Since God created everything, does that include sin (Col. 1:16)?
Pride was Lucifer’s downfall (Ezek. 28: 15, Ezek. 28:17). How did iniquity exist without being created?
This is actually one of the questions that we frequently hear from skeptics, but it can perplex Christians as well. Christian lecturers who evangelize on university campuses often have posts on their websites and on YouTube dealing with this question. A word of caution: while many of the specific posts might be good and helpful, you have to be careful about some of the theological (doctrinal) positions they hold. The encouragement to Jeremiah is particularly important: “And if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman.” (Jer. 15:19, NASB). The best and most reliable lecturer that takes up topics such as this is John C. Lennox.1 He has the advantage of being doctrinally sound.
The first thing to notice about Colossians 1:16 is that it is talking about “things” that can be created. However, a “domain”, for example, is not a “thing” in a material sense. Nevertheless, it exists because of the relationship it represents between other things or beings. So, if all things come from God, how can evil (sin) not come from God? That is the problem. Skeptics will use this problem as an argument that either there is no God, or that God is necessarily either incompetent, disinterested, or even evil.
The last part of the question reminds me of Genesis 1:3. In that verse, God created light. Darkness is simply stated in contrast to the light. This suggests that as unrighteousness is that which is “not righteous” so evil can be viewed as simply the absence of the goodness which only comes from God.
There may be many questions regarding specifics of evil in this world, but by taking up Scripture as our authority, I believe we can satisfy ourselves as Christians that the claims of the skeptics have no ground.
First, we must distinguish between an unrighteous action and natural evil. There can be no unrighteousness in God. He cannot produce moral or spiritual evil such as lying, deceit, etc. We are specifically told, for example, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). However, we need to examine cases where such actions are allowed to be expressed by mankind. We also need to examine natural evil such as storms and earthquakes.
A look at natural evil
Let’s look at the problem of natural evil first. Scripture tells us that God Himself takes responsibility for natural evil (also translated as “calamity” or “disaster”). See Amos 3:6 and Isaiah 45:7. The verse in Isaiah is particularly remarkable because it uses the Hebrew verb bara which is used in Genesis 1:1 and conveys the meaning that God actually provides the evil. Why? God’s ultimate purpose is not to provide a pleasant environment to us here and now, but to glorify Christ by providing redemption through His work on the cross.
So, it is essential to realize that Eden was not God’s purpose for mankind. From before the beginning of Creation, the new creation was the goal. As the apostle tells us “it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46). Redemption is the only way that mankind could have a permanent relationship with God (Jn. 12:24; 1 Jn. 3:9). It could not have been said of Adam in the garden that he was a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), but that is the only way we could be securely morally compatible with God and that is only by redemption and new birth (Jn. 3:5).
How is redemption to be accomplished? How are men and women brought to Christ? One important way of reaching the conscience is through the realization that life is transitory and filled with danger. This realization can be used by the Holy Spirit to lead one to turn to the Savior. The old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes” is a recognition that when face-to-face with death men will often turn to put their hope in God. So, natural evil is used to impress upon mankind that life is temporary.
A look at unrighteous actions
Scripture also affirms that even the evil actions of man are used for accomplishing the divine purpose. Psalms 76:10 says, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.” The phrase “put on like a belt” is generally regarded as indicating restraint (Ps. 76:10 KJV). So God restrains any activity of mankind that does not further His divine purpose. Solomon tells us “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4). Although Romans 8:28 is applied specifically to believers for comfort and encouragement, I believe that it is a general principle that must apply to all creation since it derives from His sovereign nature.
Another perspective is that God has created beings that can act independently of Himself; that is, they have “free-will.”2 This argument is that God has created us to freely accept and love Him. As a consequence, He is not complicit in the evil that we do. But, some argue: is He not complicit because He could have prevented the evil? To restrain all evil, however, limits freedom and so makes the claim of “free will” empty and sets aside personal responsibility.3
Finally Romans 9:22–23 provides a provocative view from God’s side. There we read: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—” Note the comparison: “…God endured with much patience vessels of wrath…in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…”
God’s purpose is eternal blessing for mankind. To accomplish that He was willing to endure the fact that many would fit themselves for destruction. We can have no proper understanding whatsoever of what the heart of a loving God “endures” because some of His creatures have fitted themselves for destruction. That is what He suffered to bring many sons to glory. That is a consequence of creation that we do not often think of and can little appreciate. So, from one perspective God does “create” evil through allowing the willful, wayward actions of humans, but ultimately uses these lawless acts (sins) to bring Himself honor and glory.
1. In particular, I recommend the following titles by John Lennox Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Lion Hudson: Oxford, 2011), God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion Hudson: Oxford, 2009), and God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? (Lion Hudson: Oxford, 2011).
3. The most complete treatment of this argument from a philosophical point of view is given by the Christian analytical philosopher Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame). He has developed what is called the “Free-will Defense.” See Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Edrdman’s Publishing Co., 1974). This book might be interesting to those who want to wade through formal philosophical arguments.