The Sovereignty of God: Is Evil Out of, or Under, Control?

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

When you claim that God providentially guides all of history, exercising his sovereign control over all things, the question of how God is related to evil inevitably is raised. In short, I believe (along with millions of others) that God controls evil, hates evil, defeats evil, and works through evil to accomplish his ordained goals. Do I believe that because reformed theologians have said so, or because the Bible says so? The latter, of course!

Notice in the Bible how God rules over evil:

  • Hebrews 1:3—note especially the word “bears,” or “carries.” Wayne Grudem notes that this word is commonly used in the NT for carrying something from one place to another. Mark Talbot concludes, “So here is the picture: God the Son holds each and every aspect of creation, including all of its evil aspects, in his “hands”—that is, within his all-powerful and ever-effectual word—and carries it by that word to where it accomplishes exactly what he wants it to do.”[1] John Frame writes, “This is not a picture of Christ as a kind of Atlas, holding up the world on his shoulders…but a dynamic image of him carrying the world from one point to another through time.”[2]
  • Ephesians 1:11—this passage is strong evidence that nothing escapes the control of God. He is working “all things according to the counsel of his will.” What is included in “all things”? Everything, of course.
  • Exodus 6:1—“ But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” This is massive. Think of the amount of suffering that the plagues would bring upon the people of Egypt. The Bible is very clear that these things are from God.
  • Proverbs 16:4—“The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (NASB). There is a purpose for everything.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:14—“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other” (NIV). The Preacher does not allow us to see good things as from God and bad things from something, or someone, else.
  • Isaiah 46:5–10—Notice especially that it is God who sends “a bird of prey from the east…from a far country.” This is Cyrus, king of Persia, who is “a man to fulfill [God’s] purpose” (46:11, NIV).
  • Isaiah 45:7–“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Note, the word for “create” (בָרָא) is the same word used in Gen. 1:1 (God “created”). The word for “calamity” (רע) is a word that is commonly translated as “evil.”
  • Amos 3:6—“When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused (אשׁע) it” (NIV). The word for “caused” can be translated “did” or “has done” it.
  • 1 Sam. 16:14–23 and 2 Thess. 2:11—God “sends” evil spirits (also, Judges 9:23). He “sends” delusions.”
  • Acts 4:26–28—“ The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’–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.” The greatest evil in all of history (the murder of the Son of God) did not escape the control of God.

This raises a host of other issues that we do not have the time to address. What is amazing about Acts 4:26–28 is how God uses evil and suffering to conquer evil and suffering. The evil and suffering that is ordained by God to come to Jesus through the hands of sinful men is the very means that God uses to crush evil and suffering. That is stunning!

Finally, for now, I hope that you can find comfort in a God who reigns over all things and is working for our joy and his glory.

I am always happy to respond to questions in the comment thread or via email.

[1] Mark Talbot (ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 41­–42.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 276.

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