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THE PERMISSION OF EVIL
AND ITS RELATION TO GODíS PLAN
Adapted and abridged from chapter seven of
The Divine Plan of the Ages
International Bible Students Association, 1914 edition
All Scripture references in this article are to the New International Version, UK edition of 1984.
Underlined references are hyperlinked to the online translation.
THIS ARTICLE not only inquires regarding human ailments, sorrows, pains, weaknesses and death, but goes behind them to consider their primary cause Ė Sin Ė and its remedy. As sin is the cause of evil, its removal is the only method of permanently curing the malady. We put forward the following questions:
Why did God permit evil?
Why did He permit Satan to tempt Adam and Eve?
Why did He allow the forbidden tree to have a place among the good?
The Fall from Grace Not Inevitable
Could God have prevented all possibility of manís fall? Yes, He could, but the fact that He did not is strong proof to us that its existence is designed ultimately to work out some greater good. We believe that Godís plans, seen in their completeness, will prove His Wisdom.
But could not God, with whom all things are possible, have blocked Satanís actions? Yes, He could, but that would have worked against His overall purpose, which is to demonstrate the perfection, majesty and righteous authority of His law ó to prove both to men and to angels the evil results of violating it.
God Desires Only to Bless
The Scriptures declare that all things were created for the Lordís pleasure (Revelation 4: 11):
You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.
God delights to bless and exercise the attributes of His glorious being. And though, in the working out of His benevolent designs, He permits evil and evil-doers for a time to play an active part, yet it is not for evilís sake, nor because He is in league with sin. He declares that He is Ďnot a God who takes pleasure in evilí (Psalm 5: 4). Though opposed to evil in every sense, God allows it for a time, because He sees that it may be made a lasting and valuable lesson to His creatures.
Good and Bad, Right and Wrong
It is a self-evident truth that for every right principle there is a corresponding wrong one. For instance, truth and falsehood, love and hatred, justice and injustice. We distinguish these opposite principles as right or wrong by their effects when put into action. The principle which is beneficial and results in ultimate order, harmony and happiness, we call a right principle; and the opposite, which produces unhappiness and destruction, we call a wrong principle. The intelligent being, capable of discerning right from wrong, and voluntarily governed by the one or the other, we call virtuous or sinful.
This faculty of discerning between right and wrong is the moral sense, or conscience. It is to this moral sense that God always appeals to prove His righteousness or justice; and by the same moral sense Adam could discern sin, or unrighteousness, to be evil, even before he knew all its consequences. The lower orders of Godís creatures are not endowed with this faculty. A dog may learn that certain actions bring the approval and reward of his master, and certain others his disapproval; he might steal or take life, but would not be termed a sinner; or he might protect property and life, but would not be called virtuous, because he is ignorant of the moral quality of his actions.
God could have created mankind devoid of ability to discern between right and wrong, or able only to do right, but he would then have been merely a living machine, a programmed computer, and certainly not a mental image of his Creator. Or God might have made man perfect and a free agent, as He did, and have guarded him from Satanís temptations. In that case, manís experience being limited to good, he would have been continually liable to suggestions of evil from without, or to ambitions from within, which would have made his everlasting future uncertain, and an outbreak of disobedience and disorder would always have been a possibility.
God first acquainted Adam and Eve with good, surrounding them with it in Eden. Later, as a penalty for disobedience, He gave them a severe knowledge of evil. Expelled from Eden and deprived of fellowship with their Maker, the exiles experienced sickness, pain and death, that they might come to understand the nature of evil and the disastrous effects of sin. From a comparison of results they came to an appreciation and proper estimate of both (Genesis 3: 22):
And the LORD God said, ĎThe man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.í
In this understanding of evil their offspring share, except that the human family will not fully understand the power of good until they personally experience it in the future Kingdom of God, as a result of their redemption by Christ, who will then be their Judge and King.
The moral sense, or judgement of right and wrong, and the liberty to use it, which Adam possessed, were important features of his likeness to God. The law of right and wrong was written into his natural constitution. It was an integral part of him, just as it is a part of the Divine nature. But this image or likeness of God in man has lost much of its clear outline through the degrading influence of sin.
As already noted, the ability to love implies the ability to hate. Hence we may reason that the Creator could not make man in His own likeness, with power to love and to do right, without the corresponding ability to hate or to do wrong. This liberty of choice, termed free moral agency, or free will, was a part of manís original nature, and this, together with the full measure of his mental and moral faculties, made him like his Maker. Today, after over 6,000 years of deterioration, much of that original likeness has been lost. We are now less free in our wills, and more or less bound by sin ó sin is now easier and agreeable to the fallen race than is righteousness.
God could have given Adam such a vivid impression of the many evil results of sin as would have deterred him from it, but He knew that experience of the evil would be the most thorough lesson for him and his offspring, all mankind. For this reason He did not prevent but allowed man to make his choice, and to feel the consequences. Had an opportunity to sin never been presented to him, man could not have learned to resist it; consequently there would have been neither virtue nor merit in any future right-doing. God desires intelligent and willing obedience, rather than ignorant, mechanical service.
