When you study Scripture at some point you will encounter the problem with evil. By that I mean you recognize that the God of heaven and earth is absolutely sovereign and determines whatever happens (Ephesians 1:11). You also see that man is viewed as absolutely responsible for his sin (Romans 9:18, Acts 4:27-28). Finally, it is also quite clear that the our God is perfectly holy and cannot do anything evil (1 John 1:5, Isaiah 6:1-4). On the surface this seems to be an irresolvable difficulty. How can a holy sovereign God determine events that are evil in themselves?In our sorting out of this problem we can tend to undermine Scripture in at least two different ways. We first make the mistake of thinking that since God is holy sin cannot be a part of this determined plan. We then make another mistake when we affirm the responsibility of man for his sin and conclude that the sin cannot be a part of the sovereignly determined plan of God. Scripture affirms both man’s responsibility for his sin and God’s absolute sovereignty over all things (Romans 9:19). Fortunately there are a number of biblical examples that teach this very idea. In Genesis 45:4-5 Joseph is addressing his brothers who sold him into Egypt. Joseph states that his brothers were responsible for selling him into slavery, “I am your brother, the one you sold into Egypt.” He then goes on to say that there selling him into slavery was a part of God’s plan to save Joseph’s family from the famine, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Joseph’s brothers are responsible for their sin yet the whole affair was a part of God’s plan. We again see this when Jacob dies and the brothers of Joseph are afraid that Joseph will seek revenge now that their father is dead. Joseph’s response is right to the point, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). In both of these accounts God is absolutely sovereign and man is responsible for his sin. God determines all things, including evil, yet when evil is done only those who do the evil can be blamed.
The ultimate example of how Scripture handles the problem of evil can be seen in the event of the cross of Jesus Christ. The event of the cross is at the same time the greatest evil ever committed and the greatest good ever done. Jesus was the only innocent person to have ever existed (Hebrews 4:15). His going to the cross was the result of the sin of many folks (Acts 4:27) and therefore the greatest evil ever committed. At the same time his death on the cross is the greatest good since it resulted in the salvation of many folks (Hebrews 10:14). The death of Jesus on the cross was a determined event by the God of Scripture (Acts 4:28). God determines all things, including evil, yet when evil is done only those who do the evil are to be blamed.
Some older biblical writers use the word “permit” when they are talking about God and evil. When they phrase things in this way they are seeking to emphasize that man is truly responsible for his sin. But, while they are saying this they are also clear that in a way that we do not fully understand our God does determine all things and evil is a part of his predestined plan.
We are not allowed to blame a holy God even though he has determined the event. This is a true mystery in Scripture for the God of Scripture is not like us in his being. In only some ways are we made like him. He is not like us and he does things that we cannot do. We must affirm what Scripture says and not try to smooth out the problem. When asked to explain this beyond what I have already said I simply give them my “theological shrug” and that is the end of that. I love the God of Scripture even though and I cannot neatly explain him.