Is God Responsible for Human Wickedness?
The crisis of our understanding of God’s sovereignty and God’s providence focuses on questions about causality -relationship between cause and effect. The Westminster Confession of Faith Ch.3 says, God from all eternity according to his own will freely and immutably ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Eph 1:11; Rom 11:33; Heb 6:17; Rom 9:15). So, the natural inference is that God must ordain evil. If God ordains evil that would indicate that God is evil. If God has power to free the world from evil and doesn’t do it then God is not good. If He is good and if He does not free the world from evil then He is not omnipotent (all powerful). How can we conceive a god who was both powerful and all righteous can allow evil in the world? Who is responsible for human wickedness? Where did evil come from?
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God. (Ref: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness -1 John 3:4. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin -James 4:17. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God -Romans 3:23). The definition identifies sin in two ways; one is positive, and one is negative.
Evil is defined in terms of both privation and negation – the sins of omission and the sins of commission.
- Privation: Some sort of lack or depravity
Sin is any want of conformity – (want is not used as a synonym for desires). Sin is defined as a lack of conformity to the standard that God has established for Righteousness. Righteousness involves conforming to the law of God, doing what God commands. But sin is not conforming to the law of God. Sin has failed to do what God commands. (Missing the mark).
- Negation: What something is not
We can understand and define evil against the backdrop of the positive standard which is good. In biblical terms an evil is defined by words like this: ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice. So the term is used as the opposite of the positive thing that is affirmed. So, ungodliness only can be understood against the previous concept of godliness. Unrighteousness can only be recognized as unrighteousness, against the background of righteousness.
When God created the world and everything, he said it is good. Even Satan was created as an angel before the fall. There is a difference between the creator and the creature: the creator God is eternally, immutably good. But the creature is made mutably, good – that is, he was made with the possibility of changing in his performance in conformity to the law of God. God did not create robots. He created moral beings with the capacity to choose.
Now, does God do evil? Does God make human beings commit evil acts?
The absolute scriptural answer is: BY NO MEANS! There is no shadow of turning in God (James 1:17). But, we say that God ordains whatever that comes to pass, and some of the things that come to pass are in fact evil. So, the next question that is going to come is, Does God ordain evil? Absolutely YES. if God did not ordain evil, there would not be evil. Because, God is certainly sovereign over evil. There’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that evil is part of His eternal decree. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan.
We strip and stumble over the word ‘ordain’. Divine ordination does not mean God does evil or He imposes it upon creatures and forces innocent people to do sinful deeds. What He does is He creates people with the capacity to choose, capacity to do evil (choose to disobey God’s righteous law), but He does not force people to perform that capacity. But He knows that people are going to perform that capacity. And, at that point, God has a choice; He can destroy the creation – say, “I am not going to allow this sin to take place”.
Remember, when that serpent came to Eve, God could have snuffed out the serpent, or snuffed out Eve, then there wouldn’t be sin. But, God in His sovereignty, He decided to let it happen. He didn’t approve of it, He didn’t applaud it, but He chose not to stop it. WHY? Only God knows the answer! But one thing we know. When God allows anything to come to pass, even evil, His eternal purpose is absolutely good. That does not mean that the evil I do contributes to God’s eternal purpose.
God has His purpose for the entrance of evil into this world. Unless God had ordained it, it wouldn’t be here. Look at Good Friday. Ultimately, who delivered Jesus up to gentiles to be killed? “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Ultimately, who was pleased that He be killed? “The LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief;” (Isaiah 53:10). The blackest act in all of human history is celebrated now by what we called Good Friday. Because, though the motives and the intentions of all the actors that were engaged in the trial and the execution of our Lord Jesus Christ for which they were responsible, God in His sovereign power bring to pass His redemptive purpose. It is through fore-ordination of God, Jesus was crucified. It was not an accident. It was planned before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).
Judas couldn’t possibly have delivered Christ to Pilate if not the providential decree of God. This is a fore-determined counsel of God. And yet, God did not put evil into the heart of Judas. God did not force Judas to do his treacherous act. Judas cannot stand up in the last days and say, “Look what I did, if it hadn’t been for me you wouldn’t be able to celebrate Good Friday, or Easter, because there be no cross, there be no atonement, there be no salvation; because I am the one who made it all these possible.” From Judas perspective, what he did, his intent, his plan is utterly evil. But when God ordains all things that come to pass He not only ordains the ENDS but also the MEANS. He works through all things to bring about all His righteous purposes. The comforting verse in all scripture we find in Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Only a sovereign God can make promises like that. Unless God has sovereign power over evil He will not be able to keep that promise. That promise, as Christians, keeps us going, encourages us when bad things happen to us.
Sometimes, Christians think when they encounter a tragedy, a child is killed in a car accident, and losing spouse to a fatal illness, or losing the job, the appropriate response is to smile and say hallelujah… Isn’t God great because it is a good thing that happened to me… No, The Bible recognizes the rightful place of grief, mourning and weeping. God is not saying that all things that happened to us are good things. Evil exists, and bad things happen to people. Bad things are bad. God does not call bad things good. The Bible is clear that it is sin to call evil good (Isaiah 5:20). But the victorious message that God is saying here is even in these bad things He is sovereignly working things for our Good. Even though I do not enjoy it, He is using those bad things to ultimately work for the good of those who love Him. I may not completely understand it, and I may not see it in this life, but I choose to trust Him, and willing to put my life on the line for His Word!
Dr. R.C. Sproul: The Providence of God