This was a question that really bothered Augustine, and he spent the most time seeking to answer it. He said, “Let’s look at Genesis: God creates everything, and it is good.” So he asked exactly this question: “What of evil then?”
In the simple answer Augustine gave, he was trying to piece together all the different little indications of Scripture, and he said that evil is not a thing. God created every thing good. But evil is not a thing. What he meant by that was not that evil doesn’t exist, but rather that there is no such thing as a lump of evil. I can’t throw you a block of evil. God created every thing, and evil is not a created thing. Evil is a perversion. It is a lack of being.
A clear biblical illustration of this is the difference between light and darkness. Light actually exists. There are waves and particles; there is such a thing as light, but there is no such thing as darkness. Darkness is simply a lack of light, which is enormously helpful in seeing a few things. First, while God is sovereign over all things, He is not the creator or author of evil. Second, evil simply does not have the existence good does. Good and evil are not equal and opposite things. Good is an eternal reality found in God. Evil is a consequential, lacking thing. Pastorally, that’s important because it means that where sin promises happiness, by its very nature it cannot deliver because it has no thing to give us.
There are two Hebrew words, that really aim to capture this theme: kavod and hevel. Kavod is the word for glory, particularly associated with God. God is the One who has being. He is glorious, weighty, and substantial.
The opposite of kavod is hevel. It’s the name Abel. It’s the word used in Ecclesiastics: “Meaningless, meaningless,” or, “Vanity, vanity.” It’s the word used for a breath of air—so insubstantial that it’s there and gone. Hevel is a word used of false gods that are utterly insubstantial compared to the glorious living God. Hevel is used of the inglorious, insubstantiality we turn to when we turn away from God into sin. We are made for the glory of God, but to walk into evil and sin is to walk into nothingness. It’s to be unmade.