26 October 2009

The Problem of Evil (Yes, it IS a Problem)

by Phil Johnson

omeone somewhere recently must have broadcast one of my messages where I mentioned the problem of evil and the sovereignty of God. Because I have been besieged lately by e-mails, Facebook messages, and Tweets from a handful of gung-ho Calvinists (currently veering at breakneck speed into hyper-Calvinism) who want to take issue with something I said. What I said is that God is neither the author, the agent, nor the efficient cause of evil. Evil is not something He created; rather, when He finished creating, He pronounced everything good. Nor does evil in any way emanate from Him, because He is light in whom there is no darkness. The responsibility (as well as the blame) for evil belongs to fallen creatures, not the Creator.

Anyway, these young men (who have recently discovered the doctrines of grace and are evidently still in the cage stage) have been writing me to dispute that point. "There is no 'problem of evil,'" a typical correspondent wrote. "What's the problem? God, who is the Creator of all things and who uses all things in the outworking of His eternal plan, Created evil for His own purpose. That poses no problem because God is above His own law and outside of it. Because He is subject to no law Himself, whatever He does is good, period. He can do anything, and when He does it, it becomes good."

"Can God lie?" I asked?

"Of course," my correspondent replied, flatly contradicting Titus 1:2.

The view that fellow was espousing is the ex lex theodicy—the notion that God can actively and directly cause evil, and that He can violate the moral standards of His own law because he is outside the law (Latin: ex lex) and therefore subject to no law and no set of principles whatsoever.

Let's stipulate that God is subject to no law and is Himself the ultimate Lawgiver, responsible to no one but Himself. (That is, after all, what we mean when we affirm that God is absolutely sovereign.) Nevertheless, it is blasphemous folly to conclude that God can lie, or deny the truth, or otherwise be the agent and efficient cause of evil. He cannot (and will not) do those things because they are contrary to His character. The law forbids such things precisely because the moral standard of the law reflects His character. God may not be subject to the law, but He will not deny Himself or act in a way contrary to His character.

Here's an excerpt from something I wrote and posted on this subject at my original blog several years ago:

ordon Clark wrote a short but very thought-provoking work titled "God and Evil: The problem Solved" (originally a chapter in his book Religion, Reason and Revelation, now also published as a standalone work). The work itself is not on the Web, but a sympathetic review and summary by Gary Crampton may be found here. In some respects, Clark's work is helpful, explaining clearly (for example) the principle of secondary causation and how it relates to the issue of culpability. (This is an important point which, as noted below, Clark then unfortunately proceeds to make moot.)

Clark also gives several clear reasons why it's neither biblical nor rational to argue that God merely "permitted" evil without sovereignly decreeing it.

(Without getting sidetracked on a secondary issue, let me go on record as saying I believe there is a permissive element in God's decree with respect to evil. That is, His decree doesn't make him the author or efficient cause of evil. But, as Calvin said, God's role in the origin of evil is not bare permission. In other words, it's not permission against His will, but a positive decree. In that respect, I think Clark is absolutely right, and his arguments on this point are cogent and persuasive.)

But in the process, Clark makes much of the ex lex argument to absolve God from the charge that He is therefore culpable for the entry of evil into His creation. This, I believe, is not particularly helpful, and a lot of people who have been influenced by Clark and who think he has neatly and easily solved the problem of evil tend to fall into terribly sloppy thinking about divine holiness, God's instrumentality with respect to evil, and the relationship between causality and culpability.

Anyway, I think John Frame's assessment of Clark's famous theodicy is helpful. Here it is. Frame's own footnotes are included in braces {and faint type}:

[Clark's] argument is that God is ex lex, which means "outside of the law." The idea is that God is outside of or above the laws he prescribes for man. He tells us not to kill, yet he retains for himself the right to take human life. Thus, he is not himself bound to obey the Ten Commandments or any other law given to man in Scripture. Morally, he is on an entirely different level from us. Therefore, he has the right to do many things that seem evil to us, even things which contradict Scriptural norms. For a man to cause evil indirectly might very well be wrong, but it would not be wrong for God. {But on this basis, it would also not be wrong for God to cause evil directly. That is why I said this argument makes the indirect-cause argument beside the point.} Thus Clark neatly finesses any argument against God's justice or goodness.

