We humans have thought up many an explanation to try to explain the phenomenon of evil. For many people, the idea that a devil incites human beings to deeds of lust and cruelty is absurd, nothing more than a fairy tale. A common view is that people commit atrocities because they themselves were victims of abuse.
Most psychologists discount the possibility of the existence of a devil, but a few years ago one psychological counselor squarely faced the problem of evil. He did so because he was retained by the judicial system to interview men who were accused of the most depraved acts. He entered the inner sanctum of jails and prisons to interview prisoners who had committed atrocities against their fellow human beings.
A state supreme court had ruled that accused killers must have access to professional counseling before the state could put them on trial. Prosecutors could make public only evidence that was deemed favorable to the defendants. The jury and the trial judge couldn’t even listen to evidence that reflected unfavorably upon the accused.
Under the cloak of confidentiality, the counselor often heard vile tales vividly described by these depraved killers. Many of the stories contained evidence that would remain forever hidden to all but the psychologist, including confessions to hideous crimes as well as accounts of the pathetic pleas of victims in the moments before their deaths.
Stifling his inner revulsion, the counselor listened intently to graphic details of bloody torture and the beastly, systematic thoughts of the tormentor as he satiated his twisted, brutal appetites at the expense of someone’s wife or child.
After emerging from behind the confining walls, this psychologist found himself pondering a question that the sum of his professional training had taught him to reject: Does evil exist?
The source of evil
Many of the educated of our society reject the idea, but the Bible is insistent that evil exists. The biblical writers presented evil in the form of a decadent prince of demons, called Satan, whose primary purpose is to destroy humankind.
Conventional wisdom holds that people commit atrocities because they themselves were victims of abuse. But millions of people grow up in unhappy circumstances. They live in poverty, are targets of parental violence and suffer the consequences of humanity’s imperfections. But they do not grow into despots or mass murderers.
Why, then, do some people choose to vent their frustrations by hating and abusing others, although most do not?
The Bible shows us that a hateful spirit being lives who beckons humans to follow his way of destruction, abuse and murder.
We first read of this creature in the book of Genesis, when he appeared on the scene in the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. He tempted the first man and woman to disobey God by eating forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-13 Genesis 3:1-13  Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, Yes, has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.
 And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die:
 For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat.
 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
 And the LORD God called to Adam, and said to him, Where are you?
 And he said, I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
 And he said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you that you should not eat?
 And the man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
 And the LORD God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
American King James Version×). This first disobedience by mankind launched the human race on its course of chronic and habitual disobedience (Romans 5:12 Romans 5:12Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned:
American King James Version×).
A little later this hateful being, Satan the devil, tempted Cain to commit the first act of murder. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, became angry, and his rage clouded his judgment (Genesis 4:6 Genesis 4:6And the LORD said to Cain, Why are you wroth? and why is your countenance fallen?
American King James Version×). God challenged Cain to rise above his wrath: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 Genesis 4:7If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And to you shall be his desire, and you shall rule over him.
American King James Version×).
Cain responded by killing Abel (verse 8). Cain could have resisted the temptation to do harm to his brother, but he didn’t. Anyone who murders or commits other violent acts has simply failed to subdue his nature, as Cain failed to subdue his. Those who seek an explanation for violent acts fail to understand the enormous influence Satan has on the thoughts, attitudes and actions of mankind.
Earlier this year, after a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, shot and killed 16 small schoolchildren and their teacher and wounded another 12 youngsters, a distraught school official summed up the tragedy: “Evil visited us yesterday, and we don’t know why.”
Some succumb to Satan
People who are aware, through the study of the Bible, that Satan exists know why the Dunblane tragedy happened. At least they understand the existence of evil in a broad sense. Students of the Bible grasp that Satan actually searches the earth for people who will follow him and succumb to murderous impulses because of their frustration with life. They understand that Satan entices some to “devour” anyone who gets in their way as would a vicious beast (1 Peter 5:8 1 Peter 5:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
American King James Version×). These victims have themselves been devoured by Satan, who has enticed them into a life of cruelty and utter worthlessness.
Satan’s influence is manifest in the form of other, equally hideous, acts. In June of this year a California jury convicted a 42-year-old former convict of murdering a 12-year-old girl. The perpetrator had spent most of his life behind bars and had been out of prison only three months when he entered the child’s bedroom and abducted her at knifepoint in the presence of two playmates. He apparently had stalked the youngster and had planned his crime well beforehand.
Evidence at the trial established a pattern of sexual assault against women before he selected this child as his next victim. When the jury foreman read the guilty verdict, the defendant responded by making an obscene gesture with both hands.
The world is filled with violence too savage to attribute to mere human evil. Through thousands of years of recorded history, Satan has influenced human beings to perpetrate the unimaginable against other individuals and, in wartime, against whole nations and peoples. The recent war in Bosnia is only the latest such example. The atrocities of World War II are still vividly remembered by many.
