Where does evil come from?

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The ultimate source of evil is the devil. The Bible tells us that the devil was once an angel of light, who fell because of pride. The devil tempts us, but we are free, and it is up to us whether we fall for the devil’s traps. The devil is very cunning, so we need to be vigilant and watchful. The Apostle Peter warns us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We must not be complacent, believing we are good and that we will never fall into the devil’s traps, we should not underestimate how clever the devil is, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The Church Fathers tell us that as well as the devil, evil can come for two other sources: from the world and from us.

The world was created by God and is good and beautiful. When the Bible and Church Fathers talk about the world as an enemy, they are referring to the worldly mindset. A worldly mindset is one that is superficial, that emphasizes what has only short term value and not what has eternal value, a focus on money, or looks, or material things, the opinions of other people, human glory and prestige. Worldly people can become very busy: with their work, social commitments, etc. Not that it is bad to work etc, but there is a problem when there is no time for our spiritual development.

The Bible is quite clear that the “world” can lead us astray. In Romans 12:2 we read, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” – the Apostle Paul is encouraging us not to conform, take the “form” of this world. The Apostle Paul’s advice is not to necessarily leave the world, but to not let the world entangle us: “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life” (2 Timothy 2:4). In James 1:27 we read, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world”. It is significant that St James, defining religion, emphasizes two things, doing works of love, and not allowing the world to stain us. Later, in James 4:4 we read, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

The other source of evil is us. Our passions drag us away from God, do not allow us to progress in prayer and in the spiritual life, and lead, sooner or later, to our misery. Because we give in to our passions we cannot see God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Our passions also result in us hurting other people, even those we love the most. The following is a list of some of the passions, it is not complete:

  • Gluttony (greediness in eating)
  • Lust (uncontrolled and unlawful sexual desire)
  • Avarice (greed for money)
  • Judging others, not forgiving them, bitterness, grudges
  • Hatred
  • Anger
  • Lying
  • Insensitivity (hard heartedness, forgetfulness)
  • Ακηδία – difficult to translate, probably best translated “listlessness”- so being lazy, the opposite of zeal and enthusiasm
  • Vainglory (caring about what others think of us)
  • Pride is described by St John of the Ladder as “the denial of God’s assistance, the extolling of one’s own exertions, demonic in character.” Those with pride just care about themselves, cannot benefit from constructive criticism, and tend to blame others, even if they are at fault.

† Fr D. K.


Source: October-November 2014 Lychnos Edition