How Evil Began
In order to answer this question, we must first define evil, sin and iniquity. We know that our definition might be different from what one has heretofore understood. But if you are patient with our explanation, you will understand why we defined these three terms as we do.
“Evil” is the unconscious or unintended transgression of divine law, the Father’s will. It is the measure of the imperfection of obedience to the Father’s will.
“Sin” is the conscious, knowing and deliberate transgression of divine law, the Father’s will. It is the measure of our unwillingness to be divinely led and spiritually directed.
“Iniquity” is the willful, determined, and persistent transgression of the divine law, the Father’s will. It is the measure of the continued rejection of the Father’s loving plan of survival and the Son’s merciful ministry of salvation.
They are related in this way: evil unchecked leads to sin, and persistent sin eventuates in iniquity. We can illustrate it this way: It is the Father’s will that a man stick to his wife and they become one flesh.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
– Mark 10:6-9
If a married man begins to desire another woman, he has turned away from the divine will. This would constitute an evil act. He has not committed the conscious deliberate act of adultery, but he has nevertheless transgressed the divine will by refusing to be led by the spirit which tells him to desire only his wife. Evil is considered unconscious and unintentional in that no predetermined overt act has been committed. Evil is more of a mental turning away from what ones knows to be good and right.
If that married man continues in his evil course, he will eventually commit the sin of adultery – the deliberate, conscious, overt act. And if he continues in his adulterous activities, he will have become guilty of iniquity – the continued rejection of the divine will as regards his marriage. – which leads to death. James aptly described this process:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
– James 1:13-15
Note that evil (having an unrighteous desire) is not sin, and it can exist without ever sinning. So can iniquity. In other words, persistent evil can result in iniquity, even without committing the sin. Evil is the immature choosing and the unthinking misstep of those who resist goodness and who are disloyal to truth. Evil is the misadaptation of immaturity or the disruptive and distorting influence of ignorance. Evil is the inevitable darkness which follows upon the heels of the unwise rejection of light. Evil is that which is dark and untrue, and which, when consciously embraced and willfully endorsed, becomes sin.
Now that we have defined evil, we can better explain its origin.
Mankind has always been bothered with the question of why an all-wise Creator permits evil and sin. They fail to comprehend that evil is inevitable if man is to be truly free. Man's ability to choose good or evil is a universe reality. This liberty to choose for oneself is an endowment of the Father, and no creation in heaven or on earth has the right to deprive any one of us this divinely bestowed liberty.
Evil, therefore, is the inherent tendency of the physical world. While evil does not have to exist, the potential for evil must exist if mankind is to have free will – the ability to choose good or evil. How can man choose to do the divine will unless the ability to reject the divine will is present? How can man choose to be faithful, unless the ability to be unfaithful exists? How can man choose to do good, unless the potential for evil exists? The potential for evil is necessary to moral choosing, but actual evil is not necessary as a personal experience. The potential for evil is an adequate stimulus for spiritual development. Evil becomes a reality of personal experience only when a moral mind makes evil its choice.
If our world were simply a mechanical universe, if the Father was only a force and not also a personality, if all creation were a vast aggregation of physical matter dominated by precise laws characterized by unvarying energy actions, then perfection would exist in our universe. There would be no disagreement; there would be no friction.
But in our growing and evolving universe of relative perfection and imperfection, we rejoice that disagreement and misunderstandings are possible, for that is evidence of the fact of personality and free will in the universe. And if our universe is an existence dominated by personality, then can we be assured of the possibility of personality survival, advancement, and achievement. We can be confident of personality growth, experience, and adventure. What a glorious universe, in that it is personal and progressive, not merely mechanical or even passively perfect!
A world without the possibility of unwise judgment would be a world without free intelligence. And man would be nothing more than an intellectual parrot, a social automaton, and a slave to religious authority. Man could not dynamically choose the divine life if there were no self-life to forsake. Man could never lay saving hold on righteousness if there were no potential evil to exalt and differentiate the good by contrast. No, our universe was not created in perfection. Perfection is our eternal goal (Matthew 5:48), not our origin. And the potential for evil is our stimuli to pursue perfection.