Did God Ordain Evil?

evil9Article by Nicholas T. Batzig (original source men have wrestled with the problem of evil. The question, “How can a good and holy God allow evil to exist in the world that He created,” is one that demands an answer. Or, to ask the question more pointedly, “How can the good and holy God be sovereign over all things including evil?” In his 85th entry of the Miscellanies, Jonathan Edwards gave a most satisfying answer to this question. There, Edwards explained that God eternally decreed every action of men–including those that should be sinful–but that He decreed them, not for the sinfulness of them but for the good that would come from them. In this sense, we can say that all that God ordained was good. Edwards wrote:

That we should say, that God has decreed every action of men, yea, every action that they do that is sinful, and every circumstance of those actions; [that] He determines that they shall be in every respect as they afterwards are; [that] He determines that there shall be such actions, and so obtains that they shall be so sinful as they are; and yet that God does not decree the actions that are sinful as sinful, but decrees [them] as good, is really consistent. We do not mean by decreeing an action as sinful, the same as decreeing an action so that it shall be sinful; but by decreeing an action as sinful, I mean decreeing [it] for the sake of the sinfulness of the action. God decrees that it shall be sinful for the sake of the good that He causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof, whereas man decrees it for the sake of the evil that is in it.1

This is in complete harmony with what the Westminster Confession of Faith says about the eternal decrees of God: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF 3.1). So, does God ordain evil? The answer is simultaneously an emphatic “Yes” and “No!” “Yes,” God is sovereign over all evil in the world in that He ordained all the actions of all fallen Angels and men; yet, He does not ordain the actions of fallen Angels and men as evil–though he ordained that they should become evil–but “for the sake of the good that He causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof.”

This leads to the second inevitable question, namely, “What is that good for which God ordained actions so that they should be sinful?” The ultimate good that arises from God ordaining all the actions of fallen Angels and men is the good of God getting glory by a display of His attributes. Edwards tackles this subject head on in his philosophical masterpiece, The End for Which God Ordained the World, by appealing to Romans 9:22-23. There the Apostle Paul wrote:

“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23).

The Apostle explained that God does all that he does with regard to the eternal decree regarding the destinies of men in order to show forth the glory of His attributes. Those who remain in a state of wrath, God has secured for eternal judgment to show forth his justice. God is a just and holy God and will punish all evil. He does this either by imputing the sin of His people to His Son or by punishing the unregenerate in hell forever. In the latter case, God has ordained evil in order to show forth His wrath and power. This is the good for which God has ordained evil. In the case of the elect, God has reconciled them to Himself by punishing their sin on His Son. This is to display His mercy and grace in the face of their sin. In both cases, good is brought out of evil.

On Judgment Day, we will see clearly what we so struggle to see in the here and now. Augustine once put it so well when he said that there was just enough mercy in the world for us to know that God is merciful and just enough justice to know that God is just. On the Last Day, we will see the glorious good purposes for which God ordained the actions of all of His creatures–including those actions that would be evil.

Understanding Evil

Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question by Joe Rigney (original source here)

Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) is assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He is a pastor at Cities Church.

Introduction

Where was God?

The question is always the same.

After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: Where was God?

Did he know it was going to happen? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9-10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.

Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?

But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:

This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It For Good’”)

All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)? What about a school? I don’t say that lightly. I realize what I’m saying. Or rather, I know what the Scriptures are saying. I’ve wept with parents as they watched their child die slowly of an incurable disease. I’ve watched dementia rob me of my father, taunting me and my family with his slow death. I realize that confessing God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, including the pain in my lower back and the cruel disease stalking my dad and the horrific actions of a wicked man in Connecticut, is hard to fathom. But I’m not helped at all by removing God from the equation, by making him a spectator watching the tragedy unfold on CNN like the rest of us. If he can’t keep evil from happening on the front end, then how can he possibly bring us comfort on the back end?

It’s questions like these that have driven me again and again to the Scriptures. And what I’ve found there is a wealth of help in navigating the problem(s) of evil (there’s not just one, you know).

