God’s sovereignity, sin and evil

Byblos said…

This is such a hard concept for me to comprehend, yet it makes so much sense. I know full well that God is the creator of all and the enabler of it all. By the same token, I cannot help but conclude that God is the author of sin and the creator of evil. I know we’ve discussed this many times before and recently I’ve found some evidence of it (in the Catholic Catechism of all places) that pretty much agrees with what you’re saying in so much as even the seemingly free choice we excersize to choose God cannot come about unless granted by the Father. It’s an amazingly beautiful thing. Why am I still conflicted?”

Hi Byblos,

It’s good to hear from you.

You ask a very good question that had me following all sorts of rabbit trials about the nature of the war between good and evil.

But to answer your question directly, there are a few points I want to make. Firstly, as we have seen before, definitions are important. How we define evil and sin is important. Secondly, it is also about perspective. How we view things, and from which vantage point, determines our conclusions. And thirdly, how it all fits together to arrive at a Biblical conclusion. Whatever we think, as Christians we accept the Word of God as the final authority. (I know this flies in the face of RC tradition, but we have overcome that obstacle before. BTW, I would love to see the quote from the RC cathecism that you refer to).

Let’s look at the definitions of sin and evil. Grudem states that sin is “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature.” Of course, that makes it pretty hard for God to be the originator of sin. Sin flows from the corrupt nature of man, which was brought about by the corruption of the fallen one. The rebellion of Lucifer was the first sin. And it was born out of vanity, and today all sin is propagated with the same motive. It is a denial of God, and a glorification of self, for the purpose of separating us from God, like he is seperated. Equally, we can say that evil is absence of good, in a moral or physical sense. Since God is all-good, by definition He cannot do or decree purely evil things.

The question then arises why we see evil, brought about by sin, if God is sovereign. How can God, if He decrees all, allow for bad things to happen? This is what sent me on a little rabbit trial, and prompted me to remember that the war is an eternal war. The battles are many, and are fought in the temporal and eternal, but the war is exclusively eternal. We already know the outcome too.

This brings me to perspective. From a human perspective, we see things that appear evil in the temporal. We know that Satan has some control allowed by God in the temporal too, as the “ruler of this world” (Joh 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.) As slaves to a sinful nature, we will also see things from the perspective of a sinner. We experience that “the ruler of this world” will try to pull the wool over our eyes, as he did with Eve. But very important, it is only the appearance that he is trying to create.

God, in His sovereignity, has a morally sufficient reason for all that happens. He works all things for His glory.

It is our temporal and sinful perspective that makes it appear as if those things are evil, and makes God appear as the creator of sin. The power of Satan, and that of evil, is all in the temporary. He can even kill our physical bodies, like happened with Jesus, and we are told in Rev 2:10 will happen to Christians. But he does not have any power in the eternal, the outcome of the war is certain.

I would venture that our conflict arises when we look at things from our sinful, human vantage point. We see things such as physical suffering and bodily death as evil and sinful, and we know that those things entered the world through Satan. But from Gods perspective it looks different:
Rom 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Rom 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Rom 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Rom 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Rom 8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Rom 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
Rom 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We know that victory has been achieved, and we know what eternity looks like for those who share in the victory. The victory does not come without a cost, it cost God to become human and overcome the eternal effects of the temporal, since we humans could not do it.

But the things mentioned above, those temporal evil things cannot separate us from eternal victory. God is not the creator or author of sin and evil, He is the vanquisher. From His perspective, those things that we perceive as evil are part of what happens in the temporal, and He has already defeated that.

God controls all, and as the ultimate eternal moral authority, He has good reason for all that happens. And God tells us that the things we perceive of as evil, is indeed decreed by Him:
Exo 4:11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
Lam 3:37 Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?
Lam 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
Lam 3:39 Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?
Isa 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.
Amo 3:6 Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?
Especially in the case of Jesus, we know that it was Gods decree for the evil deed to happen, foretold and effected:
Isa 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Act 4:26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’–
Act 4:27 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,
Act 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Yet we know that out of all that apparent evil came the ultimate good.

God is the ultimate standard of good and evil, and this is where it all comes together. The Biblical position is that yes, God allows apparently bad things to happen, in fact, He decrees that it happens. And it all happens so that He is ultimately glorified. We fight the temporal battles in the eternal war, and those battles have a larger purpose, the glory of God.

I hope this helps. It is a rather long answer, but it is a good question.

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4 responses to “God’s sovereignity, sin and evil

  1. The one thing that I have found to be helpful in dealing with this kind of question is to start from a good root. What is God’s ultimate purpose in all things? It is none other than to bring glory to Himself. Therefore, anything that happens, has happened, or ever will happen is for the express intent of glorifying God. We may not understand how or why, but that isn’t our long term concern (though many tragedies that befall us will certainly have immediate and temporal concerns.)

    I have concluded that this had to be the worldview of Job. Any other way, he would have never made it.

  2. Thank you August, that definitely helps a great deal. As usual, a well thought out reponse.

    Two things:

    1) We (Catholics) certainly accept the Word of God as the final authority. We merely believe oral teachings, and not just the written word, are part and parcel of the Word of God. After all, most early Christians were converted by listening, not reading.

    2) The quote I referred as being from the Catechism was actually from the joint Catholic-Protestant declaration of 1999 (been doing a lot reading lately). Here’s the link: http://benedettoxvi.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

    The following quote is what I was referring to (particularly 4.1.20):

    ” 4. Explicating the Common Understanding of Justification

    4.1 Human Powerlessness and Sin in Relation to Justification

    19.We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God’s judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God’s grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:

    20.When Catholics say that persons “cooperate” in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God’s justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities.

    21.According to Lutheran teaching, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because as sinners they actively oppose God and his saving action. Lutherans do not deny that a person can reject the working of grace. When they emphasize that a person can only receive (mere passive) justification, they mean thereby to exclude any possibility of contributing to one’s own justification, but do not deny that believers are fully involved personally in their faith, which is effected by God’s Word. [cf. Sources for 4.1].”

    God bless,

    Byblos.

  3. Byblos, thanks for the reference. I will look at it in some more detail over the weekend, and post a further response if needed. That is whay I said that we must take care with our definitions, because I have acome across instances where “justification” is taken to mean slightly different things by different people.

    Just a short note about your point 1. The difference is that what the RC church has as its oral teaching is different to what is in the Scriptures. Such a position assumes that what the early Christians heard was different to what was in Scripture, when there is absolutely no proof for such an assumption. In fact, we read that what is in Scripture is sufficient for all teaching, that man may be competent for salvation.

    So it may be true that early Christians learned by hearing, but what they heard was what is in Scripture today, and nothing else.

    I don’t wish to turn this into a whole Sola Scriptura argument, but I thought I would just answer the point you made.

  4. Judah, I don’t know if I buy that explanation. Do you not think that it reduces God to a secondary role? And it does not really answer the question, it just moves it one step back. If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then the conlusion of this argument is that God allows evil things to happen. But that is the same as decreeing them to happen, so God remains as the originator of “evil”. Either that, or He has no control over His creation.

    Also, I don’t know it is a Scriptural argument.
    For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

    There are many other cases where mens actions were directly guided by God, like that of the Assyrian king.

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