There is some disagreement among theologians and philosophers as to whether or not there exists gratuitous evil in the world. Gratuitous evil is generally defined as evil that does not serve a greater good or purpose. Those who deny gratuitous evil, then, would claim each and every moral evil or works together to serve the greater good. Those who affirm gratuitous evil claim that while God is in control, he has necessarily limited himself by endowing creatures with free will, so that there really is individual evil that itself does not work toward some greater good. Romans seems to indicate that there really is not gratuitous evil in the world.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Let us first point out the things this verse is not saying. It is not saying that “all things are good.” This is not only counterintuitive and counter-experiential, but counter-biblical as well. There are things, actions, and events which are clearly bad and anti-God. Next, it is not saying that “all things work together for good to everyone.” Not every thing that happens is going to be good for those who will ultimately be lost forever in an eternal Hell. That itself should be obvious. So, this means that there may be some evil that happens to unbelievers that does not serve any sort of redeeming purpose at all as it relates to them specifically. “Aha!” one may say, “gratuitous evil does exist!”
Not so fast! We must cover what the text does in fact say. It says that all things work together for good to believers! It seems the text does indicate that every single event, good, evil, and morally neutral, works together for the ultimate good of believers. That sure sounds a bit like a greater good theodicy to me. Consider just one of the implications of this view of the text: there are actions and events that are totally evil in and of themselves but that nevertheless work together with other things to bring about an individual to believe and receive salvation! This, along with all other events, work together to form the set of all believers that would believe. Analytically, this goes right along with the idea that the world that God created was the world that had the optimal balance of those who are saved to lost and the highest number of those saved.
Some may object that this verse may be hyperbolic in nature. However, consider the context. Romans 8:18, 22-23 mentions:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
This is not hyperbolic, but an encouraging promise of the apostle Paul to his Christian audience. See the idea in these preceding verses? All of creation groans and suffers; all of the believers share in that suffering. But there is ultimate glory, and all things really do work together for good. So is there gratuitous evil? I don’t think so. Even evil is used by God to serve a greater purpose.------------------------------------
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