Both the Bible and secular history witness that, from the dawn of civilization, man’s history depicts a bloody chain of inhuman cruelty in times of war. The ancient Assyrians, for example, recorded in stone a ghastly, graphic record of human mutilation.
Timely answer to a timeless question
Why does God allow evil in the world? Anyone who has ever suffered tragedy wonders about this. Philosophers and churchmen have repeatedly asked the question. Theologian Harold Kushner, in his 1981 book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, rephrased the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Everyone asks this question at one time or another-theologians, philosophers, historians and even physicists. Let’s look at some of their answers.
English theologian Edwin Hatch once put it: “How did a God who was almighty as well as beneficent come to create what is imperfect and evil?” (The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 1995, Peabody, Massachusetts, p. 194). Dr. Hatch described the quandary addressed by the early Church after the apostolic era. The apostles of Christ never wrestled with this issue, but those who came later did.
One possible explanation was offered by the gnostic Marcion early in the second century. Marcion believed that “two rival Gods existed: One was the tyrannical creator and lawgiver of the Old Testament, the other the unknown God of love and mercy who sent Jesus to purchase salvation from the creator God” (Webster Encyclopedia, one-volume edition, p. 561).
In Marcion’s view, the lawgiver God was responsible for the existence of pain and evil, and the work of the Savior was to deliver the world from the pain and evil caused by God. This heretical outlook was modified and refined by others but took root in the body of subsequent church doctrine, where its influence has fostered frequent confusion.
Some historians have addressed the seeming contradiction of a world created by God but replete with evil. Englishman Arnold Toynbee noted that “one of the conclusions that have been drawn by human spectators of the moral evil of the Universe is that this chamber of horrors cannot be any God’s handiwork” (A Study of History, abridged version, 1957, Vol. XII, p. 300).
a good God create a bad world? If so, why would He do such a thing? If not, then how did evil and evil acts come to exist in a world created by God?
Toynbee saw that the Christian “finds himself compelled to choose between two … alternatives, both of which are grievously disconcerting: Either the God who is Love must be the creator of a manifestly ailing Universe, or the Universe must have been created by another God who is not the God of Love” (ibid.).
Scientists study the physical realm, but some have pondered the imponderable. Physicist Paul Davies considers another side of the good-vs.-evil argument. He considers the issue of why God, if He truly is all-powerful, does not simply intervene and stop all evil.
“Is God free to prevent evil?” Davies wonders. “If he is omnipotent, yes. Why then does He fail to do so” (God and The New Physics, 1983, p. 143). Davies has a point: Why doesn’t God just ban all evil? If Satan is responsible, why doesn’t God in some way simply stop the devil?
The view of an atheist
Perhaps the main reason some people are atheists is that they cannot satisfactorily reconcile the problem of a good God and an evil world. Julian Huxley wrote about the existence of evil, that “its existence is a challenge to God’s moral character” (Religion Without Revelation , 1957, p. 109). Huxley concluded that divine revelation and a divine Revelator do not exist.
We find no shortage of eloquent descriptions of the dynamics of this problem. But we need answers. Mankind has concocted explanations. Some people have concluded that God doesn’t exist. Some adopt Marcion’s belief of a Godhead in conflict. Some man-made explanations are totally lacking in accuracy, but others give a glimpse of the biblical truth. For example, Toynbee writes that “God’s love is the source of Man’s freedom,” and “every challenge can be regarded equally as a call from God or as a temptation by the Devil” (A Study of History, p. 300). Professor Toynbee has touched on two truths. The first is that God allows evil in the world as a consequence of free will.
God gives free will, or personal choice, to every human being.
The second truth Toynbee mentions is that there is a devil, a being adept at tempting people to make all the wrong choices (Matthew 4:3 Matthew 4:3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
American King James Version×).
The author of violence
Jesus confirmed that the devil seduces people into committing atrocities. We saw earlier that Cain was the first human who killed, but Jesus showed that murderous attitudes begin with Satan. In Christ’s day jealous men wanted to kill the very Son of God (John 8:40 John 8:40But now you seek to kill me, a man that has told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
American King James Version×). Later these deceived and deceitful zealots succeeded.
Jesus clearly identified the source of their evil motivations: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the Truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (verse 44).
The devil’s influence is powerful and pervasive. Through the centuries, people’s belief in the existence of a devil has waxed and waned. Europeans devoutly believed in him in the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance. But in modern times the idea of a deceiving devil went out of style.
On this subject, however, the only information that really matters is what the Bible provides. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells us in the most solemn terms that the devil exists as a powerful being. Satan and his cohorts, the demons, are mentioned more frequently in Scripture than even the Holy Spirit.
The devil is destructive
A good word to describe the tactics and nature of Satan is destructive. Satan makes mayhem and murder, and he has been at it since the dawn of human history. The Bible reveals that at the close of this age Satan will still be actively attempting to destroy humanity. Revelation 9:11 Revelation 9:11And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue has his name Apollyon.
