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THEOLOGY > God > Providence > Providence and Evil 


Evil is the Achilles' heel of the Christian faith, at least in the minds of many. For the humanist the reality of evil invalidates the claims of those who follow Christ. It is not a new problem; the problem is this: on the one hand, a good and powerful God; and, on the other hand, the existence of evil. These two realities are inconsistent, or so it seems, and the fact that both are part of the Christian teaching nullifies for many thinkers the Christian religion itself.

If God is good and powerful, then why does evil plague the earth? The rationale is as follows:

If God is good,
then He must not be powerful,
because a good God who is powerful would not allow evil.

If God is powerful,
then He must not be good,
because a powerful God who is good would not allow evil.

Perhaps it is appropriate to admit that this is not just a problem for the unbeliever, it is also a problem for many Christians. For most believers the question is simply worded in this manner: Why did God allow sin? For the more reflective thinker, the issue takes the above form.

Thus there is a dilemma facing the believer: the God of the Bible and the presence of evil, both natural and moral evil. How does the believer respond to the skeptic? How does the Christian defend the faith? While admitting that there is no final answer, some observations are needed and can be justified.

One, God is good and God is powerful. Undeniably this is the teaching of Scripture; it is not one or the other, but both characteristics belong to God and these facts must be accepted by the believer—Revelation requires it. Compromise or modification of these attributes cannot be entertained if one is true to the text (see: God’s Essence) .

Two, sin is real. Not only are we confronted daily by things we perceive to be evil, the Bible affirms the existence of evil. But its existence does not make invalid the existence of God who is totally good and powerful. Because tension is created by affirming both God and evil, it is not, therefore, proper to deny one or the other. In fact, the believer cannot deny either. Both are present realities according to the Scriptures. Rejection of either does not solve the problem. Perhaps the problem cannot be solved, but denial of the God who is good and powerful or denial of the reality of evil does not bring resolution to philosophical and theological reflection on the issue.

What is evil? No consensus answer has arisen within the Church. It did not exist in eternity prior to Creation, and it was not a part of original Creation—all that God made was “very good” (Gen. 1:31; see: A Very Good Creation). There was a “time” when evil was not.

In the existence of evil is the problem of evil—evil should not be. It does not seem that it ought to exist. It is that which is inconsistent with God’s good Creation. Evil is an intruder, an interloper; it does not fit—it is something alien. It is so alien that it is difficult to define, leading some believers, like Augustine, to deny that evil has reality and must be spoken of as a negation of the good. While this may safeguard the association of God and evil for some, it seems to minimize the seriousness of evil. It seems that evil must be accepted as a something and the description of evil must sum up its essence: “there is such a thing as sin, but it is illegitimate” (Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, 224).

Three, evil is consistent with the will of God. It must be maintained that God’s ultimate plan for His Creation includes evil, even though evil is an illegitimate thing. To affirm this does not impugn God so as to make Him guilty of sin, for God does not commit sin. Sin is according to His will—the result of His efficient cause; however, He is not guilty of sinning in His willing of sin, a crucial point. Whatever He does is right. He is God!

Acceptance of Scripture requires the above paragraph; consider the following verse: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:7; “calamity” in the NKJV is “disaster” in the NIV and “evil” in the KJV). The Hebrew word is ra, a word appearing over 600 times in the Old Testament, and, according to Young’s Analytical Concordance, is translated “evil” 444 times in the KJV. It is used in the following verses:

the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (ra) (Gen. 2:9);

the children of Israel did evil (ra) in the sight of YHWH (Jud. 2:11);

he saw that evil (ra) was determined against him by the king (Esth. 7:7);

the face of YHWH is against those who do evil (ra) (Ps. 34:16);

Against You . . . have I sinned, and done this evil (ra) in Your sigh” (Ps. 51:4);

the fear of YHWH is to hate evil (ra) (Prov. 8:13);

you who hate good and love evil (ra) (Micah 3:2).

