Q&A: Why the possibility of evil in creation?

Why the possibility of evil in creation?

Question

Why did God create a world that had a possibility of evil coming into it?

Answer

The answer to this question is rather complex. To understand it, we need to understand the nature of God from numerous perspectives under these headings: (1) For God's Glory: The Purpose of God in All He Does; (2) For God's Glory: God's Omnipotence and Omniscience; and (3) For God's Glory: O Felix Culpa.

For God's Glory: The Purpose of God in All He Does

What is the purpose of God in doing anything he does? The apostle Paul wrote, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Who other than God deserves God's glory? Seeing that God is the highest and greatest good, absolutely nothing and no one in all of creation deserves the glory that is God's alone — "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols" (cf. Isa. 42:8). The ultimate end of all things and God's purpose in all he does is his own glory.

While numerous things come to light and are fulfilled as we trace the course of redemptive history - whether it's a demonstration of God's love, grace, mercy, judgment, covenant, kingdom, etc. - we observe our King's glory as his one and ongoing purpose throughout Scripture. Moses understood the importance of God's glory and even asked to see it (Exod. 33:18). God promised that all the earth shall be filled with his glory (Num. 14:21). We are to glory in his name (1 Chron. 16:10) and declare his glory among the nations (1 Chron. 16:24). Even the righteous destruction of God's enemies glorifies him. God's glory is everlasting (Psa. 104:31; cf. Psa. 86:12; 111:10). We also observe God's loving glory as his purpose in election (Isa. 43:7) when Paul writes in Romans 9:22-23 saying:

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 has prepared beforehand for glory.

So, God made known the riches of his glory in his election of his chosen children. This he did beforehand, even before creation and the fall themselves (Matt. 25:34; Eph. 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9). So, in election God desired to manifest his glory and to delight in those he created for his own glory.

Redemption likewise glorifies God. Paul teaches in the book of Ephesians that redemption is according to the purpose of God's will (Eph. 1:6,11), to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:6), and for the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:12, 14). So, God is glorified in the redemption of his people.

Why does God redeem anyone? He does it, not because any deserve it, but for his own glory (cf. Prov. 14:28). His children's joy and happiness glorifies him. Even though God is all-sufficient and not in need of anything from the creatures he's created, he instructs all his children to glorify him in all they do (Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Col. 3:17, 23; 1 Pet. 4:11). Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (WSC 1).

God created the universe to manifest his glory — "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).

For God's Glory: God's Omnipotence and Omniscience

God is omnipotent, or all-powerful. Without a doubt, he could have made a world in which evil, sin, grief, and suffering never existed. Heaven itself is the biblical evidence of this. In the new heavens and the new earth, there is absolutely no sin or evil (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9; Rev. 21:26-27; 22:15). There are no tears. There is no death, mourning, crying, or pain (cf. Rev. 21:4). Because God could make a heaven like this, he also could have created a world like this if he had so desired.

So, why didn't God just create a universe that had no possibility that evil would ever enter or exist in it? In other words, why not just heaven instead of this earth? Why not just place his entire creation in heaven in the first place and be finished with it all? These are important and interesting questions to ponder.

Not only is God omnipotent, he is also omniscient. He knows absolutely all things, even things not yet discovered and understood by those he created. He has perfect, total knowledge. He knows everything that has happened, everything that will happen, and all other possibilities. His knowledge is absolute and unacquired. And he applies his knowledge with absolute perfect wisdom. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10). He knows small things (Matt. 10:29) and great things (Prov. 21:1) – all things alike. He knew of our birth before we or even our parents did (Psa. 139:15-16). He knows our every step before we take them. He knows our every thought before we think them (Psa. 139:4). His knowledge is so precise that he even knows the exact number of hairs on our heads at any given moment of time (Matt. 10:29-30). He knows perfectly the hearts of all the children of mankind (1 Kings 8:39; 1 John 3:20). God's knowledge is perfect, absolute, total, and complete.

Since God is all-knowing, he knew that good existing alongside evil could exist, especially seeing that is how he created it in the first place. When Adam fell, it was made known that man had become like God, knowing not only of the existence of good but of evil as well (cf. Gen. 3:22). And God knew beforehand that sin would definitely enter into his perfect, "very good world" (Gen. 1:31). How do we know this? Because not only is God all-knowing, he also had already ordained that his only begotten Son would die for the sins of his elect (1 Pet. 1:19-20; cf. Matt. 25:34; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8).

