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Volume 18, Issue 2: Doctrine 101

Does God Permit Evil?

Patch Blakey

This is a difficult question for Christians, not because the Bible doesn't provide answers, but because those answers often cut across the grain of our surface-level genteel sensibilities. Most Christians believe that God is sovereign, that He is in control of seasons, times, and events throughout history here on earth as well as throughout His ordered creation. But is God evil? No way! God is good. We all strongly affirm that He's the embodiment of love and all that's holy, right, and true.

But here's the rub. If God only permits evil, then what does that say about God? The word permit implies passivity, tacit approval, or impotence. Do Christians really believe in a God who is only passive, particularly in the face of evil? Passivity is non-confrontational. Is God just a divine spectator in the universe, cheering for His side to win, but sweating the outcome of the game?
Consider this passage from the Bible: "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6) God is the one who has brought about the evil—He didn't just permit it. He was the instigator. Further along, Amos quoted God as saying, "And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good" (Amos 9:4). From this passage, it seems pretty clear that God is in control of the events, and He is the one in unquestionable command.
But someone may counter with this passage from Job: "And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord" (Job 1:12). Note this: it was God who granted Satan limited authority, and Satan did not do anything on his own authority.
Does the Holy God of the Bible give tacit approval to evil? Does He wink His eye and give a slight nod of the head, but otherwise sits quietly on His throne without verbal assent so that He may later claim plausible denial? Is God like the godfather who pleads the fifth amendment to protect himself from future incrimination?
Consider what the Scriptures say in response: "And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee" (1Kgs. 22:22-23; cf. 2 Chron. 18:21-22). Again, God is the one who acts in creation. He directs, and His creation obeys.
Is the Almighty God of Creation actually impotent? Is He limited in His power such that He'd like to help, if only He could do something—anything—but He just doesn't have the right stuff?
After His resurrection, "Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, `All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth'" (Matt. 28:18). And Jeremiah affirmed in the Old Testament, "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" (Jer. 32:27) Jesus affirms that all power resides with God, and Jeremiah states that nothing is impossible for God. God is certainly not impotent.
And if God is almighty (as Christians weekly affirm during Sunday worship), then what does this say about His loving nature if He actually permits evil to occur in His creation? How loving is an almighty God who would passively allow His holy people to be treated wickedly? But we know, "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8, emphasis mine). Because God is love, He acts in accordance with His nature. He cannot do otherwise.
Maybe God's problem is that He's really not omniscient, that He just doesn't know when or where evil will happen. Perhaps, if He had had a premonition or inkling, He could have used His omnipotence to save people from disasters. This would make Him like the god of the "open theists" who say that God is omniscient up to the moment, but doesn't know what's going to happen next. News is always late, and prophecy becomes at best a hopeful divine guess, based on all of the most current data.
Yet Scripture speaks clearly of God "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Is. 46:10).
God could not declare the end from the beginning if He didn't know all things that were to transpire in between.
Perhaps God is omnipotent and omniscient, but not omnipresent—He's not able to be present everywhere in His creation at the same time. Maybe He knows when and where evil will occur and would prevent it if only He could be there. But consider Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," and also Isaiah 57:15, "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." It seems all too clear that God is very much present with all of His creation at all times. He dwells in eternity and was able to create all of the heavens and earth from that vantage point.
Hence, we are left to conclude that God does not just permit evil, He directs it, yet in such a way that He remains holy, just and righteous. This is indeed a hard truth, but any other explanation leaves us with less than an Almighty God.

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