by James Pruch
In the first part of this series, we discussed God's sovereignty over death, disease, and disaster. I wrote how that no matter what happens in the world we have a glorious, all-knowing, all-powerful God who is in charge of these events.
That is not something to be afraid of, rather it is something to be embraced, loved, and rested in. I argued that God is not a frustrated God, but that he is the only Sovereign in the universe and is never surprised by what occurs on earth, either done by Satan, humans, or anything else. This week, I want to address something that might be a bit more controversial in our Evangelical world: God's sovereignty over moral evil. If God causes all things to come into being, how can he also cause evil and still be completely righteous? What about passages when it is clear that people or Satan are the ones who are committing wrongful acts? Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be? These are the main questions we will address in this article.
When the Virginia Tech shootings occurred last spring, people asked, "Where was God?" When the Westroads shooting happened in Omaha last fall, people asked, "Where was God?" And when there was yet another shooting at Northern Illinois this month, people asked, "Where was God?" My belief is that God was right there, in the midst, crying with the victim's families and friends and justifiably angry at the shooters. That is but one level of God's emotions. On another level-outside of our capacity to understand-there was God, willing everything that happened on those days according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).
We discussed last time that God is not a one-level emotional being like we are. God has levels upon levels of emotions. Because God simply is, he is able to experience an infinite number of emotions at one time, unlike humans. I want you to know that God cried when these shootings happened because he hates evil. Isaiah 61:8 says, "For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong." Proverbs 6:16-19 says, "There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." These verses clearly show that God hates, not merely dislikes, evil acts. God hates when people are evil and that is why he had to send his Son, Jesus, to pay the debt our sins accrued. We had built up an insurmountable debt to the Living God. "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). God hates sin so much that those who sin must be put to death. Jesus paid that price for us. That should be our disposition before we start. God hates evil.
Yet, as we will see, because he is completely sovereign, he is the one who "does whatever he pleases" (Ps. 115:2). Many Christians think Satan is the author of evil and that he created it. Satan cannot be the author of evil-he is not a creator. If God would have wanted only good to exist and Satan had done something God did not want, then Satan would have performed a more powerful act than God, which is impossible. To set a right disposition on who Satan is in this discussion of moral evil, let's look at C.S. Lewis' words about Satan.
Do I believe in the Devil? Now, if by 'the Devil' you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a "perfect badness" opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left.
I think this simple observation from Lewis shows us that there is not an opposite force in the universe "working against God" via their own free choice.
God is above and beyond all other creation. He is the Creator, everything else is the created. Remember, even Satan is a created being. In fact, in discussing Satan's role before Almighty God, John MacArthur says, "The enemy of God, who is Satan, is God's servant. I don't know if you have ever thought of it that way, but the devil is God's servant: he can only do what God allows him to do, and his borders and boundaries are established by a sovereign God."
How can God cause evil and still be completely righteous? Let's begin by analyzing what Scripture says about God ordaining and being sovereign over moral evil. The best way to go about this, I think, is to look at the passages that most directly deal with this topic. Before we get into those, though, we need to remember that nowhere does Scripture show God doing anything evil.
Rather, as Wayne Grudem says, God "brings about evil deeds through the wiling actions of moral creatures. Moreover, Scripture never blames God for evil or shows God as taking pleasure in evil, and Scripture never excuses human beings for the wrong they do." 1 That is something we need to have at the forefront of our minds as we examine these passages. God may be the author of sin without doing evil. He ordains evil to happen in a way that, for himself, is not evil. He is God and we are not. That is something we must come to terms with. God operates on an entirely different playing field than humans.
On whether or not God is the author of evil, Jonathan Edwards wrote, "If by 'the author of sin,' be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing…it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin." Edwards goes on to say that God is "the permitter…of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted…will most certainly and infallibly follow."
What about passages when it is clear that people or Satan are the ones who are committing wrongful acts? In the following passages, we will see that God is not the direct cause of evil (the "doer" of sin, as Edwards says) yet in his sovereign, secret will, we see that Scripture makes it perfectly clear that God is the one willing the evil to happen.
The story of Joseph is filled with evil doings and bad motives. His brothers were jealous of his dreams and were upset at his youthfully exuberant attitude. They went so far as selling him into slavery and faking his murder. However, in Genesis 50:20, after the story has come to a climax, Joseph says to his brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Psalm 105 tells of God's wonderful works. Verse 17 says, "[God] had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave." God sent Joseph ahead by an evil act but not as an evil action on God's part, to provide for his brothers and all of Egypt. God did it! He caused Joseph to be persecuted by his brothers, sold as a slave, thrown into prison, and raised back up to save people. Remember what Romans 8:28 says: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Certainly God worked out good for what had seemed bad for Joseph.
