Monday, September 20, 2010

The [non-] problem of evil

The so-called problem of evil is a big issue in the world. According to the description, this problem exists because, given a good and all powerful God, evil should not exist.

Coming from a Calvinist perspective however, this problem is a non-issue. It is precisely because God is good that evil does in fact exist in this world, for we are evil.

Many people lament the fact of evil, and scream at God as to why evil must exist in this world. Strangely, I have never met anyone who wonders why there is still so much good in this world. Why is it that for example there are only 2 murders per month as compared to 2 murders per week? Why only one tsunami in 2004 instead of tsunamis every other month? Do people thank God for the fact that they have food on the table the next day, and that they were not struck by lightning today?

The fact of the matter is that none of us deserve anything good from God. Our wickedness caused the entire creation to be cursed (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:19-21), thus giving us natural disasters, and all wickedness in this world is caused by us. Upon what basis can wicked rebels expect God to continue to give them good things? We are not only wicked but ungrateful. When was the last time you, anyone, thanked God for the good things He has given to you this day?

The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23a). All of us sinners deserve death even while we live. God who is good must hate that which is evil and we are evil, so why should we rebel sinners think that the existence of evil is a problem for God? We deserve the evil fruit of our wickedness and should we blame God for our own wickedness? So is God supposed to restrain wickedness in this world and stop the murderers, rapists and thieves? Weren't you the ones who shout the most loudly about "free will" and how God cannot "force" anyone to do anything? Then when God leave us to our wicked "free will" designs, we ungrateful wretches complain!

Evil is not a problem for God; it is a problem for us. The presence of evil shouts how sinful and depraved we are. The attribution of the problem of evil to God is one more evidence of our wickedness before God.

So why does evil exist? It exists because of us. We are the problem, not God. The problem is not "How can God exists if there is evil in this world?"; it is "How can good exists if we humans are in this world?".


Michael said...

The real problem is people ask why is there evil if God is good without defining evil.... they arent asking if God is good, they are asking why don't the things "I think are good" happen to me.

So lets define our terms philosophically:

Good is: what God does. All God does.

Evil is: anything contrary to God's law.

Evil, like all things in existence, is for the Glory of God.

It pleased God to bring evil into the world....

If you don't like evil or how God runs things, suck it up, you dont have a say, who are you oh man....

...keeping in mind that while God is the first cause of all things by definition God can not do evil because he is also the determination of what is good... i.e. "what is good is what God does, and what God does is what is good" --as explained by Augustine, Calvin, and Gordon Clark.

So to clarify my statement, when God is the first cause of rape, murder, and theft he is good, but the second cause, the human will, follows thrhough with the action it is now evil because the humanw ill is under the law, but god is ex lex, or above the law.

Bottom line.... all things are caused by God, evil isn't called evil until a human will executes as the secondary cause.

God---> (causes thing to happen: is good) ----> Human--> (does thing God caused, but thins is against God's law, now it is evil)

If any of that seems controversial go read Calvins institutes, Luther on Bondage of the Will, or Gordon Clark Evil: the problem solved.... ALL of whom are just referencing Augstine.

PuritanReformed said...


the fact that evil is sent by God is an ontological reality, not an ethical reality. While true, my focus here in this post is on the ethical aspect.

While it is true that God is by definition ex lex in the sense that God is by defintion good since He defines what is good, that is no help ethically. For God Himself has given us our moral law which is a reflection of His being and standard, and He cannot be seen to violate His own standards of what is right and proper.

We must invoke the fact that while God is sovereign in decreeing evil [ontologically], He never once causes evil [ethically] by doing evil Himself. Rather, the beings that do evil are men and are caused by men. Appealing to ex lex reasoning is not sufficient to make God not the "author of sin" (as the WCF defines it), for the moral Law is itself a reflection of God's own immutable standard.

Calvin in his Institutes does speak about the sovereignty of God in terms that most modern-day Calvinists will cringe at. I see Clark in the book you referenced (Evil: the problem solved) as talking about the ontological aspect of God's sovereignty over sin. While all true, that is only one part of the equation.

Michael said...

Interesting, I really like that ontological vs ethical.

I think I could agree that when God is the first cause it is necessary ontologically, but...I would add it is also good morally. It is not the first cause that is the sin but the second cause of man. Just because man sins because of god does not make man less responsible, unless you are operating under some arminian definition of responsibility. So the way I see it God causes it, not sin, man does it, sin, so the author is the man.

Well we are about to setup outside my comfort zone because I have only briefly read some of the crazy writings by Calvin on God's relationship to the law. But while God's nature would certainly determine what he does, the law itself is apart from God... the law cannot tell us how God will treat us, or how God operates within himself.

