Something Has Gone Wrong! – Sin

September 21st, 2010 / 11 Comments

This third chapter of the book I’m co-writing was harder to construct. Talking about the sources of evil isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It was especially hard knowing how best to talk about Satan and demons.

My coauthor, Bob Luhn, and I wrote several drafts of the Satan and demons section.

In many cultures, the demonic plays an important role in how people make sense of their experience. We plan to distribute copies of our completed book around the world, especially to those in Africa. So addressing the demonic is important.

In most communities in the U.S. and Europe, however, the idea of individual beings called “demons” and a ruler of demons called “Satan” is not so prevalent. In these settings, people are quite aware of the powers and consequences of evil, of course. They just don’t usually think the source of such evil are evil invisible beings.

There are many theories why “first world” and “third world” cultures are different in this way, some theories more plausible than others. You’ll see in this chapter that we don’t attempt to offer reasons for this difference.

The New Testament speaks of demons, Satan, and the demonic fairly often. Jesus seemed to think such beings existed. The Old Testament, however, rarely refers to such beings. Those instances we commonly believe are referring to Satan (e.g., the serpent in the garden or the story of Job) don’t actually name him. Some scholars don’t think Israel had a developed theory of Satan until they were taken into captivity and were influenced by other religious traditions.

It’s all pretty complicated. A number of approaches to the subject seem legitimate. In the end, we tried to be true to what we thought was both biblically justified and helpful today. Let us know how you think we did.

You’ll see we also talk a bit about what is often called “natural evil.” While we don’t offer a full-blown solution to the problem of evil, readers may get an idea what we might and might not think are good answers to the vexing issue of why our loving and almighty God doesn’t prevent genuine evils. Someday I hope to write a whole book on this subject aimed at a wide audience.

As usual, we’d like to hear your feedback. When offering your thoughts, remember that we’re writing for a broad audience. And we want to write a fairly small book…

Something Has Gone Wrong

God always and extravagantly loves you, us, and all creation. God created all things long ago and continues to create today. So…

Why are there so many problems?

Why does pain, suffering, death, and evil occur? Why do we get sick, become confused, or hurt ourselves and others? Why are we victims of hurricanes, drought, tornados, floods, volcanic eruptions, and unexpected extreme temperatures?

And why do we do bad things? Why do we lie, cheat, and steal? Why do we murder, steal, rape, and torture? Why do we hate, gossip, and become addicted?

If a good God created a good world with good creatures, why are things sometimes bad?

The First Answer

Humans have wondered why life has problems since the beginning. The Bible provides several answers.

The first answer comes near the start of the Bible. The book of Genesis says God created a good world, and it offers a story to answer why we have so many problems. The story is about two humans named Adam and Eve.

God created Adam and Eve and asked them to care for the earth, plants, and animals. But God warned Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from one of the trees. Eating fruit from this tree, said God, results in death.

One day, a serpent talked with Eve about the forbidden fruit. The serpent said, “You will not die if you eat this fruit. In fact,” said the serpent, “eating this fruit will make you like God.”

Eve believed this lie and ate the fruit. She gave some fruit to Adam, and he ate it.

Almost as soon as they had eaten, Adam and Eve felt regret. They were ashamed of their disobedience, and they tried to hide. They were afraid God would be angry.

God asked Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?”

Adam did not want to take the blame for disobeying. “It is not really my fault,” he said. “You gave me a partner, Eve. She gave me fruit from the tree.”

Eve quickly defended herself, “The serpent lied to me, and I ate.” She also did not want to be blamed for disobeying.

Hearing this, God was sad.

God knew negative consequences come from disobedience. Spiritual death comes to those who choose to do other than love as God asks. God said, “Because you have done this, I know you will be under a curse” (Genesis 2).

Throughout history to the present, those who disobey God experience the curse disobedience brings. Disobedience causes harm of many sorts. Disobedience is the main reason we have problems today.

At its heart, this story says creatures – not their Creator – are the source of life’s problems. We should not blame God for bad things or for problems we face.

Much later in the Bible, James says God is not the source of evil. In fact, God is not even the source of temptation. The true sources of our temptation, says James, are our natural desires. Problems arise when we follow our natural desires in improper ways. When we act improperly, we fail to do what God wants.

Our Biggest Problems Come from Failing to Love

God calls us all to live lives of love. When we choose to live otherwise, we and others suffer.

Paul uses an agricultural analogy to talk about the consequences of our choices. “You reap whatever you sow,” he says. If you plant your life in fulfilling natural desires improperly, you will reap spiritual death. But if you plant your life in fulfilling your desires as God desires, you will reap abundant life.

Paul concludes his analogy by counseling his readers:  “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time. So do not give up.” Whenever we have an opportunity, he says, “let us work for the good of all…” (Galatians 6:7-10).

