By Spencer D Gear
How does a Christian respond to all of the evil that is happening in the world in relation to the sovereignty of God? Does God cause or allow the following kinds of evil? — The crash of planes that caused the death of many people, the rape of individuals, Hitler’s Holocaust, and multitudes of other horrible events of evil in our world?
I was blessed and encouraged by Bruce Little’s article, ‘Evil and God’s sovereignty’ (Little 2010). It was he who alerted me to John Piper’s statements about evil and the sovereignty of God (see below). Bruce Little spoke of the horror of a 9-year-old girl, Jessica, in Florida who was abducted, raped, and buried alive about 150 yards from her house in Homosassa, FL.
What about the horrors committed by Charles Manson and his group?
How some Calvinists see it
Remember the US Airways flight 1549 that landed on the Hudson River, New York? Of this incident, John Piper, a strong Calvinist, wrote:
God can take down a plane any time he pleases—and if he does, he wrongs no one. Apart from Christ, none of us deserves anything from God but judgment. We have belittled him so consistently that he would be perfectly just to take any of us any time in any way he chooses (Piper 2009)
So God caused the disaster and brought down the plane on the river. That time, all people survived. What about the times when there is evil committed and multitudes of people lose their lives? Using John Piper’s logic, God is responsible for those as well.
This kind of perspective has made its way onto forums on the Internet. There are interesting and challenging perspectives around the www, one example being on Christian Forums, where Calvinistic people make comments like this:
God Is Not The Author Of Evil
When the orthodox Reformer says that God ordains something He means: either God directly causes something or that He permits something (evil) to happen. This isn’t God speaking with a forked tongue (whatever that means). Rather it is a truth taught in scripture. God doesn’t directly cause evil. For this would make Him the author of evil. Rather He permits it (for morally sufficient reasons) to bring about His overall plans and purposes. His permitting evil it is a kind of indirect causing. That is, His permission is a kind of secondary causing not a direct causing…. Nothing happens anyhow or without God’s most righteous decree, although God is not the author or sharer in any sin at all. [1a]
If God is ultimately sovereign, it does cause people to ask, “Doesn’t that make God responsible for all of the evil in the world?”
I’m not sure that John Piper sees it that way. Piper, a prominent, contemporary Calvinist (Baptist), has stated that ‘God has given him [Satan] astonishing latitude to work his sin and misery in the world. He is a great ruler over the world, but not the ultimate one. God holds the decisive sway’ (2008:44).
Elsewhere, John Piper wrote of the event that some have designated ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. This happened on 15 January 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York City and encountered a flock of geese. Some of these birds shut down both plane engines when they were sucked into the engines. Captain Sullenberger was an experienced pilot and instead of landing the plane at the airport several miles away, he chose to land the plane on the Hudson River.
From the accounts I have read, it seems that the pilot’s training, experience and circumstances came together and there was a successful landing on the river and all of the passengers survived. The USA nation rightfully gave Captain Sullenberger hero status.
How did John Piper explain this event? Take a read of the article, ‘The President, the Passengers, and the Patience of God’ (Piper 2009), in which Piper explains the sovereignty of God. His theology is:
Two laser-guided missiles would not have been as amazingly effective as were those geese. It is incredible, statistically speaking. If God governs nature down to the fall (and the flight) of every bird, as Jesus says (Matthew 10:29), then the crash of flight 1549 was designed by God.
Then Piper states, ‘If God guides geese so precisely, he also guides the captain’s hands. God knew that when he took the plane down, he would also give a spectacular deliverance’.
So for John Piper, God in his sovereignty was not only responsible for the geese that flew into the jet’s engines, but he guided the hands of the pilot who landed the plane. That plane crash, according to John Piper, was designed by God in God’s sovereignty.
Now apply that view of catastrophe to the Titanic disaster. In one of the most deadly peacetime disasters in history, the RMS Titanic, a passenger liner, sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. It collided with an iceberg on 15 April 1912 (100 years ago) in the Atlantic Ocean and 1,514 people died.
The Titanic as it departed from Southhampton, UK, April 10, 1912. image courtesy uwants.com.
To be consistent, John Piper’s theology of ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ becomes ‘Disaster on the Atlantic Ocean’ for The Titanic and its passengers. The application has to be that God guided the Titanic’s captain to hit the iceberg. The iceberg was designed by God for the event and 1,514 people were killed by God’s design.
What about the disaster with the twin towers, etc., on 11 September 2001?
Or am I missing something?