In Pharaoh's life, God is said to have "hardened his heart" (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10, 14:4, 8). In Exodus 8:15, 32, and 9:34 it does say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. People will argue that God simply hardened Pharaoh's heart in response to Pharaoh's free will. But, we should note that it said God would harden Pharaoh's heart long before Pharaoh "hardened his own heart." Why was Pharaoh's heart hardened though? Exodus 9:16 gives us the answer: "But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (cf. Rom. 9:17). God is passionate about his glory being proclaimed-to do otherwise would be to make something else God. His will acted to cause the evil event of keeping the Israelites bound in Egypt in order to show his glory. This is how Paul, in Romans 9:18, can make the conclusion, "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."
In 2 Samuel 24:1, David was "incited" by the Lord to take a census of the people of Israel and Judah. This word in Hebrew is sûth, which means "to allure, instigate", clearing showing that God encouraged this action. Then, in 24:10, it says "David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.'" And God punished the land because of this sin (2 Sam. 24:12-17). However, if we look back to verse 1, it says, "Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel." God was already angry with Israel so he caused David to sin by taking a census and in that, punished the people of Israel. It does not end there, however. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, we are told that "Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel." So, we see that God worked through Satan to cause David to sin, but Scripture does three things: 1) It never blames God; 2) It never says Satan did something outside of God's will; 3) It places full responsibility on David for his actions.
There are hundreds of other passages that show this same theme. In Isaiah 45:7, God says, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD who does all these things." The word "calamity" in this verse is the Hebrew word rā' which is translated as "evil" in Genesis 2:9, speaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Most likely, it is to be used in a broad sense of general evil. First Samuel 16:14 says, "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him." Again in Isaiah, showing his general sovereignty over everything, God says, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose" (46:10). In 1 Kings 22:23, we read that the Lord "put a lying spirit in the mouth" of Ahab's prophets. God also sent the wicked Assyrians as "the rod of my anger" to punish Israel in Isaiah 10:5. Time and space would fail me to run through all the passages showing God's complete control over moral evil. There is one more event, however, that must be discussed when considering this doctrine.
The most horrific deed ever committed throughout the course of human history was the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus and it was ordained by God. Acts 4:27-28 says, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." Echoing this, Edwards says, "The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done." Isaiah 53:10 says, "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief." If this evil act had not happened, there would have been no atonement for our sins. In fact, if God would have never ordained that evil be there would not have needed to be a Righteous Savior to redeem sinners from sin. Here is the reason we find that God is still glorious though he ordained that evil exist.
Thus far, we have seen that God is the author of sin, but not in the sense that he is the one committing the sinful acts. Remember, God is the only Sovereign who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) and causes evil things in a way that is not evil. We have also seen plainly that God orchestrates everything that happens in the world so that his glorious purpose may be accomplished. You may then ask, like the voice questioning Paul in Romans 9, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" (19). Paul rightly responds in verses 20-21, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?" Now we arrive at our last question of "Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?"
Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be? As I alluded to above, God is still glorious though he ordained evil to exist because his glory is shown in even more in brokenness and sinfulness. God uses evil in the world for his good, eternal purpose. Proverbs 16:4 says, "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." This shows us that God is the one who has made everything for a specific purpose-his purpose. And lest we blame God, the next verse in that chapter says, "Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished." The Bible clearly teaches that everyone is evil and full of sin (Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10-11, 23) and it would be perfectly fair of God to let us all rot and die in hell. However, he gives us his abundant mercy and grace through his Son Jesus. He owes mercy to no one, but he gives it to some, as Romans 9:18 says. We will discuss this aspect of God's sovereignty in the last part of this series.
Jonathan Edwards offers this great wisdom on why God is still glorious - probably even more - though he ordained that moral evil exist in the world.
"Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and 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.
I find great hope in this. To me, if offers the assurance that no human, no Satan, or no demon can do something more powerful than Almighty God. It shows us that we serve a huge God who is passionate about his glory, because he is worthy. It shows us that we serve a God who has all things under his control and nothing is spinning chaotically out of his grasp. And it shows us that no matter how awful, dreadful, or horrendous a situation, the God of the Bible has a perfect plan that will work according to his plan, for our eternal good.
I pray that you find comfort in this as well. I pray that you embrace this and stand in awe at the power, grandeur, and majesty of God. I commend to you what John Piper said on this subject: "If you would see God's glory and savor his glory and magnify his glory in this world, do not remain wavering before the sovereignty of God in the face of great evil. Take his book in your hand, plead for his Spirit of illumination and humility and trust, and settle this matter, that you might be unshakable in the day of your own calamity." 2
And if you are struggling with believing this, let the Scripture speak for itself. I admit that I have not arrived at all the answers, and I too am a broken, sinful man. So, with Paul I cry, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:34-36).
Source: Beneath The Cross
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