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Evil and Suffering - Mark Fletcher - 22-03-2007

Is it not entirely right to hold God ultimately responsible for the evil and suffering that exists in the world?

What is the Orthodox position regarding God's responsibility for evil and suffering?

How does Orthodoxy explain the presence of evil in "the human heart"?

Evil - John Charmley - 23-03-2007

Dear Mark,

A bigger question than there is time for me to get to grips with this evening, but I hope to return to it - preferably when someone more knowledgeable in these things has had their say.

The evil that happens which we cause is our fault, not God's. The accidents that happen, hurricanes, tsunamis and the like, these are not evil, but accidents; why they hurt people is not ours to know, but to rail against God, who sent His Son that we might all have eternal life, is to miss the point of the Incarnation.

This life is not all we have, and in the next world we shall see clearly, and then we shall know - and perhaps be ashamed at out lack of faith.

In Christ,


Origin of evil - John Francis - 15-02-2008

What is and where is the nature and origin of evil?
If God is all good and created all from nothing -then where did evil originate.It cannot occur from nothing and cannot be created by/from goodness.

Man could not choose to be evil/sin as you cannot choose to do a thing that you do not know to exist and therefore know that it is wrong

Once evil exists and you are aware of right/wrong then one can choose a course of action-free-will.

The biblical serpent had to come into existence-from god-therefore could not be the source of evil.
The "tree of knowledge" again had to have an origin-but could again not be the source of wrong-evil cannot come into existence from goodness. If it did then the "go(o)dness " was not pure
It is a question to which I never have found a satisfactory answer.
Has anyone found a satisfactory logical answer to this problem?

In Gods' love John Francis

Re: Origin of evil - John Charmley - 16-02-2008

John Francis Wrote:What is and where is the nature and origin of evil?
If God is all good and created all from nothing -then where did evil originate.It cannot occur from nothing and cannot be created by/from goodness.

Man could not choose to be evil/sin as you cannot choose to do a thing that you do not know to exist and therefore know that it is wrong

Once evil exists and you are aware of right/wrong then one can choose a course of action-free-will.

The biblical serpent had to come into existence-from god-therefore could not be the source of evil.
The "tree of knowledge" again had to have an origin-but could again not be the source of wrong-evil cannot come into existence from goodness. If it did then the "go(o)dness " was not pure
It is a question to which I never have found a satisfactory answer.
Has anyone found a satisfactory logical answer to this problem?

In Gods' love John Francis

Dear John Francis,

A profound question.

In my limited understanding of this the origin of evil is Satan. But even that does not get beyond your question, since he must have been created by God; it might, however, get us to the origin of 'evil' - and that is pride in our own abilities and intellect.

God makes us in His image. But that is not enough for us. Our pride bids us to be not just like Him, but to be 'gods' ourselves. Not content with the revealed Truth, we seek to know that which cannot and should not be known by us. In that attempt we place our desires and wishes before His, and we seek to make gods of ourselves. That is where evil enters in, as, with the omniscience of self-made gods we act in ways we determine to be good. This was the sin of our first parents, and it is our sin. God's handiwork is good, but He gives us free will - and we, in our pride, turn even His good works to evil ends.

I am sure there are many here with a more patristic and sounder-based theology, but that has been my understanding: pride is the source of evil.

In Christ,


- John Francis - 16-02-2008

Dear John
Thank you for your reply.
As you say sin came from Satan-but he must have been created by God and therefore cannot be the answer-unless there were two gods-a good and an evil-which is I believe an old heresy.
Pride is a sin and therefore must have an origin-where?
Likewise one has to be aware of something before it can have existence in your knowledge.
"something may exist but unless I have personal knowledge of it or a reliable source that tells me that it exists e.g.Japan-I have never been there but there is no doubt of its reality"
then it is not in my knowledge or experience.
All sins must initially had an origin-but from where-they could not have arisen spontaneously -this also applies to pride-it must exist in me before I can use my free-will to be vain.
Satan was created by God-again how can evil come from good.
It appears to be a conundrum .

In Gods'love John Francis

- John Charmley - 17-02-2008

Dear John Francis,

Turning to the Fathers for guidance we find this from St. Clement of Alexandria in his Stromatae
Quote:So in no respect is God the author of evil. But since free choice and inclination originate sins, and a mistaken judgment sometimes prevails, from which, since it is ignorance and stupidity, we do not take pains to recede, punishments are rightly inflicted.
Later on he writes:
Quote:The blame lies in the exercise of free choice. But God is blameless. For He is never the author of evil.

