Mount Ranier in the background
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains
Sea Shore on West Coast of Vancouver Island
Olympic Mountains at Sunset
Deer by small lake in Olympic Mountains
Small alpine lake in the Olympic Mountains
Near the small town of Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Olympic Mountains with fresh snow
Olympic Mountains in the early summer
Shoreline near Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada
Snow capped peaks in the Olympic Mountains

Romans 9:22 — Does God causes evil to glorify and magnify Himself?

Summary: Some believe that God must cause evil to magnify His glory and majesty.  Jonathan Edwards, Daniel Fuller, John Piper, and James White accept this view in light of Romans 9: 22. However, it is doubtful that this verse teaches this concept.

This view holds that God desires the greatest and fullest display of all His divine attributes. It believes that everything exists for the greater glory of God (ad maiorem gloriam Dei). Since evil is thought to exist, evil is proposed as a necessary element in creation to provide a backdrop to glorify and magnify God. Because, if there were no evil, then God’s mercy, grace, justice, forbearance, and compassion would not be fully known. Therefore, it is concluded that God decreed evil to exist to manifest His grace, love and glory.

In other words, God decreed and causes evil for the good that will result in the end. Ethically, this seems flawed, because it violates a basic moral principle, viz., a good end does not justify an evil means. Some think that this view is rather like a fireman who wanted to show his fire fighting heroics. To do this, he set an apartment building on fire at night, rushed to the fire station where he issued a fire alarm while donning his fire fighting gear. He and his crew then fought the fire and rescued several apartment dwellers. Afterwards, the fireman said to himself, "Now, people will admire my courage because I rescued some from the blazing flames.  None would have known my fire-fighting skill, unless I had set the apartment on fire."

The Apostle Paul affirmed the moral principle too,

And why not {say} (as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just. Rom 3:8 (NAS)

Jonathan Edwards

Theologian Jonathan Edwards opined that God decreed sins for the good that he causes to arise from sin. He believed that sin was necessary to display the nature and attributes of God. He argues that "the display of the glory of God could not but be imperfect and incomplete without it [evil]." Essentially, Edwards believed that God decreed evil to complete and perfect the display of His glory.

§8. That we should say, that God has decreed every action of men, yea, every action that is sinful, and every circumstance of those actions; that he predetermines that they shall be in every respect as they afterwards are; that he determines that there shall be such actions, and just so sinful as they are; and yet that God does not decree the actions that are sinful, as sin, but decrees them as good, is really consistent. For we do not mean by decreeing an action as sinful, I mean degreeing it for the sake of the sinfulness of the action. God decrees that they shall be sinful, for the sake of the good that he causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof; whereas man decrees them for the sake of the evil that is in them.

§10. It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all; for then the effulgence would not answer the reality. For the same reason it is not proper that one should be manifested exceedingly, and another but very little. It is highly proper that the effulgent glory of God should answer his real excellency; that the splendour should be answerable to the real and essential glory, for the same reason that it is proper and excellent for God to glorify himself at all. Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great, as we have elsewhere shown. We little consider how much the sense of good is heightened by the sense of evil, both moral and natural. And as it is necessary that there should be evil, because the display of the glory of God could not but be imperfect and incomplete without it, so evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of the communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect; and the happiness of the creature would be imperfect upon another account also; for, as we have said, the sense of good is comparatively dull and flat, without the knowledge of evil. 1

Ephesians 1:11

also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, Eph 1:11 (NAS)

When a person wills something, they will indirectly the concomitant circumstances. For example, when a person decides to put a new roof on his house, his purpose is to have an attractive and waterproof covering for his home. However, if he is to accomplish his purpose, he must work and purchase roofing things. For roofing, these things may be nails, shingles, and waterproofing materials. He must work hard for long hours to do the job. His purpose was not to spend lots of money and hammer nails in the hot sun on a sloping roof. Actually, he would have preferred to avoid the expensive and laborious task. But to achieve the counsel of his will, he must face what it takes to do the job. Again, an athlete's purpose is not the self-inflicted pain of training, but the prize of winning the race. Willing to win the race meant, indirectly, to will the sore muscles. No pain, no gain!

