Caleb, a listener from Fremont, California, writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, in an earlier episode you answered the question, ‘How do you process public tragedy?’ to which your response was very to the point, as far as God ordaining these things in order to bring a response of glorifying himself through people being outraged at sin and responding to victims with compassion. A question I’m now wrestling with is, ‘How does God ordain evil acts without himself being evil?’”
We need a category in our minds that goes something like this: God can will that sin be without sinning. It is not a sin for God to choose that sin should be, should exist.
God Works Good from Evil
And I say that because the Bible pictures God giving us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began, which means that he was planning for the fall, which would then need to be redeemed by the crucified Christ through grace. And that was all being planned before anything had happened. So he is planning for the downfall of man. You see the same thing in Revelation 13:8, where there is this book that God is writing before the foundation of the world, and the name of the book is “the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.” So you have Jesus in the mind of God, slain for sinners before there is even a world, which means that we need a category that God is planning that sin be, without himself being a sinner.
And we know from other passages that is, in fact, what God does: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it [that is, he meant the evil] for good” (Genesis 50:20). So God can oversee and ordain and plan that evil happen without himself committing evil or loving evil or doing evil himself.
God Compared to Man
So the question as I understand it is, Can we know anything about how God does that? And this is really tough, Tony. Here is just my best shot. I thought of three things.
1. God is infinitely wise.
One, God has infinite wisdom, and we don’t have that, and so God is in a position to see how evil events can be woven together to bring about a greater good, and we dare not follow him in this and try to do evil that good may come. But God is infinitely wise and can see how it all fits together.
2. God hates sin.
A second thing is to say that when we sin, we sin sinfully. That is, we love sin. We do sin because it pleases us. When God ordains that sin be, he doesn’t do it because he loves sin. He hates sin.
We love what we are doing. We wouldn’t do it. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, “I have got to sin some today out of duty. I don’t feel like sinning, but I really should sin some today.” We don’t ever do that. We embrace sin because it pleases us. God never, never ordains that sin happen because it pleases him. He is managing something to a much higher end. So his motives and his heart are pure through and through.
3. God cannot tempt his people.
And the last thing comes from James 1:13 where it says, “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. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
A lot of people quote that and say, “God tempts no one with evil, so he can’t be ordaining that someone sin.” But that is not quite what it says. It says that temptation happens when someone is lured and enticed by his own desire; God cannot experience that. He is never lured and enticed toward evil by his own desire. And, therefore, he doesn’t do that to people, which means he does not commend sin to people. He does not approve sin in people. And he does not directly awaken sin in anybody. He doesn’t directly awaken those lurings and those yearnings toward sin.
However, he knows, as God, all the circumstances that a corrupt heart will respond to that way. He knows exactly how Satan functions and what Satan does in response to those kinds of things. And he may ordain that those circumstances and that Satan be in such a position that a corrupt heart will respond that way.
Comfort in God’s Sovereignty
And so I think those three things at least distinguish God from us. I should say one other thing about the comfort that God’s sovereignty is to us. A lot of people stumble over the sovereignty of God in the control that he has ultimately over all things, including our lives.
But according to Paul, there is a huge assurance in that as well, because he says, “God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13), which means that his sovereignty over what he allows into our lives is perfectly calculated so that none of his children is ever brought to destruction through temptation.