A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” So reads the first of Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics.
Science fiction commonly portrays robots running amok and attacking their human inventors. None of this made sense to Asimov. He reasoned that we humans equip our tools with safety devices—we put a handle on a knife to protect our fingers, we equip guns with safety features to prevent them from firing accidentally, and we use circuit breakers to prevent electrical wiring from overloading and burning down our houses.
From this, it seemed a reasonable conclusion that any society technologically advanced enough to build something as sophisticated as robots would equip those robots with appropriate safety measures—fundamental instructions implanted in the robots’ “brains” so that they could not disobey and harm the humans who created them.
Asimov’s assumptions about robot safety parallel difficult questions for those of us who believe in God: If God is good and all powerful, did He create the devil? If mere human beings provide safeguards for their inventions, why didn’t a good and all-knowing God create Lucifer with built-in “safety features”? And while He was at it, why didn’t God make us safe, impervious to temptation?
Complete safety excludes freedom
The major dilemma is that, although robots can theoretically be made safe, they cannot be free. The very word robot comes from the Czech word robota, meaning “forced work or compulsory service.” It was often used in the context of peasants bound to the land by the law of serfdom. People in forced labor—serfs, slaves, and prisoners— naturally react to their servitude by doing as little as possible, out of resentment sabotaging their masters in dozens of little ways. Psychologists call such minimal, grudging cooperation “passive aggression.”
Whenever we encounter forced compliance, we dislike it intensely. For such slavery doesn’t lead to loving relationships. It leads to hatred! God doesn’t want a robotic relationship with us any more than we would want it with our loved ones. He wants neither programmed, emotionless obedience nor grudging, passive-aggressive resistance.
So instead of making Lucifer robotic, without a will of his own, God gave him freedom and endowed him beyond measure: “[Lucifer was] the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty . . . anointed as a guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28:12, 14). And God created Lucifer morally perfect as well: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till . . .” (verse 15). So at some point, Lucifer exercised his God-given freedom by turning against his Maker, and the result was that “wickedness was found in [him]” (verse 15; italics added). No mere robot could rebel against its maker like that.
But if God didn’t create the devil, did Lucifer somehow create the devil? No. Everything Lucifer had and everything he was came from God. Satan, or the devil, is not a new kind of being. Rather, he’s what we might call a “failed being,” a creature ravaged and deformed by sin.
Does this mean that the devil created sin? No. Then where did sin and evil come from? From the same place as darkness, cold, and death.
Sin: the absence of good
A number of years ago, I visited a newspaper photo lab. Above the darkroom door, a red light indicated when the lights inside the darkroom were turned off. Just below this red light, a sign warned, “This is a darkroom. Please don’t open the door when the red light is on. If you do, all the dark will leak out.” We laugh, because we realize that the problem isn’t keeping the darkness in but keeping the light out. Darkness is basically nothing at all. A single small candle can illuminate an otherwise completely dark room. Strike a match at night, and it can be seen for miles.
In a real sense, none of these—darkness, cold, sin—actually exist except as negations, as shadows, as the opposite of something that does exist. We can purchase a lightbulb to brighten a dark place, but we can’t buy a “dark bulb” to dim a bright one. We can only block out the light. We can light a fire and warm a cold place, but even when we refrigerate something, we don’t put cold into it. We move heat out of it.
Evil has no independent existence
Similarly, evil has no independent existence. As a shadow betrays the absence of light, so sin indicates the absence of—what? Some would say “obedience,” but that’s not quite it. Robots obey, but they cannot be righteous. We could call it “faith” and its absence “doubt,” which would be closer. But faith can mean merely “belief,” that is, assenting to certain truths. And that’s not it either, for we know that even the demons believe—and shudder (James 2:19).
Faith can also mean “complete trust or confidence,” and that’s the concept we’ve been seeking. As the psalmist said, “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust” (Psalm 40:4). Trust forms the substance of a healthy, living, loving relationship with God. Distrust and doubt, in the sense of disbelief and suspicion, are just the shadows that remain when trust departs. Lucifer became the devil when he ceased to trust the way God had made him, when he doubted God’s love, and when he became suspicious of God’s government.
When we see distrust, doubt, and suspicion, we recognize the emptiness we call “evil.” That emptiness has always existed. Lucifer did not invent emptiness; he was just the first to embrace it. He did not invent death; he just abandoned Him who is Life. He did not invent darkness; he rejected light. He did not invent cold; he distanced himself from warmth. God created Lucifer, the “light bearer,” but Lucifer abandoned the Light to become the prince of darkness; the “son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12) became the ruler of the night. Instead of the brightest angel, he became the darkest demon.
Freedom to choose
Lucifer could make such a choice, and so can we, because God made us free. God made us free because He loves us, and He wants our love in return. Love cannot be programmed; it must be given freely or not at all. In giving us the freedom to love, God took the risk that we may choose not to love—that we might rebel instead. God was willing to take that risk in order to receive our love, even knowing that some would spurn Him instead. With the full knowledge that securing our love would require the suffering and death of His only begotten Son, He still gave us this precious gift—free hearts, hearts that could love.
Lucifer used his freedom to rebel, but he didn’t have to. Just imagine how glorious he could be now, had he continued to trust God! Instead, he rejected God’s design for him, and he became the sad wreck we call the devil, sharing his misery with the universe. What a pity! Surely the poet John Greenleaf Whittier spoke the truth when he said:
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”