The two illustrations in the above paragraph deal with willing and material objects: money, hard work, long hours, and sore muscles. To bring the point closer to home, when married couples purpose to have offspring, their purpose is to have a child who will reciprocate their love. However, since children possess free will, they may grow up and actually hate their parents. Consequently, when a married couple decides to have a child; concomitantly, they will a state-of-affairs in which a child may hate them.

What if, somehow, the parents foreknew that only two of their children would love them? To make the point, suppose the children who would love them would be the second and fourth child. With this foreknowledge, the parents face a dilemma. To have two children who love them, they would have to have all four children. It is not their purpose to have children who hate them, their purpose is to have children with whom they can reciprocate their love. The evil of hatred would not be the fault of the foreknowledge of the parents. The efficient cause of the hatred would be the rebellious children.  Love should not be hostage to hatred. So, to accomplish their purpose, the parents decide to have all four children.  Likewise, God's purpose is not to cause evil, although evil may result concomitantly in the accomplishment of His blest purpose.  God's love is not hostage to human sin.  God will accomplish His purpose. He is sovereign and free. He will have His redeemed children in glory whom He foreknew would yield to the compelling of the Holy Spirit and put their faith in Christ.

The children who hate their parents are the cause of their own hatred. The parents are not be responsible for their hatred, because they acted for the best purpose, love. The possibility of evil exists when secondary causes exist. If parents had children without free will, then the parents would have children who could only showed them affection, as a puppy dog shows affection towards the one who feeds it. However, for children to love their parents, the children must possess free will. Only beings with free will can love, because love is an act of the rational will. 

It may be argued that the illustration fails because parents lack the ability to create children who would always obey and love them. In the case of God, because He is omnipotent, they assume that He can create humans who are always loving and obedient. Such an assumption is not gratuitous, because, if a creature truly had free will, it could possibly violate God's will. God cannot do the impossible. For example, He cannot make a square triangle; He cannot create two mountains without a valley between them; He cannot go out of existence; He cannot change the past; and He cannot become contingent. Likewise, it is not granted that He can create a free creature who is forced to love and to obey Him. "Free creatures" and "forced creatures" are logically contradictory.  

The only way to take away free choice of the will is to take away a person's rational mind.  God did create millions of creatures without free wills and they obey him instinctively.  They are the animals that obey God by their God-given instincts. They have wills, but they are not free wills. Consequently, there will be no animals in hell. So, in a real sense, it was possible for God to create a world where no one would punished in hell. If God had chosen this option, it would have answered the objection, "Why didn't God limit free will, so no one would go to hell?"  However, if there were to be rational creatures, such as angels and humans, there would have to be creatures who could make mental choices. A mental or intellectual choice is a free-willed choice.

The problem of free choice goes away after a person freely chooses. Because a freely made choice is not a forced choice. For example, when a person freely marries, he no longer has the freedom to marry another. He chose freely "to forsake all others." His married state is the loving fulfillment of his free choice—the will has obtained the object of its love. His married state is not a forced state. Likewise, heaven is the permanent fulfillment of our decision to believe the gospel of God's grace and to become a new creature in Christ. In glory, our will rests forever in the love of Christ. There is no higher good that the will could seek, so the will rests. When a person believes the gospel, their choice is made permanent by God. The New Testament makes this clear in many ways.  For example, they have a divine life that cannot sin; they are anointed, sealed, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit; they are members of the body of Christ, and they are seated together with Christ in heaven. In this way, the person's choice is made eternally secure to them.

Finally, after a person's life journey comes to an end, all of a person's life choices become permanent. If they chose to reject the gospel, they will be in hell's bondage of despair, being bereft of all good forever. Persons have a will in hell, but it is emptied of love and liberty. On the other hand, it is the perfection of a good when it attains its end purpose. Human freedom is perfected when the will is finally at perfect liberty resting forever in the love of God. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we should now seek to have our will in submission to the will of God, so that our lives are fruitful to God's glory.

Daniel Fuller

Prof. Daniel Fuller agreed with Jonathan Edwards that sin is necessary to display God’s majesty and glory. God could not display his own glory except that he prepare vessels of wrath. He wrote,

Thus it is surely right for God to prepare vessels of wrath, for it is only by so doing that he is able to show the exceeding riches of his glory, the capstone of which is his mercy. For God not to prepare vessels of wrath would mean that he could not fully reveal himself as the merciful God. Thus creation could not honor him for what he really is, and God would then have been unrighteous, for in the act of creation he would have done something inconsistent with the full delight he has in his own glory.

