THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Pastor Don Fortner
“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4).
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).
The question is often raised, “How did sin and evil arise in God’s creation?” If God is absolutely sovereign, absolutely holy, and absolutely good, if he created all things good, how is it that pride was found in Lucifer’s heart? How were the fallen angels led to rebel against his throne? How was Adam seduced to sin?
I frankly acknowledge that, when you have finished reading this article, you will still have more questions unanswered than answered. Augustus Toplady wrote, “The origin of evil…is the most difficult question, perhaps, and the most mysterious part of the divine conduct that ever presented itself to human investigation. Clouds and darkness are the seat of its residence; though wisdom, goodness and justice, were certainly (in a manner unknown to us) the motives to its permission.”
Yet, the existence of evil is a problem which vexes our minds continually. We must, whenever considering such a subject, at once, as Toplady put it, “clip the wings of curiosity.” Knowing that God is not the author of sin, and that he never tempts any to evil (James 1:13-17), knowing that nothing comes to pass without his all-wise decree, the matter cannot be resolved in a more God honoring way than to use the words of our Lord as the expression of submissive faith, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
We bow before God in reverent submission, and confess, “Lord, we are darkness. You are light. We are ignorance. You are Wisdom. We are but creatures. You are our Creator. We see nothing, know nothing, and understand nothing clearly. You see all things, know all things and understand all things perfectly.” Before him of whom are all things, we acknowledge our utter ignorance. We are, ought to be and must be content to wait until our souls are freed from the influence of evil in the world above to know the mind and purpose of God in permitting the evil which here perplexes our minds. Still, two things we know by divine revelation.
1. “All things are of God.”
That is Bible language (2 Corinthians 5:18). Everything God does, or permits others to do, is to show forth the greatness of his glory (Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 1:11-12; Revelation 5:13).
It appears that the perfections of God could not have been so gloriously revealed as they now are in Christ, had evil never been permitted to enter the universe. God all-wise permits sin and evil so that he may use it and overrule it to his own praise (Psalm 76:10). — Had sin never been permitted, how could the justice of God be known in punishing it? — Had evil never existed, how could the wisdom of God be seen overruling it? — Had sin never entered the world, how could the goodness of God be made manifest in pardoning and forgiving it? — Had there never been any wickedness in God’s creation, how could the power of God be revealed in subduing it?
Yet, we must not look upon God permitting sin, as people commonly do, as though it is something beyond his decree or control. John Gill stated the matter well when he wrote, regarding the sin and fall of our father Adam…
2. “All things work together for” the eternal good of God’s elect.
Without question, all evil in the world is included in the “all things” which work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28-30).
The presence of sin in God’s universe is either according to God’s will, or contrary to it. It is here either because he wills it, or because he is unable to prevent it.
The fact is, the fall of our father Adam, and the entrance of sin into the world by him, was one of the countless links of providence essential to Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection as our Substitute for the redemption of our souls.
To suggest (as many ignorantly do) that the fall was not purposed by God, is to assert that the incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and glory of Christ, and the salvation of his people by virtue of his obedience as our Substitute, is all, from beginning to end, the result of chance, luck, or blind fate. That, of course, is as absurd as it is blasphemous.
All evil in God’s creation exists by the will and purpose of God for the everlasting glory of his own great name and the eternal good of his elect.
The evil that is in God’s universe is here by God’s purpose, design, and sovereign decree. I know religious infidels, people who imagine that they are smarter, wiser, and holier than God, hoot and holler, and get all bent out of shape, when they hear or read anything like that; but that is just the way it is. It does not matter whether we talk about moral evil, social evil, physical evil, or evil under any other name, either it is here by accident, or by purpose. Either God rules evil, or he is ruled by evil. There is no alternative. The Book of God tells us plainly that our God is God in control, absolute control of all things (Isaiah 14:24-27).
Our God declares, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (Isaiah 45:7). Shemei could not have cussed David, except the Lord had commanded it (2 Samuel 16:10). The evil spirit that came upon Saul was sent by the Lord God (1 Samuel 16:14). The fall of Lucifer was according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will (Isaiah 14:26-27). And the fall of Adam was according to that same purpose (Genesis 2:17). God did not say to Adam, “If you eat,” He said, “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” The fall of our father Adam was by divine design.
God’s purpose of grace is hinted and pictured in the creation, ruin, and recreation of the world (Genesis 1:1-3). Just as those opening verses of Genesis describe God’s work of creation, they typically set forth the entire work of redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ. — “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Like everything else that comes from the hand of God, the original creation of the world was perfect, beautiful, and glorious. That was the original condition of man. Adam was made in the image of God. He was endowed with life by the breath of the Almighty. God said, concerning him, he was “very good.”
Then something happened. In Genesis 1:2 we read, “And the earth was (became) without form and void,” the earth became a ruin. Between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 a terrible thing happened which resulted in the ruin of the earth. No one can say with certainty, because it is not revealed, but perhaps this was the time of Satan’s fall, the time when sin first entered God’s universe.
