Does the End Justify the Means?


A while back during the thread Can UR trump the Myth of Redemptive Violence? Jason suggested a new thread with the above title - I said I would start one and then promptly forgot all about it. Now that a few more posts have recently been made in that thread I remembered and so have started this discussion.

Many theologians have come to the conclusion that the universe in which we actually find ourselves is either the ‘best possible’ or the ‘only possible’ one that God could have created to achieve his purposes (redemptive or otherwise). The argument goes that in order to furnish created beings with the freedom to choose between good and evil God had to gamble on the amount of evil that would be perpetrated (Everyone could choose good or everyone could choose evil or sometimes people would choose good and sometimes evil). This view is independent of whether you take a Universal Reconciliation/Restoration (UR) or Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) stance. As it accords with our everyday experience (and records from the past both religious and secular) it is obvious to all that we live in a world where there is both good and evil in varying proportions constantly.

I suppose in its simplest terms in the light of UR then the answer should be ‘yes’ - if every human being ever created is finally brought into a right relationship with their creator to experience the ‘beatific vision’ (I think that’s what it’s called) then so what if there has been temporary injustice and non-fair-togetherness (a term I am getting to like more and more Jason - the positive version , not this negative instance).

However, we can all point to examples of injustice and plain old bad luck (genetic defects etc…) that tear at our heartstrings and make us question the end justifying the means. Christian thinking (correct me if I am wrong here guys and gals) says that it is these very difficulties that furnish us with the knowledge and experience to be fully formed agents who can form a right relationship both with each other and with God.

That’s enough rambling from me - discuss…


I’m sure you’ve read enough of my stuff to know I’m not in agreement with those many theologians. Most of these views arise from the continued misperception that God is personally separate from creation. It’s not the ‘best’ and not the ‘only’ possible universe, it is the best and worst combined - everything in the universe feeds off these negative and positive polar opposites in order to exist on this plane.

This is not an experiment to see what happens, it’s an experience of happenings. Since we are programmed to judge everything as either good or evil we judge that since God is ‘good’ then this must be the best or only way.

The much vaunted freewill scenario really doesn’t hold water. I think you understand that things happen in people’s lives which cause them to believe, and a lack of things happening (as in your case) cause them not to believe.


Yay for fair-togetherness! :smiley:

There are at least two categories for what ‘best possible’/‘only possible’ may be referring to here, though:

1.) the set of natural characteristics, including the relation of derivative sentient entities (like ourselves) to the natural system;

2.) the actual ‘natural history’ of events within the system, including behaviors (voluntary or involuntary) of derivative sentient entities within the system (whether ‘naturally’ native to the system or otherwise).

From a generally metaphysical, and from an increasingly scientific, perspective, there is a strong argument for natural characteristics having to be what they are in order for us derivative entities to even exist, although variant histories (even multiple actual realities) are possible within that set of characteristics. This is more a design question than anything.

The actual ‘natural history’ of events within the system, on the other hand, consists (at the least) of random material behavior and direct reaction to stimulus. To this can be added the behavior of sentient entities where the behavior is volitionally actual, not only either random or rigidly determined reaction (nor only some combination thereof.) This includes derivative sentient entities such as ourselves; plus entities extranatural to our system causing effects within this system (if any such entities exist).

God, as the active ground of all existence, will be acting volitionally, too, in regard to all these behaviors in some fashion, at least in keeping the entities in existence with their characteristic properties.

The question, then, is whether God will act in such a fashion as to bring the best possible (if not the only possible) result from the system behaviors, keeping in mind that the not-God system behaves in not-God ways. (Various pantheists, as well as atheists, cosmological dualists, etc., would have other propositions to think about in regard to all this of course.)

What does ‘best possible’ mean, though?–generally, if not particularly?

I think the answer to this is going to depend on what the characteristics of God really are.

(And now we’re back to the ‘fair-togetherness’ of righteousness… :smiley: Look! A topical chiasm! :mrgreen: )

I think we (and some other theists) are correct about God making use of these hardships for our ultimate benefit; but I am not one of those theologians who think that hardships stemming from the 2nd category (listed above) are necessary for us to be fully formed agents who can form a right relationship with each other and with God. (1st category, yes, in terms of property characteristics, yes; thus the risk, from our perspective, of 2nd category hardships, yes. The actuality of 2nd category hardships as a necessity for such a purpose, no.)


