Home > angels, demons, evil, foreknowledge, interpretation, sovereignty > >If God sends evil spirits does he cause evil?

>If God sends evil spirits does he cause evil?

>In response to my post, “Does God ordain evil” Michael asks if I care to comment on 3 passages. Presumably he thinks these contradict my proposal.

Firstly I would say that there are some passages of Scripture that may appear to favour 1 view over another. If this is the case then much consideration should be given to that view. However Scripture is a unified whole, and an alternative interpretation of a passage that is both valid and more in line with other Scripture is to be preferred.

The passages Michael mentions are:

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, (Judges 9)

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” (1 Samuel 16)

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22)

Michael could have also suggested this verse,

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

There are at least 3 issues that are relevant here.

The first is that God is able to use wicked men (or wicked beings) for his own purposes. Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem were both deceptive. They had made wicked choices. That God allows or even sends an evil spirit to them is not saying that God willed the spirit reject him in the earlier celestial rebellion. There is no indication that demons are able to be redeemed but that does not prevent God from using them in his dealings with men. Similar could be said for the situations involving Saul and Zedekiah (whom Micaiah rebuked).

The second issue is that Scripture attributes to God things that he allows (presumably when they accord with his desires) even if the instigator is other than God. Because God has the power to do or prevent anything he is rightly seen as sovereign. This means that we can appeal to God in our situation. We can ask God why we are in some situation even if God did not cause the situation. This is because God has the power to prevent it. This does not necessarily make our appeal valid, but we can make this appeal. Satan oppressed Job, but could only do so with God’s permission, and Job’s response to his wife was,

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2)

Likewise when David held a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles attributes this to Satan but 2 Samuel mentions that God intended on judging Israel for their sin. Satan has intentions for evil against the nation of Israel just as he had against Job. In this situation it suited the purposes God otherwise had—judgment on Israel—and thus God allowed Satan to act out Satan’s intentions.

Thus far the assumption is that the evil spirit in these passages was an unclean spirit, ie. demon. This is the case with Satan and a case could be made for the evil and lying spirits in the 3 passages Michael quoted. This, however, is not a given, which leads us to the third issue: what does “evil” mean?

In the Judges passage “evil” is the word ra’ (07451), as is the word “harmful” in the Samuel passage. Lying is sheqer (08267) in the Kings passage. “Evil” in Isaiah and Job above is also the word ra’.

The problem with the word “evil” is that as an English word it has moral connotations. “Evil” means a negative event though we also associate “evil” with causation by a wicked agent. Compare the word “bad” in English which means a negative event but may not necessarily imply anything about the cause. Here are the definitions of ra’ when used as an adjective:

1) bad, evil
1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
1c) evil, displeasing
1d) bad (of its kind – land, water, etc)
1e) bad (of value)
1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
1g) sad, unhappy
1h) evil (hurtful)
1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
1j2) deeds, actions

So the question is what ra’ both means and implies in Hebrew. It can mean wickedness (1j above). Does it usually imply immoral causation? How much of its meaning is contextual compared to intrinsic? Note, for example, that the translation of Isaiah I quoted was the King James Version. Modern versions, including the literal New American Standard, use the term “disaster”. The modern versions give the word a negative meaning without the associated implication of a wicked agent.

I don’t know Hebrew to judge the appropriateness of this translation and I am reliant on translators. We do know that it is largely context that determines meaning. It is also likely that the Hebrews (at least during some stages in history) were okay with figurative and hyperbolic language; more so it seems than modern Westerners. Compare Rachel was loved but Leah hated, ie. less loved compared to Rachel (Genesis 29).

This could mean that the phrase “evil spirit” was not giving us information on whether we are dealing with the angelic or demonic. Rather the descriptor “evil” concerns the mission of the spirit: one causes confusion or harm. The New English Translation opts for this translation in the Judges passage:

God sent a spirit to stir up hostility between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He made the leaders of Shechem disloyal to Abimelech. (Judges 9)

Is it possible that the phrase “lying spirit” is a similar example? A spirit that deceives those who have rejected the truth; compare 2 Thessalonians 2.

  1. Starwind
    2008 August 16 at 15:27

    Bethyada, I agree, with an elaboration.
    Re Judges 9:23, it plainly is an “evil spirit”, ie a demonic or satanic being which God caused (or allowed) to manipulate Abimelech and the Shechemites. In this context ‘evil’ does have immoral connotations (i.e. it is not an amoral force of nature or disaster such as a hurricane) and ‘spirit’ is not an inanimate wind or breath, but an immaterial being.
    God used an evil spirit to bring His judgement on Abimelech and the Shechemites, and God knew in advance that God would do so. God’s use of evil in judgement was ordained (God authorized, enacted or ordered it).
    But God did not create the evil spirit to begin with, nor did God plan such evil to be the cause or instigation of Abimelech’s et. al. behavior, and while God knew in advance what the evil spirit would do, that does not mean God designed the evil. Rather, Abimelech initiated his own evil (see Jdg 9:4-5 – those who would argue otherwise argue from silence), which human evil God subsequently judged using yet other spiritual evil.
    Yes, God will use (even ordain) a prexisting evil to bring about God’s judgement, but no, God is not the author or creator of evil either in specific or in general. It is this latter argument that hypercalvinists, double predestinarians or supralapsarians invariably make and it is a different argument from God using evil.