From these seven verses out of the 444 verses, the meaning of ra should be apparent. The word cannot be limited to natural catastrophe (“calamity” or “disaster” as in the NKJV or NIV); the word may include that, but mostly the word is used to identify that which we usually associate with the concept of evil. And plainly in Isaiah God says: “I create (ra) evil.” “Create” is bara, the same word used in Genesis 1:1.

Should not the conclusion be reached that God must have “willed” the existence of evil or it would not exist? If the answer is in the negative, then it seems that there is something that arose that is outside of God’s plan and not under His control, something that is in existence that was not created by Him.

Four, evil events that were caused by God are reported in the Bible. Numerous examples could be stated, but one from each Testament will be given.

Speaking on the Day of Pentecost, Peter discusses “Jesus of Nazareth”; of Him, he says that He was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). In his epistle he adds: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (I Pet. 1:20). The most despicable act of all, the crucifixion of the Son of God by the sons of men, was “foreordained” and “determined” by God, determined before God made anything. It was not possible that this act of evil would not occur, for it was His purpose for it to occur.

Repeatedly in connection with Pharaoh, God affirms to Moses that He would harden his heart so that he would not let the Children of Israel leave their captivity in Egypt. Before Moses returned to Egypt, God declares to him: “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Ex. 4:21; see: 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). Therefore the intransigence of Pharaoh was God’s doing. It should be noted that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 32; 9:34), but this was after the initial hardening by God.

Five, the Bible affirms that God does not commit evil. Scripture abounds with testimony to this fact:

a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He (Deut. 32:4);

far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to commit iniquity (Job. 34:10);

You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with you (Ps. 5:4);

for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (Jas. 1:13);

the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17);

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (I Jo. 1:5).

The cause of evil is not with God but with man, for man does the sinning. Man is the cause of his own sin, a cause which is determined by God through the use of secondary causes that lead man to make the decisions he makes; thus God’s plan comes to pass, but God Himself is not culpable. God is not the immediate cause of man’s individual sin; the Bible teaches that humans are responsible for the evil they do

To begin to think that sin is God’s responsibility in the sense of accountability is to begin to think incorrectly about the fact of sovereignty. God must be viewed as the One guaranteeing the act, but man is the one who commits the act. If God does evil, then He is not God.

God is the cause of no man’s sin.
It is true God has a hand in the action where sin is,
but no hand in the sin of the action.
Thomas Boston
(A Body of Divinity
, 122)

Six, evil is used by God to accomplish His purpose. In fact, evil is part of His purpose; even the wicked have been prepared for the Day of Judgment (Prov. 16:4). To Pharaoh, God announces: “For this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you” (Ex. 9:16); and of the man affected by the evil of blindness, Jesus indicates that he was in this condition “that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jo. 9:1). The psalmist attests: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You” (Ps. 76:10). Seeking to allay the fear of his brothers after the death of their father, Joseph tells them that even though “you sold me,” it was “God who sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).

Evil is neither a problem nor dilemma for God, but is one of the instruments whereby He accomplishes His will. It is right for Him to do so, because He is God. But what is right for God is wrong for man, because man is not God. If God is not in control of evil, then there is an essence in the universe that is outside of His control; and this would bring into question God’s ability to accomplish His will. If God did not intend for evil to exist and allowed it to be, then He is not in control of all things; if this is the case, then how can He be God?

Seven, evil will be judged by God. “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:31) and He has reserved “the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (II Pet. 2:9). The dead will be raised and judged, and “anyone not found written in the book of Life” will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). “YHWH is a God of justice” (Isa. 30:18) and “true and righteous are His judgments” (Rev. 19:2).

In conclusion it should be pointed out that the Bible does not deal with the question of the existence of evil and the holiness of God—how both can exist; in the Scriptures the reality of Providence and the presence of evil never poses a problem. From the perspective of Revelation it is not a dilemma. Both are affirmed by God’s Word, and the inspired writings do not seek to defend God or justify God in the face of the existence of evil. It is a problem in man’s thinking; the problem has no foundation in the Divine Essence.

For the believer who is searching for a definitive explanation,
“the problem of God’s relation to sin remains a mystery.”
Louis Berkhof
(ST, 175)

See: The Problem of Evil and The God of the Bible and the Problem of Evil

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