Oord on God Permitting Evil

Excerpt from Oord, reviewing the book Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace:

Unfortunately, however, Arminius does not work out the implications of divine limitation in a way that allows him to solve the problem of evil. To absolve God, he tries to distinguish between God willing evil to occur and God merely permitting it. Arminius says he understands God’s providence as both willing and performing good acts, but God “freely permits actions that are evil.”

On this point, I’m with John Calvin who criticizes this so-called distinction between an omnipotent God permitting evil rather than willing it: “There can be no distinction between God’s will and God’s permission,” says Calvin “Why say ‘permission’ unless it is because God so wills?”

Distinguishing between God willing evil and God permitting it offers little consolation to victims of evil. When victims realize that God, as understood by Arminius, could have prevented their pain and suffering but voluntarily permitted it, they will likely find it difficult to retain trust in God’s love. After all, an omnipotent God who wills evil is only slightly more morally reprehensible than an omnipotent God who could unilaterally prevent evil but permits it nonetheless.

Arminius employs what I find to be an unsatisfactory greater goods theodicy, when he says, “God would never permit evil if he could not by his omnipotence produce good out of evil” (100). The implication here, of course, is that every rape, genocide, murder, etc. must have been permitted for some greater good. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe this is true for every instance of evil.

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