The Mystery of God's Providence
Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He formerly served as Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, May 2009).
- 2008 Dec 15
Just because God rules over history, though, doesn’t mean that history is easy to understand. The Bible, for instance, presents a real and mysterious tension between the free decisions of angels and human beings and God’s overall purposes. People and angels make real decisions–they do what they want to do. Human beings are not puppets made of meat. Joseph’s brothers don’t think they are saving the world by initiating God’s plan to rescue Israel through Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt. They think they’re disposing of an irritant. God turns these actions against them though–and even their evil is turned around for the good.
The same is true for Satan. He isn’t trying to accomplish God’s purposes when he assaults Job with affliction, or when he enters Judas to betray Jesus to the cross. Satan’s evil intent is real evil–and he’ll be judged for it. Even that evil that he meant for wicked ends though is thrown back at him, as the cross he plans for destruction saves the world.
Sin and evil can’t overthrow God’s purposes, the Scripture teaches. At the same time, God is not the author of evil. I was deeply impressed years ago by a sermon from Baptist pastor Mark Dever in which he warned against the ungodly temptation to “push evil all the way back into the heart of God.” God is sovereign and all-powerful; that’s true. He is also “light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him” (1 John 1:5).
There’s also a horrible danger for humans to try to read divine revelation through the outworking of providence, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Old Testament is filled with warnings not to assume that God is blessing the wicked man, just because he’s flourishing right now. That’s why Peter warns against dismissing the Day of the Lord just because it hasn’t yet arrived (2 Pet 3:1-13). God is patiently bearing with evildoers. He’s working out his purposes in Christ. But judgment will come–and suddenly.
God doesn’t explain why he allows things to happen the way he does, in our lives or in the broader scope of history. It would be comforting, we might think, if God ended the Book of Job with the familiar “Footprints” poem, showing Job all the places at which God was “carrying” him–along with all the reasons why. Often we don’t know why God is doing what he’s doing. But we know God. We trust him, and, sometimes, we just shut our mouths and bow our heads (Job 42:5-6).