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On Iniquity

The Examination of Hiob by William Blake
The Examination of Hiob by William Blake

If God is the God of love and if God is all-powerful then why is there evil and suffering in the world? This seeming catch-22 known as theodicy (from the Greek Theos, God and Dike, Justice) is one that many have struggled to reconcile. God is the creator of everything, yet we know that evil exists and that God is not the author of sin. (James 1:13-15, 1 John 2:16, Psalm 50:21) When God created everything God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31) In his Confessions, Augustine wrestled with this difficult problem.

And it was made clear to me that all things are good even if they are corrupted. They could not be corrupted if they were supremely good; but unless they were good they could not be corrupted. If they were supremely good, they would be incorruptible; if they were not good at all, there would be nothing in them to be corrupted. For corruption harms; but unless it could diminish goodness, it could not harm. Either, then, corruption does not harm-which cannot be-or, as is certain, all that is corrupted is thereby deprived of good. But if they are deprived of all good, they will cease to be. For if they are at all and cannot be at all corrupted, they will become better, because they will remain incorruptible. Now what can be more monstrous than to maintain that by losing all good they have become better? If, then, they are deprived of all good, they will cease to exist. So long as they are, therefore, they are good. Therefore, whatsoever is, is good. Evil, then, the origin of which I had been seeking, has no substance at all; for if it were a substance, it would be good. For either it would be an incorruptible substance and so a supreme good, or a corruptible substance, which could not be corrupted unless it were good. I understood, therefore, and it was made clear to me that thou madest all things good, nor is there any substance at all not made by thee. And because all that thou madest is not equal, each by itself is good, and the sum of all of them is very good, for our God made all things very good.

To thee there is no such thing as evil, and even in thy whole creation taken as a whole, there is not; because there is nothing from beyond it that can burst in and destroy the order which thou hast appointed for it. But in the parts of creation, some things, because they do not harmonize with others, are considered evil. Yet those same things harmonize with others and are good, and in themselves are good. And all these things which do not harmonize with each other still harmonize with the inferior part of creation which we call the earth, having its own cloudy and windy sky of like nature with itself.

Augustine’s assertion is that evil has a negative existence as it has no existence in and of itself. Rather, evil only exists in a sort of parasitic way where its existence depends on the existence of good. Evil is merely an intrinsic privation or negation of good. Thomas Aquinas would later build on Augustine’s work when he argued that if evil is a lack goodness, it cannot not be part of God’s creation, because God’s creation lacks nothing.

Many have asserted that the presence of free will explains the origin of evil. However, this still doesn’t answer how a good being would be inclined to freely choose evil. Theologians will probably struggle with the mystery of iniquity until the end of the age. Still, while believers may struggle with the existence of evil the unbeliever has the same problem that is twofold. Christians have a sure explanation for the existence of good. Unbelievers, on the other hand, carry the burden of explaining both the existence of good and evil.

If God exists and is sovereign, then he he must have been able to prevent the existence of evil. If God allowed evil to enter into his creation then it can only be by his sovereign decision. Since God’s sovereign decisions always follow is perfect goodness, it must be concluded that his decision to allow evil to exist is a good decision. However, this does not mean that evil is good or that good is evil. Nor does it mean that God sees evil as good. It simply means that it is good that evil exists because God, in all of his goodness and great wisdom, allows evil to exist.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

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Joshua Ambrose

Joshua Ambrose is a restless disciple of Christ and sometimes whimsical mischief-maker. When not writing about theology, he writes about philosophy, history, economics, finance and basically anything that involves being a good neighbor in a way that honors his Lord.

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