The Search For God's Will (pt.5)

We have come to the end of our series on God’s Will and today we tackle one of if not the most difficult issues concerning the subject.  How do we deal with the intersection between the existence of evil and God’s will.  If you have not read the previous posts I encourage you to do so prior to reading this final piece.  We hope that this series has been an encouragement and possibly even a challenge to your thinking.  But ultimately our hope is that as we more appropriately and rightly understand who God is we can better worship Him.

Before diving into the issue of God’s will as it relates to the problem of evil it is necessary to say that a simple blog post can in no way do this topic justice.  Book after book has been written to address this issue and several philosophical constructs have been created to attempt at explaining the apparent “problem.”  And yet we find this matter of utmost importance and worth addressing as we close out this series.  With that disclaimer in mind we will look at three primary points that will shed some light on the situation and if anything open up further dialogue to help us be better equipped in our own thinking and response to the issue.

The primary question or difficultly that many (including the authors of this post) people face in dealing with God’s will is this:  If God is sovereign and nothing happens outside of His will – isn’t it problematic that evil exists the way it does?  Certainly there is an aspect of validity to the question and the question cannot simply be overlooked with a “God of the gaps” type approach.  While holding some sense of divine mystery in tension with biblical revelation we as professing believers in Christ Jesus must make some attempt at dealing with this.

As we look at the issue of God’s will as it relates to evil we have to keep three things in mind.  The first is that evil does not negate the sovereignty of God and so we must believe that evil does not exist outside of God’s control.  Countless individuals have attempted to use this supposed dilemma as staunch rational reasoning of the inexistence of God or the ludicrousness of the Christian faith.  Take for example Richard Dawkins who in his New York Times best selling work The God Delusion wrote:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.[1]

Although Dawkins uses several other arguments for the inexistence of God – the problem of evil as it relates to the biblical revelation of God is highly problematic for him.  And he is not alone.  But the behind-the-scenes reality is that often the attempt to use the problem of evil as a means of dismissing God is a smoke screen for a deeper heart issue.  The issue with most is not a rational inconsistency but a fallen identity.  In our sin and unbelief we don’t want a God who has control over our lives and the problem of evil provides an easy out that is deemed more argumentatively acceptable.

Regardless, the issue is still one that needs to be addressed.  So what are we to make of evil’s existence and God’s sovereign will?  Are we as Christians to simply believe that these two entities cannot coexist?  Is evil some rampant virus that God just can’t seem to find a cure for?  Certainly not and for reasons to be discussed below we firmly hold that God is still sovereign and evil does not exist outside of His will.

Which essentially leads us to the second point – God sovereignly allows evil to exist.  God did not will evil in the sense that He caused it to exist but Adam chose to sin against God in the Garden, which ushered evil into the world.  This is the doctrine of free will, a component of the Christian faith that is vital to understanding the interplay between evil’s existence and God’s sovereign will.  Thus these two opening points are the realities to which we as Christians hold firm.  Evil does not negate the existence of or sovereignty of God and yet God sovereignly allows for evil to exist?  None of these points, however, address the issue of how or why to which we now turn to in the third point.

The third and most crucial thing is this: God “answered” evil when He sent His Son to the cross.  Here’s what we read in Acts 4:27-28, “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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

The heinous evil that took place on the cross was not outside God’s will but instead was God’s will to reconcile all things to Himself and eventually as we see in the Garden scene in Revelation 22 – the cross was the means by which God would restore all things.  Therefore, what we see in the cross is the allowance of evil by a sovereign God for the eternal purposes of humanities justification.

The great church father Augustine once wrote, “It’s better to have a run away horse than a stone.”  Using this analogy Augustine was arguing that it was better for God to create humanity with free moral choice even if that meant humanity would rebel against Him.  The cross was God’s predestined plan to redeem humanity and it was better for God to create and allow free will to exist so that in the end His plan of reconciliation would take place through Jesus’ death.[2]

Thus we see in the greatest evil perpetuated in human history the greatest good.  And as believers we can find great comfort in this reality.  Paul addresses this when writing the church at Rome: “And we know that in all things God works of the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes” (Rom. 8:28, NIV).  Certainly God is not the cause of evil but it is also not outside of God’s ability and desire to use all circumstances including evil ones for His better and truer purposes.

Here Tim Keller provides a helpful insight.  He writes, “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”[3]  Again, much more could be said about this issue and we know that not everyone (including other evangelical Christians) will agree with our position.  Nonetheless we as one unified body look forward to the day when we no longer know only in part but “then shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).  Come quickly Lord Jesus.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 51.

[2] Certainly there is an element of a “greater-good theodicy” in this line of argumentation although in our thinking we do not take this position to it’s fullest extent that God uses every evil event to bring about good.  Although it seems reasonable in our estimation that as it pertains to the cross God did allow for a greater-good to exist out of the evil atrocity of the cross.  But much more could be said arguing for and against this position.

[3] Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 33.

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