The section on God’s decree of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith states:
From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside Himself. He did this by the perfectly wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably. Yet God did this in such a way that He is neither the author of sin nor has fellowship with any in their sin. This decree does not violate the will of the creature or take away the free working or contingency of second causes. On the contrary, these are established by God’s decree.1
If God, who is righteous (Ps 7:9), holy (Isa 6:3), omnipotent (Jer 32:17), and wise (Rom 16:27) decreed everything that occurs in a way that He did not author sin nor violate His creature’s will, how is there sin and evil in this present world? Since He is the sovereign Lord of all things (1 Tim. 6:15), evil could have only come into this world because He has allowed it to. But why? For what purpose?
It is this problem of evil, a problem that even the righteous Job struggled over, that this article seeks to address. While the secret things are the Lord’s, and while this is a broad topic that has been wrestled over by the great minds of the faith for centuries, this article will show how two primary motivations are at the heart of why evil is present in this world. Those motivations are first and chiefly the glory of God, and second and subordinately for our ultimate good in knowing our Creator and Redeemer in a fuller way than we could have without evil coming into the world.
The Riches of God’s Glory for Vessels of Mercy
The Apostle Paul gives us these motivations in Romans 9, where, speaking on God’s sovereign will in election, states in vv. 22-23, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.” God desired to show His wrath and to make known His power by creating men whom He allowed to prepare themselves for destruction and eternal torment, through acts of sin and evil and unrighteous. As Wayne Grudem, notes, “Secondary causes (human beings, and angels and demons) are real, and that human beings do cause evil and are responsible for it.”2 Man is wholly responsible for his fallen state, and God does not sin nor tempt others to evil (James 1:13). Though, by the fact of His omnipotence, God could have prevented the Fall, in His perfect wisdom He allowed it to happen for a glorious and perfect purpose.
God has allowed men and angels to commit evil and pervert His good creation for the purpose of revealing the riches of His glory. He is making aspects of Himself known to His creation through the display of His justice in the destruction of the wicked. His power and wrath, which is being revealed even now in creation and which will be poured out for all eternity on the reprobate (Rom 1:18), has revealed and will continue to reveal for all time God’s glory to creation. And it has revealed things about God that would have remained veiled to creation otherwise. Of course, many would argue that God, being all-wise and all-powerful, could have come up with another plan whereby He could reveal His glory without allowing evil to wreak havoc within the world. But as C.S. Lewis so aptly puts it,
This does not mean that if man had remained innocent God could not then have contrived an equally splendid symphonic whole-supposing that we insist on asking such questions. But it must always be remembered that when we talk of what might have happened, of contingencies outside the whole actuality, we do not really know what we are talking about.3
Or as Paul put it a few verses before ours, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” As God is all-wise and all-good, and does all things perfectly, this way, with evil and all must be the best course of action. John Piper coins this as “the best-of-all-possible worlds,” which means that “God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, his glory will be more fully displayed and his people more fully satisfied than would have been the case in any other world.”4 It is that satisfaction we see in verse 23. For God has wisely revealed the riches of His glory in the destruction of the wicked, not to merely reveal that glory to creation in general, but also so that He could redeem us. And as Jonathan Edwards says in his great work Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, “The glory of God is the ultimate end of the work of redemption.”5 Without evil in the world, without God’s perfect justice being meted out on sin and evil, God’s elect would not have known God’s mercy and glory and love and goodness in redemption. For there would be no redemption if there was nothing to redeem.
God’s Full Character Revealed
Thus, Calvin says, “Thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgements which he has resolved to inflict.”6 Why did God allow evil to enter into His good creation? Why does evil exist today? Surprisingly, as an act of providence for those whom He redeems. Those whom He has lavished with His mercy through the giving of His Son are given the gift of faith which enables them to, for the first time, see clearly the brokenness not only of the world but also of themselves. They are struck with the weight of their own sin and are hit with the truth that what they deserve is only wrath, and yet what they have received is mercy. God the Holy Spirit causes them to realize that God the Father put forward God the Son as the wrath satisfying sacrifice for their sin, and they fall on their knees and worship their Redeemer whom they had hated before. If God had not allowed evil to enter the world, how could the believer worship and love their God in that way? How could one truly appreciate salvation and mercy unless they have firsthand knowledge and experience of what they have been saved from? Cliff McManis writes, “So why did God create a world with the potential for sin and evil? He did so to fully reveal His character and so that we could come to know Him experientially as a loving, powerful, merciful and holy God.”7 Their satisfaction and joy in God is multiplied infinitely by the reality of evil.
“Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain” (Ps 127:1). Evil did not slip past the watch of God. Evil did not enter into creation through a victory over God’s will or decree, nor did God create evil. No, evil is in the world today precisely because God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-wise and desired to reveal that to those whom He lovingly chose before the foundation of the world to the praise of His glorious grace.
1The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 3:1.
2Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 328.
3C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 80.
4Matt Perman, What Does Piper Mean When he says that he’s a Seven-Point Calvinist? accessed February 27, 2021, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-piper-mean-when-he-says-hes-a-seven-point-calvinist
5Jonathan Edwards, A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, (1765), 3:7.
6Calvin, John, trans. by Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 1.17.5.
7McManis, Cliff, The Problem of Evil. (Sunnyvale: GBF Press, 2016), 44-45.