Institutes of the Christian Religion: III. The Cause of Evil

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence comes evil?”

This saying attributed (perhaps incorrectly) to Epicurus is a common argument against the existence of God. When talking about the problem of evil, everyone seems to point his finger at either God, or the world around him. Christianity turns the challenge upon the challenger himself and answers thus,

“Look in the mirror, for thence comes evil.
God is both willing and able to prevent evil.
Are you willing that He does so?”

If I understand it correctly, Christianity teaches that Man is the cause of evil to himself, by turning away from God. In regard to God, there is no evil, for He alone is good and there is no standard of good and evil apart from Him. The world was created and is upheld by the sovereign will of God, which is good, therefore there is no evil in the world either. Evil lies only in the intent of the thoughts of Man. When man acts according to the evil intent of his heart, which is contrary to the will of God for him, he nevertheless acts as His instrument and carries out His all-encompassing will. Calvin rejects the notion of the permissive will of God, viz, that God passively allows evil, but not actively wills it. Man cannot even think one single thought, or perform one single act, without being actively sustained by God. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” In all the acts of man, as in the operation of the whole universe, God is active. Therefore, man cannot think nor do evil without the active will of God. Though the act appears the same, the will is different, man wills evil, but God wills good. Joseph says to his brethren who sold him as a slave when he was but a boy, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive”; Jesus was sold and crucified by those who meant evil against Him, as Peter testified, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” Thus, the eternal counsel of God for the salvation of man was fulfilled by His death and resurrection.

As it is written, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.” “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand.”

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3 thoughts on “Institutes of the Christian Religion: III. The Cause of Evil

  1. “Therefore, man cannot think nor do evil without the active will of God. Though the act appears the same, the will is different, man wills evil, but God wills good”

    I don’t quite understand. So the will of God for good pertains more towards ends or results than to acts? In other words, as long as the end of an evil act is good then God actively wills the evil act?

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