There is some truth in this approach. As we shall see, Scripture does forbid human criticism of God's actions, and the reason is, as Clark implies, divine transcendence. It is also true that God has some prerogatives that he forbids to us, such as the freedom to take human life.

Clark forgets, however, or perhaps denies, the Reformed and biblical maxim that the law reflects God's own character. To obey the law is to imitate God, to be like him, to image him (Ex. 20:11; Lev. 11:44-45; Matt. 5:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). There is in biblical ethics also an imitation of Christ, centered on the atonement (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:3ff.; 1 John 3:16; 4:8-10). Obviously, there is much about God that we cannot imitate, including those prerogatives mentioned earlier. Satan tempted Eve into seeking to become "like God" in the sense of coveting His prerogatives (Gen. 3:5). {John Murray said that the difference between the two ways of seeking God's likeness appears to be a razor's edge, while there is actually a deep chasm between them.} But the overall holiness, justice, and goodness of God is something we can and must imitate on the human level.

So God does honor, in general, the same law that he gives to us. He rules out murder because he hates to see one human being murder another, and he intends to reserve for himself the right to control human death. He prohibits adultery because he hates adultery (which is a mirror of idolatry—see Hosea). We can be assured that God will behave according to the same standards of holiness that he prescribes for us, except insofar as Scripture declares a difference between his responsibilities and ours.

{Oddly, Clark, who is usually accused of being a Platonic realist, at this point veers into the opposite of realism, namely, nominalism. The extreme nominalists held that the biblical laws were not reflections of God's nature, but merely arbitrary requirements. God could have as easily commanded adultery as forbidden it. I mentioned this once in a letter to Clark, and he appreciated the irony, but did not provide an answer. Why, I wonder, didn't he deal with moral law the same way he dealt with reason and logic in, e.g., The Johannine Logos (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972)? There he argued that God's reason/logic was neither above God (Plato) nor below God (nominalism), but God's own rational nature. Why did he not take the same view of God's moral standards?}

[From: Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 166-68.]

Frame concludes that Clark's ex lex defense "simply is not biblical." I think he's right.
I hope that helps.

Phil's signature


Logan Paschke said...

it does.

thanks for giving some more stuff to think through on this hard subject.

Ever since I heard Macarthur say at a recent conference (in the context of the culpability of God) "There's a difference between God's willing something and God's creating something."

It's hard for us mortals to understand what we have when we can not see it. Walk by faith...

Becky Schell said...

Really good.

Did this bother you? He tells us not to kill, yet he retains for himself the right to take human life.

My understanding is that the command is a prohibition against murder, not simply taking human life. God gave the governing authorities that right for the purpose of administering justice.

This is a little better, He rules out murder because he hates to see one human being murder another, and he intends to reserve for himself the right to control human death, but this still fails to mention the God-given authority of earthly governors to carry out capital punishment.

Also, God never takes the life of a person unjustly (which the first statement seems to indicate and would violate His character and nature), so it seems to me that this premise isn't an example of ex lex at all.

Sir Brass said...

You know, I really don't see it as a problem either:

God ordained that evil would occur, and that He uses all things for good for those who love him (including using evil). Yet without being the author of sin nor denying His use of secondary causes....

Aw nuts; I see what you mean.

But you know, I'm fine with that. He ordained it, yet He is not the author of it, yet He is still 100% sovereign over it. I'm not sure my mind can get itself around all that (THAT is the problem), but the bible declares all that, and I think I'm alright with leaving it AT that.

And I take SERIOUS issue with anyone who says that God can violate His own law with regards to them reflecting His character (by that I mean that God could have set up the ceremonial and civil laws however He saw fit, whereas the moral law could never have been anything other than it was due to the fact that it reflects His character. A sabbath day's journey could have been 2x as long and His character would not have been violated by Him decreeing it to be so, but He could not declare murder to NOT be murder lest He violate His character).

lukeisham said...

