Does God Use Evil to Accomplish His Purposes?

Question
Jeremiah 20:7 (KJV): "O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed." How can GOD deceive someone? What is the best explanation for this verse?
Answer
I understand your concern about the way the text is phrased. In the Hebrew it could be phrased something like: "LORD, thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded." However, even if we phrase it this way, we do not wish to lose the meaning of the text - God "uses" evil to accomplish his will at times! Either way, Jeremiah did not fully foresee the trails that his task would bring.

Even if we translate this text as "O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived," we do not have a problem. Although God is not the author of evil or sin, he does "ordain" it and use it for His glory. When I was a police detective, I would allow (ordain) suspects to be together and talk. They would sit there and deceive one another - lie, lie, lie. I didn't literally put words in their mouth, but I didn't stop their lies either. Then I would use their lies against them in order to accomplish my task of obtaining a confession.

God ordained sin's existence from the beginning:

  • (1) God not only made it a possibility that Adam could sin (Gen 3),
  • (2) He not only knew Adam would sin (Isa 40:13-14; cf. Job 21:22; Rom 11:33-34, etc.), but
  • (3) He also ordained that Adam would sin.

We are sure of this as God also ordained for his Son to die BEFORE the foundation of the world! (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28; 1 Pet 1:18) Why? Because God ordained to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). In addition, no one could know the full love of God unless Jesus died for his elect - "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). These are the marvelous and wondrous works of the God that loves his people!

God has sin, evil, deception, and all their means incorporated into his perfect ordained plan. At times God ordains a lying spirit. See Ahab's experience in 1 Kings 22:21-23 (KJV): "Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: Go forth, and do so." (cf. 2 Thess 2:11-12). Note the use of the term "persuade." We have the story of Job where God asks Satan, "Have you considered my servant...? In this case, God used Satan to help Job mature (Job 1:8). God is the one that raised up Pharaoh, who kept Israel enslaved for years just so he could later reveal his glory in destroying the Egyptians. Indeed, God even hardened his heart! See Romans 9:15-22. And as we already discussed, consider the death of Christ, which God ordained (1 Pet 1:18 ff), but which was carried out by wicked men (i.e. morally responsible) who were persuaded by events, their fallen natures, etc. (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

As stated above, although God is not the author of evil or sin, he does ordain sin for His own glory. Though finite illustrations of the infinite are always limited, an illustration may help to clarify the relationship of author/creator and ordaining:

Let's say you purchase a Toyota Camry. Toyota, the author/creator, made your Camry and the speedometer registers 120 mph. That is fast! However, where you live the speed limit is only 55 mph. Just because Toyota created a vehicle that can go 120 mph doesn't mean that the driver has the right to drive that fast. Creating the possibility to break the speed limit does not mean Toyota is the author of a traffic offense by a speeding driver. Who would be responsible? The driver would be.

So why did Toyota ordain that the Camry could go faster than 55 mph? So, it can run more efficiently at lower speeds. If cars were built to only go at 55 mph, then the car would wear the car out prematurely, they couldn't properly accelerate, go up hills as easily, do towing, etc. Realistically, optimal performance is not at the top end of the curve, so automobile manufactures design vehicles so that typical operation lines up with optimal efficiency/performance. This means creating vehicles with more capability then they should normally use.

So, there is a legal and reasonable use for a car to go 120 mph, just as there is a legal and reasonable for the use of evil. Though we do not always clearly and fully understand God's ordaining of evil, we can trust God. If he ordains something, it is always for the good of his people (Rom 8:28).

I hope this helps.

Related Topics:

Evil and God?
Are God's Statutes Evil? Ezekiel 20:25
Sin is Good - Or is it?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).