God is Good: A Mini Theodicy
Theodicy: An explanation of why a good, omniscient, omnipotent God permits evil.
The task of any theodicy is to show that the existence of evil is not contradictory to a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and morally good. This article does not attempt a full-orbed theodicy. Instead I assert that God permitting evil and God’s judgment of evil are not contradictory to the actions of a good and loving God.
A common explanation for the coronavirus is that it is a natural evil resulting from the Fall. The Scriptures show that goodness is the essence of God while evil is revolt against God (Psalms 25:7-8; 100:5; 118:1; Matthew 19:17). Scripture also affirms that God’s creation was good and later subjected to futility as the result of sin. God’s original creation contained no coronavirus. It contained neither disease nor infirmity. It contained no evil. It was good (Genesis 1:31).
But knowing the source of evil and why it exists doesn’t explain why God permits it. It doesn’t give any hint as to the purpose of suffering. We need the Bible to tell us that too.
Satan Did It
Some Christians, who believe correctly that “God is love,” can’t seem to imagine how God would in any way be involved in bringing calamity upon people even when faced with Scriptures that indicate that He is involved during times of judgment (Amos 3:6). For them, the “go-to” option that remains to explain something like coronavirus is that it comes from Satan. But to come to this conclusion without considering the possibility that a disaster might be judgment from God, one must ignore God’s other attributes such as justice, mercy and holiness. This is the “let God off the hook” argument I mentioned in my last article.1
This “Satan did it” line of reasoning aligns perfectly with the skeptic’s contention that God is either indifferent or unable to stop evil. If God is not Judge, he is not in control. Christians affirm that God is in control, so how can we acknowledge that Satan seeks to do harm to people without attributing to him more power than he actually possesses?
God Is Not the Author of Evil
God is not the author of evil. Scripture is clear on this matter (1 John 1:5b; James 1:13; 1 Peter 3:12). But Scripture also consistently asserts that God is sovereign over his creation (Job 38:8, 11; Psalm 89:8-9; Luke 8:24). Evil is on a leash, restrained by the hand of the Almighty. God is in control (Job 2:6).
In an article entitled “How to Contemplate Calamity,” John Piper notes that both the author of the book of Job and Job regard God as the decisive cause of Job’s misery (Job 1:21; 42:11; 2:10). Satan certainly was involved in Job’s misery (Job 1:12; 2:6) but he had not the decisive hand. Piper points out that Job’s misery was not punishment, but purifying (Job 42:6) but that the death of his children may have been judgment (but we simply don’t know for sure). His point is that suffering and death can be judgment and mercy at the same time (1 Peter 2:24).2
This dual application of judgment and mercy can be true for any calamity that is a result of the Fall, including the coronavirus.
Evil Brothers and an Evil King
Let’s look at two examples from Scripture, one familiar and one not so familiar, in which God permitted evil to accomplish his purpose. In the first God used evil to bring about good. In the second he used evil to punish evil.
The story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers is well known, as is his amazing declaration after he reunited with his brothers many years later, forgiving them:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. —Genesis 50:19-20
Without the Fall, there would be no coronavirus. Without the Fall, Joseph’s brothers would not have acted wickedly and sold him into slavery. Without the Fall, Joseph would not have suffered so much at the hands of other men. But without God orchestrating events, there would have been no food in Egypt and many would have died of starvation.
In a perhaps less familiar example, the Assyrians, a particularly cruel people, were the instrument by which the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s destruction came about. God made clear through his prophets (Hosea, Amos, Isaiah) that this destruction was a judgment from God.
Without the Fall, there would have been no wicked King of Assyria who boasted of his military might:
When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:
“‘By the strength of my hand I have done this,
and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.
I removed the boundaries of nations,
I plundered their treasures;
like a mighty one I subdued their kings.
As one reaches into a nest,
so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations;
as people gather abandoned eggs,
so I gathered all the countries;
not one flapped a wing,
or opened its mouth to chirp.’” —Isaiah 10:12-14
God used this wicked nation to judge another wicked nation, Israel. Assyria was merely an axe in the hand of God. It was God who swung the axe:
Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it,
or the saw boast against the one who uses it?
As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up,
or a club brandish the one who is not wood!
Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors;
under his pomp a fire will be kindled
like a blazing flame.—Isaiah 10:15-16
God’s Judgments Are Righteous
It is not evil for God to judge his creatures (Romans 2:4-5). If it were, then there would be no hell for a good God of love. This idea that all humans will eventually be reconciled to God (so no need for an eternal hell), of course, is the conclusion that Universalists have come to, and it’s based upon a false conception of God. It can only come about when humans impose their idea of good upon God. We say God is good and then define good as something or someone who does not allow evil rather than using the biblical definition that says that good is God’s character and actions, which are both exclusive of evil.
Where Does God Draw the Line?
Why does God allow you or me to sin? When we think about evil, our minds go to unusually wicked actions of people like Hitler, child predators, human traffickers or to natural disasters, or to creatures like Satan who continually act in an evil and cruel manner.
If God did what so many of us would like him to (namely, not allow great evil), there would have been no Hitler or other despots. However, if God didn’t allow them into the world, we would then see those who did a little less evil than Hitler and Stalin as people God shouldn’t allow. We would still not be satisfied and we would eventually demand that God not allow whoever’s evil we detest into the world. Then surely God would draw the line between good and evil before he got to us.
This is where God draws the line:
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.—Luke 18:19
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! —Matthew 7:11
In short, ordinary people, indeed, all people, are evil and deserve death and hell. If only God is good, where does that leave us?
A Perfect Solution to the Problem of Evil
Creatures brought sin into the world. Our sin, no matter how insignificant it seems to us, separates us from God.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—Romans 3:23
For the wages of sin is death—Romans 6:23a
A good, loving God provides a way out of the predicament that sinful humans find themselves in.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 6:23
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.—John 3:16
What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? It means to trust in and depend on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as penalty for your sin and acknowledge that you can do nothing to earn salvation.
If you are reading this and you have yet to believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, you need to know this—that those who trust in Jesus are imputed his righteousness and are no longer separated from God.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2 Corinthians 5:21
Those who have not believed in Jesus when they die will spend eternity in hell, but those who believed will have eternal life with God.
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”—Matthew 25:46
The Bible says we must decide now in this life because it is appointed to men to die once and then be judged (Hebrews 9:27). There is no second chance after you die.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near—Isaiah 55:6
If you trust in Jesus now, he will lead you into his Kingdom.
God’s Is Just and He Is Good
At the cross God brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil. Evil men murdered the perfect Son of God. He was crucified for our sins and paid the penalty for them on our behalf.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.—Isaiah 53:5
There will be a final judgment. At that time all who have believed in the name of Jesus will enter eternal bliss because their sins were judged at the cross. Those who reject Jesus will get what they want, an eternity without God telling them what to do. Those who rejected the Light of the World (John 8:12) will be in eternal darkness. They will be in eternal agony separated from everything good. They will be forever separated from God.
- God can’t actually be let off the hook, because that would imply he was “on the hook” for doing something wrong. God’s ways are perfect, so it is only our arrogance and misunderstanding of God’s character that demand that God act in a way that suits our definition of good.
- John Piper, “How to Contemplate Calamity,” Desiring God, December 26, 2012, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-contemplate-calamity.