The problem of evil                                                                     By Jack Kettler


This study will survey several texts of Scripture where God sends evil spirits to accomplish His will. How are we to understand these texts? What do these texts say about the origin of evil? The problem of evil is often described using the theological term theodicy. Theodicy is a theological word that seeks to explain the so-called dilemma of the existence of a good God with the existence of evil in the world. To some, this seems incompatible.


As in previous studies, definitions will be looked at along with scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how to live.


Definition of Theodicy:


The study of the problem of evil in the world. The issue is raised in light of the sovereignty of God. How could a holy and loving God who is in control of all things allow evil to exist? The answer has been debated for as long as the church has existed. We still do not have a definitive answer and the Bible does not seek to justify God's actions.


It is clear that God is sovereign, and that He has willed the existence of both good and evil, and that all of this is for His own glory. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD works out everything for his own ends -- even the wicked for a day of disaster”; Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” *


There are various attempts to solve this problem. For one example, the free will of man argument is an attempt to protect God’s righteousness. This study will focus on the free will of man argument as a possible solution. 


How do we understand the following passages that are seemingly problematic in the study of theodicy? 


“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.” (Judges 9:23)


From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Judges 9:23:


“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem,.... Permitted, yea, gave a commission to Satan, the evil spirit, to go among them, who stirred up suspicions, jealousies, hatred, and ill will to one another, and sowed the seeds of discord and contention among them; or God gave them up to their own hearts' lusts, to think ill of one another, grow jealous, and meditate revenge:


and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech; did not openly declare their minds, but secretly conspired against him, and privately consulted ways to find means to get rid of him, and shake off his government.” (1)


We can understand this as the Lord giving Satan His approval to work upon the men of Shechem like God did with Satan in the story of Job.


“But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.” (1Samuel 16:14)


Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary summarizes up this passage:


“14-18: The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him—His own gloomy reflections, the consciousness that he had not acted up to the character of an Israelitish king, the loss of his throne, and the extinction of his royal house, made him jealous, irritable, vindictive, and subject to fits of morbid melancholy.” (2)


Like the passage from Judges, Satan, by the Divine approval, was given to terrify Saul.


“And the LORD said who shall persuade Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.” (1Kings 22:20-23)


From Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on 1Kings 22:22:


“Now therefore behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these thy prophets,.... That is, suffered the lying spirit to suggest a lie to them, and sent them strong delusions to believe that lie, whose minds were disposed at any rate to flatter Ahab, to whom they told it; which was the way designed to bring him to the ruin appointed for him:


and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee: he had decreed it in himself, declared it by Micaiah his prophet, and suffered all those steps to be taken by Satan and the false prophets, to bring him to it.” (3)


Just like in Job 1:6 and Job 2:1, God within the confines of His will approved of Satan having his way. 


“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)


Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Isaiah 45:7:


“7. form … create—yatzar, to give “form” to previously existing matter. Bara, to “create” from nothing the chaotic dark material.


light … darkness—literally (Ge 1:1-3), emblematical also, prosperity to Cyrus, calamity to Babylon and the nations to be vanquished [Grotius] … Isaiah refers also to the Oriental belief in two coexistent, eternal principles, ever struggling with each other, light or good, and darkness or evil, Oromasden and Ahrimanen. God, here, in opposition, asserts His sovereignty over both [Vitringa].


create evil—not moral evil (Jas 1:13), but in contrast to “peace” in the parallel clause, war, disaster (compare Ps 65:7; Am 3:6).” (4)


God is the ultimate or remote cause of everything, including evil; however, this does mean that God is the immediate or proximate cause or the author of sin.


“Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6)


Matthew Poole's Commentary on Amos 3:6:


“Shall a trumpet be blown, when an alarm is sounded, by which notice is given of danger approaching, of an enemy invading the land, in the city, any city, but particularly in a frontier city, in which were watchmen on the walls and towers to give notice of an enemy, Isaiah 52:8 Ezekiel 3:17 33:7,


and the people not be afraid; affected with the danger, to weigh how great it is, how near it is; whether it be best to prepare to resist it, or to flee from it? Such-like affections doth the alarm of war work in the minds of men ordinarily, and there is good reason for it: but though God hath sounded the alarm, yet brutish, stupid, and sinful Israel fear not, neither consult what is the best course to prevent the danger.


