Sometimes I think there are errors on both sides of this question. I know people who insist that God is somehow behind everything that happens. I know others who insist that God allows people to do evil, but places limits on them. A famous church leader, not too long ago, proclaimed God’s sovereignty in the terrorist attack on 9/11. Another leader proclaimed the climbing accident of his son to be part of God’s will, and actually makes the statement from pulpits, “God killed my son.” I would like to say that I am going to clear up the answer to this question, but I cannot, as the picture of God’s will and man’s evil, let alone the evil of the world, are very difficult to merge in a sensible fashion.
The difficulty in explaining any answer to this question is, I think, found much in our lack of knowledge of exactly why things are happening. I think of Job, where twice when visited by Satan, God brings up the subject of Job, yet later God declares that Satan has incited him against Job. I believe both scriptures, but I have a lack of knowledge to be able to explain how they do work together. Job, meanwhile, is given no certain answer, only that he is to let God be God, and not to question why.
That there is a reason for everything might appear to be a good doctrine to believe, and there is some basis for it to be believed. But I am always reminded of Voltaire’s Candide, where the hero believes that he is in the “best of all possible worlds”, no matter what might happen to him. He goes from one disaster to another, and finds no evidence to support the position that he is in the best of all possible worlds.
The problem may lie in the fact that Satan is somehow still allowed access to God, though he has been found in sin, and God has long proclaimed his demise. We do not know why or how the structure of heaven works, and it grates against my very fiber to think of Job being in his predicament because of a power structure he knew little about. Apparently, God is showing his perfect justice to a heavenly host, and, at least in the short run, that did not work out very well for Job. And that leads to another problem, the short run. If the Bible is to be believed, and I do, those afflictions that we all seem to suffer, including death, are but for a moment, and God says that he intends to place us in a better place where all our tears will be wiped away. We here on earth see nothing but the short run, so how can we even begin to figure it out? We are left in the plight of Job, with little understanding of how terrible things happen. But we should be more confident than Job that things will work out for the best in the end.
I have always been mystified by this evil, and while I do not attempt to explain it, I have long noticed the truth of God’s promise that all things work together for good in the believer’s life (Romans 8:28). I have long noted evil situations that have brought unseen harmony and goodness to the believer’s life—a definite fulfillment of this promise. So personally, while I would not be so reckless as to charge God as behind everything that happens, that in no way gets me out of the dilemma, for is not a sovereign God always sovereign, even when he is not directly in the evil?
So even when I do not think God is in a particularly evil act, of which there are many, some even happening as you read this, God is still sovereign overall. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 2, where the rulers of the earth, kings, plot directly against God, but the Psalm says that God laughs at their plans, for they amount to nothing. There is no question that God is sovereign over all, and in that sense takes direct responsibility for the state of the world. But, the question is, does it mean that God is in everything, as some insist, that every molecule, every atom, can only move with his permissive decree? Scholars who believe this way will point out, that if there were the smallest atom allowed to stray, that the certainty of what God promises could not be. Therefore, they argue, nothing is apart from the providence of God.
I do not think they have the whole of the argument, but their presentation of their case is powerful. Let me suggest an alternative argument, Biblical I think, that would in no case stray from what we have been told. I must go back to Job, where if we read that the two times that Satan was allowed to bring much suffering to Job, in each case, God put boundaries, very clear and final, that Satan was not allowed to cross. I think we can agree that both times Satan was allowed to bring much evil, but there was a boundary, a hedge, which Satan was not permitted to pass. What if God, in creating this world, set hedges and boundaries in which men or principalities are not allowed to pass?
Those boundaries, or hedges, would allow much evil in the world, as both men and Satan might want to bring. But in no case would God ever not be sovereign. One of the obvious hedges that God has placed is time. He has declared the end from the beginning, and at some point, probably not too distant in the future, and at some point he intends, as it were, to blow the whistle, and get everyone out of the pool. The advantage of this viewpoint is first of all, it seems to be backed up in places in scripture. For instance, in Revelation, he has already pronounced judgment against the evil and wickedness in the world. That, it would seem to me, is yet another hedge.
We also have miracles, or acts of God that seem to interrupt the banal evil that otherwise might take place. So it would seem that God, even in letting the boundaries of the world stay in place, will sovereignly choose to interrupt some of that evil with his acts of grace. Why does God intercede for one, yet not for another? I cannot even begin to guess, but we do know and recognize that he does interrupt the world’s rules and boundaries occasionally.
Under my argument, there would be no need for the minister to declare God killed his son. The most he would be able to charge God with (as if any of us could ever charge God) is that God did not decree to intercede with a miracle to save the minister’s son. Under his permissive will, if I may coin the old phrase, the boy was allowed to fall to his death. In this way, divine determinism for every event can be denied, and allowing God to remain fully just. The world is fraught with evil, and I can conceive of no other rational explanation.
Of course, we are still left with a problem. God freely created a world in which angels and men were allowed to turn to evil. I would say in response to that, that God has allowed much mercy and time to Satan to turn from his wickedness, even though it is a foregone conclusion in the mind of God (and to us through the scriptures) that he will end in rebellion. As for the evil created in men, is that not what the cross is all about? That God himself should come on the cross, and offer freely to all evil men a way out from that evil. That is my conviction, at any rate. There is no part of God that ever compromises his sovereignty, and yet men and angels are fully responsible for their own evil deeds. So, to answer the question in everyday terms, there is not a reason for everything, but I do expect a harmony from God that will become evident behind everything that happens in our world, both good and evil.