There’s the biblical-theological problem: What does the Bible teach on God’s goodness and the reality of evil, and how can we coherently put the pieces together? Continue reading

Confronting Evil

Here’s an article well worth reading by Joe Rigney entitled ” and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question.”

Where was God?

The question is always the same.

After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: Where was God?

Did he know it was going to happen? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9-10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.

Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?

But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:

This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It For Good’”)

All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Continue reading

Does God Author, Cause, or Permit Sin?

From the Desiring God website: These excerpts from John Frame’s The Doctrine of God (P&R, 2003), provide an accessible and thoughtful analysis of how to talk about God’s sovereignty over sin:

This is part 1 of a 4-part series on how to talk about God’s sovereignty over sin.

In his last three sermons, John Piper has made some provocative statements about God’s sovereignty over sin.

August 12: “God created [Satan and his demons] knowing what they would become and how, in that very evil role, they would glorify Christ. Knowing everything they would become, God created them for the glory of Christ.”

August 19: “God is sovereign over Satan, and therefore Satan’s will does not move without God’s permission. And therefore every move of Satan is part of God’s overall purpose and plan.”

August 26: “[E]verything that exists—including evil—is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly. . . . Adam’s sin and the fall of the human race with him into sin and misery did not take God off guard and is part of his overarching plan to display the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ.”

Desiring God has received a batch of emails in response—some more heated than others!—questioning (or outright disagreeing with) God’s sovereignty over sin.

We’ve found that John Frame provides some significant help on how to talk about God’s sovereignty over sin… If you get some help here, we’d highly recommend purchasing The Doctrine of God.

* * *

The following is from The Doctrine of God, Chapter 9, “The Problem of Evil,” by John Frame. The headings are added; the paragraphs are Dr. Frame’s.

God Is Sovereign Over Sin
. . . God does harden hearts, and through his prophets he predicts sinful human actions long in advance, indicating that he is in control of human free decisions. Now theologians have found it difficult to formulate in general terms how God acts to bring about those sinful actions. . . . Do we want to say that God is the “cause” of evil? That language is certainly problematic, since we usually associate cause with blame. . . . [I]t seems that if God causes sin and evil, he must be to blame for it.

Words: The Theologian’s Tools
Therefore, there has been much discussion among theologians as to what verb should best describes God’s agency in regard to evil. Some initial possibilities:authors, brings about, causes, controls, creates, decrees, foreordains, incites, includes within his plan, makes happen, ordains, permits, plans, predestines, predetermines, produces, stands behind, wills. Many of these are extra-scriptural terms; none of them are perfectly easy to define in this context. So theologians need to give some careful thought about which of these terms, if any, should be affirmed, and in what sense. Words are the theologian’s tools. In a situation like this, none of the possibilities is fully adequate. There are various advantages and disadvantages among the different terms. Let us consider some of those that are most frequently discussed.

1) Does God Author Sin?
The term authors is almost universally condemned in the theological literature. It is rarely defined, but it seems to mean both that God is the efficient cause of evil and that by causing evil he actually does something wrong.1 So the [Westminster Confession] says that God “neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin” (5:4). Despite this denial in a major Reformed confession, Arminians regularly charge that Reformed theology makes God the author of sin. They assume that if God brings about evil in any sense, he must therefore approve it and deserve the blame. In their view, nothing less than libertarian freedom will serve to absolve God from the charge of authoring sin.

God Does Not Author Sin
But as we saw [in chapter 8] libertarian freedom is incoherent and unbiblical. And as we saw [in chapter 4] God does bring about sinful human actions. To deny this, or to charge God with wickedness on account of it, is not open to a Bible-believing Christian. Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless. . . . God does bring sins about, but always for his own good purposes. So in bringing sin to pass he does not himself commit sin. If that argument is sound, then a Reformed doctrine of the sovereignty of God does not imply that God is the author of sin. Continue reading

Thoughts about Evil

In a short article entitled, “Cautious Observations on the Existence of Evil” Sam Storms shares a few thoughts of his own before drawing from those of Jonathan Edwards:

In the endless dialogue on why a good and powerful God would permit the existence of evil, no one has provided a more cogent and biblical explanation than Jonathan Edwards. It may not answer all our questions; in fact, it even raises a few new ones. But my sense is that this is as close as we’ll ever come to understanding in small measure a mystery that is ultimately beyond our grasp.

