Providence and Evil

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.”

- James 1:13

History shows us that the bad guys as well as the good guys have said that divine providence was on their side. Adolf Hitler, for example, said that divine providence was behind his success. Certainly, Hitler hated biblical Christianity, and like many politicians used religious terminology skillfully to trick people into following him. Nevertheless, the references that this evil man made to divine providence raise an important question: How do we understand the existence of evil if God is omnipotent (all powerful), omnibenevolent (all good), and omniscient (all knowing) in His sovereign governing of all creation.

The existence of evil is a difficulty that we must address, especially since it is one of the most frequently used arguments against the Christian faith. Skeptics will say that the presence of evil disproves the biblical God’s existence, for surely such a God would stop all evil before it happens. The fact that He does not means that He is not all good and relishes evil, or not all powerful and cannot stop evil, or not all knowing and cannot anticipate evil.

Surely we will not “solve” the problem of evil within the space of this study. However, we can begin to offer a biblical answer. First, we must recognize that in His sovereignty, God ordains evil. He Himself is unstained by wickedness and unable to do evil (James 1:13); nevertheless, the Lord does make use of evil men and actions in the outworking of His purposes (Gen. 50:20; 1 Kings 22:23; Ps. 105:23–25). God works out all things according to the counsel of His will, and the term all includes evil (Eph. 1:11).

Second, the Lord could intervene and prevent evil from happening in every instance. The fact that He does not do so is not a poor reflection on His omnipotence, which is affirmed throughout Scripture. (Gen. 18:14a; Mark 10:27). His unwillingness to stop every evil only proves that our Creator deems it good to permit evil at times.

How God can ordain evil without being liable for it is a mystery. Yet as we are not omniscient, the fact that we do not know how this works out is a limitation we face as creatures, not a black mark on the divine character. Moreover, evil itself is never the Lord’s final goal. He ordains evil as a means to a good end. The Lord ordains evil because in so doing He determines to work through said evil to attain a good goal that would not otherwise be achievable. God can and will ordain an evil act that He hates in itself because He can use said evil for our final good and His final glory (Rom. 8:28; James 1:2–4).

Coram Deo

We see God’s ordination of wickedness for a good end most clearly in the crucifixion. God used the evil plans of Christ’s enemies to fulfill His good plan for His people (Acts 2:23). An evil act is still an evil act even when the Lord ordains it, but He does not sin when He ordains evil. We never want to pretend something is good when it is evil, but we also never want to forget that the evil we face in the present is not the last word. God will bring good out of it.

Passages for Further Study

Nahum 1:7
Matthew 7:7–11

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