Give that man a lollipop!

In other words the hardships are an unfortunate bi-product of the system and not part of the process towards man’s ultimate destiny?


The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. I would say rather that the hardships are an unfortunate by-product of the system characteristics, which God synthesizes, when they occur, as part of the process towards man’s (and the system’s) ultimate destiny.

‘Synthesize’ may not be the best word, since in modern parlance it can mean ‘intentionally create’.( Syncrisis is a great word for it, but too obscure and archaic. :wink: ) I mean God actively incorporates and acts in regard to them with an eye toward the shape of the history as a whole, including what we (from our perspective) would call the future state of the system.


If the ‘free volition’ idea is what this existence is all about then we would all (as individuals) have the same opportunity as Adam and Eve to choose the tree of life and reject the TOTKOGAE but instead we are flung headlong into the valley of the shadow of death as a result of the actions of our first parents.

AISI Biblical Christian orthodoxy emphasizes individual responsibility (of course - a view bolstered by various passages of scripture) where true spirituality emphasizes creation being made subject to vanity as a whole and rescued from corruption as a whole (a view bolstered by other passages).

If free will were the holy grail of existence as most believe (just as strongly in secular society as in Christianity I might add) then Jesus’ John 17 prayer should have been something more like “Father - I pray that these whom thou hast given me would make wise free-will choices so that all will be right between us and them” but instead He makes this very ethereal proclamation of oneness and what God’s relationship is with all who are sovereignly ‘given’ to Jesus. Jesus chooses, Jesus seeks, Jesus rescues - it’s a way different picture than this worldly philosophy of choosing rightly.


By way of corporate collective recall here, the way this has kind of evolved is that I asked Tom T a question/posed what I saw as a potential negative aspect of UR, on the subject of violence not really mattering – if, in the long run, God was going to save everyone anyway. The way I put it is that I worry that in holding to UR as the ultimate destination, it might be said that any violence used to get there is, potentially anyway, simply “shrugged” at as being irrelevant. But how can something so detestable actually be shrugged at? So, stated in a more direct way, does the “end” of salvation for everyone “justify” any and all “means” – even the ones we find abhorent? As a general rule then am I allowed to say that while I find violence appalling, if it is employed for the ultimate good (UR) does it become acceptable? If yes, can I do the same thing with, say, dishonesty for example?

This subject (ends justifying means) is incredibly important to me right now for this reason: I work for a group who is having negotiations with an entity that calls itself “Christian” yet whose style and integrity and honesty is seen as profoundly lacking. To be sure, this entity has significant power/leverage over us, yet it is clearly beneficial to both parties to move forward in what is called “good faith”. Except we are being dealt with, by this entity, in what is anything but good faith. So my partners, especially the ones who claim no faith, many of whom are openly agnostic, (yet whom I consider to have great intergrity) come to me perplexed and ask me how it is that those who claim to act in the name of Christ can behave this way?? They see a real disconnect.

And deep down I know that the “reason” it happens is that they become so invested in defending and supporting what they believe is their mission (furthering the work of God; that’s a worthwhile vision) that they are willing to do what they otherwise might not be – just to see the vision through. Ends (noble) thereby justify means (not noble means). This matter troubles me greatly – because not only is my livelihood effected (threatened) but I want to be a good witness to these my agnostic colleauges. It is some comfort that they preface their amazement at the duplicity of these “christians” by saying things like “we know you are not this way bob – why are they?”

So yeah: I’m very invested in this discussion. Is there anything we wouldn’t do to further the cause of Christ? Even if that included things which are generally seen as “bad” in and of itself? There are many many layers of nuance and subtlety in all this.




This could turn into a really interesting discussion.

firstborn, do you believe that Good and Evil exist as two diametrically opposed ‘powers’? If you see God as some less-than-ultimate power then on what do you base your belief that eventually Good will triumph over Evil?

My main reason for posting is that it seems to me this topic almost assumes a utilitarian ethic, if that is, the End does justify the means. Utilitarianism is a very secular ethic, seeking to propogate happiness (or more recently, preferences/interests) for the majority.

