February 4, 2008

Explaining Evil

Recently in my hometown of Dunbar WV, the son of a longtime family doctor was convicted of one of the most horrific crimes in the history of the state of West Virginia. I remember about two years ago my mother calling me and explaining of the horrors Micheal Merrifield had committed against two year old Logan Goodall. Michael Merrifield had been living with the child's mother, who was a cocaine addict and over a period of time Merrifield had apparently begun to physically and sexually abuse this little boy. The horrors that this precious little boy endured are indeed painful and horrific - some of the most unimaginable and evil things this man did to that innocent little boy have at times brought me to the point of tears. Not even an animal should have died the way this little boy did. But I implore my readers to take a minute before going any further and read this news article of what in fact happened to Logan Goodall - it is important you do so to fully understand the remainder of this post. Click here for the article.
(Warning: Graphic & Disturbing Content)

I realize for many who read the above article it is difficult to understand how such gross acts of evil could be done to such an innocent little life. When we read of such events we realize that evil is very real. However, as Christians we must stand ready to explain how and why such evil can and does occur and how a loving God would tolerate such evil. Many of today's Christian doctrines inform us that it is due to God's absolute foreknowledge and sovereignty, that "All Things" are willed for the glory of God. For example, many pastors often use Colossians 1:9-20, particularly verse 16 as their proof text to support this doctrine:

Col 1:16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him;

They claim this verse is a proof text to whereby God made "all things", not just the physical universe, but that God created both good and evil and has even foreordained (or should I say fated) every good and evil act just so Christ could be glorified. Renown Calvinist John Piper explains this on his website whereby he explains Col 1:16 whereby he says:

"All that came into being exists for Christ—that is, it exists to display the greatness of Christ. Nothing—nothing!—in the universe exists for its own sake. Everything from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains, from smallest particle to the biggest star, from the most boring school subject to the most fascinating science, from the ugliest cockroach to the most beautiful human, from the greatest saint to the most wicked genocidal dictator—everything that exists, exists to make the greatness of Christ more fully known"

Now I want you to pay particular attention to what Piper says here: "....even the most wicked genocide dictator......exists to make the greatness of Christ more full known". If that's hard for you to swallow as it was for me then your not alone! This is really the equivalent of saying that one needs to murder in order to appreciate the sanctity of life or one needs to rape in order to appreciate the sanctity of marriage. For Piper and Calvinist alike it all comes down to God's Sovereignty and Absolute Foreknowledge and thus their reason for this theology. For Calvinist, they hold that God has foreordained everything (and I do mean everything!) from the beginning of time, every atrocity, every horrific and evil act that ever has, was and is to occur. This is because they are married to the belief that God must foreordain everything because if not then somehow he is not omnipotent or omniscience.

But does God really need to incorporate such evil so just so he can maintain his omniscience? For those individuals who are searching to know or understand how an all loving and all knowing God could allow evil within our world, I would offer you a different and more reasonable explanation (and a biblical one at that!). A few months back I made a post that at least helps begin to explain why there is evil within our world and why it seems to be so arbitrary. You can see that post here. For one, I would purpose to offer a God who is grieved over such sin and sorrow (Gen 6:6, Judg 10:6, Isa 54:6). A God who is grieved that such evil and sin takes place in world he had originally created for fellowship with mankind (Eph 1:4-6). I would purpose a God whose heart is grieved by the fact that his created beings, whom He loves, act with such wickedness and inflict such devastating amounts of pain on each other. Who wishes that ALL sinners would be reconciled to Him or else they will be lost in hell for all eternity. What many of us fail to realize is that God witnesses every evil and sinful atrocity that unfolds on this earth every second of every day - all the while His heart is constantly broken by such evil and sin! It would seem very strange to me that if God is going around foreordaining evil and yet is grieved by the very same evil he is foreordaining, then this makes God a masochist. But this is the irrational logic Calvinism brings you to when you examine where it will ultimately takes you.

For one, I can not rationally or logically see how ordaining such gross acts of evil on a child such as Logan Goodall - and still define God as loving? To know how Logan's spent the last 8-10 hours of his life and to think this was all somehow pre-orchestrated by a loving God from the eternity past just so it would bring Himself glory is indeed strange and very malicious on God's part. The reason I wanted everyone to read the article above is I wanted it to be personal. I want you to feel maybe just for a second some of the anguish Logan's grandparents and family members felt over his tragic death. As Greg Boyd wrote in his book "God at War" he states, "Evil cannot be adequately grasped in a detached, neutral, abstract way. It cannot be known through faceless, nameless statistics or abstract theorems. All approaches to the problem of evil that do not go beyond these will be in danger of offering cheap and trite solutions. Radical evil can be known only when incarnated and experience concretely". Boyd's comments are indeed necessary, because often in theological circles people seem to think they can explain something as complex as evil in some nice neat package (ie. Calvinism). As with the example of Logan Goodall, evil is always personal and is always tragic. We must never forget this when dealing with or explaining evil to the unsaved or those who have experienced such tragedies or loss.

