If God Rules Over All Things, Does that Make God the Author of Evil?

By: Brad Rogers

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In a recent sermon [1] on making wise decisions from the book of Proverbs (specifically focused on Proverbs 16:1-9) I made the comment that, however philosophically unsatisfying it may be, God rules and reigns over everything that happens in this world through our free choices.  Some of the key verses that show this are Prov. 16:1,3-4, 9:

  • 1:  The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

  • 3:  Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

  • 4:  The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

  • 9:  The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

This leads many to the following question, “If God is rules over everything that happens in this world through our choices, does this make God the author of evil?”

The testimony of the Scriptures is that God is not the author of evil. I mentioned this in the sermon; and while I did not elaborate at the time, I did promise a blog on this subject. This post will serve as my meager attempt to address this perplexing issue in short form. 

 

The Undefiled, Unreserved Goodness of God in whom there is no evil

It is important for us to grasp God’s goodness clearly as the Bible reveals it at the outset of this discussion. In James 1:13, we find these words, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” This verse says that God does not tempt anyone to sin.  The reason given is that God himself cannot be tempted with evil. Since God cannot be tempted by evil, God cannot commit evil. In fact, James will go on to say that we are tempted by our own sinful desires.[2] 

God cannot be tempted by evil because God’s nature is thoroughly good as the Scriptures repeatedly testify. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity just and upright is he.”  Using light and darkness imagery for good and evil, the apostle John writes in 1John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  James 1:17 states that God is the giver of all good gifts and he gives good gifts because his very nature is thoroughly good.

 

God Rules over evil by means of secondary causes

So how does the Bible say that God rules over evil without being responsible for evil? This is a really difficult question to answer and there is much mystery here.  However, the Bible does give us guardrails that keep us on track even if we do not find precise answers that address every aspect of these questions.  One way we can answer this is to say that God permits evil.  We could also say that God rules over evil by means of secondary causes.  As we saw with James 1:17, God rules over good such that he is cause (first cause) of all good in such a way that he is ultimately responsible for it.  However, God rules over evil in such a way that he is not responsible for it.  God permits evil, but God gives evil its dimensions within his own purposes.  The secondary causes for evil can be evil in the spiritual realm of Satan and his demons or evil in the human realm where we, as humans commit evil –all of us being responsible for evil committed before God. In the book of Job, we are taken “behind the curtain” to see that Satan has to ask God’s permission to bring calamity upon Job and his family.  God is ruling, and yet, God is not authoring the evil in such a way that he is morally culpable for it.  James 1:14 says that we humans are often tempted by our own sinful desires such that evil in this world can stem from within us.  The apostle John makes it most clear that God is not the author of the wrong in this world in 1John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

 

The Cross and Evil

However unsatisfying the idea of God’s permitting evil or ruling over the world through secondary causes might be, these truths are attested throughout the Bible. We see this most vividly at the crucifixion of Jesus.[3]  When the apostle Peter was released from prison, the 4th chapter of Acts records him praising God saying, “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”  Herod and Pontius Pilate acted according to their own choices and are rightly held responsible by God for their decisions. However, there is something much greater happening.  At the cross, we see God’s determination to bring good from evil.  For through Jesus all the sins of those who love him are paid in full no matter how heinous the evil committed.  While we don’t know the reasons why God continues to permit evil, the cross of Jesus shows that God is not merely able to use it for our good, but that He does use evil for our greatest good. God is not the author of evil, he is the author of good, and the grace of Jesus provided at the cross is the sweetest of all of his good gifts.


[1] While I have no intention of listening to this sermon Aug. 4th sermon titled, “Wise Decisions,” you can listen to it here.

[2] James 1:14.  Here is the greater context: James 1:12   Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.16   Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Notice the language of God’s unswerving goodness in verse 17.

[3] Another great place to see this is found in Genesis 50 when Joseph seeks to calm the terror of his brothers after their father Jacob had died. They are concerned for their lives before him since they had left him for dead 25 years prior and he became 2nd only to the Pharaoh in Egypt. He declares this truth, “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.” 

