Evil is never outside the providential control of the Lord. The Lord is at work doing His good purposes in the context of evil. The story of Joseph is an example of this in the final dozen chapters of Genesis.
In Genesis, we read of Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, his unjust suffering, and his eventual rise to power because the Lord was with him, whereby many lives were saved.
When Joseph confronted his brothers, the providence of God was at work in his life, as Genesis 50:20 teaches, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.”
A descendant of Joseph named Jesus Christ suffered similarly. Jesus was betrayed by his brothers, suffering the worst injustice in history when He was hung and died in shame on a Roman cross.
At that moment, it would have been tempting to ponder if God was not sovereign and had lost, or if He was good, perfectly, just, and powerful enough to stop injustice. Three days later, Jesus rose from His grave, atoning for mankind’s sins, and was fully vindicated as sovereign, good, and powerful.
God used the freely chosen evil of Judas, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and Jews to accomplish His perfect purpose in the same way He used the Chaldeans — an evil nation — to punish the persistent sin of Judah and Jerusalem.
This does not mean that their evil is His responsibility. In a cosmic way, the God of all providence uses evil to judge evil. Even as His hand brings punishment to Israel and death to Jesus, He also brings redemption and resurrection into the context of judgment and death.
A day is coming when Christians will also rise to Jesus. On that day, our faith will be sight, and we will see God fully vindicated as we enter the best possible world after passing through this world, which prepares us for it.
Until that day, our answer to the question of how God’s sovereignty relates to sin is ultimately a prayerful, worshipful, humble, and continual meditation on Romans 8:28, which promises, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?
People often ask, “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” Christians must avoid presumption concerning the causes of evil and suffering because this question remains a profound mystery.
Attempting to explain why there is evil in a world made by a good God is called theodicy (justifying God’s ways). While much more could be said regarding this issue, three points come to bear on this challenging question that needs to be highlighted.
First, God has a morally adequate — but not yet fully revealed — reason for allowing evil and suffering. The Lord assures His people that His decrees and actions are righteous and holy. The scriptures are replete in declaring God’s moral perfection and His dealings with mankind just.
Nor is God, in His decisions, subject to the critique of finite and imperfect human beings. Even if God were to explain in detail His ultimate purposes to human beings, there is no real reason to think that mere creatures could fully understand His majestic ways.
God’s excellent discussion with Job concerning the problem of evil and suffering subsequently reveals God’s inscrutable wisdom and Job’s limited comprehension of the Creator’s purpose in creation and redemption (Job 38:1-11; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36).
Second, God’s sovereignty and glory will be displayed by His ultimate prevailing over evil. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
All of God’s great works (creation and redemption) are intended to display God’s sovereignty and glory. However, God’s final prevailing over evil and sin will all the more exhibit His splendor and dominion.
This prevailing has already begun with the life, death, and resurrection of the Divine Messiah: Jesus Christ. God’s plan to deal with evil is prepared for in creation but executed in redemption. Satan and his forces are already defeated foes with Christ’s first coming as Savior (Hebrews 2:14-15).
All evil and human sin will forever be vanquished at Christ’s second coming as Judge and King (Revelation 21). After these cataclysmic eschatological events, the Lord will bring forth the new creation, forever free from evil and its consequences.
Revelation 21:1-3 speaks of God’s creating a New Heaven and a New Earth along with the Holy City — the New Jerusalem. At that glorious time, all sin, suffering, and sorrow will be forever eliminated.
God will have eradicated the problem of evil. The Apostle John provides a prophetic glimpse of this glorious eternal age to come in Revelation (Revelation 21:4).
Third, God allows evil and suffering because of the greater good that results from it. According to Scripture, the greater good for humanity came out of the greatest acts of evil. Jesus Christ, none other than God in human flesh, came to reveal God’s love to humanity.
Though He is perfectly holy and blameless, He was rejected by both the religious and political authorities, falsely accused, convicted, and subsequently beaten and executed as a common criminal. Jesus suffered the agony of Roman capital punishment — crucifixion.
However, God had planned this incredible miscarriage of justice from all eternity (Acts 2:22-23). Out of this horrible incident of malice and agony came divine redemption for sinners. God brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil.
Lastly, Augustine’s words explain this the best, “For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.”
God’s Purposes for Evil and Suffering
While Christians should be cautious about claiming to identify God’s purposes behind specific incidents of injustice and suffering, the Bible does reveal insight into how God uses evil and suffering for good.
God may use evil and suffering to get an unbeliever’s attention and ultimately draw the person to Himself (Zechariah 13:7-9; Luke 13:1-5; John 9). Christian apologist Walter Martin used to say that some people will not look up to the Lord until they lay flat on their back.
Evil and suffering can shock people out of their lives of diversion and indifference to spiritual things and sometimes out of their false sense of control. In this way, problems may be used by God’s grace to bring a person to faith.
As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God may use the results of evil and suffering to build the moral and spiritual character of His people or to express fatherly discipline (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 10:35; 12:4-11). Courage is forged only through facing one’s fears, just as steel must be refined by fire.
For faith to grow, it often has to be tested by fire. God expresses more concern for His children than for their comfort. Therefore, God uses evil and suffering to facilitate the believer’s moral and spiritual maturity.
The Apostle Paul, who endured much evil and suffering, explains the causal relationship between suffering and character (Romans 5:3).
A loving earthly father disciplines his children. Though unpleasant at the time, discipline is crucial to a child’s growth as a responsible person. God similarly allows evil and suffering to bring about discipline in the lives of His children.
As the writer of Hebrews declares, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). However, the assuring guarantee for the Christian is that God does not allow evil and suffering to come into a Christian’s life without producing a greater good for that person.
The Apostle Paul set forth that divine promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” With that said, facing evil and suffering is never easy, even if a person knows that God is ultimately in control.
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Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.