“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Does everything happen for a reason? Is every little thing that happens to us the result of a grand cosmic scheme under God’s exacting, surgical control? Is every circumstance we face the direct result of God’s precise machinations and careful constraints?
Reformed authors will argue that “God always controls everything” based on verses like Ephesians 1:11, which says, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will…” In fact, some go so far as to claim that ““The Bible sweepingly says that everything human beings do is, in the end, the will of God.”
While I would strongly affirm that God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and that a great day is coming when God will put all things to rights, I would disagree with the assessment that everything that happens is the will of God. Obviously, I land on the Freewill side of the Freewill/Predestination debate. In God’s sovereign wisdom, I believe, God saw fit to give us humans the agency and ability to decide for or against God. Though God is grieved when we choose to go our own way, God wants to be freely loved rather than to be loved in some coercive fashion. Obviously, this creates the possibility of humans doing harm and committing evils that cause much grief and heartache.
So what about verses like Romans 8:28 (see above)? How can God be working for the good when innocent children are killed and evil regimes run unchecked in our world? My reading of this verse is that while God is not the cause behind everything that happens, God is able to work redemptively in and even despite specific situations. In Genesis, when Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery, he reminds them, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” The crucifixion of Jesus, which was intended by the Roman powers to silence a political nuisance and was clearly a miscarriage of justice, was used by God for much higher purposes.
My reason for bringing this up is twofold. First, God sometimes gets credited for things that God didn’t cause. Theologically, I simply would not say that the Holocaust was the will of God. That was the result of evil being carried out by humans. Second, I would affirm that God has a long history of redeeming human pain and suffering; God may not be the cause of them, but God can work through our sufferings to bring about good. Thanks be to God!
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