Lamentations 3:38 (NASB)

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

Does God ordain evil? I understand there are many biblical references which show that He allows it, but this verse seems to imply that evil comes from His mouth (His decree)?

Edit: This verse seems to express that God ordains everything (speaks forth both good and ill). I am just trying to understand that in light of the alternative argument that God does not speak/decree evil, but rather, allows it. I appreciate the multiple comments below about other potential options that are neither of these choices, and look forward to studying them thoroughly. Thank you!


6 Answers 6


There's a chapter in Don Carson's book A Call to Spiritual Reformation (which seems to be available online here) about this topic. Apologies for quoting at length but I think it is necessary to understand:

Second, it is vital to see that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. There are two positions to avoid: (1) Some suppose that God does not stand in any sense behind evil and (2) others think that God stands behind good and evil in exactly the same way.

In the first case, the thinking is that certain things take place in the universe, namely, every evil event, that are entirely outside God's control. That would mean there is another power, apart from God and outside the domain of God's sovereignty, that challenges him. In philosophy, such a viewpoint is called dualism. In such a universe, it is hard to be sure which side, good or evil, will ultimately win. We have already taken notice of enough texts to be certain that the Bible does not sanction this view of God.

The second view maintains that what God ordains takes place; what he does not ordain does not take place. If both good and evil take place, it can only be because God ordains them both. But if he stands behind good and evil in exactly the same way, that is, if he stands behind them symmetrically, he is entirely amoral. He may be powerful, but he is not good. The Bible's witness will not let us accept either of these positions. The Bible insists God is sovereign, so sovereign that nothing that takes place in the universe can escape the outermost boundary of his control; yet the Bible insists God is good, unreservedly good, the very standard of goodness. We are driven to conclude that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God's sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself.

In short, I believe the view of the Bible is that God is in control of both good and evil, but God is not the author of good and evil symetrically.

Additionally, I think Genesis 50:20 is key when understanding evil: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." There was a 'double intention' going on - Joseph's brothers purposed to harm him, whereas God purposed (it's the same word) for good. Together with other passages such as Romans 8:28, I think we can say that God never permits evil to happen without some ultimate good in mind for his glory and the sake of the elect.


If by ORDAIN you mean decree · rule · order · command · enjoin · lay down · set down · enact · dictate · prescribe · pronounce...

Then yes!

With a special mention for command and rule. God is far above evil and is not lessened by it or interactions with it - or whoever it is delivered by.

Is 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.’

God doesn't initiate evil - He is Love. But in His wisdom, love can be fully realised through interactions with evil to produce a life that is richer for knowing, and experiencing evil - all from a perspective that is of God's design.

God creates circumstances that allows evil to intersect His creation - with His oversight and foreknowing, great good will come as a result.

God uses evil (1) (which is other than God) for His purposes. Which is why the adversary is in the 'Garden' to begin with, and on the earth before that. Do you think for a moment that God couldn't banish him to a distant galaxy - or perhaps another dimension if one exists?

No, God inserted evil into the very beginning of mankind on purpose - knowing the pain, the death, the suffering that would ensue.

Not only was the serpent there to cause havoc, he was only able to function within the environment God created - centred on the two trees!

God knew in advance that Jesus would need to come and, not only fix the mess, but provide a total solution to His desire for holy righteous character to pervade the universe.

'Made in God's image' is a process enabled by the result of the whole experience - not simply by creating a man and woman by fiat.

Heb 5:8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.

Heb 5:9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey, the source of eternal salvation.

SO even the son of God, had to experience all kinds of evil up to death on a cross! - to enable him to be who God needed him to be.

He prayed that 'the cup' (perhaps the very essence of evil) be taken from him. He relented, and obeyed. So in accord with his Father's will - all things would be as they would rightly be - for eternity.

And untold good will come - not by fiat, but by often bitter experience.

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory.

(But that's a whole other story)

  1. Pick a biblical character - Joseph, David, Moses, any and all of them were given lives that intersected evil but with an over-arching design in place that would result in good.