Many Christians don't realize the additional damage they can do to a person's heart by trying to neatly explain evil as with Calvinism. When one begins to learn of the current explanation of evil within many of the evangelical circles, it drastically violates any rational or sane persons definition of love. This violation will ultimately drive a wedge further between that person and how they relate to God. Regardless of your doctrine, when someone experiences genuine tragedy in their lives, how they view God will ultimately either help or hinder their relationship or perception of God's character (saint or sinner alike). As a good friend of mine once noted, "Any theology that allows someone to find fault with God or provide sinners with an excuse to hate God can not be sound theology".

When I hear Calvinist explain events such as that of Logan Goodall I can't help seem to think that Michael Merrifield has somehow fulfilled God's providential plan, all the while God is smiling down at the fulfillment of his sovereignty - because in the end it has brought Him glory (sounds a little selfish don't you think?)! How does one begin to resolve the intellectual struggle we see in all of this? On one hand we all know in our heart of hearts this is an evil act, pure evil, but yet at the same time we are supposed to accept that God's agenda in ordaining the brutal murder and sodomy of a 2 year old little boy is somehow deemed "good" and "holy"? God's love can only be defined by the love He has demonstrated to the entire universe. God's love for man is so great, He showed us just how profound that love is through the life and death of his Son, Jesus Christ. This my friends this is indeed a picture of true love from our Heavenly Father! Indeed, many here on earth may experience great loss and suffering at the hands of evil and sin. But no one has known more loss than that of our Heavenly Father - for he has watched as countless people send themselves to Hell everyday because of their selfishness and godless hearts. Many may weep for lost love ones or friends - but who weeps for God!? God is indeed loving, but its not defined by those who tell us God is ordaining evil so that good may come of it! God's love is defined by his demonstrated character and by His testimony of his Word - not by some man made theological system!

Finally, it is during tragedies we often see the unsaved seeking answers from God to explain why such atrocities occur in our world. They seek to understand or explain how a 32 year old man could murder a 2 year old child. How we respond to the unsaved during these time may often determine if they will continue to seek to know God further and hopefully come to repentance and enter into a relationship with Him. Sadly, I think more often than enough people are repulsed at many of the explanations the church provides them these days (or the lack of an explanation). Would you be so insensitive or so bold to tell the family of Logan Goodall that God from the beginning of time knew He would create both Michael Merrifield and Logan Goodall all for the sake that these two would be foreordained to meet one fateful day just so Michael Merrifield could unleash unspeakable horrors upon this sweet innocent child - so God in the end can be "glorified"? If you stood in their shoes would you think this made any logical or reasonable sense? Would you want to get to know "this" God or better yet love Him? If so then I would say you have a theology that greatly impugns the benevolent character of God and is a hindrance to those who are searching for answers. As Christians it is vital we can reasonably and rationally explain how and why evil exists - but most importantly we must be able to share with others that God is indeed a loving God and He is grieved by all sin and evil within this fallen world. It is this heartbreak of God that will ultimately allow us to see how God truly sees all sin and how we too will experince that same brokeness over our own sins that ultimately brings us to salvation through his Son Jesus Christ!


Betsy said...

Keep up the good work about teaching open theism...truth! It is hard in our day and time when people have been so indoctrinated for so long with the false pagan beliefs that have been handed down for thousands of years.

God bless!

Preston N said...


Thank you so much for your encouraging words! Indeed it is so difficult these days to share the truth with so many who have believed in the false teachings of Augustine and Calvin. It is very encouraging to see or meet someone who has searched God's Word for the truth! May God bless you!


Curtis said...

Excellent article! I must admit when I saw the little boy's picture, knowing what had happened to him, it broke my heart. This is not some abstract theological position... this is real life... EVIL!

Hyper-sovereignty teaching (as I like to call it) has alienated more people from God than it has drawn to him. At some point, it will damage your relationship with God if you subscribe to it... even if you think God "allows" evil to fulfil his purposes rather than "pre-ordains" it, you are still blaming God because, after all... this implies that He could have stopped it from happening, but decided not to.

Keep up the good work!