By Oliver Allmand-Smith
Can you make sense of the hate-fuelled conflict and destruction of life we are currently witnessing? Do you understand it? The world today has no answer to these evils, no way of understanding them, and no explanation for them.
Western cultures insist all humanity is essentially good; but if that is the case, how can such wickedness be explained? Perhaps this is why many in the West insist that such tragic actions are the unfortunate outcome of centuries of mistreatment, rather than looking to any fundamental flaws in our humanity. Blame is not placed upon those acting wrongfully in the present day; responsibility is shifted to the actions of those long ago, who weren’t as ‘enlightened’ as we are today. Another option is to conclude that certain peoples are exempted from this general rule of ‘essentially good unless coerced into badness’ and are to be blamed more directly. Such people are born evil, whereas the rest of us (of course, ‘we’ are never included in the category of ‘born bad’) are good. Such explanations always look to other things, other people, other times and other reasons – it’s never our fault, and ultimately, there is nothing anyone can do to resolve it.
Worse than having a lack of good reasoning to explain why we see horror after horror unfold, is having no hope that such evils will ever be put right, that justice will ever be done, that wickedness and all the suffering it brings will ever come to an end.
The awkward truth we must all face is this: the greatest evils and sufferings of this world are not caused by natural disasters, but by human wickedness. We only have ourselves to blame, and as long as God allows humans to exist, they will be the perpetual instigators of turpitude. John MacArthur was right when he observed:
‘The deadliest force in the world is not nature, not winds, not rains, not earthquakes. The most dangerous force is not animals or the jungle. The most dangerous and deadly force is humans. They can plot evil. They can devise harm. They’re not like animals who kill because they’re designed to kill. That’s how the food chain works. Humans are designed to give life, but they are amazingly crafty at creating death.’ ¹
The atrocities we see committed against elderly women, children and the most vulnerable of all, babies, are so horrific that the details are beyond describing, let alone picturing. Yet those who perpetrate them do just that – they boast and photograph and parade, which is the reason we describe such things using the word ‘terrorism’, since the aim is to strike terror into a perceived enemy. Such wickedness is devastating to any confidence in humanity. It is not enough to slaughter and shed blood – we must brag about it too! We take pride in killing the most vulnerable, from the defenceless in the womb to those at the end of their lives, who have sacrificed all to bring up and nurture those now deciding they should be killed. People are rightfully devastated when the same vulnerable people are killed by cruel acts of war. Yet, in other areas of life, they simultaneously dress up the same taking of life as ‘kindness’, a cause for celebration!
Is there any way of making sense of all of this pain, distress, anguish, murder, terror, immorality and vileness? Is there any way to understand it? Is there any hope of justice being done, wickedness being conquered and evil coming to an end? Does the Bible have any answers? Thank God, the Bible does provide us with the answers to such questions. Not that we will ever have a complete understanding of everything relating to these distressing things, since such knowledge belongs to God alone; however, in his word, he leads us to grasp the essential truths that we can and must understand in order to make sense of wickedness, and to give us hope as we face it day by day.
1. The Beginning of Wickedness
Wickedness entered the world in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned against God by disobeying his law, described in the Bible by James as the ‘perfect law of liberty and the royal law of love’.² Before that time, there was only perfection and purity and harmony and liberty and love and goodness, which is described for us so beautifully in Genesis 1-2. ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1:31)
All too quickly, after God declares everything to be very good, death and all its accomplices entered the world through humanity, and has been passed on to all the human beings that have ever lived:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
The moment they sinned, everything changed. The earth was no longer as God had intended it to be. All of the pain and deprivation we have already considered, and personally know every single day, is the direct consequence of that first instance of disobedience against God: ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.’ (Romans 5:19a)
Jesus himself teaches that wickedness comes from within us. We are the cause of all the evil in the world, and we cannot blame anything outside ourselves for sin and its consequences:
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within. (Mark 7:21-23)
Yet, this still leaves us with the question of the origin of the world’s evil, which the Bible explains as coming from Satan, a fallen angel, whose pride caused him to rebel against God, thereby bringing evil into being.³ It is for this reason that many, including Augustine⁴, Aquinas⁵ and C. S. Lewis have argued that the most foundational of all sins is pride – the sin that undergirds all other sins and produces all the wickedness in the world. C. S. Lewis addressed pride in ‘The Great Sin’, chapter 8 of Mere Christianity:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.⁶
How ironic that we insist on celebrating human pride, the very source of the wickedness we hate, whilst calling for an end to the devastation caused by that very sin. We rejoice in the root of wickedness, whilst crying out for the consequences of the wickedness to end! Surely this is a contradiction and a confusion that could only be caused by the father of all lies. It is the very antithesis of the clarity, consistency, light and hope promised to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. In him we must dwell, rebelling against that self-promoting worship and pride that leads to all the troubles of the world.
