God’s Sovereignty Over Evil
by Mark Roser , author of Blindsided: A Journey from Tragic Loss to Triumphant Love
In Copenhagen’s Town Hall stands the world’s most complicated clock. It took forty years to build at a cost of more than a million dollars. That clock has ten faces, fifteen thousand parts, and is accurate to two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. Some parts of this clock will not move until twenty-five centuries have passed. What is most intriguing is that a more precise timepiece, the universe itself, must regulate this one in Copenhagen. That mighty astronomical clock with its billions of moving parts, from atoms to stars, rolls on century after century with movements so reliable that all time on earth can be measured against it.
In the Introduction I said, “We can never understand the providence of God over our world, unless we regard it as a complicated machine having ten thousand parts, directed in all its operations.” I must confess I underestimated the full number of its parts. Since the universe has billions of moving parts, imagine how many parts operate in God’s sovereignty over evil? There are more moving parts than we could ever examine or even imagine. Nevertheless, having considered God’s sovereignty at the macro level of nations and at the micro level of individuals, let’s look at a couple of the major parts of God’s sovereignty over evil. This is truly an immense and momentous subject.
In this chapter we look at three answers to the question of God and evil. Then after we see how the Bible answers this question, we explain five keys for believers when they are confronted with evil’s power. Throughout this chapter we focus on this big question:
Is God sovereign over everything in creation, including evil? Or is evil simply that part of creation that by its very nature is ‘out of control’? When confronted by evil, how can I be sure that God is still in control? Can He really restrain evil men and demons and the forces of nature? What can I learn from Scripture that may help me to trust God? There are countless views on why evil exists and how it relates to God. Some non-Christian religions maintain that evil is merely an illusion or a matter
We call something evil, they say, because of its effect on us. Most thinking people, however, attempt to answer the question of God and evil in one of three basic ways.
The Non-religious Answer - Denial of God’s Existence
The secular world has ruled out God’s act of creation and His providence. For the non-religious, all events are in the hands of nature and operate by laws. They claim that things happen according to evolutionary processes. They must therefore also accept that some things happen for no apparent reason. The very origin of the universe, according to their view, is based on some chance happening. Regardless of the chances…there was a big bang – and it just happened!
The direction a forest fire takes is simply nature at work or blind fate. Bad luck is the best answer modern man can give to the age-old question of “Why?” Of course, if one dismisses the whole idea of God, then really there is not much of an alternative.
I was first confronted with the question of God and evil as a new believer while visiting Hebrew Union College. I went to research the holocaust in their vast library of books. How the conversation began I do not remember, but I will never forget the librarian’s emotional question that “If there is a God how could He allow six million Jews to perish in Hitler’s concentration camps?” My only answer was to point out the good that had come out of their terrible suffering - Zionism and the restoration of the nation of Israel.
The reality of evil raises the greatest obstacle to faith
A sovereign God and the existence of evil require an intelligent answer. However, it is more than just an academic question. Evil is a serious, emotional issue. It causes personal pain, hurt, loss, death and sorrow! A terrorist kills civilians, a serial killer murders at random, a rapist, a child molester, a mother who destroys her baby - an almost endless list testifies to the existence of evil.
Daily we read in newspapers the grief and heartache of entire nations of individuals who suffer on a massive scale. War, famine, racial injustice and exploitation plague the human race with no one immune or beyond their reach! At times evil seems energized and invincible.
At times evil appears simply as an absence of good. It comes in so many forms and degrees of intensity. Some are long-term and persist for years like an unhappy, troublesome marriage or a career that never develops. Some are chronic, persistent and seemingly designed to wear down our spirits over time. Some forms are short-lived, insignificant and hardly qualify like a flat tire while others are sudden, traumatic and irreversible like a fatal car accident.
Regardless of how you define evil the question remains: “Where is God when evil strikes?” Does He actually control these things? What about a child deformed at birth, a terminal illness and a whole host of other circumstances. Do bad things just happen to people because they live in a sin-cursed world?
The existence of sin provides only a partial answer
Fallen human nature and personal sin provide a partial answer as to why mankind suffers at the hands of evil. When Adam ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he open up the proverbial Pandora’s Box. But the prevelance of sin merely highlights the question: Does God still remain in control of all this evil and determine its consequences? To make sin the whole answer skirts the issue, although this is the view of many religious people.