That being said, let me set forth a few cautious observations about the existence of evil before we look at Edwards’s proposal.

First, God is good in all he does, even when we explore the relationship of his will to the existence of evil. In him there is no darkness. Although he willed that evil exist, he is not evil or unrighteous in his essential being or in any of his acts or decrees. Regardless of where one lands in this discussion, on this point there can be no equivocation: God is eternally and infinitely good. The existence of evil is no threat to the goodness or greatness of God.

Second, in terms of what evil is, in and of itself, God hates it. This isn’t to say he doesn’t permit or ordain it or that he cannot use it for our good and his glory. It is simply to say that at the heart of this mystery is that God governs evil at the same time he is grieved by it. Evil is not in the slightest degree less evil nor is God in the slightest degree less good simply because God wills that evil exist. This will only make sense if we understand that whereas God hates evil for what it is, in itself (absolutely and simply), he nevertheless wills that evil be for the sake of what he can accomplish through it for the glory of his name and the ultimate good of his people. Thus, with a view to the greater glory of God, he is pleased to ordain his own displeasure. What displeases him because of its intrinsic wickedness, he either decrees or permits because of its place in the universal scheme of his purposes in Christ.

Third, since God hates evil, so should we. No explanation or account for the existence of evil can ever be used to justify our sin or be allowed to diminish our opposition to evil in all its many manifestations. The bottom line is this: if you find yourself increasingly content with evil, if you find yourself less offended with evil as time passes, if you find yourself less inclined to come to the aid of those who are its victims, you have not properly understood the Scriptures and your theory of the reason or cause for the existence of evil is fatally flawed. Any account for the existence of evil that does not energize Christians to work against it or does not elicit compassion for those who are suffering from its effects is seriously, if not fatally, flawed.

Fourth, God is sovereign over evil. It is never outside his control. Although this raises the question of why, if he is sovereign over it, he does not eliminate it, there can be no doubt that evil is subject to his power and purposes. God could have prevented the existence of evil from the beginning and could at any moment eradicate all evil from the universe. He is not limited by evil or frustrated by its presence. Having said that, we must be careful never to suggest that evil is intrinsically anything less than evil simply because we know it somehow, mysteriously, serves a purpose in God’s plan for human history.

Fifth, God will judge and punish evil. If nothing else makes sense when it comes to the existence of evil, rest assured that one day God will put the world to rights. One day God will expose every lie and vindicate every truth. One day evil and its unrepentant perpetrators will be brought to account. Justice is inevitable. Hell is real.

We are now ready to take note of how Edwards explained the existence of sin and evil. [I have taken the liberty of smoothing out Edwards’ prose in order to bring greater clarity to his theological argument. The full entry in his Miscellanies from which this has been taken can be found in Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,” edited by Thomas A. Schafer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), no.348, pp. 419-20.]

“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all, for then the effulgence would not answer the reality.”

Edwards argues elsewhere that it is more than “proper” and “excellent” that God’s glory shine forth in its fullness, it is essential. This isn’t because something other than and outside God requires it of him. Rather, it is the very nature of divine glory that it tends toward self-expression and expansion, not in the sense of growth or quantitative increase, but manifestation and display for the sake of the joy of God’s creatures in it. Not only that, but it is “proper” that all of God’s glory be seen that we may know God as he truly is and not simply in part. If one or several divine attributes were disproportionately dominant in their display (and others barely noted at all), an imbalanced and inaccurate view of God would emerge (this is what Edwards meant when he said that otherwise “the effulgence would not answer the reality”). He continues:

“Thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.”

