For thousands of years, philosophers and other thinkers have tried to offer a satisfactory explanation for the bewildering mixture of good and evil that prevails in the world. Why do rosebuds exist side-by-side with thorns? Why do animals kill and eat one another? Why do people in some parts of the world have too much food while people in other parts are starving? Why does an innocent child die in an automobile accident while the guilty, drunken driver escapes unharmed? Why do ruthless people become rich while self-effacing people too often mire ever deeper in poverty?
Philosophers have offered a variety of answers. Atheists, who hold that the world and all forms of life started by chance, suggest that good and evil are in a kind of "survival of the fittest" competition; eventually only one will survive. Others have suggested that at least two gods govern the world; one is good, the other, evil. Still others have suggested that God is powerful but not powerful enough to eradicate evil, hence good and evil are in a kind of stalemate. The true explanation, however, is found in God's Word.
According to the Holy Scriptures, thousands of years ago, before this world was created, evil originated mysteriously in the heart of Lucifer, the most exalted of the angels in heaven. The fault was not God's, for Lucifer was created perfect (Eze. 28:15). But apparently Lucifer was dissatisfied with his status. He felt that he should be given honor equal to God, particularly the Son (Isa. 14:12-14). He permitted envious, jealous thoughts to control him.
He should have dismissed these thoughts. He should have recognized that as a created being he had no right to the homage accorded deity. But he did not. Instead he harbored his evil thoughts and confided them to his angel companions. Obviously he did not say flatly, "I'm jealous of Christ." More likely he asked questions designed to sow seeds of dissatisfaction and of disaffection. "Don't you think that heaven is too tightly structured? Why does God's government need laws? I don't see why holy beings need laws. I don't think God loves us as He claims; He gets satisfaction out of issuing commands. He's unjust and unfair." This kind of suggestion and innuendo continued until one third of the angels were solidly committed to Lucifer. Misled by his siren song, they felt that he could set up a government superior to God's. With infinite patience God endeavored to explain His actions and persuade Lucifer and his sympathizers to abandon the disastrous course they were following. He endeavored to make clear that heaven's laws are grounded in love and are essential to happiness. But Lucifer and his fellow rebels were intransigent; they refused to accept God's explanations or respond to His entreaties.
Scripture says the crisis continued until "there was war in heaven" (Rev. 12:7-9). Lucifer and his sympathizers fought against Christ and the loyal angels, attempting to capture God's throne. But he was defeated and expelled from heaven.
God gave Lucifer time. God did not at once destroy Lucifer and his followers, but gave them time and opportunity to show whether their charges against His character and law were justified. On earth God placed Adam and Eve, the first human pair, in the Garden of Eden, and had set up a test of character so they could demonstrate their loyalty to Him. The test was simple; God set apart one tree in the garden and told Adam and Eve not to eat of it (Gen. 2:16, 17); disobedience would bring death. Lucifer (now renamed Satan) saw this as an opportunity to tempt the holy pair to eat the fruit and thus join him in rebellion.
Tragically and incredibly, Adam and Eve yielded to Satan's temptation. In mercy, God spared their lives so that they might have opportunity to repent, but the penalty for breaking God's law had to be met. Thus, God offered His own Son to come to this earth and die as a divine substitute, taking the place of sinners. He also promised a continuing conflict between good and evil (chap. 3:15).
As time passed, the effects of sin became more and more evident not only on the human race but in all of nature. And the principles advocated by Satan, at first but dimly seen as dangerous, bore a harvest of evil fruit. Nineteen centuries ago, when Satan inspired human beings to murder Jesus, all the beings in other worlds saw clearly that God was right and Satan was wrong. All the inhabitants of heaven and elsewhere saw that God is love and that His law is just and necessary. But to give the inhabitants of our world ample opportunity to understand the issues in the great controversy and to choose whose side they wanted to join, God permitted the sin drama to continue for additional centuries.
Today the conflict is nearing its close. With great urgency the Holy Spirit and angels are seeking to help people choose God's side and put loyalty to God, righteousness, and truth above life itself. Scripture makes clear that the ultimate outcome will be complete victory for God and vindication of His character and law. But until that day—the day when God destroys Satan and his followers and purifies the world by fire—good and evil will continue side by side, a powerful testimony that supernatural forces are continuing their deadly warfare begun long ago in heaven. For further study, see Genesis 6-8; Rom. l:18-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; l Cor.4:9; Heb. 1:4-14; 2 Peter 3:6.
This article originally appeared in the Adventist Review in the 1981 issue.
v158, [Jul 30] p10 The Great Controversy