“Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other does not, except when we give it existence through our actions.” – St. Diadochus of Photiki
Evil doesn’t exist, or rather it only exists at the moment it is practiced (4). It is our human will which gives evil existence, evil is an attraction of our will towards nothing, a negation of existence, spiritual death so to speak. It is an inversion of our will from negating sin to grow towards God into negating ourselves from God. For God is so absolute and perfect that to choose anything but Him necessitates the destruction of ourselves, because He is the very essence of life itself. Evil is much like darkness which has no properties that can be measured or even created. Darkness cannot be added to a place, only light is removed from it. You could say it is the ‘absence’ of God (assuming an essence-energy distinction model). Note: this is a simplified statement, for more on darkness read the article I just linked on EED.
“Nothing created by God is evil. It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. It is only the misuse of things that is evil, not the things themselves.” – St. Maximus The Confessor
The Bible gives us the first case of humanity’s will giving evil existence when Adam & Eve disobey God’s commandments, after the transgression God says “Adam, where art thou?” God surely knows where Adam is, God is God of course. Our Heavenly Father is emphasizing something about Adam, He doesn’t recognize Adam after he choose to disobey, to sin, to allow evil. “Where art thou?” is saying something like “where have you gone spiritually? You have chosen nothingness and non-existence, can you not see by being in sin you are non-existent so where are you? If you were following Me you would have eternal life.”
But even before Adam & Eve, evil had it’s beginnings in the spiritual world. Those fallen angels, who chose sin and pride in their own free wills first gave the birth of evil. This is why St. Tikhon says that “sin is more evil than the very devil, for sin made the devil.” (5). Sin creates evil, sin creates devils, sin creates nothingness. Sin makes nothing look like something, God makes something look like nothing (faith, love, truth, things immaterial and intangible that we all experience). It is another of the many paradoxes. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, sin is a disease of the will, it is a sickness that “takes a mere shadow of the good for the good itself.” (4). This is why sin is so unnatural for us! Evil and sin is giving our gift of existence to non-existence, we trade our life to give evil life. Either way, every man sacrifices himself, is it going to be the good for evil? Or the evil/sin for good? We strive to experience perfect love in giving our life freely back to God who gave us life freely Himself.
So while some say God is cruel for allowing evil to exist, I would say you could argue He actually doesn’t, we allow it to. They don’t understand evil’s inherent connection to our free will and further to sin itself, meanwhile not wanting themselves to choose anything of God. And if they realize this, they will see their problem of evil is actually their problem of free will and existing themselves. Which makes sense as those struggling in the non-existent have a problem with being existent. But would it not be more evil for God to never create us at all? Because as the loving God He is, love is magnified when shared, He wants to give it to us for us to dwell in it. And as we know, evil itself doesn’t exist outside of our will, so they are not mad at God for being ‘cruel’, but themselves for allowing and choosing sin themselves. Sin is the parasite of nature rooted in the will, it is literally an illusion paradoxically having existence in non-existence. We must not allow sin to reign in us where God should.
Sin is inherently connected to this as the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God has placed a limit on sin, allowing it to end with death, showing that while death seems cruel it is actually of benefit to us. Sin gives existence to evil, evil cannot give existence to sin because evil only exists from sin in the choice of our will. This is why people consumed in evil actually have a sort of spiritual non-existence, and you often hear things like “I don’t feel anything” or “I can’t feel anything” from them. Spiritual wounds have left them unable to feel, as they are consumed in the non-existence of evil and endlessly search for things that will make them feel again, often into the wrong avenues of drugs, promiscuity, etc. Through their will they are becoming evil, this is also why we can become like God conversely in the Theosis sense (not apotheosis of becoming God Himself). To help understand this, we know these sick individuals are still made in the image of God, and can still freely choose to accept God who can transform them back into love, truth, etc. They are not evil itself by nature, for they were given birth, life and existence but they have chosen to become a vector for evil in the likeness of it, directly participating in it. The same similar concept for Theosis, we participate with God too (2 Peter 1:4), we are to become A way like Christ is THE way, we are each A image of God like Christ is THE image of God, we become A little god (John 10:34) but not THE god. “God became man, so that man might become god.” – St. Athansius of Alexandria.
We cannot do this without our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the redemption of the world held captive to sin and death. To further elaborate, Christ was completely sinless, He was perfect in every way, therefore death and sin had no claim on Him. Christ would actually live forever in His humanity if He wanted to, so Christ had to choose to die, to take on death and the sins of the world. Death ate God, then God ate death. Christ the perfect took upon Himself the imperfect to redeem it, so that we the imperfect may become perfected through Christ. “He has despoiled Hades, Who descended into Hades. It received a body, and it encountered God. It received earth, and came face to face with Heaven. It received that which it saw, and fell whence it saw not. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen! To Him be glory and dominion from all ages to all ages. Amen!”
1. St. Diadochus of Photiki; The Philokalia. Faber Paperbacks, 1979.
2. The Orthodox Study Bible.
3. St. Athanasius of Alexandria; On The Incarnation. 2016.
4. Vladimir Lossky; The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. SVS Press, 1976.
5. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk; Journey To Heaven. Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991.
6. St. Symeon The New Theologian; First Created Man. St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2001.
7. St. Maximus The Confessor; Quote Taken From OrthoChristian. 2017.
8. St. John Chrysostom’s Homily.