Sovereignty and Evil
This combination of words appears to put the Christian on the “horns of a dilemma”. It seems that you must, “pick your poison”.
To hold to belief in the sovereignty of God seems untenable because God somehow cannot eliminate or control the evil in the world, or, if he is sovereign, he must be choosing to not exercise this power and eliminate evil, in which case, we cannot hold that God is good or loving. In fact, at this point, some make the case that God becomes the author of evil! Is this the teaching of scripture? Let’s start with what is clear:
God is Sovereign.
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”[i]
“and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “what have you done?”[ii]
The New Testament describes Jesus as “the blessed and only sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords,[iii]
The consistent testimony of scripture presents God as the one who reigns, who is in absolute control, and is not limited by the will or power of any of his creatures.
The existence of evil is equally clear. It doesn’t take the life experience of sixty or seventy years to recognize this, just open your newspaper, turn on the evening news, or go to your favorite new-source on the internet. The results of the fall are everywhere made manifest. From the moment that Adam and Eve sought to “be like God, knowing good and evil”, all humanity has lived in a state of autonomy. Instead of bowing the knee to their creator and living according to his moral law, we have sought to set our own moral standards independently of God.
Satan is presented throughout scripture by names descriptive of his cunning and destructive power such as: the serpent[iv], the deceiver of the whole world[v], the father of lies[vi], the tempter[vii], or the thief that comes only to steal kill and destroy[viii]. Fallen men and women, whose wills are in bondage as the result of the fall, think their autonomous wisdom will set them free. Fallen humanity merely falls to the temptations of Satan and the desires of their own flesh. The result is the pain and destruction that we call “evil”.
What then is evil? Evil cannot be defined positively, as “something”. It can only be understood against a backdrop, in a larger context. Just like we define “darkness” as the absence of light; or cold as the absence of heat; evil is the absence of good. Goodness is only defined by the character of God. Evil then is the absence of, stemming from a rejection of, God Himself.
How to Understand “God’s Sovereignty” and “Evil” – a start...
What is the highest good, the goal of God’s redemptive plan in Christ? Ephesians chapter one describes the pre-destined plan of God. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world: “To be holy and blameless before Him.”[ix] Christians are “to be to the praise of his glory”.[x] This happens in Christ and because of the work of Christ actually sanctifying us. The promise of the gospel in Jeremiah is that the God would write his law on our hearts and minds.[xi] The law reflects the character of God. When it is written on your heart and mind you will be like God, you will be in the image of Christ. John writes about being like Christ:
“and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him,”[xii]
Similarly, Paul states:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” [xiii]
How are believers transformed into the image of Christ? James writes:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds; for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfast-ness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.[xiv]
Apparently, God uses the difficulties of life, even those that are evil in intent and impact, to bring believers to the goal of completion. As you struggle through the impact of the evil actions of others, you will be led to contemplate the righteousness and truth of God, how obedience to God would have changed the situation. As you struggle with your own sin, you will confront your own lack of conformity to the law and will, with grief and sorrow, seek to have your own heart and mind renewed. Perhaps this is part of what Paul has in mind when he writes in Romans:
“And we know that for those who love god all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”[xv]
Although by God’s foreknowledge and decree God, all things come to pass infallibly and immutably, and yet, by providence God causes actions, even evil actions, to fall out according to secondary causes. Thus, the results of Adam’s sin continue. Yet, God sovereignly uses man’s sinful actions to shape his people into the image of Christ.
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.
[i] Isaiah 46:8-10
[ii] Daniel 4:35
[iii] 1 Timothy 6:15
[iv] Genesis 3:1
[v] Rev 12:9
[vi] John 8:44
[vii] Matthew 4:3
[viii] John 10:10
[ix] Ephesians 1:4
[x] Ephesians 1:12
[xi] Jeremiah 31:31-34
[xii] 1 John 3:2
[xiii] 2 Corinthians 3:18
[xiv] James 1:2-4
[xv] Romans 8:28-29