Spotting the Subtle Symptoms of Pride

By: Brad Rogers

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A few weeks ago, Dr. Matt Newkirk, President of Christ Bible Seminary in Nagoya, Japan, preached on the subjects of pride and humility from the book of Proverbs.  It reminded me of an article I read a few years back written by Fabienne Harford on subtle symptoms of pride.  While the symptoms of pride she writes about are, in fact, quite subtle, her article is sufficiently frank enough to filet my heart every time I revisit it. If this article unmasks pride you have not seen in yourself before, may I suggest that you read Philippians 2:1-11 after reading her article and remember that Jesus did indeed humble himself to take on human flesh in order that he might die for all of our sins - including our sins of pride. His response to our sinful pride is lavish grace, and it is his lavish grace that can soften the hardest of hearts allowing us to live with humbleness and grace towards others. You can find Fabienne’s article on subtle symptoms of pride here. I am pasting the words of Phil 2:1-11 below in case you need them like I do after having my pride brought to light.

 

Phil. 2:1-11 (ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Is God Really Enough In The Midst Of Our Suffering?

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Suffering comes in all forms and varying degrees and the Bible has much to say about suffering and how to respond to it.  When suffering surpasses our natural abilities to cope, we begin to ask profound theological questions about God, his character, his power and his control over and design of this world.

  • If God is good and powerful then why am I suffering?

  • What did I do to deserve this? 

  • How can God do this to me?

  • How can a good God allow this to happen to me?

  • If God is so good, why am I handicapped?

  • After all I’ve done doesn’t God owe me a pain free life?

What if in the midst of your suffering someone tells you, “The Lord is all you have, and he really is enough”?  I would have a hard time hearing that from most people.  While I intellectually believe that to be true, to be able to experience that in the midst of profound suffering is something altogether different.  Those words can seem empty and disconnected from my reality.

Many of the above questions were asked by Vaneetha Rendall Riser. Vaneetha spoke at a Redeemer women’s retreat a couple of years ago and has some family and friend connections to our church.  Vaneetha also wrote this,

Although I had a loving community, nothing in my life could really hold me up. No distractions. No hobbies. No relief. The Lord was all I had. And I found he really was enough.

I’m grateful for my suffering, because through it God has transformed me and made me love him even more.

They are not cotton candy Bible pills to be swallowed for immediate relief.  These are deep truths that became an experiential reality forged in the furnace of immense suffering.

I would encourage those of you who are in the midst of suffering to read her article below and know you are not alone in your suffering. Jesus is with you as he has been with his people since creation.  For those of you who are not suffering now, I would urge you to read this article to help lay a foundation and defense for the day when suffering comes calling on your life.

I am thankful for Vaneetha’s faithful witness to God’s loving faithfulness in the midst of suffering.

In My Desperation, Jesus Is More Than Enough by Vaneetha Rendall Risner.

Praying for Your Vacation

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I am not sure we all think that well about how to vacation well; I know I don’t. Many of us have had the experience of our vacations not turning out to be what he had hoped. Yet, we may not know how to gain what we really want and need from a vacation, and we may have never thought to pray for it either. This short article, written by scholars Andreas and Marny Köstenberger, about how to pray for your vacation gives some thoughts on what God might want us to pursue on our vacations. I am not sure what I think of every single aspect of this article, but it’s certainly worth chewing on before you get away – and helpful to reflect on after the fact.

Click here for the article

The Gospel and Humor

By: Brad Rogers

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When I was younger, my older sister was fond of letting me know that I did not have much of a personality.  When I grew older and had some opportunities to speak publicly, she told me on more than one occasion, “Brad, you are not funny.”  She didn’t leave it to me to infer how she meant for me to apply these words either as she followed with “so don’t try to be.” 

Humor is not something that we often reflect on with a whole lot of depth as too much reflection would likely ruin it – especially if we are not funny.  Pastor and author Timothy Keller has reflected on how gospel truths can affect one’s sense of humor in article you will find linked below.  I think this article is worth the read not merely for his thoughts on humor, but even more so for his thinking on how we change in all areas of life as gospel truths sink deeper into our hearts. The reading is not quite as light as the title might lead you to believe, but it’s not a difficult read either.

Click here for the article

Keys to Friendship

By: Brad Rogers

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A past professor of mine once said that friendship is what makes life worth living. He may have overstated his case, but friendship is certainly a great blessing in this life. However, many never find and make good friends in this life.  There are lots of barriers to maintaining good friendships, but the difficulty of keeping good friends in this life should not prevent us from the pursuing such friendships.   It is well known that scholar, author and atheist turned Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, had good friends, and he reflected on the topic in some of his writing.  In the article below, Jared Kennedy shares 5 key truths on friendship he has gleaned from reading Lewis.  I think it’s worth 5-10 minutes of your time as it is a useful piece for thinking through your friendships even if you don’t agree in some places. 

