In the same vein as Clark’s excellent post on creation ex nihilo yesterday, today I encountered another false aspect of this philosophy which could use our attention. It appears in sheep’s clothing at first sight, but potentially can be quite ravenous on the inside (Matt. 7:15).
I received an email that is has been circulating entitled “Did God Create Evil?” It is a purported interchange between an atheist professor and a believing student, falsely attributed as Einstein. I will paraphrase, as you can read the whole email at Snopes.com. As the story goes, the professor asks the class “Did God create everything that exists?” To which the class responds affirmatively. The professor continues, “If God created everything, then God created evil. And, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then we can assume God is evil.” And thus the professor believes he has proven that Christianity and a belief in God is a myth. One student stands and leads the professor through series of counter-arguments beginning with “Does cold exist?” “Of course,” responds the teacher. “Actually no, cold does not exist. It is just the absence of heat.” “Does darkness exist?” The professor says, “Yes!” “No, it doesn’t. It is just the absence of light.” The student concludes with likewise reasoning, “In the same way, evil does not exist, at least not unto itself. Evil is a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart.”
I disagree with this philosophy on several levels. While I agree that God did not create evil, I don’t agree with the philosophy the student uses to support his argument and the existence of God. No doubt this is the apologetic stance that many Christians use against the creation ex nihilo attack on Christianity and a belief in God. They may say, “oh evil is just an absence of God. God didn’t have to create evil, because it’s nothing, it’s not there.” But this line of reasoning also leads to its own pitfalls, quite literally (Isa. 14:15; 2 Nephi 28:22).
I don’t believe the absence of God is what makes evil. That is false doctrine. I believe that evil results from the gift of agency that God has given each of his creations that allows us to create evil, if we so choose. When man uses his agency in opposition to God’s commands and goes against God’s light and truth, that is when evil is made. Evil is opposition to God, if it is none other than knowing God’s will, and not doing it. Evil is made by us, not by God. But it is a very real thing, something this story somewhat denies.
The argument of evil in a belief system of creation ex nihilo without a knowledge of the gift of agency or the other restored truths of the gospel will always stump the Christian world at large because they don’t know how to respond to it. If God created everything, then he must have also created Satan, and his devils. Satan is a real thing. He exists. He is not nonexistence of something, like dark is an absence of light, or cold is an absence of heat. Satan is real. The scriptures plainly attest his actuality. He is an actual being. He must be accounted for. He cannot be explained with the same reasoning as the story. So God must have created Satan. How could he do such a thing! Why would God create the very thing that would oppose everything godly, and even send the Savior, his very beloved and Only Begotten Son, to die a gruesome death at the hands of this wicked being? It is a paradox that the Christian world does not know how to deal with in truth.
Fortunately, we have had the principles of the gospel restored to us and we know that creation ex nihilo is utterly wrong. God did not create Satan or evil. Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother organized Lucifer, and bore him as their son, the same way men and women organize children in the womb in mortality from the basic elements. Lucifer was the son of the morning, a very choice son of God, who then used his agency to rebel against God and do evil things (Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:26-27). Lucifer must have been a very high-ranking official, perhaps even the second son after Christ, to draw away so many, even a third of God’s children, after his own evil campaign (Rev. 12:4). Lucifer became Satan of his own free will, the word satan coming from the transliterated Hebrew word ha-satan for adversary or opponent. He was in opposition to God, and that is what made him and his works evil. Those third part of God’s spirits also exercised their agency in opposition to God, and are evil.
What Satan does is very real. It is evil. What Satan does is not an absence of God, it is an absence of obedience to God. The war against Satan and his emissaries is very actual and literal. One of the teachings we learn from the temple is that Satan, in a very real way, takes the riches of the earth (i.e. mammon/money/business), and builds up military power (both on land and on sea), false prophets who lead men astray, and tyrannical politicians with which the overall effect is utter bloodshed and horror that we witness on the earth today. That is Satan’s gameplan, and he is using it very effectively, as we can see.
Saying that evil doesn’t exist is almost the same as saying there is no such thing as Satan and the evil he produces, which is false. The prophet Nephi teaches us to beware of such made-made opposition, and thus evil philosophies:
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:22)
Alma also teaches us:
For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil. (Alma 5:40)
I would add that following the devil’s example in opposing God also fits this scripture, and produces evil.
Agency is one of the greatest gifts of God, but it is also one of the reasons that evil exists in the world. Some of God’s children choose to obey God, others choose to oppose Him. There is opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). Evil is very real. There have been many who have died on this earth in “God’s absence,” having no knowledge whatsoever of God in the world, who will yet be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God through the vicarious work of the temple. They did no evil on earth solely by being without God, or a knowledge of Him. If they oppose the light of Christ which has been given to each and every person who has been born on this earth, which tells men and women to do good, then they are in opposition to God and are doing evil.
Evil takes action by someone. It is not an absence of something, unless that thing is obedience to God.