In my brand of Calvinism (which is admittedly not “high, federal Calvinism”, but historic/moderate), although we unabashedly affirm that God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, we do not view good and evil as decreed symmetrically. In other words, while God ultimately intends to allow evil to occur, and to use it for His good purposes, He is also strictly separated from evil in significant ways, as follows:
- He does not commit evil Himself (actually, He can not); However, He is directly involved in good whenever it occurs (He can do good only)
- He never acts as the direct or proximate cause of evil; However, He is always and only the direct or proximate cause of good
- He only intends evil in a passive way; However, He actively intends good
To illustrate, we say that election is solely a “positive” decree. It is God’s decision, from eternity, to do good (savingly) to certain hopeless sinners. God does not “positively” decide to condemn the others; He decides to allow many (or perhaps most) sinners to voluntarily condemn themselves. Thus reprobation is nothing more than the absence of election.
- note: these distinctions also serve as an explanation of why we do not rejoice in the evil that we view as divinely ordained
Further, although God does not choose to ordain the salvation of all sinners, He positively decrees to give life, breath, food, water, possessions, and many other kindnesses to all people in spite of their rebellion against Him. This is Common Grace. Although God “hates” sinners for their wickedness (Ps. 11:5), He “loves” them as His creatures (Ps. 145:8-9, 13, 17).
Similarly, our theology views hell as neither a mere concession to evil, nor as a mere utility for revealing God’s glory. It is viewed as a deeply tragic yet glorious conquest of evil by justice. Hell is unspeakably tragic in that a portion of those made in God’s image break fellowship with Him forever. Yet it is glorious in that all unrepented evil is justly and eternally condemned.
Although God ultimately “decreed” the outcome, those condemned were condemned by their own will, and voluntarily. Having unregenerated hearts, they preferred their own condemnation to God’s holy presence; they preferred the caustic sting of justice to the mercy sincerely offered; they called out for the rocks to fall on them to escape from the presence of a Little Lamb.
Thus, hell’s condemnation is viewed as passively ordained (one might even say as a “concession” to the creature’s will); however, hell as an enactment of divine justice is viewed as positively ordained, and as good triumphing over evil. This approach represents an extension of the same compatibilistic reasoning we apply to the story of Joseph, the appointment of wicked Cyrus as God’s servant, and the death of Christ on the Cross. In each case, God ordained evil and intended good simultaneously. The evil was done voluntarily by the creature; the good was done purposefully by God.