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"The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate," the first man, Adam, tells God in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis.

Possibly that's got to be one of the most creative excuses for the beginning of evil in the world since, well, the beginning of time.

Be that as it may, the Genesis story -- with its serpent, forbidden fruit, and lovely garden -- is one of the first stories we have that attempts to explain a question that has bothered humans for (as far as we can tell) almost as long as there have been humans around: why do bad things happen to good people? When you start to think about it, why do bad things happen at all?

Why do little kids come down with terrible illnesses? Who invented slavery as a way of oppressing people who look different than they do? Why are we so good at destroying things and people, and so poor at making them whole and healthy?

These questions bugged the women and men of the ancient world, too. Floods, plagues, locust invasions, wars waged by foreign armies -- they prompted a lot of theological reflection on the part of some of the top minds in the ancient world. There were entire schools of philosophy designed to answer these questions.

As time went by, Bible experts in the medieval and renaissance periods began to disagree about the meaning of the passage in Genesis: was it bad that Adam and Eve ate the apple because that's what brought evil into the world? Or did eating the fruit help humans learn the difference between what was good and what wasn't, so that they learned more about the world and about themselves?

But we don't live in the abstract world of theologians and philosophers. We suffer when someone we love is hurt, a friend betrays our trust, or we learn about some catastrophe on the other side of the world, and we can't help but ask: why?

I don't know about you, but when I hear someone tell a person who is grieving that it's all part of some bigger divine plan that we just don't understand, it makes me mad. How can a child starving in the Sudan or dying from a bombing in Syria be part of a divine plan?

You may disagree.

But let me suggest that the way we interpret the bad as well as the good times in our lives tell us something about the way that we see God.

What do you think? Is God in charge of everything that happens, or does God allow it? Is there a difference between the bad choices we make (because we choose to make them) and the bad things that occur in our lives?

How do you define evil? Absence of goodness? A force out there? Could it be ... Satan?

Written by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans

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