Last week I posed the question: how does God’s sovereignty relate to the natural evil (disasters, diseases) and to moral evil? I’ve suggested that Scripture presents two seemingly contradictory truths: God controls all things, yet humans also make seemingly free decisions. Surprisingly, the texts seem to acknowledge both, yet the passages don’t seem to worry, or try to solve, the apparent contradiction.
This is a little frustrating because it leaves us with something we can’t fully understand, and it leaves us with all kinds of questions. I’m really okay with not being able to understand something. What I don’t understand could fill volumes. I don’t understand the wave-particle duality either but isn’t the final word on the issue.
Philosophers and theologians have written pages on how to understand this. John Frame, for instance, includes a chapter evaluating various views in The Doctrine of God (chapter 9).
I’m not even going to attempt to evaluate the various positions here, except to say a few things.
It’s important to be humble – We are really dealing with things that are out of our league here. It’s not wrong to explore them, but we need to recognize the limits of our knowledge. Arminians are right to emphasize human freedom. Calvinists are right to emphasize God’s control. Frame suggests that these are two perspectives on the same thing: God’s control includes allowing creatures to act with creaturely integrity or freedom. Both Calvinists and Arminians have lots to learn from each other. Nobody has all the questions answered. We can say what we know for sure, but we had better not go much further.
We need to hold the two beliefs – God’s control and human responsibility – in tension. The real danger is when we let go of one or the other. That leads to all kinds of problems. J.I. Packer writes:
What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other…Teach yourself to think of reality in a way that provides for their peaceful coexistence, remembering that reality itself has proved actually to contain them both. (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God)
We need to be careful in interpreting individual events or offering glib comments – We can be sure that God is in control, but that does not mean that we know why individual events take place. We can guess, but that’s all we can do.
God is not the author of evil – If God controls all things, it’s tempting to think this makes him the author of evil. But Scripture writers, who say that God controls even those who bring about evil, never accuse God of evil. We’re warned against judging God, who is in an entirely different category than we are (Romans 9:19-21). There are various ways of explaining this. We may not understand it, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
I agree with what Trevin Wax twittered last week: “To people wrestling with the problem of evil: God didn’t come to explain evil; he came to utterly destroy it.” That’s where we’ll go tomorrow.