To answer this question, we must first begin to understand the concept of God's sovereignty and holiness. I realize that's a bit like saying, "In order to put gas in your car, you must first learn how to build an internal combustion engine while blindfolded," but let's just touch on some of the basics.
What is the very first thing we learn in scripture? "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). That's pretty straightforward. The Bible opens by saying that everything exists because of God. Naturally, there is the assumption that the Creator is in control of his creation. In other words, he has complete sovereignty.
Scripture teaches us that while God does not condone evil (Isaiah 13:11), he did ordain that evil exist. This has everything to do with his sovereignty. In fact, as we see in the book of Job, not even Satan can make a move without God's say-so.
God himself is not the sinner, nor does he act as an agent of sin. But he can and does intend sin for good. One example of this can be found in Genesis 50:20, where Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery: "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."
Note that Joseph didn't say that God used evil for good. He meant for evil to happen so that a greater good would come from it.
Perhaps the ultimate example of God ordaining evil for good is the sacrifice of his only son for our sins. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was clearly an evil act committed by evil menthere is no other way to describe the execution of the most innocent person who ever livedbut Christ's death was predestined even before the world began (Acts 4:27-28, Eph. 1:5-7, 1 Pet. 1:18-20). And it is that sacrifice that has purchased eternal life for those who believe.
The blessed truth to be found here is that God is in control of all things (Deut. 32:39, Job 1:21-22, Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, James 4:14-15). Everything that happens is in accordance with God's will. In Ephesians 1:11, the Apostle Paul writes, "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will."
The sovereignty of God is absolutely fundamental. As Charles Spurgeon preached:
- There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleasesa God whose will is frustratedis not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.
God is also holy. He is perfectly good and just in every way. While it may at first seem like a contradiction for a holy God to even allow evil to exist, much less ordain it, the existence of evil helps us understand who God is. Let me explain.
As human beings, you and I long for that which is good. We want to do what is right. We strive constantly for something that is higher than we are. And there is nothing higher, more right, or more good than God. He is the epitome of purity and perfection. As such, he cannot help but bring glory to himself. To do anything less would be a sinand God does not sin.
In short, the existence of evil allows God's glory to shine. The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards gives us a much more detailed explanation:
- It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth. And for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete. That is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionately radiant, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested and another not at all. Thus, it is necessary that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness should be manifested. But this could not be unless sin and punishment had been decreed so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine foth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness and love and holiness would be faint without them. Nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin or in showing any preference in his providence of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed he would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it would not be so great. So evil is necessary in order to the highest happiness of the creature and the completeness of that communication of God for which he made the world because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionately imperfect.