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.”