2. The Wickedness of Wickedness
The wickedness of humanity, which originates in Satan and spreads through pride, is no small matter. It is truly devastating both in its breadth and depth, as seen in the transition from Genesis 3 to Genesis 4, and the first murder. The floodgates of wickedness have been opened, and there is nothing humanity can do to prevent the torrent of wickedness gushing forth uncontrolled, as we see in Lamech’s song of Genesis 4:23-24:
Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
And it does not end there. See how quickly it spreads across the whole world, until the immorality and the violence become so devastating that God decides to wipe the earth clean of its human inhabitants by means of a global flood.⁷ In verse 5 of Genesis 6, we read of humanity that ‘every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’. This is mankind without God’s help. ‘Only evil continually’! If you welcome wickedness into your heart it will spread and take over everything. Sin is the means by which Satan rules in the hearts and minds of men. It’s the channel through which he dominates the world, as the prince of the power of the air. If we are to understand wickedness, such truths must be known.
Just how corrupt is the human heart? Jeremiah describes it as ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’.⁸ How many of us are affected by this corruption-unto-wickedness? Everyone who has ever lived, without exception, has been impacted by the wickedness of others and is guilty of such wickedness themselves. None of us are righteous, none of us have understanding, and none of us seeks after God.⁹ Instead, ‘Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.’¹⁰ Is this not true of our world this very instant? People are calling out for peace, whilst fleeing from the God who is peace. What hope is there when such utter confusion prevails?
In order to capitalise on the confusion, Satan has used modern media and technology to spread, foster, deepen and develop the corruption of our hearts. Access is so easy, so unaccountable, so disconnected from any natural and healthy human inhibition. Divinely ordained conscience is nullified by a Satanically sponsored bombardment of mind, heart and spirit through multiple media. More all-consuming violence and sexual immorality than we could ever know what to do with cascades through our consciousness in wave after wave. There is no longer even a requirement to sit down and switch on – we just reach into our pockets anytime, anywhere, and pull out the device through which Satan can impress his prideful rebellion against God’s laws of love and liberty on our hearts and minds.
Even when we are seeking after truth and understanding through such media, we do not know who can be trusted, who can be relied upon, and how to access what is right and good. As a result, we often soak up all of the harm in the world, adding to it our own wickedness and perversion. Sadly, even regenerate and redeemed Christians are not exempt from these pernicious influences, as we read in the 2LCF6.4-5:
From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.¹¹
Since this is the case, why isn’t the world already hell? If even believers cannot be free from such devastating corruption, and there is no way we can deliver ourselves from it fully and finally in this age, what hope is there? Why don’t the atrocities we see from time to time happen everywhere, all of the time? The Bible tells us why.
3. The Restraint of Wickedness
God acts to hold back the full extent of human wickedness. He forbids the wicked desires of the human heart from taking over completely. The world is kept back by the restraining hand of God from descending into the pit of hell. This is the message of Genesis 8:20-9:17, which describes what God did after wiping the earth clean of its depraved corruption and violence.
He begins by promising to overrule the forces of nature, ensuring that even though ‘the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth’ he will never again ‘destroy every living thing’. To the contrary:
While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.¹²
This verse is as vital now as it ever has been. We are living in a time when people are sacrificing their lives and their livelihoods to prevent the earth from being overwhelmed by water or fire or any other disaster, even though God has promised us that while the earth remains, he will sustain it. Such lifestyles are an excellent example of how wicked the human heart is: people devoting their lives to ‘save the planet’, when God has already promised it does not need saving in the short term, and in the long term (when he chooses to bring all things to an end), there will be nothing anyone can do to hold back God’s hand! The deceit and distortion that warps human minds into thinking they are in control of the world is blatantly wicked. The very promise of God, that he will not harm the earth in the same way again, is twisted into the biggest threat to the planet and human existence.