With out a clear distinction between good and evil we are left with a monochrome moral universe, similar to the grey soup of nihilism.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I used to use the "God could just as easily commanded adultery" line too.
Graciously enough, God has repaired that thinking for me.

It IS a tough thing to get one's head around, (particularly when issues of abuse and other evils that make us shudder at the very thought, come up) and I think that in claiming to understand it fully, we show our ignorance.

I like Sir Brass' response. I don't understand how it works either, but I'm OK with it.

But, if God didn't walk with us, when the evil happens to us, I don't think we'd be able to be OK with it.

DJP said...

Excellent, helpful, solid, thanks.

SandMan said...

It is only trust God's character that helps me weather the onslaught of evil in the world. Bad things happen... or happened if you are talking about the rebellion of Lucifer, and the fall of Adam and Eve. If a person saw a child in the street in danger of being smashed by a car and did nothing, we would all conclude that the by-stader who watched a child get smeared committed atrocious evil. God foresaw evil and even permitted it (equal to a decree as some have said), yet He is without guilt. The only way that I begin to understand this is by trusting in the goodness, justice, holiness, mercy, love, righteousness of God's character. To say that God can arbitrarily set aside those attributes to "commit" evil, undermines the only security we have in the face evil occurances. Evil isn't good because God "did" it, God is good so we trust in Him when evil is done by the creation.

olan strickland said...

God is neither the author, the agent, nor the efficient cause of evil.

Amen Phil!

Those who use the ex lex theodicy do not justify God but blaspheme him as you said. Surely if the doing of evil is justified because of the good it produces then the end justifies the means; God is the supreme pragmatist; and we can do evil that good may come (Romans 3:8).

Not only that; Christ died needlessly then because God would be able to forgive apart from penal-substitution. He could offer mercy on an illegal basis (one that doesn't match His character) and could therefore forgive in any way He wants.

ezekiel said...


Pro 16:4 The Lord has made everything [to accommodate itself and contribute] to its own end and His own purpose--even the wicked [are fitted for their role] for the day of calamity and evil.

Isa 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace [national well-being] and I create [physical] evil (calamity); I am the Lord, Who does all these things.

This is the amplified version but the others seem to say the same thing.

Isa 45:7

(AMP) I form the light and create darkness, I make peace [national well-being] and I create [physical] evil (calamity); I am the Lord, Who does all these things.

(ESV) I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

(KJV+) I form3335 the light,216 and create1254 darkness:2822 I make6213 peace,7965 and create1254 evil:7451 I589 the LORD3068 do6213 all3605 these428 things.

(KJV-1611) I forme the light, and create darkenesse: I make peace, and create euill: I the Lord do all these things.

How do we reconcile these scriptures with the idea that God doesn't create evil or calamity?

Why do we pray "lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil"?

Beal said...
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Hayden said...


Make sure you differentiate between evil and calamity. I do not think that Phil is saying that God does not bring discipline/calamity to His children.

I do think Phil is saying that no one will be able to say to God, 'It's your fault'

Jerry Bridges does an excellent job explaining how trials are for our good in "Trusting God". If you haven't read it, pick up a copy, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. :--)

Beal said...

Oooh yes, Isaiah 45:7 is something that can't be explained away. Please exegete that. Also, not to be a proof-texter, but...to be one, we must associate God with evil in some sense in the light of these verses as well (just a handful):
(Genesis 50:20) But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

(1 Samuel 16:14) But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.

(2 Samuel 24:1) And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

(Job 2:10) But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

(Isaiah 53:10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

(Amos 3:6) Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

(Ephesians 1:11) In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

(Ecclesiastes 7:14) In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

(Lamentations 3:38) Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Maybe we are trying to let God off the hook when He doesn't want to be let off the hook? Jay Adams wrote a great book on this subject called, "The Grand Demonstration: A Biblical Study of the So-Called Problem of Evil." It is a short read and well worth it....

Chad VanRens said...
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ezekiel said...


Not having all the skills and background that most of you guys have, all I can rely on is Strongs and I don't want to derail this discussion into a critique of that.

