One of the fundamental truths of the Scriptures is the reality that God is utterly sovereign in all things. Not only has God made everything for its own purpose, including the wicked for the day of evil (Pro. 16:4), but He has done so for His own glory (Rom. 9:16-24). There is no single molecule, or virus, outside of the orbit of God’s control. This logically means that all things which were, are, and will be, are totally governed by God. Not a single thing has happened, is happening, or will happen, outside of God’s sovereign control. What’s more than this is that all things are being worked out according to His purposes, meaning that He is very much active in and through all things. This means that even in the midst of any and every disaster, whether natural or man-made, it is not only under the sovereign control of God, but actively brought about by Him for His purposes.
Many wrestle with the implications of this, as they cannot wrap their heads around the notion that God is not de facto evil if He has orchestrated every event in the history of mankind. However, I would argue that fundamentally, the complete sovereign action and initiation of the Triune Lord is the only sufficient answer when it comes to tragedy. The simple reason for this is that an utterly sovereign Lord is the only One who is not impotent in the face of adversity. He is not blindsided by tragedy. He is not surprised when disease and sickness runs rampant in the land. He is not shocked by the wicked intentions and actions of men. Furthermore, He is not even languishing as those in positions of power and influence abuse their power and influence. He is not a reactive God, scrambling to action only when disaster strikes. There is not a single thing in all of time and space that slips by His gaze unnoticed or even uncaused, namely, because He has ordained whatsoever comes to pass.
How then do we understand the problem of evil when it comes to this, particularly with the Lord Himself? Quite simply, actually. God is good. It is intrinsic to His nature to be good. He is the very fountainhead of goodness, therefore, anything that comes from Him is de facto good, in fact, it is very good. What that means is that when God handles anything, even things which are not good by their nature, they become good by extension of His own qualities and actions upon them. This is particularly why the same exact action can be described as both evil and good; it is evil from the hands of the finite creature who commits it, yet it is fundamentally good from the hands of the infinite God who works all things according to the counsel of His will.
This theme is brought up routinely within the Scriptures, so much so, in fact, that the only way to get around it is to simply redefine the terms, shift things to blind circumstance and thus remove their purpose, or dismiss the notion out of hand by making God out to be some sort of Divine Superintendent. In reality, this is often little more than Open-Theism, at least if its logical implications are teased out to where they lead. Yet if suffering has a purpose and it is in fact a God-ordained one, that necessarily means that such suffering is actually for our good and His glory.
I have a hunch, and I’ll admit that it is pure speculation on my part, that most reject the Doctrines of Grace on account of the implications of what that means for personal suffering and autonomy. In other words, I tend to believe that many will not accept that God is not passive when it comes to the human will simply because that then means God is active in causing their hardships. One of the reasons I believe this is so, is due to the fact that we have an extremely myopic understanding of the Christian life, one which does not readily accept that we must suffer in order to inherit eternal life (James. 1:12). Instead, we build exceptions to this general rule because it rubs us the wrong way that God ordains our sufferings. These exceptions are simply measures to escape the hard truth that God appoints our sufferings, and furthermore, that He has declared them very good. What that indicates is that we are not a people who are willing to call hardship a blessing from the Lord.
Why do I bring suffering to the discussion on God’s sovereignty? Again, I firmly believe that God’s complete control over human suffering is the only sufficient answer to the problem of evil in our world. It is the only thing that provides a true balm to the soul in the midst of hardship. God is not only above evil and unaffected by it, but actively in sovereign control of it, working it, handling it, shaping us by it—all for the purpose of working all things for good for the one who loves Him and was called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28). It is not the product of universal laws of chaos, nor is it attributed to Satan, but in fact is a means for grace to abound with the result of abundant thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 4:15). While the adversary may have a direct role in afflicting us, the reality is that as with Job, God is directing Satan’s gaze upon His servants (Job 1:8). Yet just as God has directed the evildoer’s eyes to consider His servants to do them harm, God causes it to bring about His intended result (Gen. 50:20). It is not merely that He uses such things as a result of what some other agent has decided, but that He actively works out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11).
