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On God's Sovereignty and Providence and on the origins and nature of evil

The sermon today was based on a passage from Acts 4, esp. v 24 - 31 (copied below), that brought to the fore the age old question,

 "If God is good and powerful, what is evil, where does it come from and why does it exist and must it, necessarily, be?".

Acts 4 : 24 - 31
24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

In the remainder, I collect some musings, conjectures, questions and crude syntheses of original thoughts and ideas that I have read elsewhere. A lot of my conjectures channel William Lane Craig.

What is evil?

We start with the premise that God is not the author of evil -- whether, by nature or in deed. His creation is entirely good. Evil, then, can only be seen as the absence of good. But, if the Creator Himself and every created thing is good (or, was, originally, good), how can good be absent, in any sense? In the case of sinful evil (i.e. evil originating in the thoughts and actions of a moral being), the only plausible sense is that evil is a choice of (i.e. a moral preference for) a lesser good over a greater good.  This can be illustrated with examples. (A) Food is good. Feeding oneself is good. Feeding one's child is good. However, a choice to feed oneself to the exclusion of feeding one's child, or vice versa, leads to death and is evil. Feeding oneself good pleasures, such as chocolate, to the exclusion of all other foods, is a lesser good than feeding oneself a balanced diet and, therefore, is an evil. (B) Enjoying one's spouse is good. Enjoying work is good. However, enjoying work to the exclusion of enjoying one's spouse or enjoying them to a lesser degree is evil. (C) Work is good and so is the enjoyment of one's labors. However, appreciating one's labors to the exclusion of enjoying God is an example of idolatrous evil. (D) Adam desiring to be like God, a good in and of itself, over and above his willingness to submit to God's rule, a greater good, is the story of the first human sin. (E) Lucifer's (i.e Satan's) enjoyment of his own glory (a good, in and of itself) for his own sake rather than for the glory and sake of his creator God, the greatest Good, seems to be the story of the very origin of evil.

What about amoral (i.e. natural) evil?

What about the evil that exists in the natural world, outside of moral beings such as angels, demons or humans? What about volcanoes, floods, famines and other natural disasters? What about accidents and unintentional man-made evil? Isn't God the only true free agent involved in such events? Aren't they intrinsically evil? Well, it is true that God cursed His creation after Adam and Eve sinned. It is also true that He is redeeming His creation and will eventually redeem it completely, in Christ. Can God's curse be the greatest good thing that He could have done after man sinned? Is this what is meant by Gen 3.22 : "Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”"? Can this perhaps, mysteriously, be an act of great and good love?

On free will, the image of God and humans and angels

On the question of free will, God could have created beings with or without free will (i.e. moral agency). Without free will, the problem of evil is non-existent. If God had created only automatons that obeyed His every bidding, there would never be an evil choice, because there would never be choice in any sense. Is it a greater good to for beings to freely will to enjoy God; therefore, a greater good for God to create beings with free will, if at all He chose to create?

What sort of nature ought God to endow this creature with free will? A nature that reflect His own image or otherwise or both? It seems that He did, indeed, create both types? Perhaps, angelic beings were originally created with free will. However, Lucifer and his followers acted in an evil way because they looked away from God, the greatest Good, and looked inward at their own beauty. Perhaps, following this angelic (demonic?) fall, God graciously restricted angelic free will -- such that, from that point forward, angels have always obeyed Him and will continue to do so and demons have always rebelled against him and will continue to do so until their final, good, destruction.

This still leaves open the question : why did Lucifer choose to sin? Is this an eventuality for any being with free will? Is this an eventuality for any being with free will and made not in the image of God? 

This leads us to man -- to Adam and Eve, whether literal or archetypal. Man was made in God's image. Among men, only Adam and Eve were created with true free will. After they sinned, their natures underwent a fundamental change (because, they now experientially "knew" evil and were no longer in the state of innocence, of knowing only good). This fundamental change marred the original nature and man was now no longer free to choose good -- he was bound to sin. By God's common grace (another example of His goodness), man still chose the good every now and then and created institutions of law and attempted technological progress, however corrupt, to address the ill-effects of the curse, per God's good design. However, by and large, man was still compelled to sin and evil.

Regeneration, the great and good act of God, of a person's soul frees that person to love God -- but, does not completely rid him of the desire to do evil. However, regeneration, being a good act of God, will be not be thwarted midway and will eventually be complete. And, in the meantime, a regenerate soul is graciously restricted in its freedom -- restricted from the freedom of being able to reject God completely.

This leaves open some questions : will regenerate man be completely free, after ultimate redemption? Or, will he still be restricted in his freedom? It seems counter-intuitive that a regenerate being, made in the image of God and redeemed completely, is anything less than fully free.

But, if free moral agents, both humans and angelic, i.e. those made in God's image and those not, have historically sinned and chosen evil over the good, is there not a danger of this happening again, i.e. in God's eternal blissful economy that we call Heaven?

The best of all possible worlds?

This leads to my final conjecture. Perhaps, the reality that we partially see and will eventually fully  experience is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created -- in fact, by definition, should it not be this way, if God is indeed Good in the highest possible sense?

In this metaphysical conjecture, reality is populated by formerly free beings, i.e. angels, -- some of whom are graciously and lovingly restricted by God to now only choose the highest Good -- i.e. enjoy Him and do His bidding, and some of whom are beyond redemption and are therefore exhibited by God as a loving answer to potentially counter-factual wonderings by beings in bliss, whether human or angelic.

Furthermore, reality is also populated by redeemed beings made in His image, who are now, once again, completely free to love and enjoy Him as the greatest good or now and will forever freely continue to choose to do so. Here, once again, possible counter-factual questioning is obviated by the clear evidence of the lesser bliss enjoyed by angelic beings (i.e. beings who are not completely free and are not made in His image).

At the end, one more question remains : what of the damnation of human souls -- i.e. souls made in His image who have rejected Him forever? Isn't their damnation an evil? At least, in the case of those, who, like the rich man (in Lazarus' story) acknowledged Truth and expressed love by desiring the salvation of another. This is where one wonders, hopefully, about doctrines like purgatory and annihilationism -- for, surely, these are more good and gracious than the eternal suffering of Hell. Is it possible that Christ Himself would make an appearance to those who died in their sins to make one final offer of reconciliation before eternal death? Must salvation be by faith alone? Can salvation also be by sight -- as in the times when our Lord walked on this earth. This is where we must necessarily come to an end in our reasoning and humbly tremble in the knowledge that God, at last, is far more good than we can imagine Him to be, even in the best of our speculations about His nature and His economy.

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