The devil has deceived humanity into believing that running from trusting in God’s promise, as the creator and sustainer of all life, is the way of salvation. Those who are wicked hate God’s promises and cling to the deceit of the devil, revelling in the manipulation he has enacted over their lives. They dress up lies and false-hope as the way of goodness, when God himself tells us in his word that in Christ, he is ‘the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.¹³ The alternative routes will not work. Climate fear-mongering will not save the planet, let alone your soul. Trust in the promise made to us, God’s creatures, about the earth he created and promises to sustain, until all his purposes are fulfilled.
God restrains evil in Genesis 9:1-2 when he puts the fear of man into the animal kingdom. He provides for all the needs of humanity in the consecutive verses, 9:3-4. God appoints civil governments to use the sword for the restraint of human evil in 9:5-7.¹⁴ He guarantees all this by means of covenant promise in verses 9:8-17. His word shows us the numerous ways God is acting to restrain the wickedness of our world. Note the role we are to play in restraining evil, as God’s creatures; we are to respect his chosen methods of holding back human wickedness and acknowledge how his plan provides for us in this way. We must adhere to godly systems and structures, respecting the authorities God has placed over us.¹⁵
All this restraining of evil is God’s doing, and we can rest assured that he will never let this whole earth descend into hell – not now, and not ever. The events of Genesis 11:1-9 (the account of the Tower of Babel) are all part of his continuing work to ensure that humanity can never unite against him and thereby destroy themselves and the world. But is restraint where the story ends, or have we hope for conquest and a final slaying of wickedness? Yes, indeed! In the Lord Jesus Christ we have a champion and a redeemer, who will act to crush the devil and his schemes once and for all.
4. The Conquest of Wickedness
Initially, we must see the vital importance of the virgin birth. The Lord Jesus Christ is not born with any wickedness in his heart, so that Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:10-18 do not apply to him. Unlike David, he was not born in sin and conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). To the contrary, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born in purity. This enabled him to live a sinless life, a life no other man has ever been able to live, and never will. As we read in Hebrews 7:26, ‘For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’.
Of course, he was tested by the power of the wicked one, just as Adam and Eve were in Genesis 3. His testing did not take place in Paradise, but in the wilderness of this age. The outcome was a glorious, all-conquering victory. Theophylact wrote of the Lord’s testing:
The Lord conquered the three temptations of gluttony, vainglory, and avarice. These are the chief passions, and by conquering them, how much more so does He conquer the others… For everything that Christ did and revealed was for our sake, since the angels are always serving Him as God.¹⁶
He passed every test and emerged personally triumphant over temptation to all wickedness.¹⁷
Having lived a holy life, free from all sin, the full evil of Satan was unleashed upon him. The wickedness that God had restrained for so many centuries, since the events of Genesis 3, was unleashed without any restraint upon the Lord Jesus Christ, indicated in the darkness that covered the whole earth while he was afflicted on the cross.¹⁸ He suffered as no other ever has or ever will, and by means of this suffering overcame sin and the curse.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthians 5:21)
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)
He took the place of sinners, loving the wicked and doing good to those who hated him¹⁹; he overcame their evil with his good²⁰. He paid the price in full. He took away the power that Satan had over them, and liberated them from their own wickedness. He is Christ-the-victorious, the defeater of wickedness and the conqueror of Satan.
Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:14-15)
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. (Hebrews 2:14)
All who look to him, trust in him, confess him and bow the knee to him will be delivered from the power of wickedness and set free to love even their enemies. He will ‘swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of his people he will take away from all the earth’.²¹
All of this is only possible under the rule of God’s royal law of liberty and love. So what of those who will not bow to him? What of those who live and die defying him and perpetuating wickedness? Will there be an end to their reign of terror? Will the need for God’s restraining hand come to an end, because wickedness itself has finally been brought to its end? Yes, indeed!
