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).  

- James 1:13

In many of his speeches and writings, Adolf Hitler said that divine providence would ensure his success. Of course, Hitler was no friend of Christianity and made use of Christian terminology only to deceive the masses. Yet his references to providence stir up a question that all of us have had at one time or another. How can we reconcile the existence of evil with our belief in a good and sovereign God? 

Undoubtedly, the problem of evil is the most enduring attack leveled against Christianity. Skeptics say an all-powerful God cannot also be good since He does not stop the wicked. Moreover, they contend, if God is good, He cannot be omnipotent because a good deity would never allow evil if He had the ability to stop it. This is a difficult issue, and we will not be able to understand it fully before Christ’s return. However, Scripture does give some guidance on this subject.

Any biblical answer to this question begins first with the recognition that the Lord certainly does ordain evil acts. While Scripture tells us the Creator is perfectly good and never does evil Himself (James 1:13), many passages indicate that God uses wickedness (for example, 1 Kings 22:23; Ps. 105:23–25). Nor can we deny the Almighty’s omnipotence. God could stop evil in every case if He so desired (Gen. 18:14a; Mark 10:27). For reasons not always evident to us, the Lord sometimes determines it better to allow sin than to stand in its way. Sometimes He deems it good to permit evil.

God ordains evil without being liable for it. Yet evil in itself is not the Lord’s ultimate purpose. Rather, God ordains evil in order to further His ultimate, good plan. Evil acts themselves are always evil, but His plan and goal are praiseworthy. Somehow the Lord permits deeds that He hates because this wickedness finally contributes to our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28; James 1:2–4).

God’s ordination of wickedness for a good end is clearest in His use of the evil motives of the Jewish and Roman authorities to crucify Jesus and fulfill His good plan for His people (Acts 2:23). The Lord’s use of our intentions and deeds, good or evil, in order to fulfill His ultimate, laudable ends is known as the doctrine of concurrence.

Coram Deo

Those who would use the problem of evil to deny the existence of God have a problem. As many theologians and philosophers have taught, evil is a negative idea, a parasite on the good. Without a previously existing, eternal, and personal good (God), nothing could be defined as evil. As you consider the mysteries of providence and evil, remember that the Lord is far greater than we can imagine (Job 42) and will use wickedness to create a glorious future for His people

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 84:11
Nah. 1:7
Matt. 7:7–11
James 1:16–18

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343