Also here is the quote from Calvin's Institutes...

In the first place they inquire, by what right the Lord is angry with His creatures who had not provoked Him by any previous offence; for that to devote to destruction whom He pleases is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge; that men have reason, therefore, to expostulate with God, if they are predestinated to eternal death without any demerit of their own, merely by His sovereign will. If such thoughts ever enter the minds of pious men, they will be sufficiently enabled to break their violence by this one consideration, how exceedingly presumptuous it is only to inquire into the causes of the Divine will; which is in fact, and is justly entitled to be, the cause of every thing that exists. For if it has any cause, then there must be something antecedent, on which it depends; which it is impious to suppose. For the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found.”

Michael said...

I guess just to add one little bit I thought of while rereading all of Calvin's I, Bk 3, 23....

It is not enough to say that men do evil because they are evil. Men are also evil because God made them evil.

Adam fell because God made him fall.

From Calvin's I....bk 3, ch 23 para 4

I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in himself.

So I still like my explanation, that that God isnt the author because what he does is good and the human secondary cause that follows is evil because even though God cause it, that person is under the law.

So God, can cause people to disobey his commands and not be the author. The sin doesnt begin till you are below the law.

Besides, we aren't independent beings who exist apart from God, "in him we have our moving and being", nothing functions outside God's active will. If God stopped willing we would cease to be.

PuritanReformed said...


God is indeed good in decreeing evil, but we must be cautious in saying that it is God's decree that we are talking about [ontology], not God's actions [ethically]. God speaks and decrees the things which come to pass including evil, but never once did God at any time by His own hand do anything evil. In other words, we must always keep in mind that evil is never done by God but is done by intermediaries who are not eternally forced to do evil contrary to their wills.

Responsibility is never once linked in the Scriptures to ability. My previous comment has nothing to do with man's ability or even his responsibility but the necessity of God to act in accordance with His own standards. God cannot still be God unless He acts according to His Moral Law. The Ex Lex defence therefore cannot be used ethically here.

PuritanReformed said...

Indeed, Calvin's words are not compatible with how some modern Calvinists phrase their understanding of God's sovereignty. Yet we here note also that God causes men to sin not by making them sin [direct action], but by decreeing that they sin [indirect action]. That God decrees anything does not mean that God must always do it a certain way, and this is especially so when we come to the issue of theodicy, but I digress.

Back to my initial comment, I guess my issue is not so much whether God is Ex lex, but that it is the wrong answer because the question for most people is an ethical one, not an ontological one.

Michael said...
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Michael said...

Got it.

I guess its my nature to never be satisfied with something till I have reached its root. Which is also, why I am not fun at parties.

I have probably made a few peoples brains bleed when I discuss God and the question of evil, but if we do not understand the ontological issues how does one know what is right or wrong?

People use words like "evil" but they dont mean the evil God hates, they mean "bad things that happen to nice people" (requires some clarification no?)

I want to teach all people basic christian epistemology (scripturalism), and Charnoks the Attributes of God.... then when people make their arminian errors (etc) about God's sovereignty and predestiation I can remind them who God is (or who they claimed God was... I'm looking at you Baptists)

PuritanReformed said...


>but if we do not understand the ontological issues how does one know what is right or wrong?

Tell them that they as wicked creatures [ethically] do not have any right whatsoever to judge God as to what is right or wrong (cf Rom. 9). It is not for them to know how God can be sovereign over all and yet evil is still ontologically present. They have no right to even discuss this question since they are wicked sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Only Christians can wrestle with the issue because they are in a state of repentance over their sin and submission to Christ. Only when we have submitted to God's standards over what constitutes good and evil and of our true state before God can we ask God how He can be both sovereign and just. Fides quarems intellectum.

wakawakwaka said...

so then Daniel what do you think about Gordon Clark's rebuttal to the problem of evil? I recently had read it and it was interesting to say the least..... do you agree with his postion? some people have accused him of being a hyper-calvinist for his writings do you agree?

PuritanReformed said...


Clark's solution works, but only for answering the question of culpability.

Those who accuse him of hyper-Calvinism have no idea what they are talking about

wakawakwaka said...

then what counts as a "real" hyper-calvinist? Fred Phelps?

PuritanReformed said...

Vincent Cheung, and Hard-shell baptists

wakawakwaka said...

what about that Charlie Ray guy you banned would he count as a hyper calvinist? i mean on his blog profile he denies both common grace and "well-meant" offer

PuritanReformed said...

According to the technical definition, I don't think he is, but he is borderline. He is a rationalist however