If Jason is right that we do not need to actually suffer in order to come into right faith with God and fellow humanity, why does God use this method? It seems wasteful - could not God have done it another way? I suppose one way out of this is that God using evil for the purpose of good shows the power of God over evil. God is so in control of evil that he defeats its purpose (suffering) by turning it into a force for Himself/Good (and thus creates happiness/pleasure/interests).


Thanks for asking! (it’s my joy to share) :slight_smile:

What I try and get people to see is that there is a realm completely beyond good and evil. There is no contest whatsoever between God and any other power. The ‘forbidden’ tree represents our experience of vanity here under the sun, living in the heart of the earth (in these earthen bodies) and experiencing both blessing and calamity.

As we become aware of whence we came (where did man proceed from?) and where we are going it all becomes crystal clear.

There are realms beyond our imagination and that’s where Jesus beckons us to come and follow, losing this ‘life’ (which is not life) and finding the ‘life’ (which is life).

Think about the terms ‘son of man’ and ‘son of God’. Nails in the hands represents man’s empty works, crown of thorns his anguish of mind, nails in the feet his walk down the path of darkness, pierced heart = anguish and brokenness of heart. The tomb represents the realm of death entered into upon the ingestion of the polarized fruit.

“As we have borne the image of the earthy so shall we bear the image of the heavenly”. “Death shall be swallowed up in victory”. “Eye hasn’t seen nor ear heard” what God has prepared, and the glory which follows this suffering is so great that it doesn’t even belong on the same scale (ie: “not worthy to be compared”).

The Spirit of Christ in the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow - and this is referring to all those who fill up the sufferings of Christ.

I really didn’t set out to be an antagonist to orthodoxy but (as all religions before it) Christianity continues to trade a form of Godliness for the reality of Godliness, so it’s not my fault. :blush:

We must come out of this cloud of religiosity and see reality. “The sufferings of Christ” isn’t talking about a preacher getting beat up by evil people for preaching Jesus. When a little child starves to death at 5 years old it means something. When an atheist suffers, it means something.


Hi Firstborn:

I’m by no means an expert in Eastern religions, but it’s always troubled me to hear the notion that evil is merely an illusion – which I hear hinted at when you say there is a “realm completely beyond good and evil”. If by this you mean that good becomes so triumphant and known and loved and “chosen” (I find “free will” to be more crucial than do you I guess) because evil has no power of it’s own and is merely that which opposes good, then we’re not so far apart. For me then, the bible is the saga of God’s refusal to let this “anti-good” impostor gain a permanent foothold and His active intervention to stamp it out and guide the deluded (that’s all of us) back to goodness. Or something like that. And of course, stained as we are by evil, we lack the perspective of a realm where all is good; but that is where God is leading all of us (I think I hear you saying that in a way…)

But for me, my embrace of UR means I am forced by logic and reason to go along (reluctantly) with the idea that yes, at some level the allowance of evil really will lead to this eventual state of pure goodness where all illusions that evil has any power are stripped bare and so, as hideous and detestable as evil seems to us, the good end allows the abhorrent means. (Jason and I discussed/debated this sort of dynamic earlier…) That is exceedingly difficult for me; it seems to me to cut the legs out from under my hatred of evil. For on what basis can I detest that which God intends and uses for eventual Good? Can evil really be one of GOD’S tools?? :astonished: :astonished: :frowning: :frowning: Ouch!

(On a more personal level then, in my “situation” at work, on what basis can I protest the “unchristianlike” business dealings at the hands of those who loudly proclaim their Christian motives? ie who implicitly act as if their goals are so lofty, that their “means” are justified… ie might they be right??)

There seems possible then, the strong potential to drift toward a kind of disconnect; toward fatalism. (I am imagining here a stereotype of a Muslim who shrugs at the violence and oppression all around him saying, simply, “It is the will of Allah…”)

Wouldn’t it be a tragic irony if, when Christ returns, He finds that the bulwarks against evils and injustice and oppression are manned by atheists and agnostics – unafraid to condemn the obvious evils they perceive around them (I’m thinking here of a guy like Christopher Hitchen’s; many of whose protests against God I share…) – instead of by Christians who are restrained by their allowances that evils may be God’s means of achieving ultimate purposes so far be it from them to intervene…




A couple of things Bob. First remember that the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit which breaks oppression. That’s why your spirit is enraged against evil so - get used to it. Yes, there is a season of darkness but the day is dawning so let’s get it done and when it is done we’ll clearly see the purpose for all of it. Through many sons God is reaching out to all the oppressed of the world and whether it’s through atheists or Mother Teresa or Billy Graham or you helping people into a state of unconsciousness to spare them the trauma of conscious surgery - makes no difference to me. Creation groans for the full manifestation of all these sons.