God made the angelic world before humanity. They were full of splendour and glory - esp. the Archangels. Sadly, some made a choice FOR EVIL - led by one of the archangels - Lucifer. God has not wasted this opportunity - He uses evil for good (think Joseph again Gen 5:20)

Mankind now has a different choice. They are able to choose good instead. It is by God's grace that we are ABLE to choose good as only God can open our hearts (from our default place of corruption and evil - ty Adam) so that this choice is available. Rom 2:4, Phil 2:13

It is those who CHOOSE good (God instead of self) that enter the spiritual kingdom - sealed as it were with holiness forever - having the seed of God within us. 1 John 3:9


Let us tread very carefully here else we make God the author of evil and then He ends up either somehow in league with the devil to cause trouble, or God causes trouble Himself!

So let us not accuse God of too much or too little. God is both omniscient and omnipotent, to say nothing of sovereign.

The best way to understand this difficult subject is to examine a simple and quite clear example:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 - Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” [Note that this directly also contradicts James 1:13 which asserts that God tempts no one.]
  • 1 Chron 20:1 - Then Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

So, who was it that tempted king David - the LORD or Satan??

To us, these two texts present a direct contradiction because both cannot be true. But to the Hebrews, they can be. Satan tempted king David but the author of 2 Samuel attributes the cause to the LORD. To us this makes the LORD the author and cause of sin.

However, to the Hebrews, because God is omnipotent, nothing happens without God at least allowing to to occur even if God does not directly cause it. Thus, to the Hebrews, God is thought to cause that which He does not prevent. There are many examples of this in Scripture. Here is a sample:

  • 2 Sam 24:1 vs 1 Chron 21:1 – Who tempted King David to have a census? God or Satan? Both are correct because to the Hebrew mind, God is omniscient and omnipotent and thus events only occur if He allows. James 1:13 explicitly states that God tempts no one.
  • 1 Sam 16:14, 16, 18:10, 19:9 – God sent an evil (literally, unclean) spirit on Saul? God does not have an evil spirit to send! Again, the omnipotent God is deemed responsible for that which He does not prevent.
  • Judges 9:23 has an identical idea of an evil spirit from God.
  • 1 Kings 2:22, 23, 2 Chron 18:21, 22 all have a "lying spirit" from the LORD.
  • Ex 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8 – God causes Pharaoh to harden his heart??? Clearly not! Compare Ex 8:15, 32, 9:34 where Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
  • Compare Rev 17:1 where God judges the great prostitute, with, Rev 17:16, 17 where the great prostitute becomes a victim of her own wicked ways.
  • In Eze 14:9 says, “I the LORD have enticed/deceived that prophet”; whereas James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone.

Let us not try to make God the source of evil and sin as some groups do. God is love (John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2), holy (Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16), pure (1 John 3:3), perfect (Matt 5:48), kind (Luke 6:34, 35), etc. In God there is darkness at all (1 John 1:5).


Among all God's goodness, He is also Just and often allows sin to be the cause of its own undoing. Note the example quoted above in Rev 17. Here are a few more examples:

  • Prov 11:3 - The integrity of the upright guides them, but the perversity of the faithless destroys them.
  • Prov 11:5, 6 - The righteousness of the blameless directs their path, but the wicked fall by their own wickedness.
  • Prov 11:17 -A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.
  • Prov 28:10 -He who leads the upright along the path of evil will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will inherit what is good.

This is not to suggest that it is not God who will destroy the wicked (2 Thess 2:8, but compare Rev 6:15-17) as God is ultimately just. Sin will be fully eradicated one day, but before then, sin must be permitted to reveal itself for what it is so that God is seen to be "just and to justify the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26)


Genesis 4 (KJV):

6And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?
And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; 12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

A child whose heart is not in accord with his father's will experience discontent when rebuked. If the child does not heed the correction, anguish and hurt will follow when disciplined. Rebuke and discipline are part and parcel of the nature of love.

Proverbs 29:15 (KJV)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

The exercise of discipline is good, but it will invariably be experienced as evil by the soul of a wayward child.