American King James Version×calls him Abaddon and Apollyon, names that mean “destruction” and “destroyer.”
He has many accomplices-demons who share his frame of mind. During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ encountered a man possessed by many demons (Mark 5:1-15 Mark 5:1-15  And they came over to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,
 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with you, Jesus, you Son of the most high God? I adjure you by God, that you torment me not.
 For he said to him, Come out of the man, you unclean spirit.
 And he asked him, What is your name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
 And he sought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
 Now there was there near to the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
 And all the devils sought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
 And immediately Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
 And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.
 And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
American King James Version×). Mark’s Gospel account describes the man’s bizarre actions. Night and day “he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (verse 9).
The demons drove this miserable man to self-mutilation. Jesus felt compassion for the man and ordered the demons away. They then entered a herd of swine and drove the defenseless animals over a cliff into the sea (verse 13).
After reading and believing the biblical account, many have correctly concluded that evil in God’s creation exists because God gives mankind free will and that Satan’s deception is at the root of the suffering of human beings.
But believers in God still wonder why their Creator allows Satan’s seemingly senseless ways of destruction to continue unabated. After the senseless murders of the innocent children at Dunblane, headmaster Ron Taylor lamented, “We don’t understand it, and I don’t think we ever will.”
The origin of Satan
The Bible, however, tells why. It describes the beginning of Satan and why God allows him to continue to exist.
Satan was once a brilliant and powerful “covering cherub” (Ezekiel 28:16 Ezekiel 28:16By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the middle of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub, from the middle of the stones of fire.
American King James Version×). Through rebellion against God, he corrupted himself and became Satan-whose very name means adversary. He is so labeled because he became the adversary of God Himself and the enemy of all good.
We do not know when Satan rebelled, but his insurrection occurred at a distant time before the creation of man. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
American King James Version×).
This is an amazing statement from the book of Isaiah with dual meaning. It applies at once to the wicked, Satan-dominated king of Babylon as well as to Satan himself. Jesus, referring to this event, said He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18 Luke 10:18And he said to them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
American King James Version×). Satan had determined to undermine and thwart every plan and purpose of God, beginning in the Garden of Eden with his temptation of Adam and Eve.
But this still doesn’t explain why God has allowed Satan to continue.
There is a reason, an astonishing one, that we can understand when we realize God’s plan for humanity. It is simply that God’s purpose is to give mankind eternal life. This is why Jesus Christ came and died. God’s gift to us “is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×).
Before we can inherit eternal life, we have to be tested. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12 James 1:12Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him.
American King James Version×).
God’s reasoning for testing us is to give us the chance to resist and overcome the temptation to do evil.
All humans, when they sin, fall under the same sentence God pronounced upon Adam and Eve. That sentence is death! All have sinned (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×) and come under the death penalty until they repent, because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×). This is the condition in which we remain until we turn to God in humble repentance and accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior.
Satan is the ruler of the world by virtue of his pervasive influence (2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×). He has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
American King James Version×). This is why the earth’s governments, dominated by evil regimes, can so readily gravitate to the dark side.
The meaning of the Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement depicts the triumph of good over evil, of Jesus Christ over Satan and his legions of demons. In Leviticus 16 God gave instructions to the people of Israel concerning a ceremony He told them to perform every year on this Holy Day. The high priest was to select two goats, which were to symbolically bear the nation’s sins. “One was killed as a sin offering; the other was sent off into the desert to bear away the sins of the people into an uninhabited place” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 588).
The first goat, which was slain (verse 15), prefigured the crucified Jesus Christ, killed to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
American King James Version×).
The second goat is called “the scapegoat” in some Bible translations (Leviticus 16:8 Leviticus 16:8And Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
American King James Version×, New King James Version) and Azazel in the original Hebrew. The Azazel goat represents Satan. Some scholars identify Azazel as the name of a demon inhabiting the wilderness (Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 326).
In the ceremony of Leviticus 16 Satan is symbolically made to bear responsibility for the sins of humanity (verse 22) because of the deception he foisted upon men. Revelation 20 describes the future fulfillment of the event depicted by this solemn ceremony. When Jesus Christ returns to earth, He will immediately expel Satan from his position of influence over the world. Christ will place the devil into a condition of restraint and will lift the devil’s cloak of deception (Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:1-3  And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
American King James Version×).
Jesus’ act of deliverance prepares the way for “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21 Acts 3:21Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
American King James Version×). God’s servants “since the world began” have preached this prophesied wonderful world of tomorrow (same verse). Christ will usher in a perfect world, a setting in which every innocent child will be protected from harm (Isaiah 11:8-9 Isaiah 11:8-9  And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×). God will eradicate from this world the appalling evil we see around us, and no devil will be there to tempt mankind. Jesus Christ will bring in a world in which acts of love and obedience toward God, on the part of everyone, will result in a society that will always reward good and a world that ever restrains evil. God will put an end to the brutalization of women and the slaughter of little children and men. The great events depicted by the Day of Atonement will at last make love and peace a reality.