Secondly, the next stage (the post suffering glory) does make everything more than okay. Just as the joy of the baby overshadows the anguish of the birthing process.

As far as fatalism, since we are commissioned tell the good news to every creature it’s hard for me not to be optimistic. There is comfort in the fact that all suffering is temporal and that there is compensation in store for all who are participating. And yes, there is a certain quality of knowledge to be gained by the experience of apparent vanity. Humanity has gone down to the bottoms of the mountains (see Jonah’s metaphoric proclamations about that) but will arise in shimmering glory from it’s dark/exciting/painful/tragic/triumphant/interesting journey through the heart of the earth.

The reason I talk about another realm beyond the polarized existence is not to promote apathy but to promote peace of mind. Those of us who are actively engaged and bringing about the transformation of humanity need to do so with our feet firmly planted on the shore, not ourselves drowning in the ocean of confusion which we are rescuing folks from.

Make sense?


Well yes, it makes sense as far as it goes. And you do recognize that apathy is a potential result of believing that “all things work together for good…” (just as apathy might result from the belief in UR. ie God saves all – so why bother with Evangelism?)

It does not help me much though in deciphering where you stand on the question of end justifying the means. Is God really allowed to do ANYTHING – so long as He brings good from it? That chills me to the core I must say, yet others, for example our new friend “John” (eg Notes on Trinity) insist it can BE no other way IF God is truly sovereign. Talk about forcing God into a box!

If one sees Evil as possibly emanating from the loving hand of God then, how on earth would one ever summon the courage to protest that, or any, evil?? Apathy really does seem logically allowed then if means are justified by ends.

Had an interesting conversation with a lawyer friend of mine who is a states prosecutor and I asked him if it is ever a legitimate legal defense for the defendant to say “yes, I know what I did was wrong strictly speaking BUT it seemed so clear to me that the good which would result so far outweighed my wrong act that not to do it would itself be the more monstrous wrong.”

My lawyer friend said it is explicitly NOT allowed to make such a defense. Case in point: that dude who murdered the abortion doctor made just such a defense (ie the evil of killing the doctor pales before the great good of saving the lives of all those unborn babies) and the judge disallowed that defense. On appeal, it was argued that the judge erred in disallowing this argument; whereupon the appeals court not only upheld the judge but severely scolded the defense for even considering such an obviously improper tactic.

So, as you can tell, I’m obviously very interested in placing as great a distance as possible between God and evil; I like to imagine that the wrongs and evils that I detest, God detests even more. Thus, I guess I’m drawing a huge distinction between evil as “allowed” and evil as “justified”.



He never did answer that precisely, but that does seem to be what FB means: he isn’t talking about being beyond ‘good’ and being beyond ‘evil’, but being beyond the mix of ‘good and evil’.

Many philosophers and eastern religions, FB, have meant by “beyond good and evil” rather an attainment of amorality, or the attainment of an übermench condition where we are the ones to dictate what is or is not ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for other people, or the attainment of personal non-existence, or various other things denying that either ‘good’ or ‘evil’ apply to the attainer. This is what TV was worried about.


It is very troubling from a human perspective to consider God’s sovereignty without seeing the big picture. We are programmed to judge everything as either good or evil, and we think “it is good that we judge between good and evil” and it further reveals our entrapment in that system. Religion tries to solve the problem by emphasizing the good side of the forbidden tree.

See if you can look at it like this. Visualize our existence here as a sealed hole just underneath the surface of the earth. At the bottom of that hole resides evil - selfishness, calamity, separation, pain, cruelty, injustice, death, hopelessness, despair - everything we describe as evil - both moral and natural.

Now picture good as being a higher place in that same space, a higher place in that same subterranean cavern where we can be filled with love and feel close to God (and good) and feed the poor and protest violence and recover from sickness (both moral and natural) and have hope of a better life for us and others.