Shall there be evil, of affliction and sorrow, such as plague, famine, &c., in a city, or anywhere else, and the Lord, the eternal, holy, and righteous Governor of all in heaven and on earth, hath not done it, either immediately by his own hand, or mediately by the hands of those he employs? The evil of punishment he will execute and bring upon Israel; he will by the hands of the Assyrians in due time execute it.” (5)


As Albert Barnes notes on this passage:


“Augustine says; Evil, which is sin, the Lord hath not done; evil, which is punishment for sin, the Lord bringeth.” (6)


Gordon H. Clark’s Solution to the Problem of evil by Dr. Phil Fernandes:


“In his writings, Gordon Clark attempted to answer the question,


“How can the existence of God be harmonized with the existence of evil?” 54 If God is all-good, He would want to destroy evil. If God is all-powerful, He is able to destroy evil. But evil still exists. It seems that God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful. However, Christianity teaches that He is both. This is the problem of evil. 55


Zoroastrianism attempts to resolve the problem by teaching that there are two gods. One is good while the other is evil. Neither of the two gods is infinite since they have both failed to destroy the opposing god. Plato's views also result in an unresolved dualism. In his thought, God is not the creator of all things. There exists eternal and chaotic space which the Demiurge cannot control. 56


According to Clark, even Augustine's answer to the dilemma was inadequate. Clark stated that Augustine taught that evil is metaphysically unreal. It does not exist. Therefore, all that God created is good since evil is non-being. 57 (Whether or not Clark treated Augustine's view fairly will be discussed at a later point in this chapter.)


Clark pointed out that Augustine added to his response the doctrine of human free will. Though God is all-powerful, He has sovereignly chosen to give mankind free will. God allows man to make his own choices. Mankind has chosen evil. Therefore, all that God created is good. Evil can be blamed not on God, but on the abuse of free will by man. 58


But Clark rejected this view of free will. Clark believed that the Bible does not teach that man is free to choose that which is right as opposed to that which is wrong. Clark stated that “free will is not only futile, but false. Certainly, if the Bible is the Word of God, free will is false; for the Bible consistently denies free will.” 59


Though Clark rejected the doctrine of free will, he believed man has free agency. “Free will means there is no determining factor operating on the will, not even God. Free will means that either of two incompatible actions are equally possible.” 60 This Clark rejected. On the other hand, “Free agency goes with the view that all choices are inevitable. The liberty that the Westminster Confession ascribes to the will is a liberty from compulsion, coaction, or force of inanimate objects; it is not a liberty from the power of God.” 61 Clark argued that a man can still be responsible for his actions even without the freedom to do other than he has done. Clark stated that, “a man is responsible if he must answer for what he does . . . a person is responsible if he can be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. This implies, of course, that he must be answerable to someone.” 62


Clark then asked the question, “Is it just then for God to punish a man for deeds that God Himself 'determined before to be done?'” 63 He answered in the affirmative. He stated that, “Whatever God does is just.” 64 Man is responsible to God; but God is responsible to no one.


Clark openly admitted that his view makes God the cause of sin. For, in his thinking, “God is the sole ultimate cause of everything.” 65 But, while God is the ultimate cause of sin, He is not the author of sin. The author is the immediate cause of an action. Man is the immediate cause of his sin. But he was not free to do otherwise. For God is the ultimate cause of sin. 66


Clark stated that, “God's causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness.” 67 Clark explained that “God is above law” because “the laws that God imposes on men do not apply to the divine nature.” 68


Clark stated:


    “Man is responsible because God calls him to account; man is responsible because the supreme power can punish him for disobedience. God, on the contrary, cannot be responsible for the plain reason that there is no power superior to him; no greater being can hold him accountable; no one can punish him; there is no one to whom God is responsible; there are no laws, which he could disobey.