Jesus told a story about the negative consequences that come to those who do bad. He said obedient and disobedient people could be divided in two groups, like a shepherd divides sheep from the goats.

In Jesus’ story, the sheep are blessed. They live a good life, because they help others. They feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. Those who act in these ways demonstrate God’s loving reign in their lives.

The goats, however, live cursed lives. They disobey and do not do good. They do not help the members of God’s family or creation. They do not demonstrate God’s loving reign.

Jesus concludes by saying the sheep enjoy eternal life. But the goats endure punishment (Matt. 25:31-46).

Our biggest problems in life come from failing to love as God asks us to love. When we do what God asks, we gain the joy that comes from an excellent life. If we do not love, everyone suffers.

We all have disobeyed. Adam and Eve are not the only people who disobey God. We have all acted like goats sometimes. We all have sown our seeds – our lives – improperly.

“Sin” is the word that best describes disobeying God. The Bible talks a lot about sin, because the Bible examines the problems we find in life.

In his letter to Jesus’ later followers, Paul says, “everyone has sinned and falls short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). To sin is to fail to do the loving best God asks. To put it plainly: to sin is to fail to love as God wants us to love. This is disobedience.

The consequences of sin are destructive. Sin always leads to spiritual death and sometimes to physical death (Romans 6:23). Sin makes our lives and the world worse than it would have been had we responded rightly to God’s call to love. Sin destroys.

The most profound sadness and harm we experience often come from our own sin. Our spiritual death is our own doing.

Good People Sometimes Have Problems

Not all our problems come from our own disobedience, however. One story in the Bible addresses this issue directly. It is the story of a man named Job.

The story begins with a strange conversation between God and the evil one. God says, “Have you noticed Job, my good and faithful servant?  He always obeys and loves.  He is a good man and example of virtue.”

The evil one replied, “Job only obeys you, because he knows avoiding sin leads to an excellent live.  But if Job were to experience pain and suffering, he would curse you.”

God answered, “I doubt you are right about Job.”

In an attempt to prove his point, the evil one inflicted misery, pain, and suffering on Job. Job’s crops failed, his animals died, and his children were even killed. His life was miserable.

Job was not living a happy life!

Despite these problems, Job remained faithful to God. He continued to obey God’s leading. He lived like a loving son committed to a loving Father.

Job’s friends thought only those who sin undergo pain and suffering. They believed Job must be disobeying God to be experiencing such misfortune. Even Job’s wife suggested he curse God and kill himself to end his suffering.

Job did not follow his wife and friend’s advice. He remained faithful to God and avoided sin. He continued to live a life of obedient love.

This story has a happy end. The evil one did not prevail. Job endured the problems, and God restored his life. Job eventually resumed his happy life.

The moral of this story is that good people sometimes suffer because of what others do. Our own bad decisions are not always the source of our pain. Problems can come to those who do right.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, a jealous king named Herod tried to eliminate the infant Jesus. Herod feared Jesus would grow up to rival his throne.  So Herod gave orders to kill all the little boys in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

None of those little boys deserved death.  Their families were not reaping the consequences of their bad choices. And yet these people suffered greatly because of someone else’s evil.

What we do – good or bad – influences others. We are interrelated. This means that we sometimes suffer because of someone else’s bad choices. Our pain is not our own doing.

We Have Spiritual Enemies

The Bible also tells us we have an enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Biblical writers call this enemy a variety of names: tempter, accuser, liar, Satan, evil one, and the Devil who has been sinning from the beginning.  The Bible also talks about “fallen angels” who carry out evil schemes.

Satan tempted Jesus to disobey God. We are also tempted in this way. The Bible says Satan, not God, is sometimes the source of the temptations we feel.

Biblical writers attribute many evils to Satan. For instance, Luke reports that Satan crippled a woman for eighteen years (Luke 13:16). But Jesus healed that woman. Jesus encountered other people whom Satan influenced so much they were “possessed” or owned by evil (Matthew 7:6; 9:32).

The followers of Jesus battled the demonic realm. Paul experienced torment, and he called it a messenger of Satan (II Cor. 12:7). When he tried to return to visit one church, he said Satan stopped him (I Thess. 2:8).

Jesus and his followers faithfully followed God. But they faced temptation and torment from evil ones. Sometimes, the Bible says Satan even thwarts the plans of those who mean to do good.

We have real enemies who tempt us to disobey God. They try to persuade us not to live a life of love. According to the Bible, these evil ones are sometimes the source of pain, sickness, and suffering.

Sometimes Nature is the Problem

Sometimes our problems come from nonhuman sources, like extreme weather, disease, and volcanic eruptions. Natural evil occurs on our planet.

