The Problem of Evil: Part 4
Jul 08, 2006
Evil is not an illusion, but it certainly is a matter of perspective. When Stalin starved millions of people during the 1930's, it was "good" from his perspective and "evil" from the perspective of those who were starving. Both good and evil, as viewed by men, are matters of perspective.
I do not mean to say that there is no good or evil. There is. Both are very real, and, yes, there is certainly an absolute difference between right and wrong. What I mean to say is that both good and evil stand positionally below the First Cause, who is God alone. God is good, and God is not evil, but yet God stands above both, using both for His purpose.
To express these concepts in human language is not easy, and it is only possible for the human mind to accept and understand insofar as it is revealed by the Holy Spirit. Since I am still in the growth stage, I cannot claim either personal perfection in understanding nor expression, so I ask that you be patient and forgiving with me as I try to discuss these ponderous issues.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul makes a distinction between the plan and the will of God. In Romans 2:17, 18 Paul says,
"Behold, you are called a Jew [Judean], and you rest confidently in the law and make your boast in God, and know His will [thelema] and give assent to the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law."
The will of God is expressed here in terms of the law. "Thou shalt not covet" is the will of God. So is "Thou shalt not steal." The law defines sin, for sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and Paul says "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).
Because of this, some would rather not learn the law, for such knowledge results in a consciousness of sin, which they say is "negative" and must be eradicated from the mind. Those who succeed in their goal are then able to sin without twinge of conscience, and this creates an illusion of righteousness.
Paul uses the term thelema to describe the WILL of God for us. This word is applicable to the human level to govern our dualistic minds. The law defines sin and righteousness for us and allows us to examine and analyse our attitudes, motives, and actions accordingly.
But Paul also uses another Greek word to describe the PLAN of God. We read of this in Paul's discussion of the sovereignty of God in Romans 9. In verses 9-13 Paul sets forth the story of Jacob and Esau as an example of His sovereignty, saying that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau before they were even born, "so that purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calls."
Those who do not understand the mind of God or His sovereignty attempt to water this down, saying that God knew ahead of time what Esau would be like, and that is why God rejected him. But Paul says no such thing. He says that God chose them before they had done either good or evil in order to show us that it was not by works, but purely by the sovereignty of God.
Of course, this sounds terribly unfair and "evil" to the carnal mind, but this is only unfair to those who do not understand Romans 5. One cannot properly understand the "unfairness" of God's plan if one has not understood the end of the story set forth in the fifth chapter. There, Paul makes it clear that the first Adam brought death upon all men (Rom. 5:12); even so the Last Adam (Jesus Christ) brought life to all men (Rom. 5:18).
Both scenarios came upon all men without their consent and apart from their own will. These decisions were made by God alone. In Adam, He imposed the death penalty, not only upon Adam, but upon all of His descendants--and, indeed, upon all of creation (Rom. 8:22). This would be terribly unfair and unjust, according to the law of God, which says through Ezekiel that the children shall not die for the sins of their father (Ez. 18:20).
Whenever we see God doing something that seems unjust or unfair, we can be sure that it is only because we are not seeing the whole picture. If we could see the end from the beginning, we would know that God is both just and good. The problem is not with God Himself, but with our finite perception and limited perspective.
Only when we combine Romans 5 with Romans 9 can we see the true justice and wisdom of God. God has imposed a temporary injustice upon all men, making all men pay for the sin of their father, Adam. This was done by the law of authority and headship, by which those under authority are adversely affected by the sin of their head.
In the same manner, however, the injustice is fully overthrown and rectified by the same law of headship in that Jesus, the Last Adam, has brought justification to all men (Rom. 5:18). Both acts and both results were done outside the will of man. Hence, as Paul again says in 1 Cor. 15:22, 23, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order."
The only qualification to the overall principle is the fact that not all will be made alive at the same time. Every man in his own order [tagma, "squadron"] indicates that there is a certain procedure that must be fulfilled before they enter into immortality. Not all are saved at the same time, nor will all be saved in this life time. Most will be saved in the "lake of fire," as the early Church clearly taught, even if such a view is rare today.
Yes, there is a second opportunity for salvation. There is no Scripture saying otherwise. In fact, the law itself provides for a second Passover ("justification") for those who do not keep the first Passover. See Numbers 9. This is prophetic of things to come.
But getting back to our point of departure, Romans 9 gives us a second example of God's sovereign will over man's limited will. In Rom. 9:17 Pharaoh was divinely raised up to oppose the will of God for a season in order to declare God's name throughout all the earth. Verse 19 concludes,
"You will say then to me, Why does He yet hold [Pharaoh] liable? For who can resist His WILL[boulema, "plan"]?"
The law defines the will of God, but the plan tells us His sovereign will, the heavenly perspective, the bigger picture. The will of God to Pharaoh was to "let My people go." The plan of God was to harden Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 7:3; 10:1) in order to DELAY the fulfillment of His will until ten plagues had judged Egypt. Yes, God always took credit for this. We can disagree with Scripture to our own detriment, but we will not change the facts as they are written.
Viewed from the perspective of the finite mind, this is unjust. But when we understand that God's plan includes the salvation of all men, including Pharaoh, we begin to comprehend the mind of the spirit and see the end of the story.
In fact, God freely and unabashedly takes credit for doing what is seemingly unjust, because He is fully confident that in the end all creation will be reconciled in Christ (Col. 1:16-20). Not just Adam and His descendants, but all of creation will be set free in the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:22).
Our perspective is the thelema (will) of God, but as we submit to the mind of Christ and His boulema(plan), we are able to understand the purposes of God and see creation from His perspective. We are then left as awestruck as Paul when he says in Rom. 11:33, "how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"
Our limited perspective gives us an illusion of injustice, when in fact God is discovered to be totally sovereign and totally just.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "The Problem of Evil." To view all parts, click the link below.