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THEOLOGY > Sin > The Problem of Evil > Caveats of Sovereignty


Several caveats should be stated less the concept of Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign) and its relationship to evil be pressed or pursued beyond proper theological bounds. There is a limit beyond which man cannot and should not go.

God is holy and does not delight in sin

The Bible affirms that God is holy and takes no pleasure in evil:

The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice (Deut. 32:4);

There is no injustice withYahweh our God (II Chron. 19:7);

Hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that He should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that He should do wrong (Job 34:10);

You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You (Ps. 5:4);

Yahweh is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him (Ps. 92:15);

Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8);

Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord (Zech. 8:17);

For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God (Lu. 16:15);

Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! (Rom. 9:14);

God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one (Jas. 1:13).

Therefore whatever positions are taken relative to God, His Sovereignty, and the existence of evil, the propositions cannot question the righteousness of God nor associate Him in any degree with the practice of evil. The existence of evil does not compromise the goodness of God (see: The Significance of Goodness).

The foundation for such a position is the absolute authority of the Text not the logical reasoning of man. Both the existence of evil and the righteousness of God are affirmed by Scripture, and in Scripture there is no conflict between the two affirmations. Since such is the case, there should be no conflict in the mind of the believer whose thinking is guided by Scripture. If the Scriptures are normative, then their teachings must be accepted without question (see: The Starting Point).

God does ordain evil

While God is holy and does not delight in evil, it must be affirmed that God does ordain evil. To reject this fact is to accept the fact that something exists that is outside of His ultimate will and to accept the fact that something exists that God’s eternal plan did not include. Therefore, there is something in the universe that is outside of God’s determined purpose. Because God is sovereign over all (see: All Things), then He must be sovereign over evil in the sense that evil is consistent with His purpose and serves His purpose.

Sin is not an eternal existing entity; there was a “time” when there was no evil. Therefore, an infinite dualism of good and evil does not exist and has never existed. Evil exists at the present because it is consistent with God’s will. The Scriptures do record evil acts that occur because of God’s involvement:

Psalm 105:25, speaking of the Exodus, says of the Egyptians that God "turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants."

After a time of unfaithfulness, Israel asked God, "Why, Yahweh, do You cause us to stray from Your ways, and harden our heart from fearing You?" (Isaiah 63:17).

In Revelation 17:17 it is said that the wicked kings who will wage war against Christ (which is sin) will ultimately be doing the purpose that God had put in their hearts: "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purposes by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled." The political rulers of the last days will accomplish the will of God, and their countries will be given over to the rule of the coming Antichrist.

Lamentations 3:37-38 asserts that God decrees not only good things, but also bad things: "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?"

God says that He is "the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am Yahweh who does all these" (Isaiah 45:7).

When all of Job's children were killed, he acknowledged the sovereign control of God behind the evil situation. Job did not say that "Yahweh gave, and Satan took away." He said "Yahweh gave and Yahweh has taken away. Blessed be the name of Yahweh" (1:21). Some argue that God is not ultimately behind the bad circumstances in our lives, and therefore Job was wrong to attribute his calamity to God. However, the author of the book, who was inspired by God and therefore infallible, affirms Job's statement: "Through all his Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (v. 24). At the end of the book we once again see the author's agreement with Job. When describing Job's restoration, he says that Job's friends came and "consoled him and comforted him for all the evil that Yahweh had brought on him" (42:11).

The book of Job makes it clear, however, that God's control over evil does not deny the activity of Satan and the reality of wickedness in human hearts. Further, God never does evil and cannot be blamed for evil. However, God has not left the sources of evil, that is, evil men, to simply do as they please. He has them on a leash and they can only act if God specifically decides to allow it. Since the evil that Satan causes is only by the specific permission of God, then it is correct for Job to ultimately attribute his suffering to God's plan.

The evil spirit that tormented Saul was said to be "from Yahweh" (1 Samuel 16:14).

In punishment for David's sin, "Yahweh struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, so that it was very sick" (2 Samuel 12:15-18).

Natural or man-made disasters occur because God plans them; they serve to accomplish His larger purpose. Amos 3:6 asks rhetorically, "Does evil befall in a city, unless Yahweh has done it?"

Medical conditions and disease are not outside of God's purpose: "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?" (Exodus 4:11).

"No person in this world was ever blind that God had not planned for him to be blind; no person was ever deaf in this world that God had not planned for him to be deaf—If you do not believe that, you have a strange God who has a universe which has gone out of gear and He cannot control it" (Donald G. Barnhouse).

