God Ordains Evil for the Perfection of the Finite Universe

“And because this orderly arrangement maintains the harmony of the universe by this very contrast, it comes about that evil things must need be.” Augustine, Divine Providence and Evil, Chpt 7

We have been looking for a reason why a God who causes and ordains all things would create a universe containing evil. A few posts back I argued against the Calvinist position that God ordains evil in order to appease his wrath, for that ultimately reduces to the fact that God metaphysically needs evil in order to fully satisfy his desires.

However, what is often not fully realized when giving God’s “reasons” for ordaining evil, is this glaring truth: God does not only not need evil in his creation to fulfill his own desires – to fulfill his own desires God doesn’t need creation at all. This is shocking only because of our own self-centeredness and feelings of cosmic importance. But here is the truth: God’s goodness and happiness do not depend on anything outside his own triune relationship. If we say that God’s happiness is maximized only by some other thing outside himself, then a) he is not the very source of Goodness itself, for he would lack some good essentially that he only gained by being united to this other thing; and b) God, the first cause of all, becomes one more dependent cause among others that needs something additional to maximize itself. Thus he would cease being God the absolute and fully actualized good and become just another potential, because unfulfilled, finite good.

Here then is the point. God’s act of creating does not in any way add to his own enjoyment of himself (for then God without creation would not be perfectly fulfilled). God’s act of creation, rather, is done in order for the creation to be fulfilled, and for the creation to reflect God’s glory, in itself.

Now it may be that the perfection of this particular universe that God made requires that there be evil in it. And this is intuitively very obvious: for some created goods we experience require evil in order to exist. Indeed many human virtues, such as courage, patience, self-control, could not exist in a universe without evil. Courage assumes some evil that is being withstood, patience some evil that is tolerated, self-control some evil that is held at bay. It just may be that for the perfection of this created universe various evils must needs exist; otherwise you would not have this created universe.

I put “this created universe” in italics for a very important reason, which is this. Just because the universe itself requires evil to be perfected does not entail that God or Goodness as such requires evil to be perfected. This is one of the misunderstandings in certain Calvinist schemes of God, which posit that God had to create sinners in order to appease his wrath. God needs no evil to be fulfilled, satisfied, or appeased. That is an idea that ultimately entails Dualism and makes God’s own fulfillment dependent on sources outside himself. It also posits that evil can somehow infect God’s inner being and impact him, which is another error. But, although God cannot be dependent on evil, it may be that the finite, created universe, in order to be “this universe” needs evil to be fulfilled.

Now, the question at the back of this is why God created “this universe” at all. Could he have made one without any evil whatsoever? Well, if by evil we mean metaphysical evil – i.e. some limitation in goodness – then the answer seems clearly no. God is the only uncreated and underived Goodness. As soon as you posit a creation then you unavoidably admit some metaphysical evil. But could he have made a universe with no physical or moral evil in it – i.e. no pain and suffering at all? This at least seems a possibility, insofar as God in his own fullness of being is not necessitated to create this or that particular universe, or even any universe at all. But why, then, did he create a universe which requires, for rational beings, the experience of pain and suffering to fulfill their own perfection in goodness? Why did he create “this universe”?

For all the “why” questions pertaining to God’s act of creation, there can be no other answer than simply that “he chose to.” For there is not some higher reason, outside God, to explain his free and voluntary act of creating the universe. God did not have to create. But then why did he? He simply willed to. That is the final explanation. It is indeed incomprehensible and impenetrable. But there is no contradiction. Nor, by the way, is there implied that just because evil exists in the universe there exists any imperfection in the creation taken as a whole, as it is, insofar as it is exactly as it is because of God’s omnicausal ordination. For the entire creation has the exact harmony, the exact proportion of goods and evils that has God freely intended it to have. And since all of God’s acts are perfect, then what he has made, given what it is, cannot be improved upon.

But again, it is the “given what it is” that is answered ultimately in the mysterious and incomprehensible will of God.


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