Genesis 3:4–6 (ESV) — 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Last week, we discussed a particular problem the above verses presented to us.
- In them is the introduction of evil into God’s “very good” creation.
- How do we reconcile a good, benevolent, all-powerful God with evil?
- And specifically, why would God allow evil?
Today we contend with another problem that comes with the introduction of evil into creation.
- How is God not the author of evil if he created all the “stuff” through which evil came?
- The “stuff” being things like people, the serpent, the will, desires, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.
- William Edgar rightly suggests that this is very likely the most difficult question within the Christian faith.
John Frame frames the question and points out the problem:
- “Do we want to say that God is the ‘cause’ of evil? That language is certainly problematic, since we usually associate cause with blame” – John Frame.
In other words, if God is to blame then we are off the hook for sin.
- Moreover, God Himself needs to be judged.
- Or, perhaps, God is not who we thought he was.
Mysterious Paradox – God’s Sovereignty/Mankind’s Responsibility:
In trying to answer our question – How is God not the author of evil if he created all the “stuff” through which evil came?
- We need to go to ground zero – God’s sovereignty and mankind’s responsibility for their actions.
- We need to see how the Bible affirms this mysterious paradox.
As John Frame points out:
Depending who you speak to, the sovereign God of the Bible seems to be portrayed in these ways in his relationship to evil, “authors, brings about, causes, controls, creates, decrees, foreordains, incites, includes within his plan, makes happen, ordains, permits, plans, predestines, predetermines, produces, stands behind, wills” – John Frame.
Here are a just a few examples of the extent of God’s sovereignty.
- Isaiah 45:7 (ESV) — 7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
- Amos 3:6 (ESV) — 6 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?
- Psalm 135:6 (ESV) — 6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
- Romans 9:20–21 (ESV) — 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
- Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV) — 13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?
- Philippians 1:29 (ESV) — 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
- Proverbs 21:1 (ESV) — 1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
BTW – these verses speak to both moral and natural evil.
- We are dealing with moral evil.
- The sin of the serpent, Adam and Eve.
Please notice in the above verses an important implication.
- God is sovereign over both the moral will of men and the out workings of creation.
- He made both and He is sovereign over both.
- Neither is outside His purview.
- As R.C. Sproul says, “If there is one rogue atom in the universe then God is not God”.
Here are a few examples of mankind’s responsibility.
- Romans 2:3–5 (ESV) — 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
- 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) — 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
- Genesis 4:6–7 (ESV) — 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
- Ezekiel 18:20 (ESV) — 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
- Matthew 5:22 (ESV) — 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
- Jeremiah 17:9–10 (ESV) — 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 10 “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
And consider these passages:
(1) Psalm 51:4–5 (ESV) — 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
- What exactly is David saying?
- He doesn’t hesitate to exonerate God and blame himself.
BTW – Like David, who did Adam and Eve blame?
- Genesis 3:12–13 (ESV) — 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
- They did not blame God.
(2) John 2:24–25 (ESV) — 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
- Jesus made the heart of man!
- And what is His response to it?
- His response is to “not entrust himself”.
- He certainly doesn’t indicate He is responsible – to blame for man’s heart problem.
(3) Here is an especially interesting example:
- 2 Samuel 12:11–12 (ESV) — 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ ”
- God is – in this case – judging David (not always the reason for God allowing evil!).
- David’s response in the very next verse is, “I have sinned against the LORD”.
- David concedes his blame though God sovereignly acted.
All of these texts make one thing plainly clear.
- God is sovereign but mankind is to blame for his moral failings – not God.
- This mysterious paradox is affirmed over and over.
- “God controls human choices, without dissolving the reality of those choices” – Vern Poythress.
“It remains mysterious to us exactly how God’s action relates to human action in such a way that God is fully in control and human agents are at the same time fully responsible” – Vern Poythress.
Mystery Affirmed in Job:
Michael Bird spells this out for us beautifully:
“Scripture affirms that God is sovereign and that human beings are responsible for their actions. Yet the existence of evil and suffering is never accounted for purely on the basis of human freedom. Human freedom is the material [we act] cause of suffering, but it is not the ultimate cause [we don’t act outside of God’s purview]. In Scripture the problem of suffering is always understood within the orbit of God’s power and purpose” – Michael Bird.
Bird goes on to reference the book of Job.
- In Job 31, Job “asks God why he allowed him to be so afflicted” – Bird.