    The sinner therefore, and not God, is responsible; the sinner alone is the author of sin. Man has no free will, for salvation is purely of grace; and God is sovereign.” 69


This was Clark's proposed solution to the problem of evil. God is in fact the ultimate cause of sin. But He is not evil, for He committed no sin. And He is not responsible for sin, for there is no one to whom He is responsible. God is just, for whatever He does is just. Therefore, the creature has no right to stand in judgment over his Creator.


54  Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, 195.


55  Ibid. 56  Ibid., 195-196. 57 Ibid., 196. 58 Ibid., 199. 59 Ibid., 206. 60  Ibid., 227.


61  Ibid. 62 Ibid., 231. 63 Ibid. 64 Ibid., 232-233. 65 Ibid., 237-238. 66 Ibid., 237-239.


67  Ibid., 239-240. 68 Ibid., 240. 69 Ibid., 241. (7)


Another observation from Clark:


“In the Word of God (Matthew 7:24, 25), we have an answer to the theodicy issue. It is all a matter of one’s epistemic base. With the Bible as the axiomatic starting point, the existence of evil is not the problem it is made out to be. God, who is altogether holy and who can do no wrong, sovereignly decrees evil things to occur for his own good purposes (Isaiah 45:7). Moreover, just because he decreed it, it is right.” (8)


The critic of Christianity in the theodicy debate is trying to smuggle in a foreign standard by which to hold God accountable. Clark rightly demolishes this by stating the God decrees are right, because He decreed it. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20)


Calvin in his Institutes (III, xxiii, 8 & II, iv. 3) makes a convincing statement:


“Here they have recourse to the distinction between will and permission. By this they would maintain that the wicked perish because God permits it, not because he so wills. But why shall we say “permission” unless it is because God so wills? Still, it is not in itself likely that man brought destruction upon himself through himself, by God’s mere permission and without any ordaining. As if God did not establish the condition, in which he wills the chief of his creatures to be! I shall not hesitate, then, simply to confess with Augustine that “the will of God is the necessity of things,” and that what he has willed will of necessity come to pass.” (9)


According to systematic theologian Charles Hodge, the best method of dealing with the question of theodicy is:


“to rest satisfied with the simple statements of the Bible. The Scriptures teach, (1) That the glory of God is the end to which the promotion of holiness, and the production of happiness, and all other ends are subordinate. (2) That, therefore, the self-manifestation of God, the revelation of his infinite perfection, being the highest conceivable, or possible good, is the ultimate end of all his works in creation, providence, and redemption. (3) As sentient creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God's benevolence, so there could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and justice, if there were no sin.


“As the heavens declare the glory of God, so He has devised the plan of redemption, To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God,” (Eph. 3:10). The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is for creatures the highest good. And the promotion of that knowledge, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of the infinite God, is the highest end of all his works. This is declared by the Apostle to be the end contemplated, both in the punishment of sinners and in the salvation of believers. It is an end to which, he says, no man can rationally object.


“What if God, willing to shew his wrath (or justice), and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory,” (Rom. 9:22, 23). Sin, therefore, according the Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace in its forgiveness. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun.” (10)


Is the alleged free will of man the solution to the problem of evil?


Arminian free will defined:


To the extent that man can make any decision on his own, it is only because God has given a man that ability, unconstrained, and voluntary choice.


The Arminian asserts the sinner has a free will, and consequently, his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it.


Those of Arminian convictions promote free will-ism. Arminianism is a softened version of the ancient doctrine of Pelagianism. Is free will a solution to the problem of evil?


