Some of the more difficult texts in Scripture include those verses that seem to say God is involved in evil. For example, in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (NET). Of Eli’s wicked sons we read that they “would not listen to their father, for the LORD had decided to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25 NET).
What are we to make of these kinds of texts in light of Scripture’s clear teaching that God hates evil, is perfectly and perpetually good, and is too pure to look on sin (cf Prov. 6:16-19; Mk. 10:18; Hab. 1:13, etc.)?? I appreciate how Henri Blocher explained this based on God’s sovereignty, which Scripture also teaches:
The Augustinian and Reformed tradition maintains that in one sense God ‘wills’ evil, he decides that evil shall occur. Calvin, though he at times uses it, objects to the term permission; he considers it to weak, suggesting a God who is a mere spectator. In reality, he declares, God goes so far as to move the will of those who do evil. Many are scandalized at this. Journet blames Calvin bitterly for speaking of ‘willing.’ He can tolerate only the language of ‘permission.’ Berkouwer criticizes his own tradition on the same points: even Bavinck, he argues, ought not to have stated that God in a certain manner ‘wills’ evil.
We are obliged to refute the accusation: first of all because the audacity of writers of Scripture, such as Paul or Ezekiel, puts the boldest of Calvin’s expressions in the shade; our quotations above [from Scripture] bear that out. And then why should we argue about words? ‘Having the authority to prevent, and the power, when God allows it, is that not as good as if he did it?’ (Calvin). There is little to gain in rejecting the verb ‘to will’ so long as you do not deny divine sovereignty. Berkouwer is obliged to concede that sin is never committed ‘outside (praeter) the will of God’; is that not the admission of a certain will? In vain does Journet attempt to pit Calvin against Augustine on this point. One may as well take one’s position from the stern candor of Scripture: if evil occurs under the rule of God, then his will is involved.
The assurance of the absolute sovereignty of God contributed to ‘the fear of the LORD,’ which is so rare amongst people, even Christians, in our day. It fostered humble faith, it poured the balm of consolation. Racked with illness, Calvin repeated, ‘You are crushing me, Lord, but I am content that it comes from your hand.’ It [the fear of the Lord] alone can bring peace, beyond that of forgiveness, for having done irreversible wrongs, for even that is in the hand of God, etiam peccata (‘including sins’). By including that in his plan, he relieves us of the intolerable care of having the final responsibility (cf Gen. 45:8). He is the First and the Last. Our God reigns.
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