The problem of evil is often said to be the strongest argument against Orthodox Christianity. While this could very well be the case, it is not my intent to delve into that.
The “other” problem of evil is rarely talked about.
Perhaps it is because we are so focused on the god of self.
Perhaps it is because we don’t think very deeply or consistently these days.
Perhaps it is because we in the west have, for the most part, lost sight of proper biblical categories and doctrines.
I suppose it is some combination of the three (among others).
The Scriptures reveal God and His rescue of humanity as a central theme woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. God is revealed in full trinitarian nature with the incarnation of Christ and the founding of the church. Christ is shown to be fully human and fully God and to have dwelt with God the Father since before the world was created. “…O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5 We see the perfect unity of the Godhead in the redemption of the church as the members of the Trinity work towards and accomplish salvation together.
The climax of salvation comes with a bloody Savior nailed to a tree, cursed by men and God alike.
Enter the “Other” problem of evil.
How could the good God we see in the scriptures have ordained and brought about the mocking, scourging and crucifixion of His innocent Son?
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” Acts 4:27, 28
What can we gather from these verses? That God predetermined and brought about the crucifixion of the spotless lamb through the actions of men.
Hang on, weren’t these sinful actions?
Yes. In a very real way the crucifixion of God incarnate was the deepest, darkest sin in all of history. We killed our maker.
So God decreed and brought about the monstrous slaughter of a completely innocent person, His own Son.
I don’t think we often realize the full gravity of what God did. The cross is talked of so much that it becomes familiar and we lose sight of the awesome and terrible nature of what happened. It is as simple as the following: God is utterly good. God brought about horrible evil.
How is that for a moral conundrum? How can we reconcile these truths?
I am convinced that the only way to do so is to delve back into those old truths that by and large we have lost. The truths of imputation, the covenant of redemption and federal headship
Imputation: To charge somebody responsible for another’s crime: to bring legal charges against somebody because a person that he or she is responsible for has committed an offense, in this case, Christ charged for our crimes.
Covenant of redemption: This is a term for the decision made by the Triune God in eternity past to come and save a people.
Federal Headship: The doctrine that God as creator and ruler can appoint a human to represent other humans. The others would be effected by this persons actions as he or she is their representative.
As I see it, the only way to reconcile the truths that God is good and He brought about evil are as follows.
Our triune God decided to redeem a bride from among fallen humanity. God the Son was appointed as the federal head of this bride. He represents them by bearing the imputed penalties for their crimes against Law. God the Father would bring this penalty down on the Son. God the Holy Spirit would regenerate and guide this bride.
Christ came and walked this earth. He willingly went to the cross, bearing my sins (which were imputed to Him) and there He bore the full weight of the wrath of almighty God. God “crushed the shepherd”, as it says in Isaiah. God could crush the perfect, spotless lamb of God because He bore the sins of His people. Because He was accounted among the transgressors, by both God and man.
The men who actually drove the nails were used by God, but their motivations were entirely different. Pontius Pilate and Herod were used by God to bring this to be. They bear their sins. What God the Father did was absolutely pure and there was no crime committed by God in that act.
Unless, of course, we remove these doctrines and deny that God can use evil actions. Then we are back in the moral conundrum and there is no way out. The insanity of our day is seen clearly when we throw out the old biblical doctrines and proclaim a loving, gushy teddy bear god but are then left with a god who murdered Jesus.
In closing, I’m aware that there are other doctrines that come into play here, doctrines that I have not touched on. I’m aware that I skimmed over the ones I did touch on in a shallow way. I believe it was a truthful way though and I hope this blog will produce some helpful thinking and some good dialogue. Feel free to ask and debate in the comments.