One doesn't need a Savior from sin if there is no sin. God's foreordination of a Savior presumes a Fall. According to God's decreed will, his intention for his greater glory could only ever be fully realized through the incarnation and the cross. God must have ordained the Fall for his more complete glory.

For God's Glory: O Felix Culpa

O Felix Culpa! is a well-known phrase in theological circles. It is Latin for "Oh happy fault!" In the crudest and most elementary of terms, it is the ordaining of the taking the sourest of lemons and making the absolute best lemonade from it. And what a tasty lemonade it is!

In the bigger picture, because of God's ordination of sin, the world has been raised to a higher plane than it had at its initial foundation. God's greater love becomes known to his people because of sin through the seed of the woman, his incarnation, cross, resurrection, and victory over death. And this wasn't an afterthought on God's part, it was his foreordained plan. God used sin and brought about a new creation, one which was far greater than the first (cf. Gen. 50:20; Rom. 5:20; 8:28). So, at a certain level, the Fall is an occasion of happiness rather than grief!

In the garden, Adam knew God as his Creator (Gen. 1:1-2:4), but after the Fall he discovered that God was also his Redeemer (Gen. 3:21). While both glorify God, and it is definitely a wonderful thing to know God as our Creator, it is immeasurably more wonderous that we personally know him as our Redeemer. Redemptive history, what a grand design!

Ultimately, before the foundation of the world, God chose to be more glorified by his display of love, mercy and grace in the election and redemption of chosen fallen vessels than by simply placing them in heaven in the first place. Why? It is only through God's redemption that the full measure of his love could be known (cf. John 15:13). And since God is glorified through the righteous destruction of his enemies, there is a glorifying reality in the cross as well (Rom. 9:17; Col. 2:15; cf. 1 John 3:8). God knows the end from the beginning, as from the very beginning, he made hell for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

In his consideration of the fall of man and the problem of evil, Augustine once wrote, "Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere." Translated, this reads: "For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist." In the hymn "Exsultet" this is sung: "O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem — "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer." John Wycliffe (1320-1384) refered to the "fortunate fall" in a Christmas Day sermon:

And so, as many men say, all things come about for the best; for all [things] come forth from God's ordinance, and so they come forth from God himself; and so all things that come about happen for the best whatever that thing may be. Moreover regarding another interpretation men say, that this world was made better by everything that happens therein, whether it be good or evil and thus says Gregory [the Great], that it was a fortunate sin that Adam sinned and his descendents, therefore as a result of this the world is made better; but the foundation of this goodness exists in the grace of Jesus Christ. [Select English Works of John Wyclif, ed. Thomas Arnold (Oxford: Claredon, 1896), sermon XC, I, 320-21].

This mysterious reality John Owen also described: "The greatest evil in the world is sin, and the greatest sin was the first; and yet Gregory [the Great] feared not to cry, "O happy fault, which found such a Redeemer!" [Works, viii, 35]. And Thomas Ken (1637-1711), one of the fathers of modern English hymnody, puts it like this:

What Adam did amiss
Turned to our endless bliss.
O happy sin, which to atone,
Drew filial God to leave his throne.

Alexander Whyte referred to Romans 7:14-25 as the most comforting set of verses in the Bible. It is where Paul reflects deeply on his continuous struggle with the sinfulness of his personal sin, but declares in Romans 8 the endless bliss of his Savior in its midst. We see this in such passages as Rom. 8:1 and in Romans 8:35-39:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, yes this is comforting and convicting. What kind of love is this? A glorious everlasting redeeming love!

In Summary

Why God created a world that had a possibility of evil coming into it may never be completely understood this side of glory, but Scripture's redeeming history can show that God determined before the foundation of the world that it was better to bring ultimate good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist in the first place. Our finite response might be, "Well I wouldn't have done it like that!" but we need to be reminded that we are merely sinful molded clay and God is the sinless Potter, and who are we answer back to God! We shouldn't try to limit the glory that is rightly due him (cf. Rom. 9:14-24).

Glory to God in the highest!

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).