Does God Control Evil?

I have little more than 100 pages left to read before finishing John Piper’s Providence, and it has been a truly profound book. The great value of John Piper’s ministry (sort of like John MacArthur’s ministry) is that even if you disagree with him, his reasoning is so rooted in Scripture that your knowledge of Scripture deepens even if you arrive at a different conclusion in the end. And that is certainly the case with Providence. It is Piper at his best. In wrestling to understand God’s sovereign hand of governance over all of His creation, Piper asks difficult questions of Scripture and firmly plants his conclusions upon Scripture.

The following quotation is one of those difficult aspects of God’s providence. The context is that Piper is discussing Lamentations 3:37-39:

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
            unless the LORD has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
            that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
            a man, about the punishment of his sins?

In the following paragraphs, Piper addresses what Jeremiah meant by bad coming from God’s mouth. Does it mean moral evil or simply calamities (bad events)? Piper’s answer strikes at the very heart of the discussion of the problem of evil, namely, the assumptions that we already bring into the discussion before ever turning to God’s Word for clarity.

The aim of this distinction is usually to get God off the hook for commanding or purposing or decreeing moral evil. Behind this aim is the assumption that God would be evil to see to it that moral evil happen. I do not share that assumption. People bring that assumption to the Bible; they do not get it from the Bible. The Bible teaches that God absolutely is not evil, and never does evil. And the Bible teaches that God sees to it that evils happen (which we will see more fully in what follows). Therefore, I embrace both.

This is not a contradiction. If God hasn’t revealed how he can do both, we don’t need to see how. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29). There are countless things working all around us in the world, and we cannot begin to explain how they all work. In fact, I would go so far as to say, when it comes to ultimate explanations of how things work, we don’t know how anything works. That is, at the bottom of our explanations for anything, someone can always legitimately ask, “But how does that work?” There is always another layer of reality beneath what we have explained.

If common sense has not taught us this, then surely the arrival of quantum mechanics should expose our explanatory limitations. Of course, this ultimate ignorance about how everything works does not stop us from getting to the moon or building four-billion-dollar underwater floating tunnels or finding cures for diseases—or turning on a laptop. Nor does that same ignorance about how God governs sin without sinning, stop us from rejoicing in his holiness and bowing to his sovereignty and trusting his promises.

pp. 484-485

One thought on “Does God Control Evil?

  1. Gary Wright

    There is a YouTube video of a lecture by John MacArthur “why does God allow so much suffering and evil?” I believe MacArthur does a great job of laying out this issue and defending his position. The above lecture became a blending of allowing to controlling to causing evil. This is a natural progression for those that believe as MacArthur puts it “every molecule being controlled by God”. His logic had an acknowledgement about the creator of evil. This I cannot accept and while there are many biblical conflicts with this belief, I think it is harmful to the fact that the goodness of God leads men to repent. Thank you your study and availability.

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