Satan is not by origin evil, but he is the pattern of our own disobedience. God gave him, as He gives us, free will. Satan chose freely to set his will above that of God. Pride has its origin in our choosing to do that which God does not wish us to do; in that sense sin does arise spontaneously, for St. Clement points out that the 'Gnostic', he who has received the word of God knows what is evil and what is not; that is why our sinfulness is greater than that of the heathen.

It was Marcion, one of the ancient heretics, who held that there was a good and an evil principal involved in creation.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the second of his
Catechetical Lectures writes similarly:
Quote:The planting was good, the fruit coming from the will is evil; and therefore the planter is blameless, but the vine shall be burnt with fire since it was planted for good, and bore fruit unto evil of its own will. For God, according to the Preacher, made man upright, and they have themselves sought out many inventions. For we are His workmanship, says the Apostle, created unto good works, which God afore prepared, that we should walk in them. So then the Creator, being good, created for good works; but the creature turned of its own free will to wickedness. Sin then is, as we have said, a fearful evil, but not incurable; fearful for him who clings to it, but easy of cure for him who by repentance puts it from him
Later the blessed Saint writes:
Quote:4. The devil then is the first author of sin, and the father of the wicked: and this is the Lord?s saying, not mine, that the devil sinneth from the beginning: none sinned before him. But he sinned, not as having received necessarily from nature the propensity to sin, since then the cause of sin is traced back again to Him that made him so; but having been created good, he has of his own free will become a devil, and received that name from his action. For being an Archangel he was afterwards called a devil from his slandering: from being a good servant of God he has become rightly named Satan; for ?Satan? is interpreted the adversary.
But, as he reminds us:
Quote:6. God is loving to man, and loving in no small measure. For say not, I have committed fornication and adultery: I have done dreadful things, and not once only, but often: will He forgive? Will He grant pardon? Hear what the Psalmist says: How great is the multitude of Thy goodness, O Lord! Thine accumulated offenses surpass not the multitude of God?s mercies: thy wounds surpass not the great Physician?s skill. Only give thyself upon faith: tell the Physician thine ailment: say thou also, like David: I said, I will confess me my sin unto the Lord: and the same shall be done in thy case, which he says forthwith: And thou forgavest the wickedness of my heart.

So how fortunate we are that He has come and has saved us, if we receive Him.

God created us with free will, and we, with the help of Satan, repeat the pattern Stan himself established - abusing the free will through pride, envy and lust. God created nothing that was not good; but there is nothing that is good that cannot be turned to its opposite if we do not walk in His way; fortunately for us, He can turn us from darkness to light; but we have to, of that same free will, make ourselves obedient to His will.

Obedience to that will is the only way to repent of the disobedience which is the first cause of evil.

I'm not sure that this will take you much further, but I hope that the patristic sources will help. I find St. Cyril of Jerusalem particularly good on this.

In Christ,


- admin - 17-02-2008

I have found it challenging to read St Cyril and St Severus on the nature of our moral corruption, and the origin of sin.

St Severus says that sin has no objective reality, it is not a 'thing' that has come into existence, or has been created by God, not least because God is not the author of evil. Rather sin is rooted in the wrong exercise of our own free will.

St Cyril and St Severus show that when Adam chose his own pleasure over the will of God he lost the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit which had been breathed into him as life and light. He did not become less human, but he lost his life and entered into a living death.

This has been illuminating for me because I had often read St Seraphim of Sarov about acquiring the Holy Spirit, but I had not realised that this is indeed the whole Christian life, because the Holy Spirit is our own life, and to be born again is to have that life breathed into us anew.

Indeed St Cyril and St Severus show that this is why the Word became Flesh. So that man might take up the cross of obedience which once he had abandoned, and might receive the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit which our father Adam had lost.

Evil then, is as far as I have understood, life lived without the Holy Spirit and in a descending spiral of self-centred choices which turn us from the will of God, and therefore preclude the Holy Spirit renewing us and giving us life. It is not a thing, or even a natural contagion, but a moral corruption and habit, and therefore we are responsible for our own sin, even while we are born into a condition of life without the Holy Spirit which is due to another's sin.

As you have quoted John, from St Clement, the blame is in the exercise of our free will.

