While most things around us exist in their own right and substance, some prominent things do not. A hole, for example exists only as a subtraction from something else. After being dug from the ground, a hole can neither be transported on a truck nor disposed of on your neighbor's roof. It can only come into being when deducted from a structure not of its own nature, such as a stocking, or a slice of Swiss cheese. We call the resulting space, a hole. That is, nothingness!
Likewise the condition we call cold. Even though we feel it and have a name for it, as a physical entity or energy it does not exist, a very improbable thought as we tightly button up our jacket. But while heat can be measured in thermal units, cold has no force of itself. Its existence is derived solely through the removal of thermal energy. Absolute zero Celsius (minus 273.15 degrees) is simply the total absence of heat.
This is also true of darkness. Like cold, darkness has a minimum intensity, in this case zero lumens. Darkness is a word we use to describe the removal of light.
Such entities cannot be created in their own separate right. Beyond the reach of a heat and light source, this universe is naturally cold and dark, existing without the assistance of a creator. The sun and a tree are both created objects, but not so the shadow they cast. In this sense, holes, cold and darkness are but shadows.
Just as the sun is the light-constant of our physical realm, so righteousness is to the spiritual. Like that glowing orb that is life itself to our planet, God's righteousness is self-existent and endures forever (Psalm 111:3). Absolute goodness is a transcendent influence that both emanates from God and is God, a force entwined in the very fabric of the cosmos. Without it, even the physical world becomes degraded (Isaiah 51:5,6).
Evil, on the other hand, is not merely the opposite of goodness, it is the absence of goodness.1 Like that hole, it has no existence of its own. Evil is to divine holiness, as darkness is to light. They cannot exist in the presence of each other. To say that God created both good and evil, is self-contradictory.
The closest that Scripture comes to defining supreme holiness is through the metaphor of light: "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). That darkness equates to sin (vs. 6,7). The Hebrew words for darkness in the Old Testament are also used for wickedness, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and separation. Scripture's only direct description of sin is that given in 1 John 3:4: "Sin is lawlessness".
Malachi foresaw the coming to earth of the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2). His theme is taken up in the prophecy of Zechariah: "...the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness..." (Luke 1:78,79). The Apostle John describes the event vividly: In Christ "was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4,5) No amount of evil can claw back the overwhelming intensity of the light of God's righteousness. On the other hand "the way of the wicked is like deep darkness" (Proverbs 4:9). The farthest end of this good-evil spectrum, hell itself, is described in Jude 13 not as a burning cauldron, but as "blackest darkness."
The Atheist takes great glee in deriding believers on the matter of evil. "Do you Christians believe in a good God?" "Yes, we do." "Then why would your God create evil?" He didn't. That's one impossible thing for God to do. Something resulting solely from the absence of something else, is an entity that cannot be created.
But if it's true that cold and darkness have no energy in their own right, how is it that evil, the supposed absence of any force of its own making, is in fact, such a powerful influence in this world? How is it that sin can take such a withering grip on us that we are so helplessly drawn into its clutches? Does that not make evil a formidable power? Worse, if wickedness is an incremental distance from good on the same continuum, then surely the Creator is, after all, responsible for both?
So let's follow the trajectory of evil from its inception using our formula, in an attempt to resolve these contradictions. In so doing, we'll discover important insights into the nature of sin.
The brilliantly-shining Lucifer, holiness personified, lost his radiance when he detached himself from worship of God to worship of himself: "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth" (Ezekiel 28:17). Incarcerated on earth as Prince of this world, the Devil went about establishing his own kingdom. When causing Adam and Eve to step away from God, their aura of virtue also instantly vanished and they were left naked. At those two points in the pathway of evil no toxic substance entered the beings. The loss of light and holiness came simply from a gap between themselves and God.2
Sin is not a condition identifiable in DNA, except for its effects. Its evil traits are devastatingly etched into the human mind and passed down through the generations. Scripture defines sin as "wrongdoing" (1John 5:17), a moral failure engraved in the neuron pathways of the brain as faulty habits and trigger-ready yearnings: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts" (Matthew 15:19); "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:14). Sin is an inner response to an outer evil. If sin was a virus, then it was present before Lucifer fell. Further, there would be other means of its extermination than a death on a cross. Nor could justice allow that the Son of God become the scapegoat for what would have been an aberration in the Creation process.
The emptiness and chaos of separation from God would be despair enough, but the greatest curse of this planet was that darkness had accepted some powerful tenants. It was into this realm that the Devil and his angels chose to dwell when banished from heaven. Now evil became personified. Darkness assumed an intelligence. Like a roaring lion, the prince of this domain stalks up and down the earth seeking whom he might devour (I Peter 5:8). "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). The Devil took mankind captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).3
The problem of our human condition is not resolved theologically, but geographically. It has to do with our proximity to Christ. You want to be rid of evil impulses? Come closer to Christ. You are stumbling in darkness? Move closer to the light. Christ came to this world not to give us a transfusion, but to simply claim us back to where we always belonged. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
As a case study confirming this premise, I present Zacchaeus: Tax collector and cheat, confirmed by those around him as a member of the realm of darkness, he had climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Christ." Come down" Christ called, and Zacchaeus found himself standing before the Master. In that moment the most incredible thing happened. Without any call to conversion, Zacchaeus broke forth with the words, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Darkness had encountered the light. Evil became overwhelmed by the presence of good.