Right. God is ULTIMATELY responsible because He knows what the outcome will be and He could stop it if He wanted to. This is what Piper means by indirect or secondary cause. He’s not the direct cause.
The Reformed view teaches that God positively or actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to insure their salvation. The rest of mankind He leaves to themselves. He does not create unbelief in their hearts. He does not coerce them to sin. They sin by their own choices. The dreadful error of hyper-Calvinism is that it involves God in coercing sin. This does radical violence to the integrity of God’s character. – R.C. Sproul
I have had a back and forth with this person in which I made these statements:
If you hold that view of the sovereignty of God, you must live with the logical consequences of such a position. It makes God into a monster who is responsible for my friend’s rape that happened over and over by an employee in a nursing home and the culprit has been charged with rape.
That view makes God morally and causally responsible for 9/11, the drunk who murdered his family and my friend’s repeated rapes.
I read recently of a man who stabbed his sister and decapitated his 5-year-old sister at a birthday party before the police shot him. If I accept your and Piper’s view of God, these acts are ordained by God, what kind of God is He? Can you justify that from biblical teaching?
You said that “God is ULTIMATELY responsible” for the evil people do. That means that your kind of God caused my friend to be raped multiple times by a medical staff person.
It was your kind of God who “is ULTIMATELY responsible” (your words) for the evil any person commits – including the decapitating of a 5-year-old and the twin-towers devastation of 9/11. That might be the nature of your God, but that’s not the God I serve. Your kind of God “is ULTIMATELY responsible” for the Titanic disaster. In your language, “He could stop it” but he doesn’t.
So that makes your God “ULTIMATELY responsible” for the Holocaust and the gas oven slaughters. What kind of a God is He? If that is what he is like by nature, he’s a monster.
So you erect a straw man logical fallacy with this kind of statement:
His sovereign will is His business alone. The secret things belong to the Lord. I am to trust in His infinite wisdom and holiness and go by His revealed will.
So your God’s secret, sovereign will includes the slaughter of people by Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin – and my friend’s multiple rapes.
I think it is time that you reassessed the nature of your God and his relationship to evil in the universe.
God as the creator or authoriser of evil – some Calvinists
John Piper goes so far as to state:
So when I say that everything that exists—including evil—is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly I mean that, one way or the other, God sees to it that all things serve to glorify his Son. Whether he causes or permits, he does so with purpose. For an infinitely wise and all-knowing God, both causing and permitting are purposeful. They are part of the big picture of what God plans to bring to pass (Piper 2008:56).
It is not only John Piper, the Calvinist, who thinks like this. Before the time of Piper, Gordon Clark, another Calvinist, was advocating something similar: ‘As God cannot sin, so in the next place, God is not responsible for sin, even though he decrees it…. I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do so…. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God works all things, not some things only, after the counsel of his own will’ (Clark 2004:40, 27).
Bruce Little noted that ‘Gordon Clark presents one way of responding to the charge that the Calvinist position leaves God morally responsible for evil even though He ordained it. Clark seeks to smooth out the contradiction by crafting the notion of God’s secret will and His revealed will’ (Little 2010:293). Then Little quotes Clark:
One may speak of the secret will of God, and one may speak of the revealed will of God. Those who saw self-contradiction in the previous case would no doubt argue similarly on this point too. The Arminian would say that God’s will cannot contradict itself, and that therefore his secret will cannot contradict his revealed will. Now, the Calvinist would say the same thing; but he has a clearer notion of what contradiction is, and what the Scriptures say. It was God’s secret will that Abraham should not sacrifice his son Isaac; but it was his revealed (for a time), his command, that he should do so. Superficially this seems like a contradiction. But it is not. The statement, or command, “Abraham, sacrifice Isaac,” does not contradict the statement, at the moment known only to God, “I have decreed that Abraham shall not sacrifice his son.” If Arminians had a keener sense of logic they would not be Arminians (Clark 2004:28).
This sounds more like Clark, the Calvinist’s, illogical view! Little (2010:293) has noted that Clark’s appeal to God’s knowledge does not solve the problem. Why? Because Clark is maintaining that God has two contradictory and incoherent wills! Since God is sovereign, how is it possible for God to have two wills (secret and revealed) for the same event that are contradictory? While Clark admits there is an apparent contradiction in what the biblical text, but his supposed solution fails because it is illogical. Why? Because God’s secret and revealed wills must also apply to Jessica’s death, Hitler and the Holocaust, and the slaughters by Pol Pot (UNICEF estimated 3 million people were slaughtered) and Idi Amin (up to 500,000 people could have been killed under his regime).