The Lord responds by asking Job over sixty questions, such as (Job 38:4-7):
- Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
- Tell me, if you understand.
- Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
- Who stretched a measuring line across it?
- On what were its footings set,
- Or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Job asks a question we will all have at some point in our life about evil and suffering.
- In this case, God’s answer is a Creator to creature “smack down”.
Yet, Job leaves the encounter expressing complete confidence in God.
- Job 42:2–3 (ESV) — 2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
And importantly, from the very beginning, Job believed the following:
- Job 1:22 (ESV) — 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
- God was acting sovereignly, but Job conceded God was not to blame.
- Just like King David.
Paradox So What:
The point here is simple.
- The Bible does not suggest that evil is outside of God’s sovereignty.
- Yet, the Bible clearly says that mankind is to blame – NOT GOD.
BTW – It appears that the worldview of the OT or the NT did not struggle with this problem.
- From King David to Paul, there is never any hint that the paradox of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s responsibility is a problem.
- There is not Biblical Theology that blames God for evil.
So how can we bring some sort of resolution to this paradox?
- We want to know if it can be reconciled and understood.
- We want some kind of answer to our question.
- How is God not the author of evil if he created all the “stuff” through which evil came?
Before we try to give a very brief and overly simplified answer to our question…
- It is very important that we come to grips with two things.
- (1) There really isn’t an answer to the question this side of new creation.
- (2) We need to be aware of what Jeremy Evans calls “Cognitive Idolatry”.
Cognitive Idolatry – making an idol out of the knowledge about our faith – arises when we forget the priority of the transformational power of God’s word over its propositions.
- It is a “demand [to God] that we have control over knowledge” – Jeremy Evans.
As one who loves to pursue knowledge of God and the Bible, this is particularly personal.
- We are to seek after God and knowledge of Him.
- We are to grow in the “grace and the knowledge of God”.
- We are to read the Bible, read about it, and study it.
However, the end game of this pursuit is…
- Not merely propositional knowledge but personal knowledge – Jeremy Evans.
- In other words, we are encountering a personal God and are to be transformed in and out by the encounter.
- We are to allow it to read us!
“The kind of knowledge God seeks to impart to everyone is not mere propositional content primarily but a volitionally transforming knowledge; it includes a change of will” – Jeremy Evans.
The problem is that we simply don’t like not knowing things about God that we think we should know.
- But the fact of the matter is this…
- Trusting in the mysterious paradoxes of God’s word is transformative.
- And pursuing answers to feed our cognitive idol is bad for the soul.
Not Blind Faith:
However, in accepting the mystery, we are not exercising blind faith!
- We are accepting the mystery in light of what we do know about God.
- We can take are cues from the Israelites in Nehemiah 9.
They were confessing their sin and their responsibility for years of exile and a ruined temple.
- God ordained this suffering and destruction and they were to blame.
- They saw this paradox in light of who they knew God was and what He had done.
Starting in Nehemiah 9:6 they say:
- Nehemiah 9:6–11 (ESV) — 6 “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. 9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.
- Then in verse 38 they say, “because of all this we make a firm covenant…”.
- They recognized that whatever is going on is grounded in who God is and what He has done.
So, having made that point let’s look at a couple of attempts to answer the question.
God as Shakespeare:
John Frame suggests that we look at God’s relationship to the world he created as we would Shakespeare to the world he created.
“God’s relationship to free agents is like the relationship of an author to his characters. Let us consider to what extent God’s relationship to human sin is like that of Shakespeare to Macbeth, the murderer of Duncan” – John Frame.
His conclusion about this comparison is this:
- “Shakespeare wrote the murder into his play. But the murder took place in the world of the play, not the real world of the author. Macbeth did it, not Shakespeare” – John Frame.
His point is that Shakespeare operates on a different “level” than Macbeth.
- Likewise, God operates on a different “level” than the serpent, Adam, Eve or us – creation.
This pic from Vern Poythress gives a visual take of this view:
He finishes with this point.
“Between God and ourselves there is a vast difference in the kind of reality and in relative status. God is the absolute controller and authority, the most present fact of nature and history. He is the Lawgiver, we the law receivers. He is the head of the covenant; we are the servants. He has devised the creation for his own glory; we seek his glory, rather than our own. He makes us as the potter makes pots, for his own purposes. Do these differences not put God in a different moral category as well?” – John Frame.
- Therefore, “in saying that God is related to the world as an author to a story, we actually provide a way of seeing that God is not to be blamed for the sin of his creatures” – John Frame.
Vern Poythress characterizes this approach as follows:
- “God’s governance of human action is like an author’s governance over the characters in his story. God and the human author are completely in control, but it is also true that the human actors in God’s history and in an author’s story make decisions that lead to consequences” – Vern Poythress.
Does this answer our question? (I don’t think so).
Evil Is Not a Thing:
Another attempt to show that God is not to blame for evil involves understanding what evil actually is.
- As we saw last week, Augustine defined evil as the privation of good.
“Evil is not a substance or a thing but instead is a privation of a good thing that God made. A privation of a good is the corruption or twisting of a created thing’s essence or substance…evil is the absence of something that ought to be; it is the absence of what fulfills a thing’s nature or essence” – Jeremy Evans.
Given this definition, the argument goes like this…
- God’s creation involved the making of things – He made stuff.
- The stuff he made – including the will and desires of mankind – was all “very good”.
- The serpent, Adam and Eve were all “very good” stuff of creation.
- God made nothing that was defective, corrupted, or deprived of good.
In fact, a good God could have made nothing other than good “stuff”.
- This is because, “in God there is no defect, but, on the contrary, supreme perfection” – Etienne Gilson.
But with the Fall in Genesis 3, God’s good creation was corrupted.
- “God made the world good, and evil is a tyrannical intrusion into God’s city” – Michael Bird.
- The intrusion/corruption was not the introduction of something God created, but was done by privation of the good He created.
- This is Augustine’s privation of good.
In other words, nothing was made/created, but rather, something was taken/corrupted from God’s good creation.
- Since God didn’t create the “privation of good” (because is not a thing of creation) then He is not to blame for it.
- The blame goes to the agent who corrupted God’s good.
- And this is true whether God ordained the Fall or not.
- Which, if He is sovereign, He did ordain.
Does this answer our question?
Remember, we are to seek transformation in our pursuit of knowledge.
- The issue of God’s blame for evil is incredibly complex – it is a mysterious paradox.
- So I urge you to “let the Bible read you” on this issue.
- If you are not satisfied by the mystery, have you made knowledge an idol?
- Are you demanding from God answers that He is not obligated to give.
- Just think Job 38.
Addendum – How God Can Sovereignly “Redeem” Evil (now that it is here):
(1) Sanctification – “Used by God to produce godly character” – Vern Poythress.
- Romans 5:3–5 (ESV) — 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
BTW – This method of redemption has many facets, for as a result of this.
- We might “put away sin” – John Feinberg.
- Refine our faith – Feinberg.
- Learn more about God (grow in grace and knowledge) – Feinberg.
- Experiencing God in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise – Feinberg.
- Produce intimacy with God – Feinberg.
(2) To increase our respect for God’s word – Poythress.
- Psalm 119:67 (ESV) — 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
- Psalm 119:71 (ESV) — 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
- Psalm 119:75 (ESV) — 75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
(3) Bring glory to God by showing our quality of faith – Poythress.
- 1 Peter 1:6–7 (ESV) — 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(4) A participation in Jesus’ sufferings – Poythress.
- Philippians 3:10–11 (ESV) — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
- In other words, we imitate Christ our Lord in His suffering – John Feinberg.
(5) To glorify God along – John Feinberg.
- John 9:1–3 (ESV) — 1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
(6) To “remove a cause for boasting” – John Feinberg.
- “God allowed Job’s afflictions at least in part to demonstrate true or genuine faith to Satan” – John Feinberg.
(7) To demonstrate that followers of Christ are followers in spite of circumstances – Feinberg.
- 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) — 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
(8) To demonstrate “the Body of Christ” concept to believers and nonbelievers – Feinberg.
- “According to 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, each believer in Christ as Savior is a member of the Body of Christ. We are related to one another through Christ, and we need one another. Moreover, verse 26 says we are sympathetically related to one another, i.e., when one suffers, all suffer, and when one rejoices, all rejoice” – John Feinberg.
(9) To become better ministers to others who suffer – Feinberg.
(10) To prepare us for further trials that may come our way – Feinberg.
(11) To exalt the believer.
(12) To bring the believer into His presence.
Final and Important Thought:
- “We are to rejoice because we can see what God is accomplishing in spite of the trial. Affliction may prove to be the occasion for God to do good things in our life, but the suffering isn’t good. It is still evil” – John Feinberg.
- We like that God can redeem evil and suffering, we don’t like the evil and suffering!