(courtesy BibleGatewayBlog, 14 November 2015)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
Let’s put it another way: Did God know human beings would create evil or did He decree that evil would take place according to God’s will?
With the slaughter of about 129 people in Paris on 13 November 2015, this causes Christians to ask further questions about evil and the manifestation of evil in our world. It was on the evening of 13 November that there was a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks across Paris with mass shootings, suicide bomb and hostages taken. For details of where the Paris killings took place, see The Telegraph [UK] article, ‘Paris terror attack: Everything we know on Wednesday evening’ (18 November 2015). This report states that there were seven co-ordinated attacks in Paris.
Andy Rau asked this series of solemn questions:
One of the oldest and toughest challenges for Christians is finding a way to understand the existence of terrible evil in a world that is ruled by a loving, all-powerful God. It’s not an easy question to answer—if it were, we wouldn’t be struggling with it thousands of years after Christ—but the Bible does offer hope in the face of violence and evil.
We’ve talked about terror and the question of evil here in relation to terror attacks in past years. Most of those reflections are still relevant today in the wake of the Paris attacks; if these latest terror attacks have you wondering why a loving God could let this happen, take a few minutes to read through these reflections:
The terrorist group, Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for the slaughter in Paris.
(Islamic states (dark green), states where Islam is the official religion (light green), secular states (blue) and other (orange), among countries with a Muslim majority, courtesy Wikipedia)
Australia’s ABC News reported:
’Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, saying its fighters carried out the operation in various locations which were carefully studied.
In a statement posted online, IS said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters and insults against Islam’s prophet.
It said “eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles” conducted a “blessed attack on … Crusader France”’ (‘Paris attacks: Islamic State claims responsibility, French president Francois Hollande calls it “act of war”‘, ABC News, Brisbane Qld, 15 November 2015).
I ask, “Doesn’t God’s sovereignty include human beings’ genuine, free choices? If not, they are forced to act and they do not have genuinely free choices’.
One response I received was: ‘“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NASB). How free is the king’s will?’
This Paris attack raises a number of issues regarding the allowance or cause of evil in our world.
(In front of restaurants Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge on 16 November 2015 after terrorist attack, Paris, courtesy Wikipedia)
A. How free are governments under God’s decrees?
Let’s check out some examples from our recent history and in the contemporary world.
If the government leader’s (king’s heart) is turned wherever God wishes, how does that account for the following?
I asked: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler, the leader of Germany, according to your theology, was turned by God himself to slaughter 6 million Jews during the Holocaust? Is that your practical application of Prov. 21:1 in your theology? Did God know or did God cause this to happen by his decretive will?
‘Seventy years too late: Russia finally admits slaughter of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn was on Stalin’s orders’ (Daily Mail, 26 November 2010). So was Stalin’s slaughter according to God’s decree?
To whom do we attribute this evil, God or sinful, free will human beings? ‘Was the London killing of a British soldier “terrorism”’ (The Guardian, 24 May 2013)? This article begins:
Two men yesterday engaged in a horrific act of violence on the streets of London by using what appeared to be a meat cleaver to hack to death a British soldier. In the wake of claims that the assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the killing, and a video showing one of the assailants citing Islam as well as a desire to avenge and stop continuous UK violence against Muslims, media outlets (including the Guardian) and British politicians instantly characterized the attack as “terrorism”.
That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term “terrorism”, it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence?
- ‘Two more arrested as London terror probe expands’ (Fox News, 23 May 2013);
- ‘Killing near London barracks probed as “terror’ act”’ (CBC News, Associated Press, 23 May 2013);
- ‘Woolwich terrorist attack: Friend claims MI5 tried to recruit Michael Adebowale’ (ABC News, Australia, 25 May 2013);
- ‘Woolwich attack: Michael Adebolajo’s friend tells the BBC MI5 tried to recruit his friend’ (Courier-Mail, Australia, 25 May 2013).
If God decreed (foreordained) all evil, what are the implications? Are Calvinistic Christians going to state that this is according to God’s ‘decretive will’? That was the language used on Christian Forums for God’s relationship to evil as applied to Proverbs 21:1: ‘Free to do God’s decretive will’.
What about the many perpetrators of sexual abuse including the rape of children? Were their criminal and sinful acts decreed by God?
How free were Hitler’s and Stalin’s free wills? That is determined by the living God and he has given us teaching on this that is not in accordance with the Calvinistic imposition on the text (see below).
I affirm the view that God’s decrees are not inconsistent with freedom of choice, which could be called free agency. They do not eliminate human responsibility and do not make God the author of sin. God’s decrees involve His eternal purposes that are based on His holy, wise and righteous (just) nature. So God, to promote His own glory, decreed or foreordained everything that happens in our world. He does this effectively either by absolute decree (as in creation) or by permission (as in the moral evils I have raised).
Biblically, we see these examples (not comprehensive) in Gen 1-2; Isa 14:24; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8.
We have it revealed in Scripture that God permitted sin in the world and did not necessitate it when we have the revelation of the threats of punishment for sin (Gen. 2:17; Ex 34:7; Eccl 11:9; Ezek 18:20; 2 Thess 1:7-8).
- What do we read in Psalm 78:29? ‘And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved‘ (ESV).
- Again from the Psalms: ‘He gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them’ (Ps 106:15 ESV).
- In Acts 14:16, Paul taught, ‘In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways‘ (ESV).
- Acts 17:29, ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (ESV).
B. Free will and God’s decrees
This is my understanding of free will (volition) in ‘Did God know?’ Yes, God did know (his foreknowledge), and it is authentic free will because God,
- ‘gave them what they craved’;
- ‘gave them what they asked’;
- ‘allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways’;
All these dimensions are included in God’s wonderful gift of free will. He decreed the free will that all human beings received and this means that some will do horrific evil in the choices they make, including:
- Kill 6 million Jews;
- Slaughter people;
- Rape children,
- Kill 129 people in 7 co-ordinated attacks in Paris, 13 November 2015, etc.
Let’s get it very clear! God did not cause all of these sinful choices. He permitted them because he gave all human beings genuine free will that allows them to make authentic volitional decisions about a whole range of issues, including Adam and Eve’s choice to sin and inflict sinful natures on the whole human race, and for people to serve the Lord or not:
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15 ESV).
Romans 8:28-30 confirms this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (ESV).
I praise God for giving all people the risky gift of free will. This does not make God into an evil tyrant who decrees horrific moral evil such as the Holocaust and the rape of children by paedophiles. The almighty, living God, revealed in holy Scripture, does not decree this evil to take place through dictatorial imposition. He permitted it as demonstrated by the scriptural statements that some people ‘crave’ certain things and how God permitted some nations to live ‘in their own ways’.
For a refutation of how some Calvinists see God being responsible for decreeing all evil in the world, see my article, ‘Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?’
(Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims, Cambodia, courtesy Wikipedia)
 Ibid., Hammster #79.
 The following is from my response at ibid., #93.
 Some of this information is from H C Thiessen 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 153-154.
 Emphasis added.
 The footnote at this point in the ESV stated, ‘Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good’.
Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 03 February 2020.