But here it is, the Hebrew for the word "evil" in the KJV.

רעה רע
ra‛ râ‛âh
rah, raw-aw'
From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: - adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]

We can argue about the 17th century context but if we accept that argument then we have to agree that the WORD is forever changing and subject to cultural biases and I am not willing to do that.

Even if we are to go there, as I understand it, the ESV is a pretty modern translation, what do we call evil today in our culture? How do we define that? Would it sound a lot like the definition Strongs uses?

Nash Equilibrium said...

If God allowed himself to violate his own laws, then what would be the defense against the old canard of "can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?"

ezekiel said...


BTW, your point is well understood about the difference between how everything works to the good of those that love God. Even we can mistakenly look at discipline as evil but we know better.

But for the rest of the world, those that are not sons, those already condemned, the wrath of God remains upon them. And that evil doesn't look to be any different than the evil/calamity He brought to bear upon Israel down through history.

olan strickland said...

Ezekiel and Brian:

The meaning of a word is determined by its context. This has been and always will be true. Therefore when you come to Isaiah 45:7 and read that God creates both peace and evil then the context in which the word "evil" is being used must be considered or you have a pretext or proof-text.

What is the context of Isaiah chapter 45? God is going to send Israel into exile for her disobedience to His covenant (which He promised He would do if they did not obey) - this is the calamity or evil that God is going to create. But God promises to raise up Cyrus to set His people free from captivity (Isaiah 45:1, 13) after they have been punished and thereby creating peace.

Isaiah 45:7 in no way makes God the author, agent, or efficient cause of evil.

ezekiel said...

Olan Strickland,

2Ch 22:7 But the destruction of Ahaziah was ordained of God in his coming to visit Joram. For when he got there he went out with Joram against Jehu son of Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab.

I am not going to bother (I would just be accused of prooftexting) to look the other ones up but there is a clear pattern and history of God sending lying spirits, and ordaining/anointing/choosing Nebuchadnezzar and others to do what they did.

olan strickland said...


I'm not arguing that God isn't ordaining destruction. I'm arguing that God's ordination of destruction is just and not unjust; that God is only doing what He promised He would do based on either obedience or disobedience to His covenant; and therefore God is not the author, agent, nor efficient cause of evil.

In each case the disobedient people of God were culpable for their own calamity and those whom God used as instruments of punishment were also culpable and judged by God.

Here's the point: God is just to send lying or deluding spirits, wicked kings or nations, or famine or sword or any other thing - not because He is ex lex but precisely because He is the Lawgiver and Judge who never violates His own holy character and Law.

This means that God is not the author of evil but He is sovereign over it!

Craig and Heather said...

Whether God is responsible for evil is one of those "prickly" topics, isn't it?

Kind of like "election".

After tying my own brain in a knot while trying to make sense of God's goodness and justice and sovereignty and His allowance of evil--I end up at Romans 9.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!...... But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?"

Not an exegetical examination of the original word "evil", but it's where I have to go in order to retain a respectful acceptance that God is God and I'm not. He doesn't have to explain Himself but I do have to trust that He's telling the truth.


Nash Equilibrium said...

I agree Heather. When I listen to these types of debates I expect God views it the same way we view a dog who is trying to understand how a TV works. There are some things of God, his nature, and how things work, that God has asked us to trust him on, and we ought to just accept them as being above our pay grade to understand. I have to kind of chuckle at the number of fifty-cent words that theologians manufacture to obscure the fact that they don't really understand them, either.

ezekiel said...

Olan Stickland,

I just looked back over Isaiah 45:7. Bearing in mind your thoughts about context, let's look at the word "darkness"

From H2821; the dark; hence (literally) darkness; figuratively misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness: - dark (-ness), night, obscurity.

I understand your argument about God's sovereignty over the evil man but do you agree that God created all mankind? Vessels for honorable as well as dishonorable use?

Romans 9:21-22 seem to be relevant here. "willing to show His wrath and make His power known".

