the Lord had allowed it, would force him to reconsider his ways, but not from free will? The questions are myriad.
What such a thought is really asking is that the situation in the spiritual world pertain here too, for there the evil are not allowed to hurt the good, and can hurt the evil only when they have transgressed. It is allowed there because the ruling love is already fixed, the choice made. If it were allowed here, it would destroy freedom. Evil has to be allowed to hurt the good or there would be no freedom.
This makes us reflect on a point which is central to our concept of right and wrong. Evil is evil, not because God has autocratically ordained that it be so! It is evil because it brings harm and unhappiness that people do not deserve. It is inevitable that our choice of evil will harm someone in some manner, because that is the nature of the thing we have chosen. And the trouble is that because of the need to preserve freedom the Lord will not provide that its harm is limited to those only who deserve some punishment.
When we realize that it is inevitable for evil to harm others, and appreciate that it is not the Lord’s fault that it is so, then we can be more sensitive to the wrongs we do to others by our bad choices. “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7: 9, 10.) The Lord asked these questions as if men would always do good to their loved ones; yet in our choice of evil we do these wrongs, and more. With every conscious evil we deprive those who love us most of the effect of that love which should flow in from the Lord, through us, to them. We take away from them the sphere that would have existed had we allowed the Lord to soften our hearts to others, instead of their becoming hardened to all but ourselves. We deprive them of the gentle and thoughtful concern for their welfare which would have characterized us in time, had we allowed the Lord to lead us into charity. Perhaps they will never know what we have done; but we will have done it, all the same. Evil men hurt those who love them much more than they do their enemies, for their loved ones need them and look to them, and will cling to them; and they have nothing to give. “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink…. Then shall He answer them, saying, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me .” (Matthew 25: 42, 45)