But the most powerful validation of this view is the light it casts on the three central events of our salvation - Christ's wilderness temptations, Gethsemane , and the Cross. The first was no accidental encounter. It was a pre-programmed engagement to which Christ was deliberately led by the Spirit. Why? Throughout His life, Christ suffered a major impediment in acting as our representative and substitute. Being so close to the father as he was, such holiness could not comprehend sin and its temptations. He was so separated from evil that he was completely unaffected by it "The prince of this world cometh to me and hath nothing in me," he declared. There was no hook in Christ upon which the devil could hang his hat - unlike ourselves. Through starvation, even the wilderness rocks appeared as bread. For the first time Christ experienced - but resisted the formidable force of propensity, the Devil's unyielding human shackle. And He did so on our behalf, conquering where Adam failed.
Gethsemane was the obverse side of Eden. Have you ever comprehended why Christ could cry out on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Have you ever wondered at the mechanism whereby sin could be absorbed into the very being of Christ in order to became our sin bearer? Then wonder no more.
Note the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us." God made him? While it was Adam who walked away from God in Eden, thus introducing sin to this world, in that other garden it was Christ who stayed put, but God Himself who walked. In so doing, as the mantle of divine holiness was withdrawn, Christ descended the path of darkness, now the terrain of the Devil. As distance was put between he and the Father, the noxious pall of sinfulness enveloped every nerve and fibre of his being. The evil that Christ absorbed at that moment - our human sin - was solely the creation of fallen Lucifer. The sinless Christ became sullied, that he might take our sins with him to the grave.
Calvary was the inevitable result of Gethsemane. "The wages of sin is death," even to God's Son - an eternal death due to our sins borne in his body. Should God have ordained sin - the only other explanation of its existence, then Calvary would have been a sham. Worse, God Himself would have been culpable in forcing His Son to pay the price of His own doing.
Calvary broke through the barrier of separation in a manner of immeasurable meaning: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now" says Paul in Colossians 1:21,22, God "has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." Atonement means "at-one-ment." Our sins became His and His righteousness, surrendered in Gethsemane, became ours. Paradise is restored "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened up for us through the curtain, that is, his body." (Hebrews 10:19,20).
But there's a remaining mystery, which Paul says had "been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord's people" (Colossians 1:26). Up until now, he infers, when a prophet had prophesied, he’d gone back home, scratched his head and said it’s all very well, but something’s missing. Things aren’t happening in people’s lives the way they should. Now Paul is saying that at last he's declaring that mystery revealed by God. And he does so in the next verse - information that could only make sense after Calvary: "The glorious riches of this mystery," he says, is "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
It's that simple: proximity, at-one-ment. A relationship so close as to be called "In Christ" and "Christ in you." A personal bond made possible when God's Son surrendered all to redeem us back to himself, forever to be identified with those he came to save.
God has set eternity in the heart of man, and heaven beckons as a siren call. To the yearning penitent be it known that all of the requirements of our salvation are found in Christ. Not by any determined clawing back to the light. Not by any self-empowered struggle from the brink. For in Christ we are already there.4 "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As Zacchaeus discovered and as the words of the song declare: One moment in His presence, and you'll never be the same.5
All Scripture quotes unless otherwise indicated are from the New International Version. All emphasis mine.
- A concept proposed in the 4th Century AD by Augustine of Hippo.
- Prior to Lucifer the test of loyalty to God for beings never intended to be robots, was not a choice between good and evil, but a choice between wholeness and a void - a fearful subtraction of one's being. Sin itself, so utterly anathema to the nature of God, up until that point was not yet in existence.
- The primordial darkness of this globe at Creation was inert. Should righteousness suddenly take leave of our realm, the resulting state would also be inert. Were that not the case, then sin would be a counterforce, and thus a part of Creation. On the other hand, evil requires the same condition as good - a driving force, an intelligence. All evil therefore can only have come from the hand of Lucifer.
- We triumph in Him (2 Cor.2.14); We are clothed with His righteousness in Him (Gal 3:27); Are sanctified in Him (1 Cor.1:2); given grace in Him (2 Tim 1:9); experience freedom (Gal 2.4); have the promise of life (2 Tim1:1); presented perfect (Col.1:28); live a godly life (2 Tim 13:12); have no condemnation (Rom 8:1); are seated in heavenly realms in Him (Ephesians 2:6).
- One Night with the King. Aretha Franklin
Kevin Ferris writes from Brisbane, Queensland Australia, where he is the worship chairman at the Springwood Adventist Church.
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