Light That Dispels Darkness: Why Do Good and Evil Exist?

Why do good and evil exist?

A person must see himself and the world as equally balanced on two ends of the scale;  by doing one good deed, he tips the scale and brings for himself and the entire world redemption and salvation — Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 3:4

Evil is simply the absence of good; it has no real existence of its own, and is dispelled in the light of goodness — the Rebbe

Why do Good and Evil Exist?

G-d does not want evil; He wants us to do only good. Nor does G-d ever commit evil; only man commits evil.
We all struggle to fathom how a good and righteous G-d could allow so much suffering and could permit such atrocities in the world. An obvious question inevitably arises:  Why did G-d create evil, and how can we reconcile it with His goodness?

To answer this, we must take one step back and ask a far more basic question: Why did G-d create life? For without life, there would be no evil and no pain.

G-d created our material world because He wanted us to refine it and make it His home.  In order to achieve this, we must first perceive ourselves as an independent reality. So each of us was granted free will, the ability to choose between selflessness and selfishness, and between good and evil. This freedom is the greatest gift G-d gave us; without it, there would be no point to life.

G-d does not want evil; He wants us to do only good. Nor does G-d ever commit evil; only man commits evil. But in order for man to be a true partner in life, he must have the autonomy to choose. Even though G-d cannot bear the pain when one man causes another to suffer, it would be even more painful to take back the free will He has given us.

The greater the challenge, the more strength it draws out from us.
So we have the potential to do either good or evil. And by overcoming the temptation to do evil, the temptation to advance ourselves at any cost, we reach a far higher plane than we otherwise could have. The greater the challenge, the more strength it draws out from us. And just as a light in the night seems brighter and is more appreciated than the same light by day, an act of kindness shines with all the more intensity when compared to the wrong-doing we could have committed instead. There is a certain risk in G-d’s having granted us such a choice, but risk is inherent in growth.  For a child to learn to walk, he or she must be allowed to fall.

 A writer who once visited the Rebbe asked a question that many visitors would often ask:  How can G-d permit evil to exist?

The Rebbe explained that evil has no real existence, that it is only a potential state of being that appears to have a real existence so that man might have free choice.  The Rebbe suggested that the writer think about a knife.  “On its own, a knife is surely not evil, although there are occasions on which it could be used for an evil purpose,” the Rebbe said.  “When a doctor uses the same knife for surgery, though, it serves a good purpose.  G-d allows us to choose how we will use the knife.   To believe that evil has its own, positive existence is to believe that there are two divine powers rather than one.”

Are We Naturally Inclined Toward Good Or Evil?

There is only one G-d and G-d is good; therefore, all of G-d’s creations, including man and our world, are essentially good.
Some thinkers contend that good and evil are two equal powers, and some would even argue that evil is the more powerful of the two. They consider man’s nature as essentially selfish and morality as a superimposed condition to allow us to coexist in peace. Most people, the argument goes, are controlled by their evil inclinations, and the world at its root is an uncaring or even a wicked place.

The Bible teaches us that this is unequivocally wrong. There is only one G-d and G-d is good; therefore, all of G-d’s creations, including man and our world, are essentially good.  In our hearts, we all have a natural propensity for justice and virtue, and are repulsed by injustice and abuse. We maintain a deep hope and faith that things will be better than they are.

The fact that we live in a world where, often, “the wicked prosper” and where selfishness prevails, is a result of our giving priority to the material world and disregarding the spiritual. After Adam and Eve sinned, a dichotomy was created between matter and spirit.  Instead of being seen as a “container” for spiritual divine “light” within, the world began to be seen as an independent, self-contained reality. This distortion allows room for evil; but whereas goodness is a real and tangible virtue, evil has no power on its own.

The fact that the wicked prosper, then, is not a reality on its own, but a result of limiting our vision to the one-dimensional material world, or our failure to recognize the container as concealed light for us to reveal. Rather than battling evil, we should concentrate on cultivating the goodness within ourselves and others. After all, since evil has no independent existence, focusing on it only gives it more opportunity to grow.

The best and most effective response and solution to evil is to attack not only its symptoms, but its cause: through selfless acts of goodness, we destroy evil at its root.

We have the ability to counter the forces of evil by shining the light of goodness on them.
When teaching a child, or when you see yourself or a friend succumbing to selfishness, it may be tempting to reprimand him, to frighten him by warning of the terrible consequences that will surely befall him if he continues his behavior.  But the positive approach is ultimately more successful. Tell the person about the goodness within him, of his pure soul and great potential; show what a great injustice he is committing by not living up to his potential. Such advice will foster confidence and pride, while a grave warning demoralizes a person and closes up his soul.

We have the ability to counter the forces of evil by shining the light of goodness on them. And we have the certitude that good will prevail. This confidence goes beyond common optimism. Because goodness is the natural state of the world and humankind, its effect is eternal and cumulative. All of man’s good works throughout the ages are building blocks, leading up to a final triumph of goodness in the world.  Moral relapses are not flaws, but by-products of this process: It is to be expected that when the forces of goodness show strength, the forces of evil will endeavor to retaliate, and that they will make their final stand just on the verge of their total collapse.

After so many years of goodness and virtue, after all the blood and tears shed by so many wonderful people in their fight for what is good and right, the world is virtually saturated with positive spiritual energy. The next step is ours. By doing one more good deed — and we do not know which one it is — we will tip the scale, sending forth centuries’ worth of  radiance, bathing the entire world in the light of knowledge and the goodness of G-d.

This is an excerpt from “Toward a Meaningful Life – The Wisdom of the Rebbe” by Rabbi Simon Jacobson.


Did you enjoy this? Get personalized content delivered to your own MLC profile page by joining the MLC community. It's free! Click here to find out more.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jake Bruinsma
6 years ago

To me all evil comes out of bad genes DNA since very first life on this planet.
People can’t cope with life in a non violent way. It is deep buried in DNA that can’t be changed.
Humans in History have never been able to be Human as we like and dream to see it.

We might be very well part of a very lengthy evolution of many millions of years.
But, there is one big problem with that, this planet will blow itself up some way some how, or will be hit by meteorits and set the clock on zero again.

Total different species will than appear.

Jake Alcantara
1 year ago

dear Rabbi, thank you for sharing this online. i will be using this for one of my school requirements. i know the book was published 1995, but what year was this published as an internet article? i need to quote my sources…

1 year ago
Reply to  Jake Alcantara

Hi Jack Thank you for reaching out. This article was published on, Jul 24, 2014.
Wishing you all the best!

The Meaningful Life Center