When you’re in the middle of intense suffering, it’s easy to lose your bearings.
Questions arise reflexively: Is God really in control? How can a good God allow so much pain? Is God good?
The pain that we feel can make it hard to even think straight. We need anchors that keep us tethered to the truth so we do not drift when we encounter suffering.
God Controls All Things, Including Evil
When you are experiencing pain, one might be tempted to let God off the hook by saying he is not in control. The problem is that God doesn’t need or want to be let off that hook. Scripture is clear regarding God’s sovereignty over all things:
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
And Scripture is clear about God’s sovereignty over evil. “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). And Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
The Christian faith is not a dualistic yin and yang in which God and Satan are fighting it out evenly matched, uncertain who will win. No, Satan is a creature. He does not have power in and of himself, and he and all his works exist under God’s power and purposes. Even though evil may seem random in its irrationality, and feel like it might be out of God’s control, God does not let us take him “off the hook” over who is ultimately in control. God’s sovereignty extends over all things, including evil.
God’s sovereignty over evil does not destroy our moral responsibility for the evil we commit. We are responsible for our actions, and God is sovereign over them. The analogy of God as an author is helpful in explaining how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility relate, as Joe Rigney summarizes, “God is an Author. The World is his story. We are his characters” (“Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil”).
God Is Good in All He Does
So if God is sovereign over evil, does this mean that he is not good? This is a pressing question given the fact that immense human suffering is happening around the world. As we all know, this is not a hypothetical question for most of us, but intensely personal.
Scripture clearly says that God is perfect in all he does: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Scripture affirms God’s goodness in the midst of a broken world. At the same time, it doesn’t turn a blind eye to the evilness of evil. It also affirms God’s sovereignty over all things, including evil and God’s goodness in all that he does.
Our Supreme Champion
It’s no wonder that many argue that the problem of evil is a mystery. And rightly so. There is much we do not and cannot know. Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Yet evil does not have the final word. In fact, God has made evil dig its own grave. Henri Blocher explains,
Evil is conquered as evil because God turns evil back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. . . . [God] entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of the good, which it perfects; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent. (Evil and the Cross, 132)
One reason evil exists is so that God could redeem a people for his glory who love him. And the most evil act in history is paradoxically the event where redemption is purchased and hope is found. Blocher explains,
At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem [of evil]. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered death, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. (104)
The cross perfectly shows God’s goodness and sovereignty over evil. And only in the cross has evil been conquered.
If you doubt his sovereignty over evil, look to the cross (Acts 4:27–28). If you doubt his goodness, look to the cross (Romans 8:32). And if you feel overwhelmed by pain and sorrow, look to the cross (Romans 8:37). There is hope.