Is it possible that the purpose behind all this is to convince man of his need of a savior? He could have mandated the Law but without the consequences of transgressing the Law it would have proven Him to be weak and ineffective. Boy do we know better today!

What is the source of our peace and our joy if it isn't reconciliation with God through Christ? Reconciliation with The God that is willing to show His wrath and make his power known? How would we know the riches of his mercy and grace without the evidence of His wrath and judgement?

I have probably more than worn out my welcome and I appreciate your measured response to me. Thank you for your kindness. I think it best to step aside now and watch from the stands.

donsands said...

".. it is blasphemous folly to conclude that God can lie, or deny the truth, or otherwise be the agent and efficient cause of evil."

Amen to that. What a foolish thing to say that god can lie. Amazing really.

If God could sin, then He wouldm't be holy, and so He wouldn't be God.

"Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." 1 Sam. 15:29

Strong Tower said...

"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him."

My question: is evil a thing, or is it no thing? Does it have positive existence, that is coming into existence out of nothing, or does it have negative, diminutional, existence, derived from something already existing? The primal question is of course who is the creator of the fallen nature of man? Is that nature truly evil or just a diminution of good? If God, is it a positive thing created ex nihilo or a negative thing created through negation? And would that not leave us with another quandry. Did God create the souls of men first holy and then removed holiness resulting in that which opposes it? Or, we might ask if Lucifer brought evil forth from himself, how did it get into him in the first place?

You're right, it is a pickle, no doubt about it.

These are difficult questions. We are asked where does evil come from and cannot answer that it does not exist. We must say that it is a real thing and not nothing and even if it is diminutional good, it still must have come into existence, made to be what it is. Just who did that? I am wondering, if we make the existence of it not a positive act of God, then who was the efficient cause of it? Does the creature individually bring it into existence? Does the creature have such power to effect the beginning of what previously did not exist? Or does evil exist outside of the creatures operation on the created order?

There are those who have said that God did not effect the fallen nature of man. They are far outside the orthodoxy of Calvinism, for where in Calvinism does man begin either as good or neutral? To the contrary man is created by God, evil. At least from a cursory examination of David's statement, it was God who knit him, all of him, in his mother's womb. Nowhere is it claimed that another hand a hand in the wonderfully made man. So, if God is not the efficient cause, who then is the intermediary between God and his creatures such that they become what he did not create? Jesus said, "You are of your father the devil..." Did he intend to say that the devil is the efficient cause? Unless of course someone wants to argue that the nature of the souls of men are just diminished when created. But then, how do we deal with that if we do not say that good diminished is evil?

Nash Equilibrium said...

ST: You speak as though evil is a tangible object that you could hold in your hand. That is a very poor analogy, really. Evil is an abstraction - one of those words we use to describe something we can't understand fully. It's an intent that leads to wrong actions.
Does judo really exist? I may as well ask that question.
Intents arise sua sponte - or they don't arise at all. The one who makes evil intents arise is evil - and God isn't evil, so we know it isn't him. I've never heard anyone go very far beyond that basic truth without resorting to papering over their lack of understanding with words they learned in seminary.

Strong Tower said...

"It's an intent that leads to wrong actions."

So, nature doesn't give rise to them, it is a non-thing, an abstraction? Then the souls in hell are being punished for their evil actions, not because they were evil by nature, they just spontaneously combusted and because of that they are guilty? Really, I thought guilt was an inherent quality in fallen man, attached to his nature as a result of Adam's sin. Aren't we by nature objects of wrath? They way you put it, we're just objects of wrath because of sua sponte, with no source of origin.

I am not seminary trained.

My question were just questions, not definite answers. As I said it is a real pickle. I simply believe we do not have the equipment to answer. One thing we cannot say is that evil is not a real thing. You use a big Latino, and I guess that answers it as well as most would.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I think to say that those who are in Hell are there simply because of their nature alone is a huge misreprentation of what the Bible says about that. All are born with a nature that makes it impossible for them to do anything but sin. That nature exists because of Adam's sin, not because God made them sin. That's a lot different than saying that they are in Hell because of what they are, not what they've done.
If people were sent to Hell because of what they are, then it would be an awfully weird Judgement, wouldn't it? Those who died in the womb would be sent away into eternal flames not as evildoers, but simply because they came into existence.
I think if we read what God says to those he sends into Hell, it has everything to do with what they did, not because they were born.

pentamom said...

