Today’s theme is very important and serious, and not always easy to understand: Why does God allow evil if He is goodness and love? Why, if God has created everything so excellently, as He said, “very good”, does evil exist in the world? Why doesn’t God straighten it all out? And in general, where does evil come from in man; where does envy, anger, vengefulness, and hatred come from in us? In the third chapter of Genesis we will find something written about this.
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3:1-5).
But before we comment on these verses we have to remember the following: In the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 28, the causes of the origin of evil as such are discussed. There it says that before evil infiltrated the earth, the conflict erupted in Heaven. And as is written about this in other books of Holy Scripture, for example, the Book of Revelation, the devil—satan (and “satanos” is translated as “adversary”) was the first to fall from God, and a third of the angels, who were trusting and who did not ye
t know what in the universe a lie was, believed him when he slandered God, saying that God is a tyrant, that He gives no freedom to those living in Heaven or to people whom He created, and limited their freedom in every possible way. The devil, satan—the adversary—rose up against God. This text relates allegorically to one of the kings of the Old Testament world.
Divine revelation—the Bible—tells us how Lucifer was the anointed one, the most beautiful, the grandest of the angels, to whom God had entrusted great authority, and who was, as we would say today, the first among the first. And here is what is written about the reason for the iniquity, the mystery of iniquity,1 which took place in the heavens:
From the day that thou wast created thou wast with the cherub: I set thee on the holy mount of God; thou wast in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast faultless in thy days, from the day that thou wast created, until iniquity was found in thee (Ez. 28:14-15).
A question arises: Where did this iniquity come from in a cherubim that God had created? The answer is below, in verse 17:
Thy heart has been lifted up because of thy beauty; thy knowledge has been corrupted with thy beauty [in the Slavonic, vanity]: because of the multitude of thy sins I have cast thee to the ground, I have caused thee to be put to open shame before kings (Ez. 28:17).
We see that the cause of iniquity lies in the fact that Thy heart has been lifted up because of thy beauty; thy knowledge has been corrupted with thy vanity. That is, the cause of iniquity is self-admiration, narcissism, of which there is certainly enough in our world today. No matter what our occupation, we no longer consider this state to be a sin: “I am the best, I am the most beautiful… Of course they’re all nice looking, but I am the best of all.” After man’s fall from God, as we see further on, this state has been handed down like damage from the first humans to all mankind. This is the secret of human sin and iniquity. It was said just like that: Thy heart has been lifted up because of thy beauty.
I would like to recall here the holy martyr Christopher, whose memory is celebrated by the Church on the same day as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker—May 22. St. Christopher’s Life is very short, but says much. Christopher was very handsome and tall. And just imagine, he prayed his whole life to God so that He would take his beauty away! This is totally incomprehensible to us. How could that be?! We think, to the contrary we need to pray differently, as the philosopher Vladimir Soloviev said, “in order to be pleasant, we need to be pleasant.” This is the axiom of modern life. But this man, the holy martyr Christopher, prayed for the opposite—that he would not be pleasant. Why? Because he saw that self-admiration and self-deceit where leading him away from the path of salvation. This man was very attentive to his inner world, to the state of his heart and immortal soul. This is a true example that is worthy of emulation: to pray that whatever is leading us from the path of salvation be taken away from us, regardless of whether it brings us illusory advantage and prosperity in this temporal world. This prayer can become possible only when we become attentive to our inner world—only when we learn what is truly beneficial to us and what is not (cf. Rom. 12:2).
So the cause of iniquity, as stated by the prophet Ezekial, is hidden in self-admiration. By the way, I remind the reader about why God created this world, as one Church father, St. Symeon the New Theologian, wrote: God, that is, perfect Love, cannot admire Himself because God creates this world in order to give His love to creation.
But let us return to the third chapter of Genesis. We read that the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. Why was it a serpent? We imagine today a serpent as some sort of slithering reptile, and regard it with contempt. During the time before the fall it was different. The serpent was actually beautiful in appearance.
I’ll make another slight digression. We often hear that there is much in common between Islam and Orthodoxy. However, Islam has a completely different picture of the fall into sin. Incidentally, according to the Koran, when people fell away from the Creator, they repented. Then it is totally perplexing why the Lord cast them out of paradise. This is a question for the Koran. And Islam describes the fall thus: The devil did not enter immediately into the serpent—first he, the devil, according to Islam, wanted to enter into a peacock because a peacock has those round eyes on its feathers and these are supposedly emeralds. The devil approached the peacock but the peacock refused him, saying, “No, I won’t be your body. You can’t enter into me. Let’s go find someone else.” And they went, as one of the hadiths (Islamic tradition) states, to the serpent, and the serpent consented. It’s interesting how in this hadith the serpent is described: the same in appearance as he is today, only large and resembling a boa constrictor. But he had feet, and his gait resembled that of a camel. This is how he came up to the first people to tempt them. This is a rather comical picture for us to imagine—a snake with the legs and humps of a camel. But that is how it is described in the Islamic hadiths. However, we are reading the Book of Genesis.