Philosopher Gordon Clark in his Religion, Reason, and Revelation said that such a thing as free will could not save God from being responsible for evil since the God knew that sin would come into the world, and created it anyway. If the God did not create the world and man, there would be no evil. It is clear, that even the Arminian God is the remote cause of sin. Also, see also Antony Flew's God and Philosophy. Flew observes that the Arminian free will argument is a non-solution to the problem of sin and evil. Flew for most of his live has been a non-Christian. Recently, he has rejected his former atheism. The ignorance of god doctrine, i.e., God does not know the future is another attempt by some sectors of Arminianism to find solutions to the theodicy question. Flew and many philosophers and theologians will not be impressed by the God of limited knowledge doctrine either.


Gordon Clark regarding free will as a possible solution for the existence of evil problem:


“On the road below, to the observer’s left, a car is being driven west. To the observer’s right a car is coming south. He can see and know that there will be a collision at the intersection immediately beneath him. But his foreknowledge, so the argument runs, does not cause [that is make necessary] the accident. Similarly, God is supposed to know the future without causing it.


The similarity, however, is deceptive on several points. A human observer cannot really know that a collision will occur. Though it is unlikely, it is possible for both cars to have blowouts before reaching the intersection and swerve apart. It is also possible that the observer has misjudged speeds, in which case one car could slow down and other accelerate, so that they would not collide. The human observer, therefore, does not infallible foreknowledge.


No such mistakes can be assumed for God. The human observer may make a probable guess that the accident will occur, and this guess does not make the accident unavoidable; but if God knows, there is no possibility of avoiding the accident. A hundred years before the drivers were born, there was no possibility that either of them could have chosen to stay home that day, to have driven a different route, to have driven a different time, to have driven a different speed. They could not have chosen otherwise than as they did. This means either that they had no free will [understood as a liberty of indifference] or that God did not know.


Suppose it be granted, just for the moment, that divine foreknowledge, like human guesses, does not cause the foreknown event. Even so, if there is foreknowledge, in contrast with fallible guesses, free will is impossible. If man has free will, and things can be different, God cannot be omniscient. Some Arminians have admitted this and have denied omniscience [the open theists], but this puts them obviously at odds with Biblical Christianity. There is also another difficulty. If the Arminian . . . wishes to retain divine omniscience and at the same time assert that foreknowledge has no causal efficacy, he is put to explain how the collision was made certain a hundred years, an eternity, before the drivers were born. If God did not arrange the universe this way, who did?” (11)


Clark continues with his devastating analysis of the failure of the free will argument as a solution to the theodicy problem:


“Suppose there was a lifeguard on a dangerous beach. A boy plays by the water when the currents are strong and he is sucked out to sea by an undercurrent. He cannot swim and starts to drown. The lifeguard sits in his high chair and does nothing to rescue the boy. Maybe he would shout a few words to encourage the boy to save himself, but that is all. The boy drowns. It was his own free will that the boy went out to sea, and the lifeguard did not ask him to do so. The guard merely permitted that boy to go out to sea and permitted him to drown. Would the Free Will Advocate still say that the Lifeguard is not guilty of the drowning? Permission of evil therefore, does not remove responsibility of the lifeguard. Why then should God permitting sinful actions of man be any less guiltless just because the sinner sins in his free will? It has to be remembered that the guard is not God. An omniscient and omnipotent God would certainly have been able to made the boy a better swimmer, make the ocean less rough, or at least save the boy from drowning.


Not only is free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but, further, the idea of permission has no intelligible meaning… This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device, which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” (12)


In closing:


First, a word to the non-believer, they should not worry about the issue of theodicy. Why? Because the non-believer has no ground or basis within his worldview to talk intelligently about good and evil. The non-believer is unable to define good or evil within the framework of their worldview. All the non-believer can say is nothing more than an opinion, which works out to be nothing more than arbitrary social conventions. 


Summary of Gordon Clark’s biblical solution to the problem of evil:


“Clark’s answer. There are four elements of his answer that should be noted.


A. The Distinction Between Free Will and Free Agency


The false doctrine of “free will” is that man has the ability to choose between two incompatible actions; that the will is free from any outside factor.  Clark rejects this teaching. However, he does ascribe to man a “free agency” – that man’s will is free from outside forces in the world, but not free from God. The Free Agent is independent of natural forces, but not independent of God. Thus, man makes choices as he is a Free Agent, but these choices are only made within God’s will or plan.