If ex lex is true, there is no gospel. If there is nothing stopping God from lying, He can renege on the whole thing and throw us into Hell. There are no promises. Even if He says that the gospel is the one thing He will not lie about, so what? He might be lying. That is not good news.

Strong Tower said...

I didn't say they didn't act, nor did I say they were punished soley for having an evil nature. But you seem to think that possession of nature is not an act. The Bible disagrees with you, so do I. And so would all those who were in Achan's tent who were punished for a possession that was forbidden, whether they knew it or not. We do not have to consciously act to be held accountable, now do we? We are objects of wrath by nature, and nature is not what we did, nor is it ours because of some evil we perpetrated. It is, however, the source of what we do. And my point is that exactly, just who was responsible for the nature which is the object of wrath? Is it efficiently the creation of God, or another? Your sponte actions really provide excuse, for we truly are what our nature's bespeak, and not just some vague abstraction. Own it, you are one with your nature. Believe it or not. And you had nothing to do with making it, or making it the object of God's wrath.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Well then, I guess you'd better take it up with Rev. 20th chapter, where it is said that on the Judgement the books are opened and the dead are judged for what they have done.
You are seriously confused about this subject. Yes, we have a sin nature we are born with. That nature was "made" by Adam's choice to sin, for in Adam all died. It was not made by God, He simply gave Adam an ability to choose to do good or to do evil. He was the last one who had that choice. So yes, because I am descended from Adam, I "own" my sin nature, yet I can't blame my sinful acts on Adam (even if they are merely thoughts).

Phil said...

Strategm I don't see you arguing differently than Tower here although you both are using words like "you are wrong" and "I disagree" I don't see the distinction, it looks to me like you both have affirmed original sin as ordained by God and executed by Adam.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Yes, I think the differences were on these points: 1)Who made man's evil nature, God or man? I say mankind did, when Adam chose to sin.
2) Are people sent to Hell because of their deeds, or because of our nature alone? I say "our deeds," even though I realize that our nature dooms us to commit those deeds that send us there (thanks again to Adam's choice).

Roberto G said...

I happen to think that the ex lex position is perfectly viable option for the Reformed believer in the face of both the deductive and inductive problem of evil. It maintains the Creator/creater distinction by challenging the assumed acceptability of ascribing culpability/responsibility to God.

Craig and Heather said...

May I dumb down the discussion for a minute?

I'm wondering if it is possible to simply define "good" as:

~ That which is in harmony with the nature of God

~ That which accomplishes His purpose (His glorification and affectation of His will)

Also, is it possible to define "evil" as the opposite, namely:

~ That which is contrary to the nature of God and

~ That which attempts to thwart His purpose.


If the above could be considered to be relatively accurate working definitions, then, I am also wondering whether it is possible that (because of our finite limitations and sinful human nature), our perception of "good" and "evil" are either incomplete or corrupted--or both.

Because of our limitations, we are incapable of fully comprehending how God is only good and yet has ordained the existence of evil so as to be able to accomplish His desired result.

I wonder-----perhaps God has given us a thumbnail sketch of good and evil which directly apply to the way we currently are to approach Him and interact with each other. We need such revelation because "each man doing whatever he thinks is right" ends in disaster.

But I think it is safe to say that He has not fully revealed everything about His plan or why He does what He does. As a parent, I may tell my kids "Do this or Don't do that" but not always explain to them the details of 'why'. (I'm reminded of a certain recent Pyro post concerning Deuteronomy 29:29)

Do I need some serious straightening out?


ezekiel said...


Re-reading the post, I have a question.

"To obey the law is to imitate God, to be like him, to image him (Ex. 20:11; Lev. 11:44-45; Matt. 5:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16)."

Why would we want to obey the law? I thought we were dead to the Law and it's demands. (Gal 2:19)

Sir Brass said...

