Is there purposeless evil if God did not foreordain all things?
Calvinists often talk about “purposeless evil.” In fact, Dr. James White, a Calvinist apologist from Alpha and Omega Ministries, has stated that if God did not ordain all things including the evil actions of men, then evil has no purpose. Dr. White gives Isaiah 41:22, Genesis 50:20, and Acts 2:23 as proof that God ordains evil. Dr. White says that everything is for God’s ultimate glory so that there is no purposeless evil. But are these verses really saying that God ordains all evil acts of men? This post will address the three texts that Dr. White proposes as proof that God ordains all things including all evil.
Isaiah 41:22 (NASB) Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming;
When Dr. James White debates God’s Sovereignty he appeals to Isaiah 41:22 to prove that God ordains all evil actions. Dr. White says that the words “know their outcome” (in Isaiah 41:22) means to “know their purpose.” He uses “purpose” as a synonym for “outcome,” but “purpose” cannot be exchanged with the word “outcome.” That would completely change God’s meaning.
God is not talking about a pre-ordained plan of His. A “purpose” precedes the event while an “outcome” is the final state. The New King James translates this Hebrew word as “the latter end”; the ISV translates it as “the latter things or things to come”; ESV translates it “know their final outcome.” I could not find a translation that renders this Hebrew term as “purpose.” The fact is that “God purposing evil” is not in the text! Instead, the text clearly points to future events. God challenges His enemies and their idols to declare events that happened in the past and to prophesy the future conclusion of these events. God’s enemies cannot give true prophecy about the final state of events that started in the past and end in the future, as they are not God. Only the one true God knows all things from the beginning to the end. However, in no way is God challenging His enemies to declare the “purpose” of evil events.
Genesis 50:20 (NASB) “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
Regarding Genesis 41:22, Dr. White repeats what many Calvinists say about this verse–that the “it” that originated with God is the same evil action that Joseph’s brothers planned. But is that what God said? Let’s look first of all to see what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil.
The original evil plan by Joseph’s brothers was to kill him and then throw him into a pit (Genesis 37:18). However, their original evil plan was thwarted by Reuben. Rueben encouraged his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit, but not to kill him. While Rueben is away Joseph arrives, and his brothers throw him into the pit, still with the intention that he would never come out of that pit alive (Genesis 37:26). As Joseph’s brothers callously eat a meal near the pit, a band of Ishmaelites arrives. The brothers see an opportunity to make some money at the same time as they get rid of Joseph. They pull Joseph out of the well and sell him with the intention that he will live and die as a slave in a foreign land never to be seen again. This is what they intended, and Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 50:20, that their plan was meant for evil.
But what was the “it” that God did that was meant for good?
THIS is what God did
God sent the Ishmaelites to transport Joseph as God Himself SENT Joseph to Egypt.
Genesis 45:7 (NASB) “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.
While Joseph’s brothers SOLD Joseph (their intention for evil), God SENT Joseph (His intention was to preserve many lives). The brother’s actions were not the same as God’s action. Joseph did not say, God, SOLD me before you…Instead, he said God SENT me. God’s purpose was to use and then redeem the evil plan of Joseph’s brothers, who meant nothing but harm to Joseph. Joseph’s brothers willingly sold Joseph (an evil action), but God was always in control. Who sent the Ismaelites to the very place and at the very time that the brothers had Joseph captive in their murderous plot? It was God!
Did God DO evil to Joseph?
Was the sending of Joseph into Egypt an evil action done by God? Absolutely not! Joseph told his brothers that they were the ones who did evil. They sold him. But God had a plan that redeemed and superseded the evil actions of his brothers. God was in control, and God did what was right and good. What is so amazing is how Joseph revealed the plan of God to his brothers.
Genesis 45:4–7 (NASB)
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
5 “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
6 “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.
7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.
Before Joseph’s brothers even conceived of the plot against him, God had already sent the Ismaelites on their way to their predestined pick up point. Joseph was always meant to be sent into Egypt. God had a plan, and He prepared the means of travel. When Joseph’s brothers eventually hatched their evil plan, their determined plan was thwarted, and Joseph was not killed. Before they sat down to eat their meal, God had already prepared an intervention by sending His method of transportation to bring Joseph into Egypt. God did not act in an evil way to Joseph. God saved Joseph’s life and He prepared to save Joseph’s brothers lives as well.
