Sunday, August 14, 2011

Q&A 2011: Whose fault is it that sin is here: Satan's, God's, or Adam and Eve's?

© Eric M Schumacher – Preached August 14, 2011 at Northbrook Baptist Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Audio available here.
This sermon is an extended manuscript, substantially longer than the one from which I preached. It includes extra references and examples, beyond those delivered. It also includes end-notes with additional explanations and references. 

Those interested in further study on the topic of God's sovereignty and sin may benefit from studying:

This morning marks the first sermon in our 2011 “Questions and Answers” Sermon Series. We asked the congregation to submit the texts, topics and questions they would most like to hear addressed in a sermon. We compiled your submissions into a list and let you vote on them. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be addressing the top submissions:

I appreciate these questions for several reasons. First, all of them are questions that people are asking. They’re legitimate, honest questions that are on people’s minds. In fact, all of these are questions that I have heard asked of me or other elders in personal conversations. This, along with the fact that they got the majority of votes, is an indicator that people want answers to these questions.

Second, they are questions that people “lose sleep over” (so to speak). Whether it is how to respond to a homosexual friend, how to think about revenge, how to put the Old and New Testament together, how to reconcile God’s sovereignty and goodness with evil and human responsibility, or how to know for sure that we are saved—these are questions that can consume our thinking and spark debates—even to the point of straining relationships between parents and children and husbands and wives!

This morning’s question comes from a young boy—a natural and good question from a child as he learns basic doctrines about God’s sovereignty, omniscience, goodness, etc. And yet, it is a question that causes adults to despair and leave the faith, while giving PhD’s headaches!

And so, all these questions all matter. None of them is trivial. They are relevant to how we think about God and how we relate to other people.

Questions Whose Answers Lead to Questions
Each of these questions, including this morning’s, are questions that have answers that produce more questions. I point that out because, at the end of each sermon, you’ll probably be left with a list of other questions. (No sermon can ever answer every possible question, concern or possible misunderstanding—and shouldn’t try to do so!)

For example, this morning’s question is a “Who” question—“Whose fault is it that sin is here?” It is a complex question—both to understand and to answer—and will take most of the sermon to do so.

But, “Who?” is not the same question as “Why?” But they are connected! Once we have answered the question of “Who?” the question “Why?” follows—and it should. So, if the answer is “God ordained that sin be in the world,” then the follow-up is “Why did he do that?” Or, if the answer is “Satan caused sin,” then the follow-up is “Why did God allow him?”

Those follow-up questions are questions we do not have space to answer this morning. But, that is okay. One of the ways that we learn about life in general and about God, the Bible, and how to think biblically is by understanding one piece of the puzzle at a time. It is a process—a spiritual, intellectual, experiential, etc. process—that goes on throughout life. And at the end of it all, we’re not God. We won’t have all the answers—which means that sometimes we believe pieces, struggle to see how they all fit together, and rest in faith that God is good and just and true.

A Plan of Attack
My plan of attack for addressing this morning’s question is to answer these five questions:

  1. What is the question?
  2. Why does the question matter?
  3. Can this question be answered? If so, how?
  4. How does the Bible answer this question?
  5. How does this apply to our lives?
(1) What is the question?
“Whose fault is it that sin is here: Satan’s, God’s, or Adam and Eve’s?” The question gets at the responsibility for sin being “here,” that is, in the world.

The question includes three “parties”—Satan, God, and Adam and Eve.

God is the main subject of the Bible. To define and describe who he is could not happen in eternity. Our statement of faith states the following:
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being. 

God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise.[1]
Adam and Eve were the first two human beings ever created. In Genesis 2, we read that Adam was formed by God from the dust of the ground, and God breathed life into him. The Lord put him in a garden in Eden to work it and keep it. The Lord commanded Adam that he could eat of every tree in the garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that he ate of it he would surely die.

The Lord declared that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and so he formed a woman from one of Adam’s ribs to be a helper fit for him. Adam called his wife’s name Eve. Together, created in God’s image, they were to populate the earth, subdue it, and exercise dominion over its creatures.