But he is indeed righteous, not only in preparing vessels of wrath but also in finding fault with such vessels and visiting wrath upon them. To prepare such vessels but then to fail to visit wrath upon them would be to act with complete disregard for his own glory. God acts consistently with his love for his glory only as he opposes all who disdain finding delight in his glory. If he did not act this way in the world he freely created, he would cease to be God.2

We should dismiss Daniel Fuller’s fancy that God’s very existence is dependent upon the correctness of his thoughts regarding God's actions within the world. For even if Daniel Fuller were proved wrong, the real God would not cease to be God! However, we should not dismiss his statement, "For God not to prepare vessels of wrath would mean that he could not fully reveal himself as the merciful God." Essentially, this means that God must be unmerciful to show He is merciful. It is a moral, as well as a logical, contradiction. God does not have to kill babies to show how much He really loves them.

In fact, Dr. Fuller would have never applied his theological thinking to his home life. Instead, he kept his theology safely within the confines of a seminary classroom, vaulted from the harsh realities of day-to-day life. He would never have made it a prerequisite that a child caregiver would need to harm a child to assure him that she were a loving caregiver. Perhaps his theology might have been useful for writing books, but it is useless for life. Finally, he himself would have been disgusted and horrified by a being who acted in a way that fit his description of deity. His view robs God of His majesty, glory, worship, and love.

John Piper

Pastor John Piper quoted, in length, Daniel Fuller’s work with approval in his study of Romans Chapter nine verses one to twenty three.

I know of no one who has labored to open himself to Paul’s way of thinking more than Prof. Daniel Fuller, from whom so much of the stimulus for this book has come. Therefore, I would like to quote at length his effort to understand the integrity of Paul’s answer to the objector in Rom. 9:19.3

James White

Why are there vessels prepared for destruction?  Because God is free.  Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all "vessels are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all "vessels" are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potter who decides which are which.  Why is there no fourth option, one in which the pots prepare themselves based upon their own choices? Because pots don't have such a capacity! Pots are pots!  Since God wished to make known the "riches of His grace" to His elect people (the vessels prepared of mercy), there must be vessels prepared for destruction.  There is no demonstration of mercy and grace where there is no justice.4

Dr. White argues against a fourth option on the basis that "Pots are pots!" However, this takes the illustration of pots too far.  Human beings are more than pots.  So, it is logically possible for a fourth option.  However, if his view were accepted, it would logically follow that Christians cannot believe, worship, or praise God, because pots cannot believe, worship, or praise God. Likewise, unbelievers could neither reject the gospel nor sin.  If you doubt this conclusion, look at any flower pot. Can a flower pot reject the gospel or think an evil thought?  Of course, not! The acceptance of his view assures there would be no demonstration of mercy and grace because "Pots are pots!"; they cannot sin, believe, or love.  They are non-thinking, non-moral subjects. On White's basis, there is no justice. Taking an illustration too far leads to such fallacious conclusions. Muslims reject Christ's death and support their idea by quoting Christ's reference to the prophet Jonah who was alive— not dead —in the great fish. Since Jonah was not dead while he was in the fish's belly, Muslims argue that Christ did not die by crucifixion.  See The Sign of Jonah.  A symbol does not have all the properties of that which it symbolizes. 

The Greek text supports the idea that the vessels fit themselves for destruction. Vine's Expository Dictionary makes the fourth option the decisive and logical choice.

3. katartizo (καταρτιζω, Strong's 2675), "to make fit, to equip, prepare" (kata, "down," artos, "a joint"), is rendered "fitted" in Rom. 9:22, of vessels of wrath; here the middle voice signifies that those referred to "fitted" themselves for destruction (as illustrated in the case of Pharaoh, the self-hardening of whose heart is accurately presented in the RV in the first part of the series of incidents in the Exodus narrative, which records Pharaoh's doings; only after repeated and persistent obstinacy on his part is it recorded that God hardened his heart.)5

Romans 9:22

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? Romans 9:22 (NAS)

Romans 9:22 indicates that the vessels of wrath prepare themselves for destruction. God does not prepare them for destruction, rather they prepare themselves for destruction by their own rebellion and disobedience against the love, mercy, and patience of God. The words of St. Chrysostom on Romans 9:22 are helpful.

Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath, that is, a man who by his own hard-heartedness had kindled the wrath of God. For after enjoying much long-suffering, he became no better, but remained unimproved. Wherefore he calleth him not only "a vessel of wrath," but also one "fitted for destruction." That is, fully fitted indeed, but by his own proper self. St. Chrysostom Homily XVI6

Sinners prepare themselves for God’s wrath by rejecting His mercy.7 The warm and blest rays of the sun soften wax, but the same warm rays harden clay. Likewise, the goodness and patience of God may lead some to repentance while the same goodness and patience emboldens and hardens others in their rebellion against God. If God had created Pharaoh initially a vessels for wrath, there would have been no need to harden him later. Hardening only makes sense, if the clay were first moist and conformable. Initially, Pharaoh was not hardened, so he had an opportunity to choose freely to obey God. Instead, Pharaoh freely rejected God’s command to let Israel go. Under God’s longsuffering and patience, God allowed Pharaoh additional opportunity to repent and to let Israel go. However, after much longsuffering, God finally hardened Pharaoh in the free choice of his own will. Because, as Pharaoh was being crushed by the plagues being meted upon Egypt, he might have quickly let Israel go, not because he wanted to obey God willingly, but because he wanted to rid Egypt of Israel as well as Israel's God. So, God hardened Pharaoh in his own free choice, so that he would endure the display of God’s power and wrath against his rebellion. It was clear to the world that Israel was freed from the bondage of Pharaoh and Egypt by God’s power, in spite of the determination of Pharaoh and Pharaoh's mighty army to keep them in bondage.

Many years later, the Philistines cautioned themselves against hardening their hearts by recalling the example of Pharaoh. The Lord was beginning to mete judgment upon the Philistines because they took the ark of the covenant from Israel. They decided to return it to Israel with sacrifice and respect .

"Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them, did they not allow the people to go, and they departed? 1 Samuel 6:6 (NAS)

The Philistines understood correctly the theology of God’s righteousness and justice to harden rebellious hearts in their own free choices.  They chose not to go down the pathway of rebellion, hardening, and, finally, become objects of God's wrath and judgment. They submitted to God's discipline and were spared further judgment.

1 Jonathan Edwards, Remarks on Important Theological Controversies, Chapter III, Concerning TheDivine Decrees in General, and Election in Particular, In: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, Reprinted 1974, p. 527-528.

2 Fuller, Daniel P., The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1992, p. 447-448.

3 Piper, John, The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, Second Edition, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, p. 214-216, 220.

4 White, James, The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Geisler's "Chosen But Free", Calvary Press Publishing, Amityville, NY, 2000, p. 214.

5 Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meanings for English Readers, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1940 (16th impression 1966), Westwood, NJ, 1940, Vol. 2, p. 106.

6 St. Chrysostom, Homily XVI, In: The Epistle to the Romans, In: Vol XI. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of The Christian Church.  Edited by: P. Schaff, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI., Reprinted 1980, p. 468-471.

7 The Greek word, κατηρτισμενον, is "KAT-ERTISMENON" in transliteration. The form in Rom. 9:22 is the plural "KAT-ERTISMENA" (modifying the neuter noun "skeue," "vessels.") This is the accusative plural neuter form of the PERFECT PARTICIPLE PASSIVE of the verb "KAT-ARTIZO", meaning "prepare, make, create." However, since there is no separate form to express the perfect participle of this verb in the MIDDLE VOICE, the rule in Greek is that the perfect participle passive form would be used to express the middle sense if a writer had that intent. Since the form could have either a passive or middle sense, context and interpretation would determine in what sense the form should be taken. The middle voice expresses action that an object performs on itself. The entry for "kat-artizo" in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 418-19, has a reference to Rom. 9:22. The entry reads: "...vessels of wrath, created for destruction or, ready (ripe) f. destruction, or, taking k. as a mid., having prepared themselves for destruction." — P. Allan