Theological Reflections

Good Things that Must Have an Evil Occasion

There are some good things that are only called out by the presence of evil. For instance, medicine is in general a good thing. When I had strep throat, for instance, the spray that eased my bitter dolor and the medicine that quelled it were indeed glorious. But medicine is only called for when there is disease. When one has reason to believe that one is being followed for a nefarious and criminal purpose, an honest policeman is a wonderful thing; and yet, policemen are necessary because of the disagreeable reality of crime.

My first impulse, admittedly, was to think of such things as bad also; to say that they have only a relative good and are in themselves evil, inasmuch as they are only called for by evil. And however sweet it is to get relief from strep throat, I would certainly not choose to experience it again in order to obtain the relief. However there is an objection to calling such things only relatively good and in themselves evil. It is that without evil we should not have had occasion to know the longsuffering, mercy and grace of God. Now this in no way ought to be taken as a justification for sin. Though Paul can write that where sin abounded grace did much more abound he certainly does not mean to indicate that we ought therefore to sin in order to provoke abundant grace (Romans 5:20-6:1). And yet without sin we, as far as I can tell anyway, would not have known God as the God whose kindness is poured out on the guilty, and miserable because guilty. Without needing repentance we would not have known God as the God whose goodness leads us to repentance. I would not feel comfortable saying that the grace of God is a relative good –yet I feel that sin involved a bitter loss, and that I could not choose it.

This does help, me, though to understand that even though sin entered into the world, and death by sin, yet it was better so. I am not saying that sin is good; I am not saying that I would have chosen for things to be this way had the option been mine and I had had plenary knowledge of all consequences (though I am not saying that I wouldn’t, because I am not going to think that I am better than Adam in his original righteousness). But given that things are this way, I can rejoice in spite of the damage done by sin, precisely because God’s grace abounded upon the occasion of abundant sin.

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