This much is certain: Satan, the mightiest and most excellent of God’s creatures, was filled with pride. Lucifer dared to oppose the will of his Creator. “The anointed cherub that covereth” dared to defy God’s right to be God. As the result of his sin, Satan was cast out of heaven, cast down to the earth. This fall of Satan had far reaching consequences. The earth, originally created by God fair and beautiful, became “without form and void,” a desolate place of ruin. — “And darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
This is a striking picture of what happened in the garden. Man, who was created in the image of God, fell into sin; and his fall had far reaching consequences. The effects of his sin reached all his posterity. Humanity became a ruin. All future generations were cursed, dead, incapable of bringing forth life, as the result of Adam’s fall. — “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
“And darkness was upon the face of the deep.” — Darkness is the opposite of light. God is light. Satan is darkness. And man under sin, being void of all light, is engulfed in total, spiritual darkness. Separated from God, morally blind, spiritually dead, darkness is the condition of all unregenerate men and women. This is the black background upon which God has chosen to display the glory of his grace in redemption by Christ. — “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:21). As the Lord God restored creation from ruin in those first six days of time, so he restores his elect from the ruin of the fall by his redemptive works in Christ.
Adam’s fall as the federal head of all men was designed by God to be a type and picture, as well as a preparation for, the redemption of God’s elect by Christ, our Federal Head and Covenant Surety. — “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:12, 18-19).
Adam knew what he was doing, when he plunged into sin. So did our Savior. He did it because of his love for his wife. So did Christ. He did it as a representative man. So did the Son of God.
All sin and evil in the universe is under God’s total, absolute control and serving his wise and holy purpose of grace in Christ. — “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalms 76:10).
Even a casual glance at some of the facts revealed in Scripture shows that to be an obvious fact. The Word of God speaks some horribly evil acts performed by men, acts for which the people involved were each personally responsible. Yet, they were things wisely ordained, ruled and overruled by our heavenly Father for the salvation of his people and the glory of his dear Son as our Savior.
There is no greater display of God’s total sovereignty over even the wicked deeds of men than in the actions of reprobate men, religious men, politically powerful men, and drunks, harlots, and thieves, in crucifying the Lord Jesus Christ. — “After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:1-2).
In these two verses of Inspiration the Holy Spirit shows us that the Lord our God is the God who can be trusted. Here is a glaring contrast between the God of the Bible and the gods of men. The gods of religion want to do things, desire to do things, and try to do things, but are unable to accomplish them because of the works of the devil and the wills of men. The God of the Bible, the only true God, our God and heavenly Father never wants what to do, desires to do, or tries to do anything except what he does. He is a God in whom we can be confident, a God who can be trusted implicitly, because he always has he way and always does as he will.
In these first two verses of Mark 14, we have a very clear example of God’s total sovereignty and omnipotent power to accomplish his will. He who truly is God over all and blessed forever always has his way. Here we see our great God disappointing the plans and designs of wicked men, overruling their wills and decisions to accomplish his own eternal purpose of grace in predestination. Our Lord’s enemies did not want his death to be a public spectacle. Repeatedly, they tried to stone him to death, throw him off a cliff, or in some other way murder him without the common people being aware of what they had done. — “The chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.” But that was not what God had purposed. Therefore, in his wise and adorable providence, he simply overruled their schemes. God defeated their counsel and performed his own.
It was the purpose of God from eternity that the Lord Jesus Christ must be lifted up upon the cursed tree and crucified as a cursed man as our Substitute. There was no way possible for God to be both just and the Justifier of chosen sinners except by his own dear Son dying in our room and stead as our Substitute. His justice must be satisfied. Else, he could not forgive sin. Christ alone, the God-man Mediator, could satisfy the justice of God for us.
Yet, in order to fulfil the Scriptures, our Savior must die “according to the Scriptures.” You will recall that our Savior often said, with reference to his sin-atoning death at Calvary, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49). In other words, the Lord Jesus must be betrayed by his own familiar friend for thirty pieces of silver, crucified by the hands of Gentiles at the insistence of the Jews, without a single bone in his body being broken, yet having his heart pierced. He must be numbered with transgressors in his death, mocked, beaten, spit upon, and stripped in public humiliation. And the soldiers who crucified him must cast lots to see which one would get his garment.
All these things were prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. But “the chief priests and scribes sought how they might take him by craft and put him to death.” That presented no problem to God Almighty! His counsel stood firm. His purpose was fulfilled. God’s will always prevails. His purpose was accomplished by these very men (Acts 2:23). Christ was crucified at Calvary exactly as God had purposed from eternity.
