BEN: One of your most helpful qualifications comes on p. 190—“Though many Bible readers (even scholars) presume otherwise, spirit beings in rebellion against God are not portrayed as remaining in God’s service. The presumption confuses God’s sovereign status over evildoers with the notion that they are, so to speak, yet in God’s employ.” This is followed by a useful analogy. What I take away from this is that God’s sovereignty, including over evil, is one thing, the notion that whatever happens is part of God’s will and sovereign plan predetermined before the foundations of the universe, is quite another. Elaborate a bit on your understanding of what God’s sovereignty entails.
MICHAEL: I back-end sovereignty, as opposed to front-loading it, like high Calvinism does. If sovereignty means (in lay terms) that “God is in charge,” then God is no less sovereign if he steers all things to the ends he desires without predestinating everything to go a certain way up front. The high Calvinist will say that any view other than a strict predestinarian view like their own strips God of sovereignty (or some such rhetoric). I think that’s incoherent. I like to use the chess analogy here. Which of the two scenarios is more impressive? Let’s say God and you sit down to play a game of chess. Scenario 1, the Predestinarian idea: God tells you, “I’m going to win because I’ve already predetermined all your moves.” Scenario 2, where God allows human freedom: God tells you, “You can move anywhere you like; it’s up to you. But I’m still going to win. I’m that good.” It’s silly to think Scenario 2 cheapens God’s sovereignty. If anything, it’s even more impressive to think that God allows human freedom but his knowledge and insight and strategic thinking is so comprehensive that it doesn’t matter. He will win the day. You will wind up in the place God wants. I think Scenario 2 is the way Scripture presents life in a fallen world. Evil is here because of God’s’ decision to grant humans and supernatural beings freedom. That attribute is a necessary part of being an imager of God. Without it, the imaging idea is vapor or a deception. But God retains all his attributes in perfection. He will influence imagers to make decisions; when they don’t make a decision he wants (sin, rebellion, or mistakes), he will adjust his strategy until things work—until the outcome he desires is produced. God thus doesn’t need evil for things to work. He succeeds in his plan to restore Eden (without changing the rules of engagement) despite evil.