Does God bring about evil decisions in man?


Although he is not the author, God does bring about free decisions in humans, even sinful, evil ones. We observe this in various texts throughout the Bible. Take for instance what it says about Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers. While it doesn't excuse the brothers' sin, notice what we're told Joseph said about God’s providence in the matter:

Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt ... As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

We see here that Joseph emphasizes three times that God ordained the evil act of his brothers. Then in Genesis 50 we're told why. But God did not author the evil; Joseph’s brothers in their jealousy did that. God ordained that it should happen because he "meant it for good." (See "Did Shakespeare kill King Duncan, or did Macbeth?" below.)

And then there is Samson. Under the law, Samson wasn’t supposed to marry a Philistine (Deut. 7:2-3), but he did (Judg. 14:1-3). Notice in Judges14:4 what Scripture parenthetically tells us of this marriage: "His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel." Some will say God merely allowed this. However, in his sovereignty, God only allows what he first ordains!

What about God inciting David to take a census? In 2 Sam. 24:1 we read, "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (1 Chron. 21:1). Some will say that God allowed Satan to tempt David, then David sinned, and God then dealt with David accordingly. But again, God only allows what he has ordained.

King Cyrus was an evil king who worshipped pagan gods. Yet, God ordained to use him to do his bidding. As Proverbs 21:1 states, "The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will." And when God raised up Cyrus he accomplished his will (Isa. 44:28).

The very death of Christ was the evilest act upon the face of the earth and in the heavens themselves. Yet even this was ordained by God: "The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!" (Luke 22:22, NIV; Acts 2:23-24).

Even regarding the end times, Scripture says, "for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled" (Rev. 17:17; cf. 2 Thess. 2:11).

God works out everything, even all the evil in the entire universe, to be in conformity to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:11). He holds it all within his hand to do with as he pleases. As the writer of Lamentations states, "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?" (Lam. 3:37-38; cf. Rom. 11:33-36).

God has never failed at anything. His plans will most surely be carried out (Psa. 33:11; 115:3; 135:6; Prov. 21:30; Isa. 14:27; 43:13; 46:10; 55:11; Dan. 4:35; Rev. 3:7). He is sovereign and controls everything, even the actions of evil men. In his omniscience, he knows everything, including every future event. Nothing can happen or has happened that he has not ordained. He’s never been surprised!

God is Lord of all and always will be. He’s not the author of evil, but he does ordain and use it to fulfill his plan.

Related Topics

Did Shakespeare kill King Duncan, or did Macbeth?
Does God Use Evil to Accomplish His Purposes?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

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