The word “wicked” or “wickedness” appears throughout the Bible, but what does it mean? And why, many people ask, does God allow wickedness?
The International Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) gives this definition of wicked according to the Bible:
"The state of being wicked; a mental disregard for justice, righteousness, truth, honor, virtue; evil in thought and life; depravity; sinfulness; criminality."
Although the word wickedness appears 119 times in the 1611 King James Bible, it is a term rarely heard today, and appears only 61 times in the English Standard Version, published in 2001. The ESV simply makes use of synonyms in several places.
The use of "wicked" to describe fairy tale witches has devalued its seriousness, but in the Bible, the term was a scathing accusation. In fact, being wicked sometimes brought God’s curse upon people.
When Wickedness Brought Death
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, KJV)
Not only had people turned evil, but their nature was evil all the time. God was so grieved at the situation he decided to wipe out all living things on the planet — with eight exceptions — Noah and his family. Scripture calls Noah blameless and says he walked with God.
The only description Genesis gives of humanity’s wickedness is that the earth was "filled with violence." The world had become corrupt. The Flood destroyed everyone except Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives. They were left to repopulate the earth.
Centuries later, wickedness again drew God’s wrath. Although Genesis does not use "wickedness" to describe the city of Sodom, Abraham asks God not to destroy the righteous with the "wicked." Scholars have long assumed the city's sins involved sexual immorality because a mob tried to rape two male angels Lot was sheltering in his home.
Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. (Genesis 19:24-25, KJV)
God also struck several individuals dead in the Old Testament: Lot’s wife; Er, Onan, Abihu and Nadab, Uzzah, Nabal, and Jeroboam. In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira, and Herod Agrippa died quickly at God’s hand. All were wicked, according to the ISBE's definition above.
How Wickedness Began
Scripture teaches that sin began with man's disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Given a choice, Eve, then Adam, took their own way instead of God's. That pattern has carried down through the ages. This original sin, inherited from one generation to the next, has infected every human being ever born.
In the Bible, wickedness is associated with worshipping pagan gods, sexual immorality, oppressing the poor, and cruelty in warfare. Even though Scripture teaches that every person is a sinner, few today define themselves as wicked. Wickedness, or its modern equivalent, evil tends to be associated with mass murderers, serial rapists, child molesters, and drug dealers — in comparison, many believe they are virtuous.
Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. ( Matthew 5:21-22, KJV)
Jesus demands we keep every commandment, from the greatest to the least. He sets up a standard impossible for human beings to meet:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, KJV)
God’s Answer to Wickedness
Human beings are utterly lost in their sin, unable to save themselves. The only answer to wickedness must come from God.
The answer was God’s plan of salvation, the sacrifice of his only Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for the sins of the world. Only a sinless man could qualify to be such a sacrifice; Jesus was the only sinless man. He took the punishment for the wickedness of all humanity. God the Father showed that he approved of Jesus’payment by raising him from the dead.
However, in his perfect love, God does not force anyone to follow him. Scripture teaches that only those who receive his gift of salvation by trusting in Christ as Savior will go to heaven. When they believe in Jesus, his righteousness is imputed to them, and God sees them not as wicked, but holy. Christians do not stop sinning, but their sins are forgiven, past, present, and future, because of Jesus.
Jesus warned many times that people who reject God’s grace go to hell when they die. Their wickedness is punished. Sin is not ignored; it is paid for either on the Cross of Calvary or by the unrepentant in hell.
The good news, according to the gospel, is that God’s forgiveness is available to everyone. God desires that all people come to him. The consequences of wickedness are impossible for human beings alone to avoid, but with God, all things are possible.