Thus, Clark takes a compatibilist view between the free agent’s ability to choose and the deterministic necessity of that choice occurring as God has willed it. He writes, “A choice is still a deliberate volition even if it could not have been different.”


B. God is the Ultimate Cause of all Things Including Sin


Here, Clark pulled no punches and outright said “Let it be unequivocally said that this view certainly makes God the cause of sin. God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. There is absolutely nothing independent of him. He alone is the eternal being. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is sovereign.”


Clark found support in the Westminster Confession, which states that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass and foreordained even the means.


But, while God is the ultimate cause of sin, He is not the author of sin. The author is the immediate cause, whereas God is only the ultimate cause of sin.


C. Responsibility is Derived Not From a Free Will but From God’s Sanction


We are responsible for our actions not because we have the ability to choose otherwise (we don’t) but because God set punishments for those actions.


Consider the Biblical example of the Crucifiction of Jesus Christ.  God foreknew, even foreordained, the crucifixion of his Son by the hands of sinful men. It was God’s will for Herod, Pilate, and the Jews to crucify Christ. . Yet, according to Scripture, the godless men who carried out the act are responsible (Acts 2:22, 23; 4:27, 28)


D. By Definition God Cannot Sin


Whatever God decrees is right simply because he decrees it.  Whatever God does is just. What he commands men to do or not to do is similarly just or not just.


“God is neither responsible nor sinful, even though he is the only ultimate cause of everything. He is not sinful because in the first place whatever God does is just and right. It is just and right simply in virtue of the fact that he does it. Justice or Righteousness is not a standard external to God to which God is obligated to submit. Righteousness is what God does”.” (13)


In reality, there is no problem of theodicy, because:


The Westminster Confession Chapter 3 Section I:


i. God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).




In light of all of God's Sinless Perfections and Holiness, the Reformed assert that God is Sovereign and whatever He does is right, simply because He does it! If a man is holding God to the standards of human reason, this is unacceptable. Human reason must be subservient to God's revelation. The core issue, with which free will advocates wrestle against, is submitting human reason to the authority of Scripture and the rejection of all forms of human autonomy.


The Reformed rightly maintain that there is no law structure or standard above God that he is held accountable. If so, this law structure would be God, and one could ask, where did this law structure arise? Those who have restricted God’s sovereignty in an attempt to vindicate God have elevated human reason as a standard above God and hold him to an outrageous humanistic un-Scriptural standard.


The decretive or concealed will of God is God's sovereign will that may remain hidden, depending on whether or not God reveals it to us. God's purposes are not always revealed. There are remote and proximate causes. The solution of theodicy is found in these biblical distinctions.


Remote and proximate causation:


The Chaldeans thieves, in Job 1:17 were the proximate cause of the evil. Job wisely does not question the motives of the Lord, the remote cause. He said, “And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)


There is no need to limit God’s sovereignty with a free will of man argument as a solution to the problem of evil as seen from the above material, particularly that of Gordon H. Clark. 


“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:23)



1.      John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Judges, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 145.

2.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 217.

3.      John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1Kings, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 291.

4.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 567-568. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Amos, Vol. 5 p.520.

5.      Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 905.

6.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Amos, Vol. 5 p.520.


8.      Gordon H. Clark, An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (Jefferson, Maryland, The Trinity Foundation, 1993), p. 113,114.

9.      Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960) Book III, xxiii, 8 & II, iv. 3 p. 956.

10.  Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), p. 435.

11.  Gordon Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), pp. 217-219.

12.  Gordon H. Clark, God and evil: the problem solved, (Hobbs, New Mexico, Trinity Foundation), p.17-18.

13.  Douglas Douma, Gordon Clark and the Problem of Evil, A Place for Thoughts,  

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:


For more study:


A Biblical Theodicy by W. Gary Crampton


* Definition of Theodicy