Now let’s discuss the last Scripture that is used by Dr. James White in his “proof” that God ordains evil.
Acts 2:22–23 (NASB)
22 “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—
23 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.
If you are a Calvinist, you may have challenged those who are not Calvinists by asking if the death of Jesus was an evil action? Calvinists with whom I have conversed, have said that the death of Jesus was an evil action planned by God. And if the death of Jesus was evil, then didn’t God ordain the evilest act that has ever occurred? However, there are some things that you may never have considered. Does Acts 2:23 say God that murdered Jesus by causing Him to be nailed to the cross? Or does verse 23 say that God’s predetermined plan was to deliver Jesus over?
What Acts 2:23 says is that God delivered Jesus over to His enemies, by a predetermined plan and by His foreknowledge of all that would happen. What did God do? He DELIVERED OVER. And who put Jesus to death? Peter speaks to the people of Israel, and he says that you (the men of Israel) nailed Jesus to a cross by means of godless men who put Jesus to death.
What was God’s predetermined plan?
God’s predetermined plan was to “deliver up” His own Son into the hands of His enemies to do what God had given them the opportunity to do.
Acts 4:27–28 (NASB)
27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Notice that it was God’s hand and God’s purpose that predestined the death of Jesus. However, God did not give Jesus over to the Jews when they picked up stones to stone Him (John 8:59). Jesus was not given over to them at that time. Instead, Jesus supernaturally hid Himself from them while they were all in the temple, and he just walked out without any harm. God the Father also did not give Jesus over to the Jews when they wanted to throw Him down the cliff.
Luke 4:29–30 (NASB)
29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.
30 But passing through their midst, He went His way.
It was not God’s predetermined plan to give His own Son into the hands of His enemies to be thrown down from the cliff. Instead, it was God’s predetermined plan that Jesus would be “given over” for crucifixion. This was not just a coincidence but was God’s predetermined plan for how Jesus would be given over, and how Jesus would die. If the Jewish leaders had their way, Jesus would have been long dead by the time He actually died. He would have been stoned or thrown off the cliff. Jesus would not have been crucified as their first plan. It was God’s plan and in that plan, God did not do evil. God predetermined how and when Jesus would be delivered up because God chose the method of death that He would allow. And when God did give Jesus over to His enemies, their murderous plan followed the only path left to them. They took Jesus to be crucified. They did it.
Isaiah 53:10 (NASB) But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
The LORD was pleased to crush Jesus. How did God do that? He crushed Him by giving Jesus over to His enemies in such a way that the type of death that Jesus suffered was horrendous yet pre-determined by God. God assumes ultimate responsibility for what Jesus experienced. Jesus had to be a guilt offering, He had to suffer, and He had to die on the cross because this is what God planned. The type of death and the kind of suffering that Jesus experienced signifies the seriousness of our sin. We deserved that terrible punishment, but He willingly took what we deserved.
Was the murder of Jesus evil?
Yes! Those who unjustly condemned and then murdered the innocent Lord Jesus did an evil act.
Was the death of Jesus evil?
The DEATH of Jesus was not evil. Jesus was not a victim but a willing sacrifice.
The way that God chose for Jesus to be given up to die was not an evil act. God is blameless and selflessly giving in all of this. It was the murder of Jesus that was evil. The murder and hatred of God’s enemies against the One who was innocent of any wrong were evil. But the giving up of the life of Jesus for the purpose of giving us life was not evil. God is completely innocent. God GAVE His best, and He CHOSE the METHOD of death, but HE did not murder Jesus.
But God meant the death of Jesus for good. How was God the Father involved? He GAVE His only Son to be the Lamb that bore our sin. While God did no evil in the giving up of Jesus as the sacrifice for our sin, what He did was the ultimate action that redeemed evil. There could be no greater evil than the murder of Jesus. And there could be no greater good than the giving up of Jesus by the Father.
Can God use and then redeem evil for good?
God Sovereignly brings good out of evil for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God has a Sovereign plan, and His purpose is not evil. Instead, God purposes good and uses the evil intentions of men in a way that they never intended.
Is there purposeful evil?
To attach the term “purposeful evil” to God is to attach the work of wicked creatures to the Almighty. God causes good to come out of evil actions, but He is not the author of evil or sin.