5. The End of Wickedness
The end of wickedness has already been secured by Christ through his resurrection and ascension, and it will be consummated when he returns in power to this very world.²² The first thing he will do is to judge the wicked. All those who live and die in rebellion against him will be condemned. Perfect justice will be done, sin will be recompensed, evil will be retributed and wickedness will be punished.²³ There will be no imbalance or unfairness or error or failure – it will be the perfection of justice, dispensed by the hand of Christ Jesus himself.²⁴
This concern for final justice runs through the Old Testament, unveiling the way wickedness will be dealt with by the Lord:
I will punish the world for its evil,
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will halt the arrogance of the proud,
And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. (Isaiah 13:11)
Though they join forces, the wicked will not go unpunished;
But the posterity of the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:21)
And when Jesus Christ comes to establish and seal the New Testament in his blood, we see most clearly how this final justice will be unleashed upon all who reject his royal law of liberty and love.
In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lordand from the glory of his power, when he comes, in that day. (II Thessalonians 1:8-10)
Once full and final justice has been done, wickedness will be removed from the renewed earth once-and-for-all. What God says he will do, will come to pass. To doubt God’s promises is to doubt God himself. Just as we have considered already, the promises of God are a two-edged sword: live in the light of them and you will be cut away from all wickedness on the last day; live in denial and rejection of them and that same sword will cut you down at the last.²⁵
God will punish the wicked. Wickedness in all of its forms will be banished into hell, never to emerge again. The gates of hell will be locked and barred forever, so that lies, lewdness, doubt and death will be nothing more than a memory. Christ himself will accomplish all of this by means of the sharp two-edged sword that proceeds from his mouth (his word of judgement) and the rod of iron that he wields with his hand (his enactment of judgement). None can escape this final reckoning – all evil that has ever been, shall be judged, fully and finally in the perfection of justice.²⁶ No Christian ever needs to fear that any of the wickedness or injustice of this age will be forgotten or unrecompensed, and so we do not need to fret or fear or ever take matters into our own hands.²⁷ Trust in the God of justice. He will not fail.
Thus Paradise will be restored and guaranteed forever, upon the basis of final justice and the banishment of wickedness forever. This is the reason why the gates of heaven never need to be shut in the age to come: gates are closed to keep the enemy out, but when the enemy has been ‘ended’, there is no longer any threat.²⁸ Hallelujah!
In Revelation 21:3-4 we see a glimpse of this perfection of peace and joy.
I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
The world has no answer to human wickedness, but in Christ, we have a full, final and glorious answer. We must live in the light of such truth, shining the ray of hope in this age of benightedness, making Christ known. It is not enough to simply understand that Christ is the remedy to the world’s wicked poison, but fail to act. We must confidently live, in the knowledge that he is surely coming, bringing with him the perfection of justice, final defeat of all wickedness and eternal freedom from evil in heaven-on-earth.
If you do not believe these things, then you are living for nothing and have no future, no hope – not now, and not ever. You have only doubt and despair for now, with death and destruction your certain future. Leave your parochial shallowness behind and live for eternal victory and glory and peace and joy.
Is it not time to come into the light and be delivered from wickedness in Christ Jesus, once for all? Amen, so let it be.
² James 1:25; 2:8
³ Isaiah 14:12-15
⁴ Aurelius Augustine, The City of God, Translated by the Rev. Marcus Dods, Volume II (Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1871), 25.
⁵ (ST I-II, q. 84, a. 2)
⁶ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, Simon & Schuster Touchstone edition, 1996), 109, 111.
⁷ See Genesis 6:1-13
⁸ Jeremiah 17:9
⁹ Romans 3:10-11
¹⁰ Romans 3:16-17
¹¹ The Second London Baptist Confession Of Faith of 1689, 6:4-5.
¹² Genesis 8:20-22
¹³ John 14:6
¹⁴ See Oliver Allmand-Smith, Under God, Over The People; The Calling And Accountability Of Civil Government (Manchester, Broken Wharfe, 2022). Especially chapter 3.
¹⁵ Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-17
¹⁶ Theophylact, The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the holy gospel according to St. Matthew: translated from original Greek by FR. Christopher Stade (Missouri, Chrysostom, 2006), 40.
¹⁷ Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:14-16
¹⁸ Mark 15:33
¹⁹ Luke 6:27 with 23:34
²⁰ I Peter 3:18
²¹ Isaiah 25:8
²² Revelation 1:18
²³ Revelation 6:9-17
²⁴ John 5:24-30
²⁵ Revelation 21:6-8
²⁶ Revelation 19:11-21
²⁷ Romans 12:17-21
²⁸ Revelation 21:25