  2. 2008 August 17 at 05:01

    I have tended to your view previously Starwind. I have no doubt that it is a spiritual being. I don’t have a problem that the spirit mentioned in Judges was evil, ie. unclean. We have an parallel example in the book of Job where Satan is used by God (though there are some differences).
    I was aware however that evil (or rather the Hebrew use of the word) was not identical to English. So the idea that evil may be describing the outcome rather than the spirit is new to me (when I was contemplating this post) and I have not thought about it enough yet to make a firm decision either way. I may go with your current view (ie. my earlier view) but it is still to early for me to commit. If I can’t decide I am happy to leave the options open as long a necessary.
    Interestingly the footnote in the NET Bible on this verse states:
    tn Heb “an evil spirit.” A nonphysical, spirit being is in view, like the one who volunteered to deceive Ahab (1 Kgs 22:21). The traditional translation, “evil spirit,” implies the being is inherently wicked, perhaps even demonic, but this is not necessarily the case. The Hebrew adjective רָעַה (ra’ah) can have a nonethical sense, “harmful; dangerous; calamitous.” When modifying רוּחַ (ruakh, “spirit”) it may simply indicate that the being in view causes harm to the object of God’s judgment. G. F. Moore (Judges [ICC], 253) here refers to a “mischief-making spirit.”
    Conversely, in defence of your position 2 Thessalonians reads:
    And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
    So the lawless one is directly connected with the demonic and associated with deception yet God sends a delusion (which may be associated with deception) so that the wicked who have rejected God may be judged fully.

  3. Starwind
    2008 August 17 at 19:05

    So the idea that evil may be describing the outcome rather than the spirit is new to me (when I was contemplating this post) and I have not thought about it enough yet to make a firm decision either way.
    In Jdg 9:23, I don’t think the grammar allows for ‘evil’ (an adjective modifying the noun ‘spirit’) to be treated as an adverb or a predicate phrase (modifying the action).
    I’ve not done an exhaustive study but it appears when ‘evil’ (Hebrew ‘ra’) is used as an adjective it invariably has the negative moral connotation, whereas only when it is used as a noun does it occasionally have a nonethical connotation such as disaster, calamity, adversity, ruin, trouble, etc, though most often the noun form is again translated ‘evil’ or ‘wickedness’.
    Context, as you note, is a key determinant used by translators, and the context in Jdg 9:23 seems to be God’s use of evil to judge evil.
    If you’re looking for a consistent hermeneutic by which to reconcile God’s use of evil, it seems when the righteous or saved are in view, God allows limited (not more than can be withstood) evil as a trial to stengthen, whereas when the unjust unsaved are in view, God allows or sends evil without limit as judgement. But in no case does God create or cause ethical evil and God is generally restraining what otherwise would be insurmountable ethical evil. In varying ways, God uses (redirects or lessens restraint on) evil that is already present, evil that came into being through disobedient free will, not of God’s creation or authorship.
    I know our views are similar in this regard, I’m just elaborating at this point and offering a hermeneutic you seem to seek.

  4. 2008 August 20 at 17:22

    Excellent post. I like how you reminded everyone that a word in Hebrew (or or Greek or English or any other language) can have several meanings. Indeed, the “ran” in “He ran to school”, “He ran for president”, and “The car ran out of gas” all have different meanings.
    I think God can allow evil spirits to do their evil work, and in doing so fulfill His purposes, but God did not cause evil because the spirit’s intent was evil already. Moreover all angels were created good, even though some rebelled later on.

  5. michael
    2008 August 20 at 17:47

    You guys miss the point of this verse then if you continue to stubbornly hold to your presupposition. You quitely make receiving forgiveness your work too!
    Isa 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
    I guess it is fair to say that God plus you equals Salvation, as in, you have a choice, yes?
    Can I get a simple yes or no answer to it?

  6. 2008 August 20 at 22:01

    What exactly are you asking michael?
    You a calvinist? Do you not believe in free will?

  7. michael
    2008 August 20 at 23:03

    athor pel
    do you have a say in your Salvation?
    yes? no?
    Is it all Christ, yes, or no? Yes means: You, offered nothing in this life before rebirth and you offer nothing after rebirth living out the rest of your life/bios then passing to Life/Zoe forever in the Presence of the Lord absent this human adamic flesh and these present created heavens and earth? Basicially you have died and gone to heaven, to The Eternal Abode of God.
    Which is it for you?
    Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
    Eph 2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
    Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
    I am not sure what and who a Calvinist is so how would I know if I am one?
    Here, let me quote one explaining another.
    You tell me if this suits or fits your theological cloth? This is explaining a “doctrinal position”.
    [[Virtually it denied that the fallen Adam had brought man’s heart into an entire and decisive alienation from God. It asserted that his election of grace was not sovereign, but founded in his own foresight of the faith, repentance, and perseverance of such as would choose to embrace the gospel. That grace in effectual calling is not efficacious and invincible, but resistible, so that all actual conversions are the joint result of this grace and the sinner’s will working abreast.]]