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain!” — The chief priests and scribes thought they would put an end to Christ’s kingdom by killing him; but they were actually instruments in God’s hands for the erection and building of his kingdom. When they, with vile hearts, had the Lord Jesus crucified, they thought they would vilify him and make him a laughing stock; but God used them to make his name glorious. The Jews thought they would scare his disciples into silence by killing our Master; but God used their wicked deeds to embolden his disciples in preaching the gospel.
Our God is in control of this world, absolutely in control of it. That God, and that God alone, who is in absolute, total control of the entire universe, we can and should trust with implicit confidence in all things and with all things. The Word of God, the promises of God and the prophecies of Holy Scripture are all utterly meaningless unless our God is the God who rules everything, whose will is always performed, whose purpose stands fast, whose thoughts are irresistible.
This is the firm basis of our faith and the foundation of our comfort. Our God is in control, as fully in control of Satan, the demons of hell, and the thoughts and deeds of wicked men as he is of the angels about his throne. We live in a world of woe. We are often tossed to and fro in this world, confused and perplexed by many things. Let us ever rest ourselves in our God. — “All things are of God.” All things are ordered by our heavenly Father for our good. All things are arranged by God’s infinite wisdom and omnipotent arm for his glory. Nothing is beyond his dominion.
Look to Calvary and laugh at those will worshippers who vainly imagine that the events of this world are ordered not by the will of almighty God but by the wills of puny men! I often hear preachers and others say, “God will never interfere with the will of man.” The Word of God gives the lie to that notion. It was the will of these men that Christ be put to death secretly; but God willed that he be crucified in due time for the ungodly. Consider this and think. God would not allow these wicked men to kill his Son when they wanted, the way they wanted, or in the place they wanted. However, he did permit them to kill his Son exactly according to the malice of their hearts. Yet, he used their sinful malice to accomplish his purpose of grace in the redemption of his people, exactly as he had purposed from eternity. Read carefully those things written in Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28, and 13:28-30.
If the god you trust can be controlled, hindered, or even influenced by you, by Satan, or by all the powers of earth and hell, then the god you trust is no God at all, and you are an idolater. Our God is not a spectator or even a competitor in this world. He is the Ruler of it! Salvation is knowing him, the only true and living God as he is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ his Son, the God-man, our Savior (John 17:3). He who is our God is the God, the only God you can trust.
It was the rejection of the gospel by the Jews which has sent the gospel to us (Romans 9-11). Even the heresies that so constantly vex us, by which churches are divided and multitudes are deceived, are evils by which our God does good for his elect (1 Corinthians 11:19).
I see murder, rape, adultery, abortion, drunkenness, envy, jealousy, greed, racism, pornography, war, idolatry, homosexuality, incest, fornication, the abandonment of families by selfish, self-loving men and women, the murder of children by their parents, and the murder of parents by their children. These are great evils. These are the evils that perplex most people. But I have to deal with a far greater problem, with far more confusion evils than these.
The evil that is in me is far more disturbing than the evil around me. Yet, this, too, is according to God’s purpose and is under God’s control. Were it his purpose to do so, God almighty could destroy the influence of sin and eradicate it from his people as easily now as he shall when he takes us to glory. But he has not chosen to do so. He has purposed that as long as we are in this world, his people will have to struggle and fight with the sin within us. As long as we are here, we are a people at war with ourselves (Romans 7:14-23). And this is best. God has arranged things this way for good reasons. He has done so to make us humble before him, to teach us to be kind, gracious, and forgiving, to keep us looking to Christ, to keep us aware that salvation is by grace alone, and to wean us of this world.
All the evil that is in us and all the evil there is in God’s creation will, in the end, redound to the everlasting praise of our God and to the everlasting happiness of his people. I do not pretend to know the details of how he will do it; but this I do know that our God will put all Christ’s enemies under his feet and wipe all tears from our eyes.
When all things that must be have been there will be no regrets in the world of the redeemed. Everything shall give praise to our God and yield everlasting happiness to our hearts. Christ shall be triumphant at last. Satan, the demons of hell, wicked men, and all evil shall prove the goodness of our God as surely as songs of the heavenly angels. Christ makes the evil good by his blood atonement. He turns the evil to good by his omnipotent grace. And our God shall turn the evil to good in the day called the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19-21; Revelation 4:9-11; 5:11-14; 19:1-6; 21:1-4).
 Back in 1999, I was asked to preach in a Bible conference on “The Problem of Evil.” Frankly, it is a subject I probably would never have chosen on my own. I seriously thought about declining the request altogether, simply because I have absolutely no interest in indulging the vain curiosities of depraved hearts about sacred things. But after much thoughtful, prayerful study and consideration, I believe the Lord gave me a message that, by the blessing of his Spirit, might be both honoring to him and be helpful to his people. This article is written from my sermon notes on that occasion. I suggest that the reader carefully read Isaiah 45:1-25.
 In order that the love of God in Christ might be made known to us
in justifying grace, through blood atonement, Adam fell and we fell in him.