Non-Christians often raise the question of how an all-powerful God who is altogether good can allow evil and suffering. The understanding that God created man in His image with a will that allows a meaningful response explains the existence of evil in a world ruled by an unlimited, omnibenevolent God. Humanity has consistently and universally chosen to rebel. Our rebellion introduced sin into the world, and sin caused evil and death.  Adam’s sin brought corruption upon the entire creation. Creation itself looks forward to the eternal and final redemption of humanity, when everything will be set right again, and man will live eternally with God in a new heaven and new earth where all evil, suffering, and death will be eliminated forever (Rom. 8:18-25; Rev. 21–22).

Some people feel compelled to safeguard God’s sovereignty, and they argue that God causes everything that happens. In doing so, they inadvertently make God the author of evil. For example, if God has created all people in His image, and yet has Himself determined that some of those persons, without choice, will be eternally separated from their Creator and everything good and holy, then one would have to conclude that He has caused evil.

Yet all of Scripture presents a righteous God who causes only good and not evil. James affirmed that God cannot tempt anyone to evil and He can only give good gifts (1:15-17). God’s motives and actions are always pure and good. Early in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (3:22). Jesus responded that Satan wouldn’t cast out Satan because that would be a kingdom divided, which would ultimately lead to its demise. In the same manner, God does not do evil to accomplish good. He acts consistently based on His own character.

I once heard a lecture on the sovereignty of God in which the presenter argued that there are only two possible ways to explain the events of history and daily living: either everything happens by chance or everything occurs by the direction of Sovereign God. I remember thinking the first option is clearly unthinkable, but I was equally as uncomfortable with the second, which to me seemed to make God the author of evil. Did God actually cause Adam and Eve to sin so that He could cast them from the garden? Did He desire that Cain slay his brother? Does He desire that humans sin so that we can experience more of His grace? Paul responded to this false way of thinking in Romans 6:1-2: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?

May it never be!”

I remember thinking that the lecturer’s view of history actually diminished the sovereignty of God. There is a third option for viewing events in history and in our daily lives that requires a larger view of God and is consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture. Throughout the Bible we read about an adversary who is powerful but not all-powerful. He is evil by nature, and his purpose is to thwart the work of God by stealing, killing, and destroying (John 10:10). He was at work in the garden, convincing Adam and Eve that God wanted to keep them from realizing their godlike potential. He caused them to doubt the character and word of God.

A picture that came to mind that day has helped me to understand these two very different ways of viewing God’s sovereign control of events. In the presenter’s view God was like a chess master who was playing both sides of the boards and moving all the pieces for good or evil. We are not surprised or impressed with the chess master’s ability to determine the outcome of the match when he controls all the pieces.

A view that is more consistent with the events recorded in the Bible and the events of our daily lives might be described as follows. God is the Chess Master who is playing a real adversary who is powerful but not all-powerful. The adversary can move and influence pieces on the board with the intent of defeating the Chess Master. The chess pieces in this picture can actually respond to the touch of the players. As the game progresses, it appears that the adversary has put the Chess Master in check by taking a key piece from the board—the Master’s only Son. But in moving to destroy God’s Son, the adversary has put himself in checkmate. The death of the Son was the ultimate defeat of Satan. Our God is truly sovereign, as demonstrated by His ability to accomplish His will despite the efforts of a real adversary and the disobedience of pieces on the chess board.

Surely this is the clear meaning of Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Ken Hemphill, Unlimited

Good Questions Have Groups Talking are available that go along with Ken Hemphill’s book, Unlimited. They are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.