We want to obey the law b/c we love God. We're no longer bound to the law for salvation, but we love the law b/c it is good.

Anonymous said...

It would take a very low view of God and His Word to claim that God created evil, as evidenced by the statement that God can lie.

James 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

Anonymous said...


That would be true. It would also take a low view of Scripture to say that God did not ordain and decree that evil, specific evil, should happen.

To the praise of His glorious grace, no less.

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him." - Colossians 1:16

Your friendly neighborhood hypercalvinist,

P.S. Unrelated, but neat, I just realized that this verse mirrors Revelation 4:11.

Roberto G said...

Has anyone mentioned Rev. 17:17?

Sir Brass said...

I'm satisfied with this explanation:

"God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree." ~ 1689 LBCF 3:1

Scripture proofs offered by the confession: Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5

RichardS said...

Some ancient has said that God can use sin sinlessly. God blinds and hardens sinners as punishment for sin. Romans 1:18-32 is very clear that God punishes sin by turning sinners over to more sin. The judicial action of God in turning sinners over to more sin is a holy and just action. He is holy and just in doing so and sinners are also used to carry out His holy purposes. The fact that He has holy purposes for sin does not mean that He is tainted by it in any way. The fact that He turns sinners over to their own sinful hearts and desires does not mean that He is putting those sinful desires in their hearts. Evil remains evil and God remains holy and good.

The Bible uses the term "evil" (as has been discussed some) to mean something other than moral evil. He does send evil and cause it if we are talking about natural evils such as earthquakes. But that is far from being the same thing as moral evil. There are also things that God can do as a holy God that a fallen human cannot do. He can punish Christ on the cross for sin as a holy and just God because the sins of many were imputed to Christ as He was reckoned a sinner. A holy and just judge can pour out His wrath on the innocent in Himself sacrifice. No human can do that. God can take a life as He pleases as sovereign and because He is a perfect judge. That is not murder for Him.

Phil said...

Galatians 2 is talking about justification by the law, or by faith. v16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Now that can be used to make sense of verse 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
Therefore we died to the demands and requirements of the law are no longer bound to obey it to gain life.
But don't throw the baby out with the bath water and conclude God has saved us so He could turn us over to live a life of wild sinful abandon lived however we please. See John 14:15 or Rom 6:1.

Anonymous said...

"But don't throw the baby out with the bath water and conclude God has saved us so He could turn us over to live a life of wild sinful abandon lived however we please."

This really highlights the problem of sin. It's absolute deception. Some believe that we CAN live a life of wild sinful abandon because we've precisely flipped where freedom is and where slavery is.

We still, as believers, see non-believers as free to sin, and us believers as bound to obey Christ.

Now that's partly true, we are bound to Christ. But we are still free in Him, while the unbeliever sins because he can't help himself. He is a slave to sin and so he must sin.

But we see sin as freedom.

Blue Collar Todd said...

For me to see the proof that evil exists and that it flows from our hearts is this: a 15 year old girl was gang raped here in California, while others just watched, and or participated.

When I was studying for my MA in the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Biola, the focus seemed to be about how do we defend God for permitting evil. I now think it is rather a question of how does a holy and just God not destroy sinful humanity for rejecting Him. Seems like God has given us all the arguments about evil in His Word, Isaiah 1 comes to mind or Jesus saying that out of our hearts flows evil.

Joshua said...

Very good post and a lot of solid points. I'm a senior with Liberty University and one of the books we had to use was Elmer Towns book entitled, "Theology For Today". On one page, Towns proclaims God's sovereignty and on the very next he denies it. Here is what he said:

"Since God is immutable, His decisions are irreversible or unchangeable. God will not get part way through His plan and then change the rules, nor will He change the ultimate destination of His plan... When all men sinned in Adam, God decided to provide a Saviour for all men."

I was horrified to read Towns stating that God reacted to sin as if He was caught off guard. It blew some of my fellow students' minds when I said that God willed the fall and had already planned on sending His Son as the Savior. All this was done for God's glory.

At least a few of them told me that they were going to research and think about what I said.