Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Does God ordain evil?

God may will certain events. These events may involve sinful actions of men. Some have suggested that because God ordains these events then God is ordaining evil.

God does not desire evil nor ordain evil. When addressing the actions of God there are some subtle issues that need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, there are actions that God does that are not intrinsically sin despite the fact that man doing the same action would be sin. This is not arbitrary, this is because the action does not apply to God. Take killing as an example. God can kill but God cannot murder. This is because he created us and owns us. He is the author of life and can remove it at will. However man can murder. But not all killing is murder. So a man executing a criminal is carrying out God’s command for justice and neither the man nor God are sinning.

Let us suppose that God wills that a particular evil man should die. God could:
  1. kill him directly;
  2. command a ruler to execute him (judgment from a judge for his sin);
  3. command a man/ army to kill him (compare David); or
  4. allow a murderer to kill him.
In all but the last situation neither God nor the killer is sinning. In the last case the man is sinning but God is using it for his purposes. Note that in the last example God is not commanding the murderer to murder. Rather the would-be-murderer is to resist sin. In resisting murder (sin) he is obeying God. This is the best course he should take. Resisting sin in this situation does not thwart God’s will. God can still see to the execution of the evil man he wishes dead. The will of God here is that a person be put to death. It is not God's will that a man commits murder.

If God wills a person to kill the evil man then he is not a murderer, he is acting as God’s agent of judgment (example 3) and is not sinning. God can command a person with the authority of the sword to put him to death. That person is doing God’s will and is not sinning.

If God desires something, how can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life? Of course God can use evil men, but God does not intend for any man to be evil, he intends for them to repent. In our example God is not intending for the murderer to murder, he intends for the evil man to be put to death. That God does not prevent a murder and uses it for his goal does not make him the author of evil nor does it make murder God’s intention. The best option is for the (potential) murderer to repent of his intended actions and let God carry out his intentions on the life of the person another way. God can know the plans of a wicked man to murder said person. It is God’s will that the man be put to death. It is not God’s will that the person murder him.

That God knows murders will happen does not mean he approves.

Secondly, God does not necessarily ordain things that he uses. God can bring good out of evil, even greater good than had the evil not happened. This does not mean that God desires that the evil happens.

One cannot observe consequences of God working through the actions of evil men and assume that God’s activity equals his approval.

Take teaching truth as an example. False doctrine tests us. Responding to false doctrine may aid us in understanding true doctrine better. God may also use false teaching to purify his people. But better no false teaching than some false teaching. Spreading falsehood means judgment for both those who teach it and those who follow it.

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