I received an email from a solid and faithful Christian this week, with the following question:
I am preparing for an exam which is on Thursday. Among those topics is that of God’s relation to evil. I am not satisfied with the results of the “modern” debates that use concepts like “middle knowledge” or other philosophical ideas.
I suppose you have reflected on this issue. Would you give me some of your thoughts on this issue? How do you think the problem of evil may be best dealt with? As my exam is in about 2 days, I would appreciate if you could give me some tips. Thank you.”
My dear brother,
I am afraid I am poor in some of these areas of thought, but here would be my brief summary response:
If one allows that God is not sovereign over evil– that He had no control in the origin of evil, then they have created more problems that they can deal with– true problems, the main one being that God therefore is not truly God– He is not ruling over all things, etc, and He is therefore not sovereign over all things, and therefore, He has ceased to be the God of Gen 1-3. By definition, God must be absolutely in control of all things at all times OR He is not God.
If one denies the sovereign control of God over evil’s origin and existence, you have already re-defined who God is, and it is not the God of Genesis 1, but a God of your own imagination.
This becomes quite important in the application of theology, because if He was not sovereign over the ORIGIN & EXISTENCE of evil at the beginning, then it consistently must be true that He has no control over it at ANY level; therefore:
1. Christians could never draw any comfort at all from a Heavenly Father who is not controlling evil, for they would have to face the sad reality that He can do nothing about it; it is outside of His control.
2. Neither can Christians pray to God to work in and through evil situations, since He already had no power in evil coming about; so why pray if He is not truly sovereign and in control? We surely cannot ask Him to cause ALL things to work for the good, IF He is not in control of it all completely. If He is not in charge when evil occurs, He could not be in charge to bring about good as a result of it. Prayer would be a vain action if God is not ruling over all things, including all evil.
Therefore we come to a foundational reality–
The Bible throughout declares and make very plain that God rules over all things completely; (see Job 1-3), plus many of the speeches in Job directly show that; Satan could not even touch Job without God’s direct permission AND it was God who initiated all of Job’s situation. If one did a simple perusal of all the verses in a concordance that directs shows all that God is sovereign over, that would settle it forever- for those who truly believe in the God of the Bible.
Biblically, if God CREATED all things by Himself, it is theologically and logically certain that He must still GOVERN all things Himself;
Any sane person who believes in God’s existence will acknowledge that God ALLOWS suffering; one has to deny Scripture completely to deny that; BUT, if as Scripture says, He works all things after the counsel of his own will, then ALLOWING something is exactly the same as purposing it to exist.
Evil must be defined in terms of God, not man; what God says is evil, man often says is good and what man says is evil, God often says it is good; man re-defines evil according to only how it affects himself or mankind; so what man often says is evil is only evil because it messes up man’s desires, plans, wishes, and his selfish life; but that interruption by something “bad” often is, from the divine perspective, the greatest and best thing that could have happened to that person to bring about God’s redemptive purposes for him or her.
So Joni Ereckson Tada’s broken neck and paralysis now for over 30 years is evil according to man’s definition, but how much glory and good has come from it?
And the ultimate example and proof is the cross. How evil and wicked of men to reject, blaspheme, deny, and crucify the Son of God, yet this was the predetermined plan according to the foreknowledge and purpose of God and was the only perfect act of good since creation. The cross- how evil and how perfectly good.
A main theological truth from Scripture is this: God certainly purposes the existence of evil for the primary purpose of displaying and revealing His glory in the universe. There is no other ultimate and satisfactory explanation for the existence of evil other than ALL things exist for the glory of God Himself and the display of His purposes in redemption.
I would also recommend you read both C. Sam Storms and John Piper on the subject; most helpful.
This is a little scattered in thought, but it is the best I can do at the moment. I surely hope it helps;
Hope you pull an A on the exam, but if you take this position and because of it, your professor gives you a worse grade, then rejoice! the Lord is King!
Your brother and friend,
– Mack T.