But yet, in this cavernous room, in this entire system there is only so far you can go. In fact - with any love and compassion you will end up right back in the bottom trying to free others from the lower realms of existence. So all compassionate people live fully immersed in the joy of good and the anguish of evil - but they are both a part of the same system and in fact - everyone is occupied in both good and evil practices at all times as even the most loving and saintly among us have our selfish tendencies.

Now - picture a resurrection, where the surface of the earth is breached, where there is another realm entirely - not subject to the laws of good and evil, life and death. blessing and calamity. Then we soon realize that it was that ‘other’ realm within us all along, pulling us up toward the light, toward the good, pulling us ‘higher’ until finally we discover that in that other realm there is no higher or lower, no good or evil, no contrasts at all. Now, Jeff will point out that nothing can happen in static eternity, but I’ll point out that KNOWING about static eternity doesn’t require that we completely exist there. Don’t worry Jeff - there will be a whole lot of not static partying going on at the end of this ‘heart of the earth’ experience. :smiley:

There is no justification for evil - it simply exists as the minus in a polarized existence. So the “why would God ever allow this” becomes the big question and I have seen that in the end (or actually beyond the end - in the realm where there are no endings) there will be a quality of experiential knowledge (refined gold) that will make it all immeasurably worth it all.

Hope these insights help a bit. :slight_smile: I have absolute separation. For lack of an unpolarized term - God is even better than good! :smiley:

I would like to encourage you bro. that all of this existence in running headlong into a glorious light. We are by new-nature an integral part of that process. My personal experience is that the closer I get to eternal truth the more adamantly I abhor hurt and destruction. For example - no animal has been detained or killed to supply me with food for over a year now except for a couple of fish (ooops). I just can’t tolerate conscious creatures suffering unnecessarily on my account.

Ironically most Christians think my views on this are ridiculous. Why am I not surprised? :wink:


Yes, I get that complaint a lot because most people view existence/good and evil from a horizontal perspective. Of course I do as well in certain circumstances, like yesterday when I accidentally smashed my (already infected) thumb while working in the yard. :frowning: Also when people I love very much suffer greatly it is a source of much anguish. ie: it produces more suffering as evil compounds itself.

I’ve never read much about eastern philosophies/religions - there just SO MUCH material out there. I’m more familiar with the new agey ACIM concept of ‘all of this is just an illusion’ which I guess is apparently similar. I do see the point that since space/time is not a permanent state that (at least in one sense) it fails to qualify as ‘reality’ because of it’s lack of permanence.


In dealing with the subject of “good and evil” I always interject the thought that there is another “Good”. I captilize this “Good” as it pertains to the actions led and produced by and through the indwelling Spirit of God.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good … " Matt 19:17

God helps us ever to desire to be “Good”




I will be so glad if there is a bit of room in eternity to be an individual (and if there’s a party going then so much the better :smiley: ).

Seriously though, this is an interesting discussion. The more time i spend on these boards the more i realise how much I need to keep quiet and just listen to other people’s thoughts and experiences. I am always the kind of person to wade in with half-understood/formulated ideas but lately I have been more and more content to listen to you guys.

Between Jason’s analytical and philosophical reasoning, Byron’s left-field perspective and Bobx3’s obvious passion and love for God’s essential goodness and love I am more inclined to wish I were a Christian than in any other place (either physical or cyber) that I have been yet in my life.


I personally view evil not as something to merely be shrugged at, but rather to be worked through. Evil is a reality, although it is a lower reality, just like the physical is a lower reality than the spiritual.
I don’t think that we can simply ignore evil just because we can see the big picture, yet evil is intrinsically involved in getting us to the ‘destination’ we are headed for. The murder of the innocent Christ was the most heinous crime (evil) in the history of the world, yet it brought the complete ultimate redemption for every man. Even Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered, so evil was even part of his process of perfection. And it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross. So even he evidently thought the “end” justified the “means”.

Just my two cents.


You are on fire today, Mel … good stuff brother!

Thodicy is a both a tough and touchy subject


…and add yourself to the mix sir doubting Thomas (and all the rest) and I think we have a full bodied stew cooking for sure! The most amazing part is that it’s our love and openness making all the difference… not our correctness or incorrectness. Honestly Jeff, I have no doubt that when you see the Father face to face you’re getting nothing except a big warm hug and complete acceptance, a depth of love beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.
Love, peace and joy,

  • Byron