I have wondered in the past why so many of the readings in Our Daily Life should make humility the chief of virtues and the foundation of the spiritual life. But I see now that just as pride led Satan to exalt his own will over that of God, and just as the pride of life led Adam to choose to eat because it seemed good to him, so humility puts us in the place to do God's will, without ifs, without ands, without buts.

I can't speak for Satan, but I know that all my own sins are rooted in my own wrong choices, moment by moment. But thank God that as baptised Christians we have received the grace of the Holy Spirit and we can make the right choices.

This seems to me to be the best experiential proof that God is not the author of evil, because in us, if we will co-operate, He is at work to eliminate evil.


- Simon - 17-02-2008

As you say sin came from Satan-but he must have been created by God and therefore cannot be the answer-unless there were two gods-a good and an evil-which is I believe an old heresy.
Pride is a sin and therefore must have an origin-where?

I find this from C S Lewis worthwhile:

What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it. The two powers, or spirits, or gods-the good one and the bad one-are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of then the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other-like preferring beer to cider-or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment,, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now it we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If "being good" meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.
But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third
thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.
The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons- either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it-money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because
kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong-only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order
to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either
with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power's world: he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.
Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have
intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in
themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.
But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe-a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong.
Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does
not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil
war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied
by the rebel.

And again:

Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the
present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems. Is
this state of affairs in accordance with God's will or not? If it is, He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen
contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?
But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, "I'm not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You've got to learn to keep it tidy on your own." Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.
It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had
free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evi possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk...

Free will is an essnetial aspect of Orthodox Christian understanding of salvation

- John Francis - 19-02-2008

Dear John and Simon
Thank you both for your replies which I found most helpful.
The fathers of the church were speaking with a deep faith not doubting that there was a God and trying to explain the nature of evil in the world -Their explanation being the abuse of free will-Our human pride over Gods' will. -history has verified this truth-the wars and human suffering being testimony to this

C.S. Lewis quotation I believe is from his book "Mere Christianity"is excellent.
He did not become a Christian until he was an adult and therefore had an analytical approach in verifying his faith The idea of duality and that both good and evil need to be recognized or the other has no meaning in itself

Because good recognizes evil then there must be another predetermining factor -namely God.

The abuse of free-will ,that is against Gods' design is the cause of evil.
It is certainly true that when I have consciously chosen a wrong action-it is because of"pride,envy or lust".Regret comes later-and the desire for forgiveness.

In Gods' Love John Francis

- marc hanna - 09-04-2009

I will reply to this as best I can, to the best of my knowledge.

Evil is all that is apart from God. Like Severus relates, evil in uncreated nothingness - it is not a thing, it is nothing. Now this is hard to comprehend especially because we refer to it as a noun as if it had substance, but as "love" is a noun that cannot be quantified, we must do so also with evil as the opposite of love. It is also hard to comprehend because we think of it as spacial, where one can be eternally damned, and this is where we are limited because it is ultimately beyond our capability to understand.

Evil is the darkness in which we have all been born, and Christ is the light that shines in the darkness. Just as darkness is the absence of light and has no substance, evil is the absence of good and it too has no substance. When light shines in darkness the darkness has no power to overcome it because light alone has substance. We are born in darkness and God calls us to his goodness (the light) but he does not force us. Just as we cannot see in the dark, we also cannot see in this world and we continually fall into sin, but Christ is the light shining in darkness and those who choose to follow him are given sight in the darkness from the light that shines from him, and we are then able to see our follies. We do not see this light entirely and are incapable of approaching it on our own accord, but we must be called because the darkness cannot comprehend the light.

Evil has no power over us unless we submit to it. If we then adhere to Christ then He will shine His light for us which destroys the darkness. At the final judgement, those who are cast away into the lake of fire will remain in darkness forever, for God will no longer visit the darkness to claim back His creation. When visited the darkness He formed for Himself human flesh consubstantial to our own, trapped in darkness, and returned to Heaven with that flesh, securing once and for all that flesh can be saved from darkness. So then, when we adhere to Christ at our judgement we are made God (theopoiesis) and sons by adoption and are able to leave the darkness forever because of the special quality that is transmitted to us through marriage to the Son - Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride. This union may be likened unto the union of a magnet and a piece of steel, whereas Christ is the magnet and the steel are believers, when the steel unites with the magnet it becomes itself a like magnet but derives all its magnetic properties from the magnet and when separated loses all those qualities.

Glory be to God for ever.