Understanding God and Evil
by Bob Burridge ©2022
People have often wondered how a perfect and all-powerful God created a world where there is evil. Understanding the nature of God should not be thought of as an easy task. Most fundamentally we should only use the information God has revealed about himself in his written word which is preserved for us in the books of the Bible. We need to be careful not to let our imaginations slip in our own ideas which we assume to be true, but have no God-given supporting evidence.
We also need to recognize that we as finite creatures can’t fully appreciate an infinite being who has no limits to his knowledge, presence, and power. God is not simply a physical being. He exists in what his written word describes as a “spirit” realm.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes what the Inspired Scriptures say about God. In Question #4 it defines God in these words, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Most copies of that catechism have footnotes showing the Bible verses used by the writers to support each of these statements. In contrast we can say that, “We humans are physical beings with a human spirit, and are finite, temporal, and changeable, in our being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”
When God explains himself and spiritual things to us humans he needs to use terms and examples we can understand since we live in this limited physical world. We say that all of God’s revelations to us are “isomorphic”. That means that he uses things we are familiar with to describe what’s true as God perceives things. This should be kept in mind as we study what God has said. We must be careful not to assume that the actual nature of our Creator can be fully understood in terms of the things we see and experience in this finite world of his creatures. Psalm 139:6, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
God is Omniscient. He always knew what those he would create would be and do before he actually created them. Consider what God tells us directly in his word. Here are a few verses that deal with this topic:
– Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.”
– Psalm 139:1-4, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”
– Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
– Ephesians 1:4, “He choose us in Him before the foundation of the world”
Since God always knows all things, he is aware of the passing of time in the universe he would create. He knows that in his created world some things happen before or after other things. He is aware of how we pass through time and of how his plan unfolds in our physical world. However, with God nothing in his own being and understanding changes since he is Immutable in all things including his knowledge.
God has always known that there would be evil committed by those he would create. His word tells us about the fall in the spirit world when angels he created were led by Satan and rebelled against their Creator (Isaiah 14:12-14, Jude 1:6, 2 Peter 2:4). God also always knew about the fall of humans, that some would be left in their fallen condition displaying God’s justice and wrath, and that he would redeem some of them displaying his grace and mercy.
Why did God create a universe in which there would be evil? The nature of God includes his desire to manifest his glory and power. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
Before the creation of the physical universe and of spirit beings such as angels, God’s attributes immutably and eternally included the concepts of forgiveness, justice, grace, wrath, and mercy. God does not change. How did these attributes of God exist eternally before any being existed who could do evil?
His dealing with evil existed in the mind of God the Creator eternally. This was always part of what God is and has always been. Evil was not a surprise to God, and it was not a power that frustrated what he eternally planned for his universe.
Though Satan and evil beings of all sorts, spirits and humans, may think they are messing up God’s plans, they are actually a part of the amazing display of his justice, mercy and grace as he deals with their evil intentions and actions. God did not do evil things through them, but created them knowing that they will be integral parts of openly declaring his glory and perfections. It’s important to understand the distinction between the awareness of evil and the actual behavior of evil.
We should be cautious not to assume that since God intended to let evil exist, that evil is “good” in every sense of that word. It’s “good” only in the sense that it fulfills God’s purpose in permitting it. Evil is not “morally good” because it is by definition the doing of things contrary to what honors God.
Some have tried to deal with this issue by saying that creatures have a “free will“. They assume that God has no control of what his creatures do. This makes them sovereign over God, and able to subvert his plans. Creatures do have a “free will” in the sense that they are able to select what they most desire in each situation. No one is forced to decide contrary to his desires, therefore they are “free” to do as they choose. Since God controls the circumstances we each experience, and he determines the condition of the human heart and mind that chooses, no person can choose contrary to God’s eternal plan for them. God is not unaware of what their choices will be. No one comes to trust in the work of Jesus as his Savior against his true inward desire to do so. No one rejects the work of the Savior while inwardly desiring to come to him in faith. These decisions are made “freely” in that the person is not compelled by God’s power to decide against the person’s true desires. It’s God’s work of Grace that produces the faith which becomes the means by which God’s saving mercy is engaged. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved “by” grace, “through” faith, and that we have nothing to boast about in our coming to him.
It all comes down to understanding these basic principles clearly presented in God’s written word.
1. God knows all things eternally (he is “omniscient”).
2. God is infinite in his power and ability, therefore he cannot be frustrated by his finite creatures (he is “omnipotent”).
3. We need to humbly understand that our creaturely limits give us nothing in our experience to make us able to fully comprehend the nature of God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.
4. We are stricken with a sense of awe as we contemplate the infinite nature of our Creator and Savior. This drives us to humbly worship him and rest in the enablement of our Triune God as we trust in him, serve him, and live as he in his precious word calls us to live.
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)