Monday, August 11, 2008

If God is Sovereign, then Evil?

Ah, yes. The doctrine (or teaching) of God's Sovereignty. Basically, this teaching says that God is in control of your life and mine, as well as all of history. In the words of theologian Millard J. Erickson, the sovereignty of God says that "He is the Creator and Lord of all things, and consequently he is free to do whatever he wills. He is not subject to or answerable to anyone. Man is in no position to judge God for what he does" (Christian Theology, 915). (In the area of salvation, Calvinists teach that God is sovereign in electing some to eternal life, according to his purposes, instead of basing his election on an individual's own choosing of God. But, that's a subject for another day).

But, how does God's sovereignty play out in terms of the reality of daily suffering and calamity? What about God's sovereignty and the problem of evil? Consider these two examples. I know of an older couple whose daughter left Cuba and went to Italy with a tourist Visa. She gave birth in Italy, and her child was born with serious allergies. She wants to remain in that country but has to either find someone to sponsor her, find a job, or face having to go back to Cuba. She may be thinking, "This shouldn't be. Why now?" She has no one in that country, and the child's allergies demands a special kind of milk which is rather expensive. She's a believer in Christ and prays that she doesn't have to return to Cuba. What do we tell her? She knows the predicament her child will be in if she has to move back. What do we tell her about God's sovereignty? How does this truth reassure her?

Here's a harder one. Put yourself in this situation. You serve the Lord. You preach his word and you are faithful to share his message with others around the world. Then, your thirty-three-year-old son who serves with you on staff at the same church you pastor gets killed in an automobile accident. Is God still sovereign? This is what Evangelist and Pastor Greg Laurie is going through since the passing of his son, Christopher, on July 24. (You can read more at In his message to his congregation he told them that the day of his son's death was "the worst day of my life." Yet, later on in his message he went on to say, "We have hope . . . In Christ, in the Resurrection." For some people, this doesn't make sense. If God is in control, why does he allow so much suffering and evil to exist?

You can fill in your own personal stories, because I know that you have them. What does God's sovereignty mean? And, if God is sovereign, why doesn't he do something about all the senseless suffering? First, God's sovereignty doesn't mean that he will prevent bad things from happening to his children (at least now; he will in the future). God never guarantees that sickness, hardships, diseases, divorce, accidents, wayward children, and many other ills will never be part of the lives of believers, nor of all human beings. We are in this world, and our lives will have a hefty dosage of trouble (so Jesus, John 16:33). Evil, sin and the consequences of fallen man (=sinful men and women) are a reality. What we can take away from this biblical teaching of God's sovereignty is the confidence that the Lord God is really above all things. Period. This includes the good, the bad and the evil that fills our world. It means that at times God allows bad things, while at others he restricts and even prevents certain evils, according to his purposes (See C.S. Lewis' the Problem of Pain).

For many this explanation of evil's existence is not easy to swallow. For some, limiting God's knowledge of future events, or making him less than all-powerful, is the solution. They can't get themselves to believe in a God who is sovereign (and could we add, loving?) and yet allows for so much suffering. We must remember that in the face of evil, many have chosen not to believe in the God of the Bible, although some like Bart D. Ehrman, from the University of North Carolina, believes that the Bible fails to answer the question, "Why we suffer" (see his book God's Problem). At best one of the things we can say about suffering, says Ehrman, is that, we can say nothing. The "answer" for suffering "is that there is no answer" (157). Yet, I believe that although we can't understand exhaustively how God in his sovereignty allows evil, pain and suffering, some light can be thrust upon why God does allow pain in the world (in part some of the answers given would be explanations for God's existence from evil; that is, how the reality and recognition of evil actually point to a God). Having said this, we do agree with Ehrman that in a real sense, there is simply no answer (which completely makes sense) for so much brokenness endured by humanity around the world. Some answers may come, but the pain remains. These are complex issues.

However, for those of us who believe in the sacredness of the Bible and the God who has revealed himself in its pages we must continue to hold to the biblical teaching of God's sovereignty over creation and people. Why he allows suffering is a troubling question, one for which we don't have a completely satisfying answer. But, that's o.k. I don't need to have all the answers in order to believe in a God who does move the hearts of man and who steers history, even allowing for the existence of evil, toward his sovereign end.

What do you think?
Por Su Gracia y Poder

1 comment:

orlando cabrera said...

Great post...God bless you!