If God is sovereign over all the acts and destinies of men, does that mean he causes sin and wickedness to occur? There are some things in the Bible that are not absolutely clear. When I come across something that confuses me or which I don’t fully understand I don’t allow it to shake my faith. I return to what I do know is true. That’s why it’s so important to understand the characteristics and attributes of God. What do we know?
- We know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.
This means that by God’s very nature he knows the end from the beginning. He knows what a person’s life will be like because he’s already there. He’s in the eternal present. Although God knows what a person’s life will be like, and he has a specific plan for them, it doesn’t mean that God will force his plan on them. He will do everything he can to influence that person, but each individual must make a personal choice to do God’s will. It also means that nothing will ever get out of his control. There’s no such thing as an accident with God. The word “oops” isn’t in his vocabulary. Although God is all-powerful, it doesn’t mean that he will compel a person to do one thing or another. It means that whatever happens, God has the power to turn it around to work out his purposes.
- We know that God is kind, merciful, loving, and desires good for his creation.
This means that God cannot do any evil. He does not cause sin nor condone sin. Sin does not come forth from him, nor is he responsible for it.
|“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” James 1:13
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5
|“For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:16|
- We know that God is just and righteous.
We know that God doesn’t cheat, twist the rules, abuse people or take advantage of them. Whatever he does – whether we fully understand it or not – is right and just. He has done the right thing and he will do the right thing.
You see, the important thing is to know God. When you know God you can trust him. When you know God you know his gentle, loving, and wise nature and you can trust him with the difficult questions of life.
Now to answer the question, “How does the sovereignty of God harmonize with the free will of men and their sinful acts” let’s consider the following:
God sometimes permits sin to take its course.
This is called Permissive Providence. God does not intervene in every circumstance at every moment. Sometimes God will allow sin to be fulfilled because it will accomplish his purposes.
|“Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!” Hosea 4:17
“In the past, he let all nations go their own way.” Acts 14:16
“But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.” 2 Chronicles 32:31
|“So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” Psalm 81:12
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” Romans 1:24
Take for example the alcoholic that is always running from God. God may not always intervene for the person. He may allow him to squander all his money and wreck his body so that he will ultimately turn to God. God is not at fault for not intervening, he is simply allowing sin to takes its course in order to ultimately work things out for good. What about the alcoholic’s family who has to suffer with him? God extends grace to them. He will show himself strong on their behalf and give them the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength to continue on if they only look to him.
God will sometimes allow sin to take its course in order to bring judgment on a person. This may be the case with a homosexual who denies God and blatantly resists him. God will work in that person’s life in order to bring him to himself, but he may ultimately release him to his sinful desires and allow his sin to bring judgment on him – loneliness, bitterness, anger, sexually transmitted diseases, and ultimately death. The person has chosen his course and has rejected God. God has simply given him the desires of his heart and allowed him to experience the results.
So God will sometimes permit sin to take its course, but will use its circumstances to fulfill his purposes.
- God allows evil, but directs the way it goes.
This is called Directive Providence. As mentioned above, God may allow evil, but he will direct its course to accomplish his ultimate purposes. God will allow men’s evil intentions to be exercised, but will take the bad that man has done and direct it to fulfill his purposes. Consider the following Scriptures:
|“At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Matthew 26:55-56
“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.” John 19:23-24
The people who crucified Jesus were evil people and each one will have to stand before God for his or her sin. Nevertheless, God allowed these evil people to fulfill the evil of their hearts while at the same time using them to accomplish his purposes – crucifying Jesus so his death would pay for our sins. In the same way people may mistreat us in many ways. God may stop some from mistreating us, but on the other hand, he may not stop them. Whatever he chooses to do it’s important for us to stay obedient and submissive to him because he will take the good and the bad and direct it to fulfill his purposes in our lives.
- God determines the limits of evil.
This is called Restrictive Providence. As in the case of Job, God will only allow evil to go as far as he wants it to go.
|“The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” Job 1:12; 2:6|
Satan would desire to totally annihilate Job – and us – but God restricts evil. The problem is that we seldom agree with God on how much we can take! God knows our limits and potential. We may think that we can’t take any more, but God says, “My grace is available for you. Keep close to me and I’ll walk you through it.” Consider this promise:
|“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13|
The wonderful promise of this verse is that no matter how difficult things may seem, God is in control of the circumstances. If Satan is attacking us, he is limited to the leash which God has placed on him. And God knows how much we can take, and will provide us with the grace to overcome. Praise the Lord!
All the evil acts of the creature are under the complete control of God. They can occur only by his permission, and only insofar as he permits them. Though they are evil in themselves, he overrules them for the good. The fact that God has turned evil into good ought to induce his children to trust him to do the same with the evil of the present generation.
In summary, let’s review how the free will of man relates to the sovereignty of God:
- Sometimes God allows man to do as he pleases.
- Sometimes God keeps man from doing what he would do.
- God always overrules what man does in order to accomplish his own purposes.
- Just because God knows what will happen and how people will respond and what they will do doesn’t mean he causes it to happen.
- Free actions do not take place because they are foreseen, they are foreseen because they will take place.
- Just because something morally evil is predicted, this prediction doesn’t remove the human responsibility from the person.
- Man’s will is free to choose or reject God, but God can over-ride man’s decisions and cause them to work out for God’s good.