The writers of Genesis describe the negative effects Adam and Eve’s sin had upon creation itself. Their sin even affected the soil God had created. Although still capable of producing fruit, the soil became cursed and produced weeds that choked some good plants.

Sometimes our pain and suffering come from no choice at all. Evil simply comes from accidental events or random mutations.

Jesus acknowledges that some of problems come from random malfunctions in the created order. He and his followers once met a man blind from birth.  His followers assumed someone’s bad choice was to blame. They asked Jesus, “Whose sin caused this blindness? Was it the man’s or his parents?”

Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (John 9:1-3). Jesus was saying sometimes bad things just happen. Things don’t always function correctly.

Jesus mentions other such accidents – what might be called “natural evils” – that are not anyone’s fault (see, for instance, Luke 13:4). Sometimes bad things happen without warning. Droughts and famine occur periodically.  Diseases mutate and spread across the world killing thousands, even millions.  Innocent babies get sick and die.

Paul describes the problem by saying the good creation has been “subjected to frustration.” He says that creation itself longs for the day when it “will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20-21).

God Works to Squeeze Something Good from Bad

Why would a good creation created by a good God cause these natural problems?

Part of the answer is that sometimes good comes from pain and suffering.  Sometimes we need harsh weather to kill viruses, for instance.  Sometimes volcanic eruptions are needed to replenish the soil with nutrients.

God inspired the writers of the Bible to remind us that good can come from suffering.

Paul says this in his letter to the Romans: “We know that suffering produces patience, and patience produces character, and character gives us hope. And our hope will not disappoint us, because it is based on the love God has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

The natural obstacles we face can sometimes help us mature.

But we should not think that all pain and suffering was meant to make us or our world better. Some evil is pointless. Some evil comes from our sinful disobedience.

We do not need to think that all natural disasters are ultimately good. A loving God is not the source of all problems hurricanes, drought, disease, and eruptions cause. God does not need sin so goodness can increase.

Unfortunately, some people say God causes all these problems. They think God sends or allows evil to test us. Sometimes people say God sends our problems for some greater good. We don’t need to agree with this.

Instead of saying God causes or allows problems, we believe God squeezes some good out of problems God did not want in the first place. God redeems.

God works to bring good from the problems we and others cause. But this doesn’t mean God planned these problems from the beginning or caused them in the present. God does good, not evil.

Paul talks about this when he says, “God works for good in the midst of everything that happens. God invites those who love him to join the work to bring about good. This is part of God’s purpose for our lives” (Romans 6:28).

No matter how bad things get, God is with us. God feels our pain and suffering. God works for good in the midst of bad. And God calls us to join in this rescuing work.

When We Are the Problem

To this point, we have seen that sometimes the source of our problems is our sin and the sins of others. Sometimes evil ones cause problems. Sometimes we experience pain and suffering because of destructive natural events in our world.

We’ve also emphasized that God is love. God is not the source of our problems. Our loving God wants to help in the midst of pain and suffering.

These answers are important. But we need to add yet another dimension to the question of why we have problems. Perhaps we might best introduce this dimension by asking you a few questions:

Have you ever done something that hurt another person? Have you said something unkind? Have you failed to love?

If you’re honest, we’re sure you answered “yes” to at least one of the questions.  And we wonder if you find yourself asking, “Why do I act like that? Why is it hard to love people on a consistent basis?  Why can’t I just be good all the time?”

Behind our words, actions, and attitudes lies something deeper.  The Bible describes this with several phrases. Sometimes it is called a “sinful nature.” Other times it is called “the flesh” or “sin living in me.”

We are not just people who sin occasionally or fail to love from time to time. We have actually become sinners. Sin has so controlled our lives that it has become our identity: sinful is who we are. Sin has become habitual.

On one hand, we are made in God’s image and God deems us good. On the other hand, we all have sinned, and disobeying God has become a habit. Sin so dominates that we became bad people despite being created to do good.

Paul describes this dimension:

“I feel controlled by my sinful habits. Maybe this is the best way to put it: I’m a slave to sin! The things I don’t want to do, I end up doing. The good I want to do, I don’t do. I hate it!”

“The powerful habits of sin rule me. I don’t feel like I’m myself! I really do want to live the life of love. But I feel a hostage to the habits of improper pleasure and selfishness. In my mind, I know God’s law of love is right. But the habits of sin hold me captive.”

“I’m dying here! Who can help me out of this mess?” (Romans 7:13-25)

We’ve got problems. We’ve all got problems. Sometimes those problems are not our own doing.

But the problems that suck the life from us almost always originate from ourselves. Sometimes we are the problem.

Who can help us out of this mess?


Add comment


Kirsten Mebust

Nice work, Thomas.  I’m going to make my God, Suffering, and Evil Students read it.