 

Click here to read the article

Summer Plans – Are you also planning ways to renew your soul?

By: Dan Seale

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Summer is often a time to rest, relax, and change up the schedule.  Unfortunately, sometimes those changes can work against spiritual growth unless we are intentional.

 What is your strategy to make this summer a time of spiritual growth and renewal?

Here is my plan for summer renewal.

Delight in God’s Word.  Enjoy God’s creation.  Read for fun.  Laugh with family and friends.

Delight in God’s Word

I thought Isaac Shaw asked a great question on Sunday – “What is your strategy to internalize the Word of God?”  If we do not have a plan, we can spend time trying to figure out what to do or just do nothing.  It can be helpful to set up a routine – a regular time and place to be in God’s Word.  However, there is no magical hour, nor one routine that is mandated by the Bible.  For some of you, it may mean listening to the Bible versus reading the Bible.  Feel free to experiment and see what actually helps you meet with God and internalize His Word.

My plan is to continue in our Community Bible Reading Journal in the mornings and to read from Tim Keller’s Devotional on Psalms.  Both of these help me not just read the Bible but commune with God.

Enjoy God’s Creation

I’ve learned that being outside is very renewing for me and some recent brain research supports my personal experience. The beauty of creation, the time to think, and the physical exercise are all part of that experience.  I plan to take some hikes and day trips to the beach and a long weekend at a lake with family.

Read for Fun

There are countless “great books” to read.  But there is also great value in reading for fun.  J.I. Packer, a great thinker and theologian, loved to read mystery novels because they relaxed him.  Here is a short excerpt from an article he wrote about this topic.

Do I urge everyone to read detective and cowboy and spy stories? No. If they do not relax your mind when overheated, you have no reason to touch them. Light reading is not for killing time (that’s ungodly), but for refitting the mind to tackle life’s heavy tasks (that’s the Protestant work ethic, and it’s true).

 [J. I. Packer, “From the Senior Editors: ’Tecs, Thrillers, and Westerns,” Christianity Today(Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1985), 12.]

This summer I want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird and one or two other “fun” novels.  Feel free to send me your suggestions.

If you already have some relaxing books and you want to tackle a good read on growing in holiness, pick up Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification.  It will be worth your investment of time.

Laugh with Family and Friends

I want to be intentional about making time to be with family and friends and laugh.  It does my soul good to be with friends and family and reflect and enjoy life. 

Lastly, I’ve been really enjoying various podcasts as I drive, do yard work, or odd jobs around the house.  Here are a few of the one’s I’ve been listening to lately.  I’m always looking for new suggestions.

Podcasts:

  • Knowing Faith by the Village church featuring Jen Wilkins

  • Help me teach the Bible – The Gospel Coalition – featuring Nancy Guthrie and various guests

  • Typology with Ian Cron – It explores the mystery of the human personality through the Enneagram typing system. 

  • Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine – a tour of all the dumb, bad, gross, weird and wrong ways we’ve tried to fix people

  • Parenting Today – Reformed Youth Ministries

  • The Briefing with Al Mohler – cultural commentary from a Biblical perspective

  • Pastors and Preachers – helping you live faithfully and lead fruitfully

  • The Argument – Explaining arguments from across the political spectrum

 

Family Gatherings, Graduation Parties, and Graduation Plans

By: Sean Scott

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This past Sunday we acknowledged quite a few graduating seniors at Redeemer. That means a lot of graduation plans, finding tickets for family, planning parties, and not to mention, remembering to not trip on stage as they receive their diploma. It is also a big time of transition for parents. I can only imagine what it must be like for our seniors’ parents seeing their child standing tall on graduation day while simultaneously having the images of their baby in their arms for the first time after they were born.

 

I am a brand new parent, and maybe that’s why I have paid such close attention to our families as they have approached and are navigating through this season of change. It’s hard not to dream and imagine what our daughter will be like, what she would have accomplished by the time she graduated high school. I have prayed for our families with graduates, that they would hold on to the promises of God that he has them in their hands, that his plans for their lives are far better than anything they could have come up with themselves.

 

As I was doing some reading on the subject, I stumbled across an article from Melissa Kruger on The Gospel Coalition. I had to stop reading after the first paragraph my first time around, unable to make out the computer screen through tears. But I came back to the article because I realized Kruger wasn’t simply attempting to make the reader cry. She has processed her feelings and opened herself up in vulnerability to write about this stage of life. The article is titled “Graduation: Grief and Gratitude,” and she captures her experience in a succinct yet helpful way.