In using the word “necessary” he is not suggesting that sin, considered in and of itself, has a right or inherent claim on existence. Rather, sin was “necessary” in the sense that in its absence there would be no occasion for the display of his righteous wrath, justice, and holiness as that in God which requires punishment (or at least no display sufficient for a “complete” or true knowledge of what God is like and why he is glorious). And without a revelation (or “shining forth”) of the wrath that sin deserves there would scarcely be a revelation of the true and majestic depths of goodness, love, and grace that deliver us from it. Thus he concludes:

“If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s justice in hatred of sin or in punishing it, . . . or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. No matter how much happiness he might bestow, his goodness would not be nearly as highly prized and admired. . . . and the sense of his goodness heightened.

So evil is necessary if the glory of God is to be perfectly and completely displayed. It is also necessary for the highest happiness of humanity, because our happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of God is imperfect (because of a disproportionate display of his attributes), the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.”

Why does God allow so much suffering and evil?

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” – Amos 3:6

In light of the events of the last few days, I re-watched a message from the West Coast Ligonier Conference (2008) by Dr. John MacArthur on the question of evil and suffering in this world. It was a very good use of an hour as it fixed my heart and mind on the truth claims of the Bible regarding God’s Sovereignty over evil in this world. I very much recommend this teaching found here:

Here are some notes I made as I watched:

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SO MUCH EVIL AND SUFFERING?

FOUR FORMS OF EVIL:

NATURAL EVIL

MORAL EVIL – Personal sin (transgression)

SUPERNATURAL EVIL – Sophisticated corrupt spiritual identities that seek to torment, entice, deceive and seduce (heresy and false religions have their source in the demonic – the doctrine of demons – 1 Tim 4)

THE EVIL OF HELL (eternal punishment)

Three statements:
1) Evil exists.
2) God exists.
3) God wills evil to exist (He takes full responsibility for all that occurs). If He did not permit its existence, it would not be here.

Evil occurs because God, who could have prevented it, permits it. The permission of evil is under the control of God. To say that it is permitted is to underline the point because God is not Himself evil and could not be the author of evil (James 1:13). It is vital to stress this. But it is not as if, when evil occurs, God temporarily loses control of the universe that He has created and sustains and governs.

“…though Christians face the difficulty of explaining the presence of evil in the universe, the pagan has a problem that is twice as difficult. Before one can even have a problem of evil, one must first have an antecedent existence of the good. Those who complain about the problem of evil now also have the problem of defining the existence of the good. Without God there is no ultimate standard for the good.” – R. C. Sproul

In order to try to get around what some people think to be a poor reflection on God regarding point number 3, two main theological errors have been put forward.

1. Process Theology – in simple terms, the idea that God is learning and growing and developing as He reacts to the events of time.
2. Openness Theology – the idea that the future does not yet exist and so not even God knows it. However this goes against clear statements of Scripture. God knows the end from the beginning, is omniscient, and this is why such much of the Bible is prophetic in nature.

Westminster Confession of Faith: God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
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Is God the Author of Sin? Jonathan Edwards’ Answer

John Piper:

Edwards answers, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”

But, he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his “positive agency.”

God is, Edwards says, “the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted . . . will most certainly and infallibly follow.”

He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. “If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness,” he says, “it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun.” In other words, “sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.”

Thus in one sense God wills that what he hates come to pass, as well as what he loves. Edwards says,

God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.

This is a fundamental truth that helps explain some perplexing things in the Bible, namely, that God often expresses his will to be one way, and then acts to bring about another state of affairs.

God opposes hatred toward his people, yet ordained that his people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25—”He turned their hearts to hate his people”).

He hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but commands him to let his people go (Exodus 4:21; 5:1; 8:1).

He makes plain that it is sin for David to take a military census of his people, but he ordains that he do it (2 Samuel 24:1; 24:10).

He opposes adultery, but ordains that Absalom should lie with his father’s wives (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 12:11).

He forbids rebellion and insubordination against the king, but ordained that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel against Rehoboam (Romans 13:1; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 12:15-16).

