“But wait,” He realizes, “I foresee evil”

September 3, 2008

Continuing from the previous post in this series: God is everywhere, God knows everything (ahead of time), and God is all-powerful, and in a world where all these things are true, evil occurs.  I maintain that this cannot be explained in terms of restorationist theology, and of course this means that restorationist theology, biblical attributes of God, and the fact of evil simply cannot stand being in the same room together, and they’re certainly not going to shake hands.  Now as I mentioned before, there are retorts to this from the restorationist point of view, and I’ll spend some time interacting with some of them here.  If you find I’ve misrepresented the arguments, feel free to enlighten me in the comments section. 
A popular objection to my position is that God is not the author of evil, and therefore does not ordain it.  This argument will not withstand biblical scrutiny, and falls under the category of denying biblical attributes of God, as I will show.  There are  basically two kinds of evil (natural evil and moral evil), and scripture is clear on God’s control over them both.  An example of natural evil would be a hurricane, or an earthquake, or some kind of freak accident that kills people.  Biblically speaking, God is in complete control of natural evil (Matthew 8:27, Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6). This means for example that during a flood nobody drowns outside of God’s control.  If we say that God does not control natural evil, then we have denied God’s claim of omnipotence.  I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of me.
But the bible is equally clear that God is also in control of moral evil.  For two examples, it is God who sent Joseph into Egypt (Psalm 105:17, Genesis 50:20), and God who predestined the actions of Pilate, Herod, and the crucifying mob (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 4:27-28).  Now some may be quick to point out that in those two examples God only ordained the glorious end of the event, and not the sinful means; He just kinda worked with what was given to Him.  But I say that those glorious ends could not have been accomplished without evil (try brutally shaming and killing an innocent man without sinning).  But if you don’t buy that, then you have to explain why God chose the evil route over the alleged evil-free option.  Good luck with that.  So, for us to deny that God controls moral evil is to again deny God’s claim of omnipotence.  I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of you.
But does all this mean that God is the author of evil after all?  To quote Jonathan Edwards, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”  But it cannot be denied that at the very least God makes the choice to allow the evil to occur, having at all times the power to stop it.  It is under His sovereign control, and He lets it happen.  (More on the implications of this allowance in a minute.)
Now in my experience, many restorationists will not be comfortable with this “allowance” business, and will insist that God doesn’t proactively allow sin at all, but yet does work His sovereign will in spite of it.  Now in addressing this it’s important that we keep our eye on the ball: God foresees moral evil, and God controls moral evil, as we’ve already established.  This means that if God doesn’t want the evil to be there, He has the opportunity and ability to avoid it.  He could head it off at the pass, so to speak.  Given this, God not avoiding evil is a choice, such that not avoiding evil is exactly the same as choosing to allow evil.  There isn’t any way around this.  In the Bible, God repeatedly accomplishes His eternal purposes through both natural and moral evil, and His involvement in it cannot be described as reluctant or forced.  
But allowance is not the same thing as ordination, right?  Can’t we say God allows evil to occur without saying that He ordains it?  Not if we believe in creation ex nihilo.  God is not the sovereign over a world that was handed to Him.  he wasn’t appointed to His post by somebody else.  God, who has always been, determined to create this world from nothing.  Nor was it a surprise to Him what He’d get when the egg-timer dinged.  God knows and has always known everything. 
So now imagine, if we can presume to oversimplify the thing, a snapshot in the thoughts of God.  He desires to create the world, and He prepares to speak it into existence, having in mind of course the exact nature of the thing He intends to create.  “But wait,” He realizes, “I foresee evil in this scenario.”  What does He do?  Does He scrap that draft and formulate a new one?  He certainly could, but as we know very well He did not in our case.  And the point I’m trying to make from this foolish thought experiment is this: God knew evil would occur before He created the evildoers. He could have chosen to alter the creation, to tweak it a bit, maybe add a little something over here just so, way back when the lump of clay was still soft and moist in His hand.  But He did not.  God had all the options available to Him, and out of them all He chose to make this world, knowing everything about it.  Now the restorationist can talk all day long about allowance vs ordination, but at the end of the day, creation ex nihilo makes everything fall into the category of foreordained.

4 Responses to ““But wait,” He realizes, “I foresee evil””

  1. Sarah Says:

    I’m not sure it’s correct to equate allowance and ordination under the banner of forknowledge. Mulling…

    Also, I was recently presented this little bit of logic: The only perfect thing is God, anything less is necessarily flawed, at least a tiny bit. Speaking logically, God could not have created God, but only something that was not God, and therefore flawed. It’s something else to think about.

  2. daddylong Says:


    Regarding your second point, although nothing is as perfect as God, the “Godness” of God does not reside solely in His lack of defect. Therefore God’s uniqueness or preeminence would not be threatened per se by a perfect creation. Following from this (and I don’t know if this is what you were getting at, but), I don’t think we need to view evil as though it were an ingredient God had to include in the creation in order to protect Himself from obsolescence. He still had all the options available to Him.

    As for your first point, please elaborate when you’re done mulling.

  3. Sarah Says:

    Regarding my first point: I see your point in saying that whether God actively decreed that evil happen or simply didn’t stop it when He foresaw it, He’s in some way “responsible”. He had the power and knowledge to stop it and didn’t. But I do think that’s not the same thing as if He actively caused the evil the same way that He caused the world. It seems to me that if we say that He chose to make the world the way He did, and allow (yet guide) history to go the way it has we allow for His love. I suspect that the way things have played out, completely within His guidance of course, and yet with some events an expression of a nature other than His allows Him to show His love for us in greater relief than if He had not allowed evil to enter the world. However it seems that if we say that He spoke the evil into the world the same way He spoke the rest of the world then we’re perilously close to dualism with a god who is both evil and good and causes both and exults in both. I think we probably don’t disagree on this, but I think we need to be very, very carefully precise in how we talk about God’s nature. Ordination and allowance are not the same thing, regardless of the foreknowledge involved.

    As for my second point, I’m not getting at much except to get all relevant ideas on the table. I only ran across this logical progression very recently and found it interesting and pertinent to this discussion.

  4. daddylong Says:


    On the whole I think your qualifications and cautions are good and prudent, and I think I agree with just about everything you expressed in your latest comment, with one exception. You wrote:

    “Ordination and allowance are not the same thing, regardless of the foreknowledge involved.”

    Now in principle, I agree that the concepts of ordination and allowance are different, in that they are distinct activities. But I would insist on two things. First, that, although they are distinct, they are both Godly attributes/actions, and in the context of our discussion, they are running concurrently. And second, that foreknowledge is precisely why allowance isn’t occuring on its own here. No, God is not the doer of evil, but He did have all the options available to Him with full disclosure, and chose this world and all of its contingencies, all things considered. And if we are going to say God is good, then we must affirm that He chose this world because it was best. And if we are also going to affirm that God is competent, we must insist that He chose it on purpose, rather than just getting lucky.

    Ordination and primary agency are very different, yes — and God ordains many things without being the primary agent. But ordination and allowance, while distinct, are in this context holding hands.

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