It must be affirmed that evil occurs because it is consistent with God’s determined purpose, but the occurrence of the evil cannot be attributed to God. These two points must be accepted even though man’s finite mind cannot fully reconcile them. Jonathan Edwards wrote:

Evil is an evil thing, and yet it may be a good thing that evil should be in the world . . . as for instance, it might be an evil thing to crucify Christ, but yet it was a good thing that the crucifying of Christ came to pass. As men's act, it was evil, but as God ordered it, it was good.

So, even though evil is evil, it is good in the sense that God has determined it to be. It must be affirmed that God did ordain the existence of sin.

God is not the author of sin

God is not the author of evil; the Scriptures are plain:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown brings forth death (Jas. 1:13-15).

God is not the initiator of evil because evil did not arise within Him and because He does no evil. Evil arises within the individual; evil is of the created order. In addition to the above verses from James, God declares: “But they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight” (Isa. 66:4). The wise man adds: “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccles. 7:29). The Bible teaches that evil cannot be attributed to God and that He is not culpable.

Evil’s existence must be explained in terms of secondary causes or agents; that is, the doing of evil is chargeable to the doers of evil, for it is in the doers of evil that the actual evil arises. Thus, it can be affirmed that God determines for evil to exist but He is not the doer of evil. Evil is of man.

In this simple but profound psychological way Scripture tells the history of the fall and of the origin of sin. In this way sin continues still to come into being. It begins with the darkening of the understanding, continues with the excitement of the imagination, stimulates desire in the heart, and culminates in an act of the will (Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, 224).

If this position be questioned or denied, then it must be emphasized that this position reflects the God of the Bible, and there is no other God. It is the God of the Bible that must be proclaimed, not the god of man’s creation (see: God is Sovereign, Theistic Determinism, and All Things).

Bible affirms the will of man

Clearly the Scriptures teach that man has a will; the pressing question is whether the will is free. To have a will simply means that man has the ability to act, to decide, or to make decisions. In this sense man is free—he is free to act, free because he has a will that can act. Since man can act, a certain liberty of action can be predicated of him.

But it must be pointed out that the will is not unconditionally free but is bound by sin, which creates obvious implications (see: Loss of Freedom). Man has a will, the capacity to act, but his nature determines that the actions are evil because they spring from an evil nature and, therefore, can be nothing but evil.

The will does not have absolute freedom, or, as could be described, the power of contrary choice; rather, the choices of the will are determined by the state of the person and the reasoning of the mind. This means that the acts of the will are guided by the intellectual nature or state of the individual.

Man still has volitional ability, the ability to act, but the actions are determined to be consistently evil because of the depraved state that is true of man subsequent to the Fall. In one sense man is free to act, he does have volitional ability, but in another sense man is not free to act, because his actions cannot be contrary to what he is.

Not only is man capable of acting because he has a will, but the acts can only be consistent with man’s nature. And since man is a sinner, he can only act sinfully. In his acts, man cannot violate his nature nor act inconsistently with his nature. A fish can only swim, a bird can only fly, a beast can only walk; none of these creatures can act in a manner inconsistent with what they are. So it is with man; he sins of necessity (his nature, derived from Adam, can do no other; see: By One Man and The Principle of Identification). A polluted spring cannot yield good water.

Man is characterized by self-determination, not by compulsion. Man is not immune from outside influences such as heredity, events, and environment; these do impact decisions, but the choices man makes arise from within—the meaning of self-determination—not from without man and are not forced upon man from an exterior source. Man’s choices are man’s choices. But the self-determination is not independently free in the unconditional sense. Man chooses, but man is not coerced. “Man sins of necessity, but without compulsion” (Calvin, Institutes, II, Ch. 3, 4).

Thus, the definition of freedom determines whether man can be thought of as having freedom, and freedom must be interpreted in terms of God. At this site freedom is defined as the ability and the proclivity to do good.

Bible teaches man’s accountability

God’s sovereignty over evil does not remove man from accountability to the Creator; even though God determines all things, the Scriptures teach that man must give account of his deeds to his Maker. Clearly the point is made in more than one text:

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak (Matt. 12:36);

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God (Rom. 3:19);

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12);

For we must all appear before the judgment of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (II Cor. 5:10);

And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13);

But they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (I Pet. 4:5).

Therefore, it is impossible for one to embrace sovereignty in order to escape personal responsibility; the concepts do not exclude each other. To think that they do is to reveal that the reflection is more logical than Biblical, that is, more humanistic than Theistic.    

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