The Bible’s account of the fall in the Garden of Eden raises a number of important questions. Chief among them usually goes something like this: Where does evil come from in a good world created by a good God?
We must admit that the Bible does not explicitly and definitively answer this question. But we must also acknowledge that the Bible does tell us many things that, taken together, can help us make a reasonable attempt at an answer.
Where Did the Serpent Come From?
Genesis 3:1 is the first Bible’s first mention of a serpent. Genesis 1–2 gives no record of God creating any such animal. But several factors support the idea that God created serpents at the same time he made every other “beast of the field.” For one thing, Genesis 3:1 tells us the serpent was “more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made,” which implies that God made the serpent, just as he made the other beasts.
The serpent approached Eve without in any way catching her by surprise. If this was the first she had ever seen of a serpent, Eve would at least have been a little surprised by its presence. What is more, Isaiah 65:25 states that the new heavens and the new earth will contain serpents along with other animals, which seems to suggest they were all part of God’s original creation.
These things all support the conclusion that God created the serpent along with every other animal and that he pronounced it, and everything else, “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
What, then, do we do about the temptation account in Eden? How does a serpent, created good by God, intentionally tempt Adam and Eve and lead them into rebellion against God? Again, it’s important to point out that the Bible is not explicit here. But several key passages suggest the most likely answer is that Satan inhabited the serpent and used it as his instrument to deceive Adam and Eve.
Passages like Matthew 8:28–34 and Mark 5:6–13 indicate that demons can inhabit both people and animals. And Luke 22:3 shows us that Satan himself, at least on one occasion, “entered into” a man and used him as his instrument to betray Jesus and hand him over to be crucified. What’s more, Revelation 12:9 and John 8:44 offer proof that the serpent of the garden is none other than Satan himself.
John Calvin argues that Satan chose the serpent as his mouthpiece because he knew that he couldn’t appear to Adam and Eve and speak to them as himself. He needed a mouthpiece that wouldn’t raise their immediate suspicions, one with which they would have been familiar. Calvin then goes on to say that Satan chose the most suitable animal possible to carry out his plans. He chose the one animal in all of God’s creation that was most cunning or crafty (Gen. 3:1), the one that was the most shrewd or wise (Matt. 10:16).
He took the serpent’s natural gifts and perverted them for his own nefarious purposes.
This is one reason why I believe God created the serpent just as it is now. He created it to crawl upon its belly and to eat the dust of the earth. Although I know others will disagree with me and prefer to think of the serpent as being created upright and consigned to travel on its belly only through the judgment in Genesis 3:14, I think there are at least two factors that support my view.
First, Isaiah 65:25 indicates the serpent will crawl on its belly in the new heavens and the new earth and suggests this was its original, pre-fall condition, now being restored in the new heavens and the new earth.
Second, it seems odd that God would vent his anger upon the serpent in Genesis 3:14, and thenceforth relegate it to a different destiny for eternity, when the passage’s whole tenor indicates that God is chiefly aiming at Satan in his judgments. It’s Satan, not the serpent, who is chiefly to blame in this encounter with Adam and Eve; and it’s Satan, not the serpent, who is chiefly assailed in the judgments pronounced by God.
It’s enough for the serpent to be consigned to the condition it was in before the fall, but now, there’s also enmity between it and mankind until Jesus returns. No doubt this enmity is part of God’s plan to give humankind a constant reminder of our fall and of the dangers of Satan, our spiritual enemy.
Where Did Satan Come From?
But if Satan is responsible for possessing the serpent and using it for his own evil purposes, then the question follows, where does Satan come from? The Bible seems to teach that Satan is a created being who turned against God and embraced evil.
Revelation 12:7–9 and Jude 6 are two important passages here. Both indicate that Satan is an angel who is responsible for leading a group of fellow angels in rejecting God’s authority. As a result, they were removed from heaven and “thrown down” to earth, where they have now given themselves to making war against the seed of the woman, God’s people (Rev. 12:17).
Hebrews 1:7 and 1:14 further suggest that all angels are created beings God designed to serve him and his people. And according to Genesis 1:1, God existed all by himself in the beginning when he began his creative work. God alone is eternal. God alone is self-existent and the ground of all being (Exod. 3:14; Acts 17:28). Everything else proceeds from him and is made by him. Satan himself was part of God’s good creation.
Where Did Evil Come From?
But if Satan—and every other creature—was created by God to be good, where did evil come from? Again, the Bible doesn’t explicitly answer this question. But it suggests a probable answer in at least two main ways.
First, passages like Habakkuk 1:13, Psalm 5:4–6, James 1:13, and 1 John 1:5 teach that God is not the author or creator of evil. He is pure light and, as such, there is no darkness in him whatsoever (1 John 1:5)—not even a shadow of turning (James 1:17). And if God cannot be tempted with evil, as James 1:13 says, then surely it follows that he cannot create it, because to create evil would itself be evil.
Second, passages like 1 John 3:4 and Titus 2:11–12, among others, suggest that evil is not a “thing” in and of itself but is the absence or privation of something. Just as sin is the privation of lawfulness (1 John 3:4), so evil would seem to be the privation of goodness—or, of God himself. Evil is un-godliness, un-righteousness (Rom. 1:18), and everything else that is not God. It’s not a substance that must be created—like every other substance—to exist. It’s an anti-God attitude or a posture that sets itself against God. And if that’s true, then all that’s required for evil to exist is for creatures to exist who have the ability to choose or to reject God.
Thus, evil can be said to have “entered” the world when God created the angels, one of whom chose to turn away from God, set himself against him, and led as many others as he could to do the same.
What does all this mean? For starters, the origin of evil has been a nagging source of doubt for many and a disconcerting source of embarrassment for others. As Christians, we haven’t always been ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15)—at least not in this area. But my desire is for others to see that the Christian worldview really is plausible, far more so than the atheistic worldview that has absolutely no basis in itself to explain the existence of evil.
More than anything else, the problem of the origin of evil ought to remind us of how big our God really is. He is, as Paul says in Romans 11, “unsearchable” and “inscrutable,” and his ways are beyond our tracing out. When we have gone as far as we can, we still haven’t come close to plumbing his depths. He is far deeper than the deepest ocean and far greater than the greatness of the universe.
In the end, all we can do is to cry out with Paul, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forevermore. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).