How does God use society to restrain evil?
The Restraining of Evil
Societal structures of sin and the fallen-ness of humanity reveal the theological essence of the reasons that it exists. The restraining of evil by God in both human agents (Romans 13) and by His Spirit (2 Thess 2:7) is obvious even in those who do not possess the Holy Spirit as the Apostle Paul wrote that even “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom 2:14-15). Dr. James Spencer of Moody Theological Seminary wrote, “The freedom of God affirms that God is not bound and can work within the boundaries set by organizational limitations but not constrained by those limitations.” Within the Scripture is the idea of the immutable hand of God and that He is never frustrated by human will, even on a global scale. A superb example is when the church in Jerusalem was persecuted in order to extinguish it, but only managed to spread Christianity into the outer reaches of the Roman Empire and beyond. When the persecutors thought to have doused the flame of the church they unintentionally and unknowingly threw gasoline on it and helped to create a greater fire, so clearly, God’s will cannot be frustrated by human agencies and in fact, they play into His preordained purposes (John 3:16).
Good from Evil
When Jesus informed Pilate that he had no power that was not first ordained by God, the Son of God gave this ruler the immutable fact that it was only because of God’s sovereignty that Jesus was delivered to him and that Pilate held such a position of power. Every good and every evil works in conformity with the eternally decreed will of God. When human governments carry out evil, they are, in reality, being used by God to move the affairs of mankind to do what is according to His will. God was not favorably disposed to nations which took captive and destroyed the nation of Israel time, however even this was a loving act of discipline that He used to break the nation’s pride in order that they might humble themselves, and consequently, bring them to repentance and obedience. Clearly God has and will yet again humble the nations or the individual, but His use of mankind’s evil never diminishes this effectual work of His hand. This too reveals that He is no respecter of persons or nations, and whatsoever He decrees must come to pass; even if evil is part of the process in which he achieves His good pleasure. He is not the author of this evil but uses it for His purposes and it’s always for our own good (Rom 8:28). Joseph’s brother’s wickedness was God’s intention for doing good, specifically in preserving many people, including Israel (Gen 50:20).
Structures of Society
What about the structures of society today that seems to be out of control, even beyond human restraints? Almost 60 million human lives have been destroyed since Roe v Wade, but even more, school shootings, rampant sexual immorality, government corruption, and a national debt out of control can be used for His good purposes too. Today, the structures of human society themselves are unable to restrain what now is beyond their control. There are some places that even the police do not go. The giving over of humanity to their sinfulness is abundantly evident by the callous effect that sin has on the human heart. Sin desensitizes and eventually anything and everything goes…just as long as they legalize it, however what is legal is not always moral or ethical. Just as Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, so too is a person who by continually sinning has less and less inhibitions to sin. Reinhold Niebuhr, author of Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics rationalizes like most do about the positivisms of human nature that humanity has a good opinion of themselves, despite the objective evidence to the contrary. In my own personal experience from sharing the gospel, most people consider themselves to be good people. Like most that hear and reject the gospel they see no need for a Savior because they do not see the evil in themselves or see themselves as being sinners. By considering themselves to be a good person they are ignorant of the offenses that reek as a stench in the nostrils of a holy God, so unless the Holy Spirit imparts to the sinner the understanding that they are miserable, wretched sinners who deserve the wrath of God, they cannot possible come
The Essential Holy Spirit
Good biblical interpretation about the depravity of mankind stands in stark contrast to the unsaved world which believes “I’m okay…you’re okay,” but knowing that God’s Word will not return to Him without effect, and that the Holy Spirit must be joined with that Word, they cannot hear it without the witness of the Spirit of God Who is the only hope for a world which has no moral compass. This world cannot presently be objectively aligned with God’s truth because it has not the Spirit and with no Spirit, there can be no Teacher, therefore it holds to subjective moralism. Here is where the danger lies for the church. Many churches have been infected with the relativistic values of the society with which it is embedded in, thereby rationalizing doctrine. Churches become pragmatic; it must work for most of the people most of the time, and their approach changes with society and culture, so we cannot expect the world to operate in any other way other than that which it presently does, and without the Spirit of God, they have made a god made in their own image and after their own likeness and imagination.
Rendering Unto Caesar
The community and personal responsibility are interconnected in the sense that we can have a positive influence in reducing the community influence of sin. A few years ago, we had a casino built in our area, but only about 1 in 4 Christians voted against this. Some even voted for it due to the promise of helping the local school districts and reduce property taxes. One happened, but the latter didn’t (taxes). How deceptive! I saw this as “selling out to sin” for short term gain, but the long term is what I was more concerned with. My own failure to speak up, I must admit, was a sin of silence. The fact that the majority of the population supported the casino made me hesitant to speak out against it, including the great harm that gambling brought to the area. We are living in a small town and the small town values have been severely compromised as crime has increased, along with spikes in bankruptcies, divorces, spousal abuse, drug abuse, and other crimes related to Casino. Sadly, the majority made me more hesitant to speak out about these ills and my ability to influence the community was dampened. My own sin of silence played into the hands of the vocal majority. A sin of omission is still a sin of commission in the sense that to do or say nothing is a vote for evil. Even though I did speak out against it, I rarely spoke with local leaders and citizens about the well documented facts that testify of the detrimental effects of a local casino. Now it is too late.
Since Christians must swim upstream and fight the tides of the ever changing culture that they live it, at least we know that God is ultimately not restricted by human activities, the culture, or mankind’s freedom to choose. Knowing this, it is critical for the Christian to continue to proclaim the need for repentance and faith, but realize that God is the evangelist. It is impossible for the human mind to wrap itself around the truth that God uses mankind to restrain evil (Rom 13:1-5), but also uses evil for His own purposes. He is God and our finite minds will never fully comprehend the Infinite.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon