Evil in God’s Providential Rule

Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (v. 13).

- James 1:13-15

Most Christian apologists (defenders of the faith) agree that the most di™cult question for believers is the so-called problem of evil. Those who raise the problem of evil as a reason not to believe in Christ assert that if God were to exist, there would be no evil in the world given that the Lord is all-knowing (omniscient), all-powerful (omnipotent), and all-good (omnibenevolent). A divine being with such attributes, critics assume, would not allow evil to take place in His creation; since evil occurs, God must not exist.

All theistic systems face the problem of evil, but the biblical teaching on the goodness of God makes it an issue that weighs on many believers. Moreover, the problem of evil is an especially pertinent subject for those who embrace Reformed theology. That is because we affirm that not only do both evil and good exist, but that a good God has ordained every evil that ever takes place. If the Lord ordains evil, how can He be good?

To be sure, we can only say so much about how we can reconcile the existence of evil with the goodness of the Lord. There is great mystery here, and we will not have an exhaustive answer to this issue on this side of heaven. However, we must note that saying that God allows evil but does not ordain it does not “solve” the problem. On a human level, those who allow evil that they could otherwise prevent are, along with the perpetrator of evil, morally culpable. In any case, even Reformed theology often says that God “allows” evil in order to indicate that the way in which the Lord stands behind evil is different than the way that He stands behind good. But Reformed theology is clear that the Lord does not exercise “bare permission.” He does not just sit back and watch evil take place; rather, in allowing evil, God establishes that it will certainly happen.

What then shall we say? First, we must affirm that our Creator is fully good and cannot Himself do evil (James 1:13). Second, we affirm that the Lord could stop any individual occurrence of evil if He wanted to. He is all-powerful, after all (Gen. 18:14a; Mark 10:27). Finally, we note that God can and does use evil to accomplish His will (1 Kings 22:23; Ps. 105:23–25). However, evil is never God’s final purpose or goal. He ordains it for a greater good, namely, our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28; James 1:2–4). We see this most plainly in the death of Christ, an evil that God ordained but for which He is not morally responsible (Acts 2:23). He used this most evil of evils for a great good indeed—our salvation.

Coram Deo

God never does evil Himself. He stands behind it indirectly, but He directly stands behind good. The Lord can never be blamed for evil, but evil does not take place apart from His decree. We cannot finally explain how this can be, but the Lord’s ability to ordain evil without being morally responsible for it shows His greatness. He can ordain evil without compromising His character; that is impossible for us to do. Surely, His ways are past finding out. Let us therefore worship Him.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 84:11
Nahum 1:7
Matthew 7:7–11
James 1:16–18

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