Doesn't God giving orders to demons contradict the principle of double effect?

1 Kings 22:19-23, 1 Samuel 16:14 and Judges 9:23 clearly seem to say that God gave orders to demons. Thomas Aquinas also said that God sometimes sends demons to punish people and that demons always punish with evil intentions (they punish out of hatred and envy of humanity, not out of justice, so demons always sin when they punish someone).

The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.
Doctrine of Double Effect (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The principle of double effect says that "the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed".

Doesn't God doing justice against mankind through the sins of demons violate the principle of double effect?

  • 1
    Wondering where you get your definition of double-effect? Also, what's you're issue with God violating it?
    – ninthamigo
    Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 22:05
  • @ninthamigo That's the definition you usually find out there. And it seems to be reasonable that it is not right to bring good through evil (read Romans 3:5-8, Romans 12:21 and Matthew 7:18). Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 22:44
  • The question would be much more useful and acceptable if instead of "the definition you usually find out there", it included some direct quotations of this definition from reliable sources. Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 23:37
  • @RayButterworth This is my source: plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/…. Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 0:13
  • 1
    Why are you bringing up the principle of double-effect? It seems you're only asking how God's commanding demons doesn't violate the principle that one can "not do evil that there may come good" (Rom. 3:8).
    – Geremia
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 18:30

3 Answers 3


OP has said in a comment, "And it seems to be reasonable that it is not right to bring good through evil ".

The greatest evil ever perpetrated was the murder by the Romans, at the request of the Jewish leaders, of the only truly innocent human being who ever lived.

The greatest good ever perpetrated was the redemption of mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of that same one.

Both of these things happened according to the council and foreknowledge of God:

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: - Acts 2:23

It is reasonable and right for God (who alone is good) to bring good through evil (which is absence of good just as darkness is absence of light (cf John 1:4-5, 2 Cor. 4:3-4)). In fact, there is no one else who can:

And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. - Genesis 50:19-20

  • 2
    Rather than suggest evil is the absence of good, perhaps it would be more accurate to point out that Christ Jesus is the light and life of the world, whereas evil is the darkness and death of the world: "In him was life, and that life was the light of men. Thelight shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it" (John 1:4-5). See 2 Corinthians 4:4. Otherwise, a very good answer +1
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 14:00
  • @Lesley Good suggestion. Done. Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 14:13

There is a sinful, human notion that "the end justifies the means", which runs hand in glove with the equally sinful, human notion that "might is right". When humans start with such flawed, ungodly ideas in mind, then suppose that some isolated bits in the Bible appear to show God working along very similar lines, then questions such as this arise.

A good way to answer this in a helpful manner is to start with the greatest (God) and then compare the lesser (sinful humanity) with their creator - God. Sadly (though understandably) most people start with human ideas. Well, if we start with God we begin with the perfection, justice, righteousness, holiness and love of God; the concepts to be grasped are of light and truth and unchangeableness and sovereignty. Also, it's vital to realise that God created everything, material and immaterial, including a material universe with this planet packed full of life and provisioned so that the pinnacle of God's creation on earth - humans created in God's image and likeness - lacked for nothing. God's immaterial spirit creations (called angels, some of whom became demons due to rebelling against their creator, as did humanity) are just as much subject to the sovereignty of their creator as are humans.

You will notice that I'm not paying much attention to what you call "the principle of double effect". That's because it's not a biblical concept. As you ask this in the Christianity section, I suggest that the answers come from what the holy scriptures say, and not from the realms of human philosophy.

The Bible shows time and again God exercising his sovereign right as creator to bring about his will to pass, despite all that humans and demons try to achieve. He fools people at times. (He fooled me before I became a Christian in order to bring me to saving faith in Christ, and he can fool me any time he likes, though that's too easy for words!) He keeps people in the dark (spiritually speaking) when their hearts are darkened and hardened against him. That's his prerogative. He's the Almighty.

God uses world rulers to carry out his will at particular times. He even uses them to bring down other world rulers that seem to be thwarting God's will. He changes the course of history - never more so than by bringing his only-begotten into the world to defeat sin, death and the devil at Golgotha and the empty tomb.

He has also told us in advance what he is going to do (and even now is in process of doing) culminating in the spectacularly unexpected return of Christ to usher in the awesome Day of Resurrection and Judgment. You can read all about that in the last book of the Bible, penned shortly before the end of the first century A.D. That book fearfully shows God exercising his sovereign will over human governments, religions, and Satan with his hordes.

When your question is looked at from such a radically different perspective, you may see the need to stick to what the holy scriptures say about our creator. Then Jesus commanding the demons when he walked this earth, and their inability to disobey him, shows the sovereignty of God. Every knee will have to bend before Jesus, who has the name above every name (Philippians 2:9), many unwillingly on the Day of Judgment, but those who belong to him by faith willingly, at the point of them trusting only in Christ. I hope this help you.


It is true that ends do not justify means (Rom. 3:8: one can "not do evil that there may come good"), but, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica I q. 114 a. 1 ad 1,

the demons who are sent to punish, do so with an intention other than that for which they are sent; for they punish from hatred or envy; whereas they are sent by God on account of His justice.

Daemones ad puniendum missi, alia intentione puniunt, quam mittantur, nam ipsi puniunt ex odio vel invidia; mittuntur autem a Deo propter eius iustitiam.

God's good intention of exercising justice does not become evil just because the demons' intention is evil.

For example, an employer's good intention that his employees make a good product does not become evil if the employees' intention is to make money for an evil purpose (e.g., to buy illegal drugs).

Also, demons are angels (creatures), and creatures are good (1 Tim. 4:4: "For every creature of God is good"). So, God is not doing evil or sinning by holding demons in existence.

  • "The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed." (New Catholic Encyclopedia) Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 13:06
  • Here, the good effect is flowing from the demon's evil acts Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 13:07
  • In your other example, the employer's good effect is flowing from the sin of his employees. Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 13:18
  • @GUILHERMEDESOUZA It's not immoral to use an evil for a good purpose (cf. St. Augustine's example: "good spouses use the evil of concupiscence [in the marriage act] well, just as a wise man uses an imprudent servant for good tasks."); it's immoral to do evil.
    – Geremia
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 3:30
  • You are clearly using evil as a means. Even if it's implicitly. Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 6:41

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