One Christian writes, “People get sick and die because our world is flawed by sin. In this flawed universe, thorns are distributed indiscriminately as one would deal out a hand of cards, to the just and the unjust alike.” The Bible does teach that the world is flawed by sin, but are thorns distributed indiscriminately? If so by whom? Is it mere chance that decides such matters? Is life some kind of heavenly lottery?
A Rabbi wrote, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The book was very popular a few years ago and was partially based on the Book of Job.
The Rabbi concludes that the writer of the book of Job was “forced to choose between a good God who is not totally powerful, or an all powerful God who is not totally good…he chooses to believe in God’s goodness.” His view is that “God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He cannot bring this about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming its innocent victims.”
What Do You Believe?
What do you believe? It is important to know what you really believe. Do you believe that God can always care for us (that He is sovereign in power), and that He always cares for us (that His nature is good)? Our look at God’s Sovereignty over evil aims to strengthen our trust in God, especially when evil knocks at the door of our lives.
The Religious Answer - Denial of God’s Sovereignty
Many believe God created everything but it all operates by His law. God sits as a spectator watching us. Creation is like God winding up a huge watch He made and then letting it tick away while He observes from the outside. Their answer to the question of “Why?”is the same as the non-religious, although they firmly believe in God’s existence.
Some Christians share this mindset with a little twist. They accept that God is almighty, and that He is spiritually involved in their life. But they maintain that God chooses not to exercise His sovereignty in the daily affairs of their lives. They claim that God has voluntarily limited Himself to the actions of men in order to give man his freedom to choose. God basically has a ‘hands off’ attitude and approach to His creation. For example, one writer comments on her accident in which a car went through a red light and struck her car. She supposed that for God to have protected her, He would have had to make the other driver’s car fly over her car to avoid impact. What is implied in such a statement is the idea that God is limited in His options. He is suddenly confronted with a crisis in the life of one of His children and has no recourse but to work a miracle or let the crisis occur.
God did let the crisis occur in her situation but not because He could not prevent it. He could have changed the timing of either driver’s arrival at the intersection, or diverted one of them along another route had He chosen to do so. He could have alerted one of the drivers at the last minute or done countless other things to prevent it from happening. You can be sure there have been many times in our own lives (perhaps hundreds) when we were spared from a tragedy by God’s unseen hand.
God is ever active in our world whether we see it or not
Just last week while driving from South Africa, I almost did not make it back to Harare. I was behind a bus some 20 miles outside of the town of Masvingo, traveling within the speed limit of around 70 miles per hour. I felt confident that the bus driver in front of me had seen that I was behind him. I had trailed him for around 4 miles. In front of him was a slower moving truck that we both were patiently waiting to overtake.
After a few more miles, when the bus driver made no attempt to overtake the truck, I decided to do so. After checking to see that there was no one coming in the opposite direction, I hooted twice and went into the overtaking lane (which in Zimbabwe is the oncoming traffic lane). As my vehicle drew up along side the bus, about a third of the way past him, I saw my worst nightmare. The bus driver now decided that he would pass the truck too and started to pull out. I could not believe this was happening! My two young sons were both seated in the front of my vehicle without their seat-belts on ( I am sorry to confess) as this huge bus moved into our lane which was hardly wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two! I began to hoot madly but the bus just continued moving into my lane. It all happened in a couple of seconds. Forced partially off the road and onto the grass verge, I thought my vehicle would roll out of control down the embankment.
Miraculously, I did not brake but accelerated instead so that my vehicle continued to gain speed and I was able to squeeze in front of the bus only a split second before it would have pushed me right off the road and over the embankment.
When I stopped at the next gas station the bus pulled in behind me. The bus driver immediately came over and apologized profusely. He said he had not seen me and was unaware that I was even there until I had overtaken him. When I asked if he had heard the blasting of my horn, he said that the music over the PA system in the bus had been turned up so loudly that he had thought the hooting was part of the song!
I have thought through this sequence of events several times since then and I am convinced that with any variation in speed and timing, I would surely have been knocked off that road. If the bus driver had moved out more quickly into our lane than he did or done so a moment sooner or if I had slowed down instead of speeding up, we would have been forced off the road at a high speed. It would have resulted in a tragic, possibly fatal accident, as our van would have flipped down the deep embankment.
NOTE: This article was originally published in "God's Sovereignty" by Mark Roser