He opposes murder, but ordains the murder of his Son (Exodus 20:13; Acts 4:28).

He desires all men to be saved, but effectually calls only some (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-30; 2 Timothy 2:26).

What this means is that we must learn that God wills things in two different senses. The Bible demands this by the way it speaks of God’s will in different ways. Edwards uses the terms “will of decree” and “will of command.” Edwards explains:

[God’s] will of decree [or sovereign will] is not his will in the same sense as his will of command [or moral will] is. Therefore it is not difficult at all to suppose that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended that virtue or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is his inclination to a thing not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with reference to the universality of things. So God, though he hates a things as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things.

HT: JT

A Good Hard Look at Evil

The question of evil is a big one and far bigger than most Christians realise. Dr. R. C. Sproul has outlined the issue very well.

In an article entitled “The Mystery of Iniquity,” Dr. Sproul writes:

It has been called the Achilles’ heel of the Christian faith. Of course, I’m referring to the classical problem of the existence of evil. Philosophers such as John Stuart Mill have argued that the existence of evil demonstrates that God is either not omnipotent or not good and loving — the reasoning being that if evil exists apart from the sovereign power of God, then by resistless logic, God cannot be deemed omnipotent. On the other hand, if God does have the power to prevent evil but fails to do it, then this would reflect upon His character, indicating that He is neither good nor loving.

Because of the persistence of this problem, the church has seen countless attempts at what is called theodicy. The term theodicy involves the combining of two Greek words: the word for God, theos, and the word for justification, dikaios. Hence, a theodicy is an attempt to justify God for the existence of evil (as seen, for instance, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost). Such theodicies have covered the gauntlet between a simple explanation that evil comes as a direct result of human free will or to more complex philosophical attempts such as that offered by the philosopher Leibniz. In his theodicy, which was satired by Voltaire’s Candide, Leibniz distinguished among three types of evil: natural evil, metaphysical evil, and moral evil. In this three-fold schema, Leibniz argued that moral evil is an inevitable and necessary consequence of finitude, which is a metaphysical lack of complete being. Because every creature falls short of infinite being, that shortfall must necessarily yield defects such as we see in moral evil. The problem with this theodicy is that it fails to take into account the biblical ideal of evil. If evil is a metaphysical necessity for creatures, then obviously Adam and Eve had to have been evil before the fall and would have to continue to be evil even after glorification in heaven.

To this date, I have yet to find a satisfying explanation for what theologians call the mystery of iniquity. Please don’t send me letters giving your explanations, usually focusing on some dimension of human free will. I’m afraid that many people fail to feel the serious weight of this burden of explanation. The simple presence of free will is not enough to explain the origin of evil, in as much as we still must ask how a good being would be inclined freely to choose evil. The inclination for the will to act in an immoral manner is already a signal of sin.

One of the most important approaches to the problem of evil is that set forth originally by Augustine and then later by Aquinas, in which they argued that evil has no independent being. Evil cannot be defined as a thing or as a substance or as some kind of being. Rather, evil is always defined as an action, an action that fails to meet a standard of goodness. In this regard, evil has been defined in terms of its being either a negation (negatio) of the good, or a privation (privatio) of the good. In both cases, the very definition of evil depends upon a prior understanding of the good. In this regard, as Augustine argued, evil is parasitic — that is, it depends upon the good for its very definition. We think of sin as something that is unrighteous, involving disobedience, immorality, and the like. All of these definitions depend upon the positive substance of the good for their very definition. Augustine argues that though Christians face the difficulty of explaining the presence of evil in the universe, the pagan has a problem that is twice as difficult. Before one can even have a problem of evil, one must first have an antecedent existence of the good. Those who complain about the problem of evil now also have the problem of defining the existence of the good. Without God there is no ultimate standard for the good.

In contemporary days, this problem has been resolved by simply denying both evil and good. Such a problem, however, faces enormous difficulties, particularly when one suffers at the hands of someone who inflicts evil upon them. It is easy for us to deny the existence of evil until we ourselves are victims of someone’s wicked action.
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