Thus, Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? When we read how God created this world we saw that God did not forbid people from tasting of all the trees, except one. He said to Adam that for now he may not taste of the Tree of Life because he needed to come of age and a certain measure of perfection; he needed to mature to a certain level—what that level is God alone knows—in order to make use of the fruits of the Tree of Life. And for us, brothers and sisters, this is very important and remarkable. When we see that the Lord cast the first people out of paradise, then this is clearly shown—expulsion happened so that people would not come into contact with eternity, with the Tree of Life, and would not immortalize the evil that had infiltrated the world.
But let’s take things in order. Entering into the serpent the devil asks his question, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” And in this question—in only one question!—there are two lies. The first lie is: “Yea, hath God said,” or, “Did God really say?” Let’s ask ourselves this question: Could God say something untrue? God is absolute righteousness, absolute goodness, absolute love, absolute mercy, absolute truth. There can be no falsehood in God. But the devil asks whether God told the truth, with the prospect of deceiving man, so that man would doubt God. And the second lie: “Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” But in fact man could eat of all the trees, except for one.
In this same way do sectarians these days walk the streets of our cities, for example Scientologists. They have ninety questions, as they say—a test developed supposedly at Oxford University. I’ll say right away that these questions have nothing to do with Oxford. It is no more than an advertising cover. These questions are written craftily. Therefore, when they invite us to answer something on the street we always have to understand what is really being asked in that question, because it’s very formulation can lead a person astray and make him think in a false direction, as happened in the Garden of Eden with our fore-parents. Or, for example, the Arian heresy. Arians are the “relatives” of the Jehovah’s witnesses. The Arians did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and therefore on the streets (in those days as you know people did not sit in front of the television and they got all their news in the market squares) they would catch someone they wanted to lure into their sect, and ask the question, “Did the Essence create Essence or Non-essence; did He create it as essence or non-essence?” At first glance it seems that these words make no sense, but there is in fact deep meaning in them—because they were asking about Christ. If Christ is from God’s essence, it means He is not created. Therefore the question, “Did the Essence create Essence or Non-essence?” is already an intentional lie. A person would be thrown off by this question, he wouldn’t even understand what they were asking him, and they would quickly grab him and take him into a hidden room, saying, “Let’s go, we’re now going to explain our dogmas to you.”
That is what the serpent did. Incidentally, sectarians and heretics act according to the same scheme; they haven’t come up with anything new. And often when beginning a conversation on “great truth”—from their point of view—they start with a little lie. By the little lie I mean the fact that sectarians almost never tell you at first what religious confession they belong to.
The serpent asks, and there are two lies in his question. And what about the wife, who was created for the husband? She answers the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” Now she is listening to a stranger’s voice, not her husband’s. But in paradise there was a very clear hierarchy: the husband was supposed to learn from God, and the wife was supposed to learn from her husband. Today this clear hierarchy is unfortunately disrupted in many families. But it should be like this: the husband is the head, the wife is the helpmate, and the children are obedient. If everything were like this, if people would at least try to build their family life according to this principle, then very many problems and troubles of modern families could be avoided. But people, who have received in themselves the corruption of sin (and we can see how it enters into a person), today don’t even make attempts to resist it. The most dangerous state of the human soul is when sin is accepted as a norm of life.
But let’s return to the serpent’s conversation with the woman. In her reply to the cunning question, the woman speaks as a kind of apologist for God; she as if wants to defend God. She says, no-no, God doesn’t allow us to do that; He said that there is only one tree that we cannot eat from, so that we won’t die. And the serpent catches her on this hook—he sees that she is showing disobedience to God and to her husband in that she has entered into conversation with him, the serpent-devil, although God did not say or want for her to associate with strangers, because she was created for her husband… However, not only the wife is at fault here. The husband is also at fault—why has he let his wife ramble around anywhere and talk with anyone who comes along? He should watch after his wife, because she was created for him. After all, he had just admired her and said, “flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone,” and then she walks away from him somewhere… So he too out of his irresponsibility later falls into the trap.