 

Even if you are not a parent, your children are too young to say the word diploma, or have grandkids, give this article a read. There is good wisdom about not only philosophy of parenting, but how to process bittersweet transitions in life. I feel encouraged having read this article, that the Lord uses such transitional periods to bring himself glory because often, we find ourselves with no options but to run to him for comfort in the face of our grief, as well as overflow with joy as we express our gratitude for the ways he has shaped and molded these precious children.

 

Here is just a sample of Kruger’s words:

 

“I haven’t just lost my cuddly baby with chunky thighs and infectious laughter. I’ve gained a daughter taller than myself with a heart for Jesus that overflows to every person she meets. While we used to look at her in wonderment of what she’d become, we now look at her in amazement of who she is—which happens to be a much kinder person in every way than either of her parents. We fully recognize that what her genetic code didn’t offer her, the Spirit produced in beautiful ways.”

Read the rest of the article here

 

 

Christian Universalism

By: Brad Rogers

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Christian Universalism has been on the rise in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles for the last Century and a half.  There are many today who now hold that this is what the Bible teaches.  Universalism is a doctrine that asserts that all men will eventually be reconciled to God.[1] It certainly has its appeal.  The idea that God would punish people for their sins in an eternal Hell is, at minimum, difficult for any person with any semblance of empathy; and, at worst, utterly repulsive and unthinkable for a God that is gracious, kind and loving. Many believe that the doctrines like sin, judgment, and Hell are keeping many out of the church today. In the linked article, you will find an interview with Michael McClymond who published a 1,300-page book on the history and interpretation of Christian Universalism complete with over 2,500 sources.   In this interview, Dr. McClymond discusses the history of those churches who embrace universalism as well as the main biblical arguments against Christian Universalism.  When asked about his motivation for investing so much of his scholarly life to this topic, he asks what could matter more than the scope of final salvation.  He then adds

“…if there is truth in the New Testament contrast between ‘momentary, light affliction’ and the ‘eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison’ (2 Cor. 4:17), then should not all Christian believers be deeply concerned with getting it right regarding these final outcomes”? 

I will warn you that this interview is somewhat thick and heavy reading but given the landscape of our culture today, I think it is well worth your investment (at least the interview is far, far less than 1,300 pages). As a Christ follower, I want to be one who speaks of the hope of Christ, and the last thing I want to offer is false hope.  The themes of this interview are important for anyone who wants to explore the topic of the afterlife.  As an interesting aside, he also discusses the term “metaphysical rebel” that he discovered reading French atheist Albert Camus and applies it in a way that I (Brad) find most fascinating. I commend this interview to you for your thoughtful consideration.

 Read the article here.


[1] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, page 1232.

Raising Teenage Girls

By: Brad Rogers

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I distinctly remember trying to read our ultrasound technician’s face to know the moment she could tell the gender of our baby.  Rachel and I knew we would be happy with a boy or a girl; and in all of our conversations, Rachel never indicated a preference one way or the other – at least not that I can remember. However, for me, I knew deep down I had a slight leaning towards a boy because I envisioned playing catch in the back yard with him and coaching his sports teams.  I have no idea if I have ever admitted this before now.  Then, I saw just the slightest change of expression on the face of our technician and quickly confirmed, once again, that we indeed wanted to know our baby’s gender.  She then let us know that “It’s a girl.”  I was excited, hoping that this girl would wrap me around her finger. But, all of our previous conversations had not prepared me for Rachel’s clear, yet not drastic disappointment.  Seeing I wanted an explanation from her she said, “She’s going to be a teenager.”  I was dumbfounded.  Our daughter was 19 weeks away from bursting forth into our world and I was concerned about changing diapers. Rachel was concerned about walking with her daughter through the troubled times of teenage life.  We had just gotten matching cell phones from Cingular wireless so there is no way we could anticipate just how complicated the teenage years might be for our daughter. Fifteen years have passed, and I now have the experience of several years of ministry working with teens.  These are trying times, but God and His truth about how we are to live still applies.  In this linked article, seasoned mom and biblically astute, Jen Wilkin offers much wisdom about entering into the lives of our teenage girls that we might help them navigate the drama that so often circles them.  She writes to help us lead our daughters into speaking the truth, owning sin, and asking for forgiveness. Whether you have teenage daughters, minister to them, love those who do, or are just looking to grow in these character traits and skills we should all seek to obtain and practice, this article is for you.

 

Read the article here.