God’s Sovereignty and the problem of Evil

Genesis 20:6


Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.


            With the disaster in Haiti still constantly on our television sets, newspapers, and computer screens, I find myself reminded of other tragic events.  I remember stepping out of the shower and hearing that evil men had flown airplanes into buildings in New York City on 9-11.  I remember sitting in an airport, stunned at the horrors of the tsunami that ravaged Thailand and Indonesia at the end of 2004.  Not only do I remember these events, I remember prayerfully considering how I, as a pastor, could offer people any sort of explanation of what was going on. 


            Whenever tragedies strike, be they natural disasters or human evils, people often ask questions about the involvement of God.  Some people bow to God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of seeming Chaos.  Others offer attempts at explanations for why God chose to do what he did as if they could explain the motivation that would cause God to send an earthquake, tsunami, or wasting disease.  Others attempt to remove or soften an attribute of Gods’ being in order to say that he either did not know that the tragedy was coming or that he cannot stop the tragedy without violating his own natural laws.


            A few days after 9-11, I was talking with a leader in a Christian denominational agency that I will not name.  I asked him how he would explain to people what happened on 9-11.  He told me that, while God was saddened by those events, God does not take action to inhibit the decisions and actions of his free creatures.  Amazed that this man would tell me that God did not move to sometimes change the directions of people’s lives and actions, I asked him if he did not think that God moved to change the actions and attitudes of individuals in the Bible such as Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar.  The response of this “Christian” leader was to tell me that it only seemed that God was intervening to the writers of the Bible, but that we know that this was not the case.

            What that man offered to me and to others as a way to explain the tragedy was totally useless.  Regardless of how many explanations we give to try to  “Get God off the hook” for the hardships that occur in our world, such explanations ultimately offer no hope to believers.  God does intervene in human affairs.  God himself has declared that he prevented free men from doing things in Genesis 20:6 above.  God has the power, the knowledge, and the skill to stop or start any natural event imaginable—he did create the universe with a word after all.


            No, the fact is that God is in control.  We will not understand his acts and his ways, at least not enough to allow us to say that a particular storm hit a particular neighborhood because of a particular sin.  Yet, God has given us insight into his character in his written word.  God is mighty, wise, powerful, and perfect in every way.  His ways are not our ways, neither are his thoughts ours (cf. Isa 55:8).  But his thoughts and ways are always holy.  There is no trace of sin or of evil in God.  He will do rightly.  He will intervene in the affairs of men on earth for the sake of his holy name.       


            I don’t know how to explain Haiti.  I cannot say what God is up to.  But I can confidently say that God was not surprised by what happened,  Nor was God powerless to stop it or ethically bound to act or not to act.  God has moved in the lives of people in the past.  God has moved the forces of nature in the past, stilling storms and walking the sea.  God is sovereign and good.  God is still worthy of our worship and praise, because he is a truly wonderful and gracious God.

2 thoughts on “God’s Sovereignty and the problem of Evil”

  1. Perhaps most familiar to us in the matter of God’s sovereignty as it respects evil are Acts 2:23; 4:28, where the arch-crime of human history, the crucifixion of Christ, is referred to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, and the treatment meted out to Jesus in the conspiracy devised against Him by Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the people of Israel is referred to as that which the hand and counsel of God foreordained to come to pass.


  2. The questions raised come to their acutest expression in those instances where the providence of God is affirmed in connection with what is not only evil in the generic sense, but evil in the specific sense of sin and wrongdoing. It surely appears that Calvin again is right when he contends that “nothing can be desired more explicit than his frequent declarations, that he blinds the minds of men, strikes them with giddiness, inebriates them with the spirit of slumber, fills them with infatuation, and hardens their hearts. These passages also many persons refer to permission, as though, in abandoning the reprobate, God permitted them to be blinded by Satan. But that solution is too frivolous, since the Holy Spirit expressly declares that their blindness and infatuation are inflicted by the righteous judgment of God. He is said to have caused the obduracy of Pharaoh’s heart, and also to have aggravated and confirmed it. Some elude the force of these expressions with a foolish cavil — that, since Pharaoh himself is elsewhere said to have hardened his own heart, his own will is stated as the cause of his obduracy; as though these two things were at all incompatible with each other, that man should be actuated by God, and yet at the same time be active himself. But I retort on them their own objection; for if hardening denotes a bare permission, Pharaoh cannot properly be charged with being the cause of his own obstinacy. Now, how weak and insipid would be such an interpretation, as though Pharaoh only permitted himself to be hardened! Besides, the Scripture cuts off all occasion for such cavils. God says, `I will harden his heart’ ” (Institutes, I. xviii. 2).


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