RIGHT AND WRONG as principles have always existed, and all perfect, intelligent creatures in Godís likeness must be free to choose either. But the Scriptures tell us that when the activity of the evil principle has been permitted long enough to accomplish Godís purposes, all who continue to submit to it shall forever cease to live (1 Corinthians 15: 25, 26):
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Right-doing and right-doers, only, shall be allowed to exist forever.
But the question recurs in another form: Could man have become acquainted with evil in some other way than by experience? Generally, there are four ways by which man can learn.
Each method plays a part in oneís cumulative understanding, but experience is the most thorough teacher. Adam already had a knowledge of evil by information, but that was insufficient to restrain him from trying the experiment. Adam and Eve knew God as their Creator, and hence as the one who had the right to direct them. God had said of the forbidden tree, Ď[Y]ou must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely dieí (Genesis 2: 17). They had, therefore, a theoretical awareness of evil, though they had never observed or experienced its effects. So they did not appreciate their Creatorís loving authority and His beneficent law, nor the dangers from which He wished to protect them. They yielded to the temptation which God permitted, the ultimate value of which His wisdom had anticipated.
In the Garden
The Scriptures tell the simple story of how the woman was deceived, and thus became a transgressor. Her experience and acquaintance with God were even more limited than Adamís. He was created first and God had directly communicated to him the knowledge of the penalty of sin. Eve probably received her information from Adam. In 1 Timothy 2: 14 we read:
Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
When Eve took the fruit she evidently did not realize the severity of her transgression, though possibly she had misgivings and apprehensions that all was not well. Nonetheless, the Apostle Paul says she was a transgressor ó but not so culpable because she had been deceived. Adam sinned with a fuller realization of what he was doing and with the penalty in view, knowing that he would die.
Perhaps we can understand the temptation which impelled Adam to be reckless and incur the death sentence. Bearing in mind that he was perfect and made in the mental and moral likeness of God, we may reasonably conclude that Adam possessed a high degree of love for his wife, the perfect woman. Realizing her sin would bring death upon her and that he might lose this beloved companion, he decided to share her penalty and so ate the fruit she offered. So, both Adam and Eve were guilty, and they passed on the penalty and effects of sin to their offspring Ė the entire human family. As God no doubt anticipated, habitual familiarity with sin further impaired manís moral nature, and evil became more agreeable and desirable than the good.
Nevertheless, God permitted evil because, knowing in advance the remedy He would provide for manís release from the curse of death, He saw that the final result would be to lead the human race to a better understanding of the catastrophic effects of sin. So man would come to see the matchless brilliancy of virtue in contrast with sin and would learn to love and honour his Creator, the Source and Fountain of all goodness. The final result will be greater love for God and hatred of all that is opposed to His will and righteousness.
Allowing versus Causing Evil
We ought to make a wide distinction between Godís permitting evil, and the assertion by agnostics and atheists that God is the author and instigator of it. Such a view is blasphemous and contradicts the Scriptures. True, God has the power to force humanity into either sin or righteousness, but His Word declares that He has no such intention. He seeks the worship and love of only such as approach Him in spirit and in truth. To this end He has given man liberty of will and desires him to choose righteousness.
Allowing man to choose for himself led to Adamís fall from Divine fellowship and favour into death. To the end that man might have a free will and yet be enabled to profit by his first failure in its misuse, God provided Jesus Christ, a ransom from the sentence of death. This means of reconciliation is open to all and will be understood by everyone at the appropriate time (1 Timothy 2: 3-6):
This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men ó the testimony given in its proper time.
No injustice has been done to Adamís posterity in not affording them each an individual trial. Jehovah was in no sense bound to bring man into existence. Having done so, no external law of equity or justice binds Him to perpetuate that life everlastingly. The present existence, which from the cradle to the tomb is but a process of dying, is still a favour, even if there were no hereafter. Most people probably see it this way.
Some think that Godís punishment for Adamís sin is eternal torture. But the text says nothing like this. Adam was told Ďyou will surely dieí (Genesis 2: 17). The ultimate blessing of God to His obedient children, in Christís Kingdom on earth, will be eternal life, free from pain, sickness and every other element of decay and death.
LIFE EVERLASTING is not promised to any but the obedient. Life is Godís gift, and death, its opposite, is the penalty He prescribes for the disobedient. Eternal torment is nowhere suggested in the Old Testament Scriptures, and only a few statements in the New Testament can be so misconstrued as to appear to teach it. ĎThe soul who sins is the one who will dieí (Ezekiel 18: 4); ĎFor the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lordí (Romans 6: 23).
Many suppose God was unjust in allowing Adamís condemnation to affect his posterity, instead of granting each one a trial and chance for everlasting life similar to that which Adam had. But what will they say if it can be shown that the worldís opportunity and trial for life will be much more favourable than was Adamís?
