A Good God in a Wicked World: Considering the Problem of Evil, Part 4

By Jonathan Moreno. From DBSJ 22 (2017): 75-90. Republished with permission. Read the series.

Lingering Concerns

In an effort to present the greatest-glory defense with sharper clarity, this section will seek to address three objections that may be levied against it. Although this defense may encounter countless additional objections, the three selected seem to be the most pertinent to the discussion.

How Is God Good?

One accusation that could arise from the greatest-glory defense is that it strips God of his goodness. If God decrees evil primarily for the sake of his own glory, and not the good of his people, then it is difficult to see how God can retain his benevolence by any meaningful sense of the word. Such a self-centered God as this does not comport with the God of love who promises to work everything together for the good of his children (Rom 8:28).

Although the concern is legitimate, the charge is flawed because it stands on a false dichotomy. For the Bible is clear that God’s passion for his own glory is not at the expense of mankind’s happiness, but is the means by which greatest joy, happiness, and satisfaction can be found.51 It is readily acknowledged that God uses evil for the good of his children; however, that good is not the terminus of God’s purposes, but rather an ancillary implication of a far greater end, namely, God’s glory. Therefore God retains his goodness because of the immense benefit his children enjoy as God acts in his own self-interest.

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Second, it can be charged that the greatest-glory defense, like the greater-good defense, rests on the fallacious ethic of consequentialism and should therefore be rejected. If God can hold men responsible for evil irrespective of its noble result (e.g., 2 Sam 6:5–7), how then is he pardoned in decreeing evil on the basis of its noble result? Is this not a glaring and troubling inconsistency on God’s part?

The accusation is compelling, but misguided. In order for this charge to stick, it must be demonstrated that in decreeing evil, God is doing evil. However, a biblical understanding of God’s wisdom demands that both God’s ends and his means are right. Decreeing evil is not an evil act coincidentally redeemed by a favorable outcome (i.e., conserentialism), instead decreeing evil, as painful as it may be, is good.52

In order to clarify this point, an analogy may prove helpful. A good medical surgeon regularly inflicts pain on his patients with his surgical equipment. However, his pokes and cuts are not considered evil means, but necessary means. Similarly, the evils that God decrees for his children are the necessary means for their greatest ends. Thus, even in the face of hardship, God’s people can “count it all joy” (Jas 1:2).

How Can God Decree What Is Evil?

Perhaps the most significant objection to the greatest-glory defense is that it is built upon a faulty view of God’s sovereignty that effectively renders him the cause and author of evil. If God sovereignly determines everything that happens he is consequently responsible for every evil that exists. To many, a God who decrees evil cannot be trusted, should not be worshiped, and cannot be good. For this reason, it can be argued that the greatest-glory defense is not a valid theodicy because it rests upon a dangerously erroneous view of God.

Before addressing this difficult issue, it should be noted that this objection moves beyond the scope of theodicy. As it has previously been established, in order for a theodicy to be credible, it need only prove internal consistency within its own theological system. The greatest-glory defense successfully accomplishes this requirement. The objection currently under consideration moves beyond the coherence of the defense to the validity of its theological system. That being said, this is a legitimate concern that is both raised and dealt with in Scripture.

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet raises this very complaint before God himself. Upon hearing of God’s plan to use the Chaldeans to punish Judah for her wickedness (Hab 1:5–11), Habakkuk cries out, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”(Hab 1:13) The reason for the prophet’s concern was that God’s plan to use evil did not comport with his understanding of God’s righteous character.

God responds by calling the prophet to faith and patience (2:2–4).

Through a series of devastating “woes,” God makes it clear to Habakkuk that he will deal with the invading Chaldeans for their wickedness, arrogance, and idolatry (2:6–20). Although they are acting in accordance with God’s decree (Hab 1:6), they do so willingly. Therefore God holds them justly responsible for their sins (Hab 1:11). In his sovereignty, God did not compel or coerce the Chaldeans to sin, and for this reason, he is not responsible for their wickedness. Although this explanation does not release all of the tension, it was sufficient for Habakkuk (Hab 3:17–19), and it should be sufficient for us as well.

Conclusion

God is real, and so is evil. To many, that statement is both illogical and self-contradictory. Regrettably, the sincere effort to justify God to man by presenting an acceptable theodicy has historically come at the costly expense of the attributes and character of God. However, without providing all the answers or releasing all the tensions, this paper has endeavored to provide a viable solution to the problem of evil that corresponds with Scripture and is logically coherent. It is the belief of this author that the greatest-glory defense accomplishes these requirements and therefore presents a viable theodicy.

Notes 

51 For a helpful discussion of this point, see John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards, with the Complete Text of the End for Which God Created the World (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998).

52 Sproul rightly concludes, “Ultimately it must be good that there is evil or evil would not exist” (Invisible Hand, 167).

405 reads

There is 1 Comment

Aaron Blumer's picture

I appreciate the article, and I can't say I have seen a better analysis of this length. 

Moreno was a student at the time, but this study reads like the work of someone who has done this sort of thing a thousand times. I'm encouraged.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.