Take a read of R C Sproul Jr’s view of God creating sin (this is not R C Sproul Sr) in, ‘Taking Calvinism Too Far: R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Evil-Creating Deity‘. In this article it states that R C Sproul Jr, the Calvinist, asks: ‘“Isn’t it impossible for God to do evil?” He acknowledges that God can’t sin. This isn’t much of a consolation, as Sproul Jr. goes on to say: “I am not accusing God of sinning; I am suggesting that he created sin” (p. 54)’.
John Frame, the Calvinist, wrote:
For us, the question arises as to whether God can be the efficient cause of sin, without being to blame for it. The older theologians denied that God was the efficient cause of sin . . . [in part] because they identified cause with authorship. But if . . . the connection between cause and blame in modern language is no stronger than the connection between ordination and blame, then it seems to me that it is not wrong to say that God causes evil and sin. Certainly we should employ such language cautiously, however, in view of the long history of its rejection in the tradition (Does God ’cause’ sin?)
Why don’t you take a read of the article about supralapsarian Calvinist, John Piper, ‘John Piper on Man’s Sin and God’s Sovereignty‘.
It makes God into a monster!
What is a better solution to the problem of evil?
There is a very simple solution that those who believe in God’s free will to human beings, have been advocating throughout human history. We find it throughout the Scriptures. The Bible shows clearly that people have the ability to choose between two contrary views such as life and death. See Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Joshua 24:15; Isaiah 56:4; Ezekiel 33:11. The New Testament promotes the same view: Luke 22:32; John 3:16-17; Acts 17:30; Romans 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 4:10; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; 2 John 1:9 and Revelation 22:17.
Of course there are verses that affirm predestination in association with salvation, but that is not contradictory to God’s giving human beings responsibility through free will. Also see ‘Church Fathers on Foreknowledge and Free will’.
When it comes to the problem of evil, there is a simple solution. When God made human beings in the beginning, he gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey or disobey Him:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
Adam and Eve chose to disobey, beginning with Eve and the serpent’s tempting (Genesis 3). This tempter is generally accepted as the devil/Satan (see John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3, 14; Revelation 12:9).
Since that time, all human beings inherit original sin, which means that all people have an hereditary fallen nature and moral corruption that have been passed on from Adam and Eve to all of their descendants. Romans 5:12 gives a summary of this view from God’s perspective:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.
Some choose to be selfish, angry, steal or get angry (from mild to severe). Other people choose to do horrific things in their sinful actions. Human beings are responsible for horrendous, sinful deeds. It is human beings who commit the Holocaust, rape and murder. Each human being is responsible and will appear before the judgment of God to be judged.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (NIV).
The problem of evil, while inherited from birth, cannot be rebuffed with the claim that God gave it to me and caused me to sin. This is one that I’ve heard from some with a former church connection. The facts are that human beings choose to sin as Adam and Eve were their representatives. Adam was our federal head. If we had been there, we would have done exactly what Adam and Eve did. We see this emphasis in verses such as:
- Romans 5:18, ‘Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people’.
- 1 Corinthians 15:22, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’.
Geisler & Brooks (1990:32) succinctly state the solution to the dilemma: ‘God is responsible for the fact of freedom, but men [human beings] are responsible for the acts of freedom’.
That is the hope available to all people
(image courtesy ChristArt)
‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’. If you are interested in being made alive in Christ for abundant life NOW and eternal life that can begin NOW, I encourage you to read, ‘The content of the Gospel … and some discipleship’.
So, who is responsible for all of the evil in the world?
Clark, G H 2004. God and evil: The problem solved. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation.
Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.
Little, B A 2012. Evil and God’s sovereignty, in Allen D L & Lemke, S W (eds), Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism, 275-298. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.
Piper, J 2008. Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Piper, J 2009. The president, the passengers, and the patience of God, Desiring God, 21 January. Available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/the-president-the-passengers-and-the-patience-of-god (Accessed 7 May 2012).
 The article,‘Drifter says he held girl three days’ (CNN, June 24, 2005), states that this atrocity occurred 100 yards from her home.
[1a] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘God is not the author of evil’, ColetheCalvinist, #1, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7654545/ (Accessed 6 May 2012).
 This was originally published as chapter 5 in Gordon Clark’s 1961 book, Religion, Reason and Revelation (The Trinity Foundation, 1986 ).
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 May 2016.