God, sin and sovereignty

One of the repeated questions people (both those who believe in Christ and those who do not) have about God is the relationship between sin and suffering, and God who is sovereign over all things. How can those seemingly contradictory statements co-exist and God still be God?

In his most recent sermon, John Piper addresses that question and after building an extensive argument, says,

I conclude, therefore, that God permitted Satan’s fall, not because he was helpless to stop it, but because he had a purpose for it. Since God is never taken off guard, his permissions are always purposeful. If he chooses to permit something, he does so for a reason — an infinitely wise reason. How the sin arises in Satan’s heart, we do not know. God has not told us. What we do know is that God is sovereign over Satan, and therefore Satan’s will does not move without God’s permission. And therefore every move of Satan is part of God’s overall purpose and plan. And this is true in such a way that God never sins. God is infinitely holy, and God is infinitely mighty. Satan is evil, and Satan is under the all-governing wisdom of God.

The important sentence there is, “If [God] chooses to permit something, he does so for a reason — an infinitely wise reason.” There is a purpose in all of God’s dealings with all men — even when sin intrudes into our lives. And that purpose could be stated succinctly as, “His purpose in His dealings with unbelievers is to bring them to Christ (1 Tim. 1:15-16; 2:6; 2 Pet. 3:9 — or to leave them without excuse for their rejection of Christ; Rom. 1:20); and His purpose in His dealings with believers is to conform them to the image of Christ (e.g., Rom. 8:28).”

So, when confronted with evil, we should respond in these ways, Piper notes:

How then should we relate to evil? How should we think and feel and act about Satanic evil — the death of little Zach at the attack of a pit bull? The deaths of three more miners trying to save their buddies? Five hundred dead in the Peru earthquake? The evil you confront in your own lives? Here is my summary answer. Eight things to do with evil. Four things never to do.

  1. Expect evil. “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
  2. Endure evil. “Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7; cf. Mark 13:13).
  3. Give thanks for the refining effect of evil that comes against you. “Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 5:3-5).
  4. Hate evil. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
  5. Pray for escape from evil. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
  6. Expose evil. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
  7. Overcome evil with good. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
  8. Resist evil. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

But, on the other hand:

  1. Never despair that this evil world is out of God’s control. “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
  2. Never give in to the sense that because of random evil life is absurd and meaningless. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:33, 36).
  3. Never yield to the thought that God sins, or is ever unjust or unrighteous in the way he governs the universe. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways.” (Psalm 145:17).
  4. Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ. If you trust him with your life, you are in Christ. Never doubt that all the evil that befalls you—even if it takes your life—is God’s loving, purifying, saving, fatherly discipline. It is not an expression of his punishment in wrath. That fell on Jesus Christ our substitute. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

While listening to this sermon this morning, I thought back to one of his sermons that made a great impact on me, his exposition of Rom. 9:19-23, “How God Makes Known the Riches of His Glory to the Vessels of Mercy.” Both of these sermons are helpful in understanding God’s sovereign and glorious purposes in allowing sin into the world in general, and into our lives in particular.

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