  8. 2008 August 21 at 01:42

    Before engaging in any meaningful theological debate it’s probably a good idea to define terms. After all, a word like “ordain” has several meanings, and it’s not certain what someone means when he says God ordains something. And also, people define things differently, according to how they interpret Scripture. For example, Protestants and Catholics define “justification” differently. Not all definitions are equally correct, of course.
    It’s also important to realize that all statements and definitions in Scripture must be interpreted. The idea that “You’re only stating what you think the Bible says. I’m stating what the Bible really says” is totally naive.

  9. 2008 August 21 at 01:50

    Amazing to see someone who claims he’s not sure what and who a Calvinist is quote Dabney.
    But then, if someone isn’t sure what Calvinism teaches, Wikipedia and the WCF would be a good place to start.

  10. 2008 August 21 at 11:47

    Truehope, michael = natamllc.
    michael, The idea that God is sovereign to the level than he ordains (intends) every event, good or bad, is a Calvinist idea.
    If someone denies this it is a good indication that they do not subscribe to Calvinism.
    If someone affirms that men can choose whether or not to become a Christian (ie. they can refuse God’s offer of salvation), it is also a good indication that they are not a Calvinist.
    Not all non-Calvinists would call themselves Arminian’s. They would likely agree with some of Arminius’ writings but not necessarily all.
    Starwind, Truehope, godismyjudge, kangaroodort, Robert, and myself are all non-Calvinists. At least 3 of the above would call themselves Arminians.
    Theojunkie is a Calvinist.
    John Piper and James White are also.
    I don’t know what you choose to call yourself but you write like a Calvinist.
    See here

  11. michael
    2008 August 22 at 01:44

    thanks for that, that helps.
    I am not sure I am a scholar of either Calvin or Hermensen. Are you?
    That is my point. Can any of you step to the plate, and with an honest and sincere heart state unequivocally that you are a scholar of Calvin and Arminius?
    If not, we are basically offering opinions.
    I am a learn Theologian. What does that mean? I wake up and begin my day seeking God, reading His Word, listening to His still small voice and walking in the Spirit and Power of His Word.
    I spend most of my reading reading the Word of God. I like to look at the original words. I have taken some time to study Aramaic. It is an interesting study because of the development of thought that the Eastern Orthodoxy has brought to the debate.
    The Western mind is just that, western.
    Again, thanks BY for your kindness and the demeanor of response to me, it is respectable! thank you!

  12. Starwind
    2008 August 22 at 04:45

    Can you with an honest and sincere heart state unequivocally that you are a scholar of Athanasius, Origen and Tertullian?
    If not, we are basically offering opinions.
    The point being, Calvin and Arminius arguments are likewise just opinions. Along with Athanasius, Origen and Tertullian, etc., such opinions stand or fall on being substantiated from scripture, ie with germane passages cited in proper context and properly exegeted with orthodox definitions of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, etc, and any contradictory passages reconciled.
    If Calvin were to post that “God ordains evil” he’d have to substantiate it from scripture. If Arminius were to post that “mans’ choice determines whom is saved” he’d have to substantiate it from scripture.
    Without substantiation from scripture, they’re all mere opinions, some just more oft repeated.

  13. Starwind [aka Grammar Police]
    2008 August 22 at 15:52

    If Arminius were to post that “mans’ choice determines whom is saved”
    should be
    If Arminius were to post that “mans’ choice determines who is saved”

  14. 2008 August 22 at 17:20

    All written text, including the Bible and the writings of Calvin/Arminius/etc, must be exegeted to understand the author’s intent and the original audience. Even a cookbook that explains how to bake a cake must be exegeted.
    Being a software developer does not free me from having to exegete when reading book on software design principles. Likewise, being a scholar does not free a theologian from having to exegete when reading a text by Calvin/Arminius/etc. And of course, Christians should all exegete the Bible.
    It’s a good thing to read a text in its original language, but it’s even more important to be able to exegete instead of unconsciously reading our presuppositions into the text. Everyone has some presuppositions, so it’s important to recognize what these presuppositions are, and make sure we’re not making the text convey what we want it to convey.

  15. Christine
    2008 September 16 at 20:17

    Bethyada and True Hope,
    Thank you for articulating the difference between God using evil and creating evil for His purposes. I have to teach 1 Samuel 18-20 tomorrow and didn’t know how to address the difficulty of the evil spirit descending on Saul. Similarly, I see how God works with disobedience and the disobedient to bring about His ends.

  16. 2008 September 16 at 21:54

    Happy to help Christine. If I may ask, where are you teaching?

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