It is my understanding that is the fruit of the knowledge of good and bad (that is, of moral judgment) that God commanded we not eat in Eden. Once internalized, just like the fruit of the tree of life, that thing is inside of us (and was not before we ate it). So it was at that point that we got the fruit of judgment.

Now it was the Jewish conception of children under 20 that they did not know Good from Bad (they had no developed moral sense). This is clear in the punishment in the wilderness of Deuteronomy 1:39 (only the children which do not know good and bad may enter the promised land). See the Isaiah 7:15-16 prophecy mapped onto Jesus (the virgin birth in LXX) and how it says that he will not know good from bad before entering paradise.

I take a meta-ethical approach to the bible. It is saying that ethics themselves are the problem. It's not that good points at God, but that any moral judgment points out of the presence of God. Systems of judgment themselves are the source of our suffering and death. That is how I read this verse in John 3:

John 3:18a, "Those who believe in him are not judged; but those who do not believe are judged already"

Here, we see that those who understand this are not judged. Those who don't understand Jesus are mired in judgment due to their nature.

Prohibitions against judgment. Agape (1 Corinthians 13) not insisting on its own way and hoping all things. Repeated assertions that you must "be like a child" to enter the kingdom of heaven... etc. (like a child = no knowledge of good/bad)

I don't read the bible as an ethics text. I see it at right angles to that. It doesn't provide recipes for the fruit of the knowledge of good and bad. Instead, it provides the fruit of life, which is the antidote the fruit of ethics. That is the fruit of non-judgment.

This question is in the whole space of "theodicy" which means "justification of God." It is itself a judgment and the whole space of theodicy is mired in the fruit of the knowledge of good and bad. It is, in my opinion, from a direct read of the first chapters of genesis and essentially the entire Tanakh, that theodicy is a practice of sin towards God. This is not to say that you are "bad" for practicing it (that would be a judgment). It is to say that you'll find that your questions are just broken if you go down this route.

This is an important question and maybe the only question in the bible of importance.

Moses is frequently called "man of God" (Deut 33:1).. One who provides the laws/rules for behavior in the world (the wilderness). Jesus/Joshua is the "son of God" who provides the path past/completing the rules that shows that these judgments are delusions and ends the world (returning to paradise).

That dichotomy is how I sum up the Christian biblical narrative (but also the Torah's narrative since it also has a Joshua who mediates passage into the promised land).

The question "does God create evil?" is then broken. That category is a property of our condition of sin. The answer is yes, but also that those category labels are broken.

So that is how you get

Isaiah 45:7: "I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I, the LORD, do all these things."

God is good? OK. In that this means that God is complete and exactly as God should be. Is god bad? As in incomplete and should be different? No.

  • Interesting answer - pls explain what you intend by - 'how it says that he will not know good from bad before entering paradise' - who is 'he'?(The Isaiah passage is not about a virgin birth tho. It was a prophecy fulfilled in its day regarding a young woman)
    – Steve
    Jul 29, 2020 at 5:12
  • @user48152, Matthew 1:23 quotes the LXX version which uses parthenos (virgin). Yes, I understand that the hebrew does not have this. The prophecy is obviously for Hezekiah in Isiah 7, but was re-appropriated by first century christians for the christ image, likely for the non-judgment components.
    – Gus L.
    Jul 29, 2020 at 16:36

Does God ordain evil?

One reason I understand many would say "No, God does not ordain evil", is because their logic suggests that this would make Him evil.

God is holy, I agree, but does that mean nothing evil can come from Him?

If God has a holy motive for creating evil then He could be holy and the creator of evil. Could God have a holy motive for creating evil? What might that motive be?

Suppose God's plan for creation was that He was going to demonstrate that created things e.g. Adam and Eve, could not perfectly obey His Law but that His uncreated Son Jesus would only and always obey it, then this might be a way of separating that which was created from that which was uncreated.

By having a holy motive behind creating disobedience to His Law, that Christ alone might come into this world and say that He had come to fulfil that Law, God marks out Christ as holy, unique and totally special. Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil".

I think that God entered creation but He did not become what He created; He became its opposite.

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