I always find it tricky this stuff because before you know it we have knitted something together that does not nessesarily should be interwoven.
your quote: “This story has a happy end. The evil one did not prevail. Job endured the problems, and God restored his life. Job eventually resumed his happy life.”

I’m not sure if i get along with naming “the adversary” satan. It seems a different character to me. He is, as it were, a celestial “prosecutor”. In the celestial (Godly) service as one might say.
It’s also likely to rush past the origin of this story and the way it is written. To me this story is more to convey me of the hardship of job and his faith. Then that it has a “clear” theological basis or view of it. The whole idea of God and the adversary talking over the human subject support that theory. Nor is this “personal being” directly conneccted to what I read in the NT. Now i don’t know in how much you’ve considered this, and I know it’s hard to put it in so few words, but that might need a bit of refrasing/rethinking. in my personal oppinion off course wink

It is after the exile of the people of Isreal that we see these spiritual evils come into the picture. Suggesting that they had taken something along from another culture. Just like many other names and titles that seem to point at something evil in those days.
Even so, we are personally tempted internal and external, with many desires and fears, no argument there. It is indeed hard to figure out how to read these things…

Brian Fitch


That is an excellent article, well done. You covered all the bases very well in my opinion. That article should appeal to a wide audience.

Paul DeBaufer

I don’t have a problem with calling the satan, the satan in the Job narrative. However like Martijn I do think that this character in Job is an altogether different character from what modern Christians and non-Christians as well think of when they think of satan, they think Satan. It seems that in Job and most if not all of the Old Testament satan was Heaven’s persecuting attorney (no not a typo I meant persecuting, there by paying homage to Brave New World), or a Gestapo agent—someone searching out injustice, unrighteousness who has become jaded to the point he can see no good in anyone, to him all are unrighteous and God is being duped. But we do not get the sense that this character in Job could be equated with the serpent (if one is inclined to think of snake as Satan). Sure the satan calls for disaster to befall Job, but he does get God’s permission, who may even give him the power to destroy things in Job’s life and then to afflict Job. This is not the devil of the new testament or the dragon cast out of Heaven.

Aside from that minor point which I belabor I think that this is an excellent chapter. I like the idea that God is NOT responsible for evil in the world. As written this chapter allows for Essential Kenosis without confusing the intended audience.

Terry Clees

Dr. Oord, I think this is very well done and works for those who do and do not take a literal approach to Genesis, Job, etc..

Jeffrey Nicol

Every so often I have a problem with the whole Satan thing. I mean, I believe he is real, is our enemy, and the cause of sin at times. But, it seems so simple to just blame it on Satan. “The devil made me do it” mindset has creeped into a lot of Christian circles and it makes it easy to not be accountable for our actions. Christians frequently give Satan way more power than he actually has. It is too often an easy out rather than just admitting that we simply are not capable of living up to God’s standards sometimes.

Daryl Johnson

A key point about the Satan of Job is the conversation he has with God & that he appears “from roaming through out the earth and going back and forth through it” indicating that he has freedom of movement.  This would seem to sync with the NT image of the devil in I Peter who goes about looking for someone to munch down on.
One might argue that God indirectly causes evil by virtue of the fact that he allows all things and sometimes directly causes evil for his own purposes(see Exodus 3. I have seen – meaning I have visited upon them- the affliction of my people.)


Okay, so God causes Evil Daryl? That sounds like a god I don’t want to know.

The whole problem is with interpretation, as always. The question in general is: how do we do your exegesis? What are we led by? Do we dare to think outside the safe box? Lets suggest that the conversation between God in the book of Job is on a more metaforical story. I still wonder about the person who wrote it (It would make a very interesting and good opera piece btw).

Secondary, in the OT we hardly see any Satan involved. Only in the NT and that is even a smaller book. That alone suggests already a lot about the influence of other religions the Isrealites had in their time of exile and their return.

Time’s up, gotta go.

For in case I was a bit to sceptical in my 1st post, Tom thx for posting your thoughts! They are encouraging.


1) a. I don’t think we can infer from the Genesis account that natural evil resulted from the fall. b. This seem impossible given what we know from science.

2) Do you think that God causes (or allows) some (apparent) evil for a greater purpose?  Seem like that was what Christ said with respect to the man born blind.

Nice piece.


Regarding natural evil; if a primary attribute of God is extravagant love (goodness etc), and he has voluntarily limited himself, than natural evil would the consequence of this self-limiting behaviour, just as shadow and darkness are a natural consequence limiting light (would it not be?)

Justin Walker

The problem of pain has caused me the most heartache and questions to God and His love.  I thought that you did an outstanding job explaining this problem Biblically and from every origin of pain and sin.  Truly I will look back to this blog to continue to meditate on the meaning of these truths.

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