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Two keys to understanding God and evil

It’s the number one intellectual reason people use to stiff-arm God. Scottish skeptic David Hume articulates the issue this way:

“Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

Hume definitely isn’t alone in his reasoning. Nobody seems to have a problem with having a God who ensures only good things happen, but nearly everyone chokes on the idea that God and bad things can exist together.

The Bible, however, says otherwise in an unapologetic fashion. And it does so for good reason.   

While I’ve previously posted a couple of articles on the subject of theodicy, one on the biblical answer for God and evil and another on Jesus’s teaching about it, there are two specific scriptural keys that pertain to the problem that have helped me get why the Bible takes the stance that it does.

Concurrence and purpose

The first key has to do with understanding how God’s sovereignty and providence square with human freedom. This brings us to the word, concurrence.

Concurrence, by definition, refers to actions involving two or more parties that are taking place parallel with one another. Those actions are typically distinct from each other (i.e. the role of one party involved isn’t the same as the other), but they usually dovetail at some point for an end result.

The second key is purpose, and while I’m sure you know what it means, let’s define it anyway. Purpose involves the reason for which something is done; it includes intention and an achieved desired end.  

Where God and evil are concerned, concurrence and purpose involve God willing a good end result that most times involves a series of events that are freely and willingly carried out by His creation. The important distinction to understand is that, while God has a good purpose for those series of events, the people carrying them out can have bad purposes in their heart and be hoping for an evil end result.   

Let’s look at two biblical examples of this in action, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.  

It all started with a coat

What could possibly go wrong with a doting father giving his favorite son a colorful coat that the rest of his kiddos didn’t have? Turns out, a lot.

Genesis 37-50 chronicles the life of Joseph, one of Israel’s sons. After ratting out his brothers, getting a special coat from his dad, and relaying some prophetic dreams he received from God to his family, Joseph’s life takes a nosedive and he ends up going through literally hell on earth.

His own brothers attempt to murder him, but then end up selling him to a slave trader who takes him down to Egypt where he’s sold to an Egyptian officer whose wife ends up wrongly accusing Joseph of attempted rape. From there, he languishes in prison for years.

Talk about when bad things happen to good people. You don’t think Joseph looked heavenward from time to time and thought, “what the heck?”  

If you know the story, you know that Joseph’s fortunes did change after that to the point where he became second in command over all Egypt and ended up saving his father and brothers from literal starvation. Once the dust settled, it’s from Joseph’s lips that we get one of the most succinct statements of concurrence and purpose in Scripture: “As for you [his brothers], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

In other words, while Joseph’s brothers freely carried out their actions intending harm to Joseph, God was sovereignly working to see that His good purpose was achieved.

It all started in eternity past

The Bible tells that God purposed in eternity past to have Jesus come and be the Savior for the world He created: “who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (1 Tim. 1:9).

Yet, it seemed from the moment Jesus took His first step in ministry, He was persecuted and doggedly pursued by evil men who wanted to kill Him. People whose evil actions and purpose ran concurrently with God’s good actions and purpose, with the end result being the murder of Jesus, which the religious leaders wanted, and Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for us and resurrection that God desired.

Clearly, there was disagreement in purpose between God and those who willingly carried out Christ’s murder. Peter captures this thought well in Acts when he says: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22–23).  

Every so often – as in the case of Joseph – it takes years to see God’s plan unfold and overshadow all the pain and suffering that’s taken place. Other times, it takes just three days to witness God’s victory over evil. Whatever the timeframe – even if it’s in the next life – we can trust God to bring Himself glory by demonstrating how He always overcomes evil.

Working together for good

I’ll bet you’ve quoted Paul’s famous statement in Romans 8 more than once in your life: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). “All things” can certainly include bad things, but whether good or bad, God always achieves His good purpose.

For sure, it may not feel like that sometimes and so we beg God to bring an end to the troubles we’re experiencing. However, we should keep in mind a point made by C. S Lewis: “Suppose what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Understanding the concepts of concurrence and purpose helps bring the issue of God and evil into perspective. It reminds us that, no matter what is happening, God is sovereignly in control and is bringing about a good end result for us, just as Scripture says, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4). 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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