Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions. Could you clarify for me the idea that God is absolutely sovereign but never functions in a way to mitigate human responsibility and humans are morally responsible (D.A. Carson, Biblical-Theological Pillars Needed to Support Faithful Christian Reflection on Suffering and Evil). In other words human responsibility never makes God’s actions absolutely contingent. For some reason I do not seem to understand the difference between being sovereign and being responsible. It comes from my parents telling me when I was growing up that if I was present during an activity that was wrong I was just as guilty as the person doing the wrong thing. It was guilt by association and that was hammered into my brain. It seems to me that God is guilty by association in reference to evil. I certainly know that this is not true but I can’t quit get rid of the feeling.
My other question is concerning the origin of evil. It seems to me that it originated in heaven with Lucifer’s desire to be like God (Ezk. 28). How did this develop in a sinless environment? Augustine reasoned that the origin of evil was nearly incomprehensible and I believe this is called the No Explanation Account. Does evil occur as a result of God’s actions or inaction?
Is God the source of evil, if he made everything? And is God responsible for evil, if he’s meant to be in control of everything?
Ask Simon Edwards (October 2-6, 2017)
Those are great questions. Really tough questions! But questions I encounter a lot of people wondering about. The question of whether or not God must actually be the source of evil, if he made everything. And the question of whether he must be responsible for evil, if he’s meant to be in control of everything.
The biblical picture of course , as you know, is that God is good and that what he created is good. So how does all this fit together?
Let’s look at the question of the origin of evil first. Jesus speaks of the true source of human evil in Mark 7:15, 20-23. He says: “The things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man… For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”
According to Jesus, evil originates in the heart of people, it doesn’t originate in God. But didn’t God make humans? Yes. But he didn’t make evil. The Bible teaches that it came from us. We are responsible. Had God’s creatures obeyed God, there would be no evil: no evil thoughts, no evil actions.
That’s hard for us to comprehend. We are so conditioned to think of everything as pre-determined that our natural instinct is to shift the blame to something other than us – our genetics, our family, social conditioning, or, if God created us, then God.
But here’s the point. God didn’t’ create us pre-determined, like a computer program or a robot. A large part of what the Bible means by the notion that God created us in his image, is that he created us with a heart (or spirit or will) that can initiate and create genuine moral choice, choice that is not predetermined by the laws of physics or biochemistry or…God; or anything extraneous to us.
Until Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they were 100% good. The fact that they had the freedom to disobey God was not a design fault. Rather, our genuine moral freedom is part of what made us gloriously like God.
Evil became a reality only when God’s creatures chose to disobey: initially in the fall of angels and then next, in the fall of Adam and Eve. So evil originated in God’s creatures, not God.
But does that get God off the hook in terms of responsibility? After all, if God created creatures with genuine moral choice, doesn’t that mean he created a reality where the potential for evil exists? Doesn’t that make him responsible for any evil that comes out of that reality?
I don’t think so. Some analogies may be helpful here.
If a Father were to generously buy his son a car, and give his son lessons on how to look after the car well and how to drive the car safely, and the son was sound of mind and body; if the son were to then take that car and drive it at 100 miles per hour through a school zone and seriously injure or even kill somebody in the process, no court in the land would hold the Father responsible for the actions of that son. Why then would we hold God responsible for the bad we do with the good gifts and instructions he has given us?
One of the harsh realities of parenthood is that even if parents raise their children well, in a loving and caring environment, teaching them to love and respect others, there is always the possibility that a child will grow up to take a different path in life, even of crime and violence. There are no guarantees. We know that. But that doesn’t mean that we think its wrong or irresponsible to have children. And we don’t blame the parents of a person who makes bad or destructive decisions in life, if the parents themselves were loving and good and kind.
Likewise, it just doesn’t make sense to hold God responsible for his creatures bad moral choices, if the initiative for those choices was entirely creature-generated, as the Bible teaches us they were.
Ok then, what about the fact that God allows stuff to happen and just looks on, doing nothing. Is that guilt by association, a sort of sin of omission? You mentioned you struggle with that thought or feeling sometimes, based on things you were taught growing up.
Well, we know that God hasn’t done nothing. He’s done something rather dramatic in Jesus Christ, he hasn’t looked on as a disinterested bystander, he’s entered into our suffering.
God theoretically could step in and prevent every occurrence of evil happening in the world every time someone tried to do evil, but I’m guessing there wouldn’t be any scope in that sort of world of for any real inner transformation of the human heart to take place. It would be like dealing with the symptoms but never the cause. Gods rescue plan in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is about dealing with the root cause of evil.
Finally, we must remember that his timing is different to our timing. This life is not all there is. We must remember that there is hope and meaning beyond this world and life. Beyond it but not separate to it. This life is a chapter in our story but the final chapter hasn’t happened yet. Jesus, promises that one day He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. The sting of suffering will be removed. One day all will be restored.
Until that day comes, he promises to journey alongside us in our suffering. We don’t worship a distant deistic being. We worship Christ Jesus, Emmanual, God with us!
I really hope that’s of help. God bless!
Thank you. Your discussion does really help. Directing me to the text in Mark is especially helpful. I guess perfect creatures (Lucifer/angels) also corrupt themselves from within. It is interesting that Adam and Eve needed a little push from the serpent to cross the line, but I wonder how long it would have taken them if the serpent had not been there. We can think of bad things to do without any help from others. If one looks at the Las Vegas shootings the news media are scrambling for a motive. A motive may never be found. It is tragic to realize that people can be so corrupt from within that a crime like this can be perpetrated. This of course is on top of reeling from the destructive forces of nature in the violent hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. In the United States this is a great time to share the hope we have in Jesus Christ.