The serpent sees that he has succeeded in entering into dialogue with the human and continues to ramp up the deception, making a little promise. He says, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” He essentially speaks the truth, but the truth coming from the devil’s mouth is always a half-truth. There is a word: heresy. Heresy translates precisely as “half-truth”—that is, truth with a lie mixed in. And here it’s the same—the serpent says, “Be like gods.” But remember how God created man: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1:26). God created man so that he would be like Him and eternal, so that he would eternally comprehend God to the extent that is possible for man.
The devil is as if telling the truth, but from his own lips. But every truth that does not come from the Church’s lips, the lips of the holy fathers of the Church is always a half-truth. And we now know what a half-truth is called: heresy.
Thus, the serpent says to the woman, “No, you won’t die… but God knows that you will then know good and evil.” Many stumble on these words and say, there—God has limited people’s knowledge and does not allow them to know what good and evil are. In my last talk I briefly recalled that in order to know what evil is it is not necessary to do so by experience. Therefore God did everything to guard people from knowing evil by experience.
We read on in Genesis 3:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Gen. 3:6-9).
We see what is said: “And the eyes of them both were opened.” Does this mean that their eyes were previously closed? No, only earlier, as we read in the Book of Genesis 2:25, both were naked—both Adam and his wife—but they were not ashamed. Why weren’t they ashamed then but are now? Because their nature has changed, and they lost their clothing of grace-filled light. And this happened after their association with the devil and eating—in the full sense of the word—that is, receiving into themselves lies and mistrust of God. The language of Holy Scripture is a very laconic language; it avoids superfluous details. The history of the Garden of Eden and the people’s tending of it is not a textbook on gardening or orchard keeping, about apples and so forth. Holy Scripture speaks with us in a sufficiently simple language, so that people throughout man’s history would understand what happened. If it were written in the language of philosophy that God is transcendent but also immanent, many people who are not skilled in philosophical terminology would possibly not understand this story of man’s fall from God.
But Holy Scripture speaks sufficiently simply—it speaks about how man accepted evil into his nature, accepted evil according to his freedom, which God had given to him. God did not limit man’s freedom, but where there is choice there is always freedom, and if there is no choice, there is no freedom. Man according to his own personal freedom, as we see, in violation of the family hierarchy, transgresses God’s commandment, goes outside of God’s commandments. Today, any abnormality is called “out of bounds”. Well, this being “out of bounds” happened to the first people. The limits of freedom really were given, so that man would not perish. Not every freedom is good and beneficial. The freedom to jump from a ten-story building or to abuse drugs is not a good freedom. What kind of freedom is that if it kills a person? Therefore God warned the first people also that that kind of freedom is not good for them, because it will kill them, destroy them. I think that no one will argue that a freedom that kills a man is a mad freedom. God restrained man from such a freedom. But the first people chose it—and I again repeat: violating the principle of hierarchy in their own family. And sin is always suicidal; it leads a person to suicide and a ruined life.
Having tasted the forbidden fruit Adam hid from God. And when a person commits a crime he also hides: he feels guilty, the voice of his conscience torments him, although he thinks that at some moment while committing the sin that he is right. So, Adam hides from God in the bushes—from the omnipresent and all-seeing God! The fathers of the Church write about what happened to Adam thus: his mind became weak and imbecile. A man wants to hide from the One Who knows and sees everything, even what a person is thinking. The fathers of the Church say: his mind was darkened, his feelings were upset, and his will became self-willed. But God does not abandon man, and the man hears the question, “Adam, where are you?”
Why does the omnipresent God ask, “Where are you?” He’s everywhere present! What, doesn’t He know where Adam is? He knows. But He asks because He wants to show the man what a state he’s come to. St. Ambrose of Milan write about it this way, “God’s question, ‘Where are you?’ does not mean ‘in what place?’ but ‘in what condition?’ This is not a question but a reproach. From what goodness, blessedness, and grace have you fallen and to what nothingness! That is what God is saying. You have rejected eternal life and are buried in death, by sin. Where is your pure conscience? Your fear betrays your guilt, and your attempt to hide betrays your criminality.”
This is how sin and evil infiltrate a person; and God allows it, because the person himself chooses freedom from God. Man perceives his freedom after falling from God as freedom “from”, although God gave man freedom “for”—for serving God and people with self-sacrificing love in the image and emulation of Christ.
We will talk about service to God and people next time, when we look at the service of Cain and Abel and see what service not according to God’s commandments but according to our own judgment leads to.