The question is not so much if the Lord is the One who brings suffering upon His people. That God appoints suffering is an incontrovertible teaching of Scripture—one which is not a theme for controversy, but worship. Thus, the question is not if the Lord appoints suffering, but if we believe that He truly does work all things for good for those who love Him. If indeed God’s Word stands true, that He does work all things for good, shall we not accept both good and evil days as from the Lord (Job 2:10; Ecc. 7:14)? If all our days are written in His book and ordained before one came to be—shall we not accept both cursing and blessing, knowing that out of the mouth of the Most-High, both evil and good proceed (Lam. 3:38)? If these things work to our blessing, shall we not praise the One whose hand directed it our way (1 Pet. 3:14), rather than curse God and die, as the bitter wife of Job suggested (Job 2:9)? Shall we not embrace the furnace of affliction so that the pure metal of our faith is revealed (1 Pet. 1:7)?
God’s complete sovereignty over all things indicates that He is a God who is a proactive God. He is not reactionary, but is very much involved in the details of all that comes to pass so that His ultimate purposes will be realized. God’s handling of evil for our good indicates that evil does not have the final word. In fact, it teaches that evil has no word except that which the Lord has given it, for in its utterance, it cannot go forth without it being for our blessing. In some grand mystery, by virtue of His being and action upon it, God takes that which is evil and makes it good. God has always maintained a knowledge of both good and evil without being subject to fall as man, which provides man with the ultimate hope that evil is no true conqueror. It may for a season beset us with many hardships and struggles, yet it ultimately must and will work to our good and to His glory because God has ordained that it be so.
This is perhaps most clearly seen in the evil brought upon our Savior for our ultimate good. God not only brought excruciating pain and death upon His Son, but His life was one of many sorrows and He was well-acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3). He was despised, forsaken, and rejected of men. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). His own disciples fled from His presence as one betrayed him with a kiss (Matt. 26:47-56). He endured a criminal’s death upon the cross, dying innocently in the place of those who deserved to be hung on the cross instead of Him. It was through these heinous acts and more that He who knew no sin then became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). In other words, it was through His suffering that the child of God could be counted righteous in the Father’s sight. Our sin was reckoned to Him, yet His righteousness was reckoned to us, on the basis of His pleasing sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Heb. 10:1-18).
Yet all such things were prophesied of the Christ who was to come and set right the curse of sin through His sufferings (Acts 3:18). Though the hands of lawless men nailed Him to the tree, He was only delivered up by God’s set plan and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23). He was known before the foundations of the world in this capacity, and revealed to us in time for our sake (1 Pet. 1:20). What this invariably means is that the sacrifice of Christ was never merely a “Plan B” or a reaction to the Original Sin of our federal head, Adam. Instead, it was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world, which is simply another means of saying it was His intent from eternity past. It was always His plan to sacrifice His Own Son for the redemption of many. But why? Again, for the grace given to more and more people, which rebounds in praise of thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 4:15). In other words, God’s purposes in ordaining all that should come to be, is for the express purpose of Him receiving the full honor, praise, and glory that He is due as it culminates in the finished work of Christ (Eph. 1:11-12).
To put it even more clearly: God alone gets all the glory. In everything. He has so fashioned the world so that in all things that were, are, and will be rebound to glorify Him in an increasingly larger measure. What this reveals to us is that God is passionate about His own glory, so much so that all things are said to rebound to the glory of God (Rom. 11:36). When we consider this, the complete sovereignty of God is perhaps most simply expressed in the reality that God does all things for His Own Name’s sake. He will not let Himself be defamed, nor yield His glory to another (Is. 48:11). Nothing in created order shall out-glorify our God—even that which is considered evil of men is fashioned and then directed by God for our good and for His glory. Thus, the natural conclusion is not for the lowly lump of clay to find fault with His will, nor to talk back to Him when He works in a way that betrays our sensibilities. It is so that the earth will be filled with a knowledge of His glory, as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). When faced with the complete sovereignty of God, if your default reaction is one where you find fault instead of rebound in praise and glory, you have not yet been captivated by the fact that all things were designed by God to bring Him glory.
“O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has first given to God, that God should repay him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).