Interesting article. I can’t speak on the “adequate representation” of the four views. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that no one has the answer, as I think scripture gives a clear answer. The very question itself, regarding evil and God, ultimately boils down to four conditions.
- God didn’t know evil was about to occur; and could do nothing about it
- God knew evil was about to occur; could have done something about it; and didn’t because He couldn’t
- God knew evil was about to occur; could have done something about it; and didn’t because He chose not to for no reason
- God knew evil was about to occur; could have done something about it; and didn’t because He had a purpose
I would move scripture teaches the final position, which I hope to demonstrate here shortly. Most people know the story of Joseph in Genesis, especially the part where Joseph tells his brothers:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Gen 50:20]
Joseph’s words are plain: his brothers meant evil, but in fact, God meant their actions for good. Many harp on the words “for good” and forget that Joseph includes the words “evil” - in other words, not only was the good in God’s plan, but so was the evil. Keep in mind this involved years of a father living in grief over the idea that one of his most beloved sons was dead - and yet, God had a purpose for it. It was not just out of cruelty like the Greek gods, or out of whim like we make so many decisions ourselves.
Likewise telling are the words of the Lord to Sennacherib and his army, as spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“By your messengers you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, ‘With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon; I felled its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses; I entered its farthest lodging place, its most fruitful forest. I dug wells and drank foreign waters, and I dried up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.’ Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into heaps of ruins, while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.” [2 Ki 19:23-26]
Sennacherib had boasted “Look what I did! Look my army did!” God rebukes him for his pride, stating, “Your conquest and destruction only happened according to my will and my design.” This is seen even clearer in the book of Isaiah:
For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones. My hand has found like a nest the wealth of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing or opened the mouth or chirped.” Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! [Isa 10:13-15]
The Assyrian plunder and subjugation, while considered by the Assyrians to be their doing, were in fact under the direction of God. The Assyrians were an “axe” and “rod” wielded by God and serving His plan and the evil done by their armies served a purpose: 1) the judgment of those nations by God; 2) the building up of judgment against the Assyrian armies; 3) God’s display of His love and care for David’s seed here at the siege of Jerusalem, where it was preserved.
And finally, from the New Testament:
“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” [Acts 4:27-28]
If you go back and read the Gospels, you’ll find there was no script that Pilate and Herod followed, and no puppet strings tugging the Sanhedrin as they sent Christ to the Gentiles. They believed they were acting of their own free will, and it can truly be considered the greatest evil ever done by man. Yet what do the apostles themselves, long after the crucifixion and resurrection, attest? That it was all according to God’s hand, and what His plan had predestined. God was behind the events of the crucifixion, just as Christ himself prayed “not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39b). As seen before, there was purpose to this evil: the justification of His people from their sins and their glorification before the Father. It was the greatest purpose for the greatest evil.
Now note carefully: God’s will and hand were behind all these examples, but He did them through secondary means. God is not the author of sin, but He still has power over it. Likewise note for every act of evil, there was, as illustrated, purpose and reason behind it, even if it was not always seen immediately by those (such as Joseph or the disciples) who endured them. Oftentimes we stumble trying to think of a purpose, and might feel misguided, but what it boils down to is this: God is still in charge, He is still holy, and in His arms His people are protected from true spiritual harm, irregardless of the physical harm that befalls them. However great evil may get, God is still sovereign, and will use that evil according to His purpose.