One for One
God assures us that as condemnation passed upon all in Adam, so He has arranged for a new head, father or life-giver for the race, into whom all may be transferred by faith and obedience. As all in Adam shared the curse of death, so all in Christ will share the blessing of a restoration (Romans 5: 12, 18, 19). The death of Jesus, the undefiled, sinless one, was a complete settlement toward God of the sin of Adam. As one man had sinned Ė and all in him had shared his curse, his penalty Ė so Jesus, having paid the penalty of that one sinner, bought not only Adam, but all his posterity with him. Our Lord, Ďthe man Christ Jesusí, with a perfect unborn race in Him, gave Himself as the ransom-price for Adam and his race yet to be born (1 Timothy 2: 5, 6).
In effect, Christ offers to adopt as His children all of Adamís offspring who will accept the terms of the New Covenant in His Kingdom to come, and so through faith and obedience to join the family of God and receive everlasting life. ĎFor as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made aliveí (1 Corinthians 15: 22).
The injury we received through Adamís fall is, by Godís grace, to be more than offset with favour through Christ. All people will sooner or later have a full opportunity to be restored to the same standing that Adam enjoyed before he sinned. Those who do not receive a full knowledge and, by faith, an enjoyment of this favour of God in the present time (the majority) will receive these privileges during their resurrection in the Millennial kingdom to come (John 5: 28, 29).
Only One Trial for Life
As each person becomes fully aware of the redemption price paid by our Lord Jesus, and of the resulting privileges, each one will be viewed as on trial, as Adam was. But perfect obedience without perfect ability to render it, God does not require of any. Under the Covenant of Grace, members of the Church during the Gospel age had the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by faith to make up their unavoidable deficiencies. Likewise, Divine Grace will operate toward the willingly obedient during the Millennial age.
Not until physical perfection is reached (which will be the privilege of all before the close of the Millennial age) will absolute moral perfection be expected. That new trial, the result of the ransom and the New Covenant, will differ from the trial in Eden in that in it the acts of each one will affect only his own future. (This trial is not a second chance in the strict sense of the term; it will be the first individual opportunity of Adamís descendants, who, when born, were already under the condemnation of death.)
WHAT ADVANTAGE is there in the method God has pursued? Why not give everyone an individual chance for life now? If evil must be permitted because of manís free moral agency, why is its extermination accomplished by such a peculiar and circuitous method? Why allow so much misery to intervene, and to come upon many who will ultimately receive the gift of life as obedient children of God anyway?
Had God arranged differently the propagation of our species, so that children would not partake of the results of parental sins, or that each one should have favourable Edenic conditions for their testing, how many might we presume would be found worthy or unworthy of life under their own personal test? Suppose that one-fourth, or even one-half, were found worthy, and that the rest suffered the wages of sin Ė death. Then what?
Let us assume that those who had passed the test had neither experienced nor witnessed sin: might they not forever feel a curiosity toward forbidden things, only restrained through fear of God and the penalty? Their service could not be so hearty, since they would lack a full appreciation of the benevolent designs of the Creator in making the moral laws which govern His creatures.
How much more like the wisdom of God to restrict the damaging effects of sin, as His plan does. In His economy, God has decreed that the Millennial reign of Christ shall accomplish the full extinction of evil and also of wilful evil-doers, and usher in an eternity of righteousness, based on full knowledge and free-will obedience.
More Than One Redeemer?
One Redeemer was quite sufficient in the plan which God devised because only one man (Adam) had sinned and been condemned. Had Adamís trial been only one of many individual tests, a ransomer would have been required for each failure. Those who can appreciate this feature of Godís plan Ė which by condemning all in one representative, opened the way for the ransom and restitution of all by one Redeemer Ė will find in it the solution to many perplexities. The condemnation of all in one was the reverse of an injury: it was a great favour when viewed in connection with Godís plan for providing justification for all through one.
When Godís plan is fully accomplished, all will be able to read clearly His wisdom, justice, love and power. They will see the justice which would not violate its own decree, nor save the justly-condemned race without a full cancellation of their penalty by a willing redeemer. They will see the love which provided this noble sacrifice and which highly exalted the Redeemer to Godís own right hand, giving Him the power and authority to restore to life those whom He had purchased with His precious blood. They will see the power and wisdom which worked out a glorious destiny for His creatures, employing even unwilling agents in the historical advancement and accomplishment of His grand designs.
Had evil not been permitted, it is hard to see how these results could have been attained. Ultimately, when the purposes of God shall have been accomplished, the glory of the Divine character will be obvious to all, and this temporary permission of evil acknowledged as a wise feature in the Divine policy. At present, this can only be appreciated by the eye of faith, looking forward through Godís Word to the promises spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began Ė the restitution of all things (Acts 3: 18-23).
April 2013 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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