Eve, when tempted by the serpent, ate of the forbidden fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who also ate. Thus, they sinned, rebelling against God’s law.

Adam functions as the head or representative of the human race. Those who descend from him are imputed with his guilt and inherit his nature (Rom 5:12-14).

Satan is not God’s equal. He was created as an angel. He is now a demon. “Demons are evil angels who sinned against God and who now continually work evil in the world.”[2]

Satan, which means “the adversary,” also called “the devil,” which means “slanderer.” He is presented in the Old Testament as “a legal accuser who tests the faithfulness of God’s people.”[3] Satan is the head of the demons, the arch-demon, a liar and a murderer from the beginning (Mt 25:41; John 8:44). Jesus came to destroy his works (1 John 3:8).

It was Satan who, in the form of a serpent in the garden, tempted Eve to sin (Gen 3:1-6; 2 Cor 11:3).

“Sin” is one of the central themes in the storyline of the Bible. Sin enters near the beginning of the story and is the central crisis. The absence and abolition of sin is celebrated at the end of the story. And, in between, “sin” is what Jesus Christ came to deal with.

“Sin” is quite a complex idea—there are over 50 terms that describe it in the Bible. A basic definition of sin is “lack of conformity to the law of God.”[4] It is falling short of or rebelling against God’s revealed will for how his moral creatures ought to be. “Sin is mistrust (of God), betrayal, ingratitude and disloyalty; hence ‘Everything that does not come from faith is sin’ (Rom 14:23).”[5]

Sin deserves the wrath of God. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). All human beings sin (Rom 3:23). Therefore, all humans deserve (and apart from atonement, will receive) God’s wrath. (Fallen angels also sin. But, given that the Bible says little to nothing about the origin of their sin and that Adam and Eve are included in the question, I am going to assume the question refers to the origin of human sin.)

Given what sin brings, the question of its origin is important—whose fault is this!?

“Fault” is a tricky word. In English, “fault” means “weakness, failing,” it refers to an imperfection, or “responsibility for wrongdoing or failure.”[6] So, it can be an imperfection in general or a moral imperfection in particular that brings guilt. And the word shows up in our English translations in both senses.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…” There, fault is equal to “moral failure,” to sin. In Hebrews 8:7-8, we read, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says [that he will establish a new covenant]…” The old covenant had faults; not moral failures per se, but it failed to bring perfection.

And so, when we ask, “Whose fault is it that sin is here?” we are asking: “Whose failure (moral or otherwise) is responsible for the presence of sin in the world?”

In Genesis 3, after the fall, Satan (in the form of a serpent) and Adam and Eve are each held responsible for what transpired—each receives a consequence. “Responsibility for wrongdoing” is place on each—thus “sin” is the “fault” of Satan and Adam and Eve. (Though this doesn’t answer the question of how creatures, which we assume were created perfect, came to have faults!)

Jesus pronounces “woe to the one by whom the temptation [to sin] comes” (Mt 18:7). And Satan is presented as the original tempter in the Garden of Eden.

Moreover, Scripture places such “blame” for sin’s entrance into the world squarely on the shoulders of Adam. Paul writes in Romans 5:12 that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” “Sin” is Adam’s “fault.”

Finally, the Bible repeatedly affirms that God is perfect (Mt 5:48; Ps 18:30; Dt 32:4); therefore, he has no faults. And, therefore, it is impossible that sin finds its origin in God’s “fault”—he has no faults.

So, there we have it. It is Satan’s fault and Adam and Eve’s fault that sin is in the world, but not God’s fault. We can sing our final hymn and head to the park for a picnic.

But, as I said, “fault” is a tricky word. The technical definition of fault is “responsibility for wrongdoing or failure.” Technically, “fault” always includes an element of failure. But if you’ve had more than one conversation in your life, you’re sure to know that we do not always use words according to their strict, technical, dictionary definitions.

Sometimes we use the word “fault” in a less technical sense to mean simple causation or responsibility, without regard to a necessary “failure” in that person. And, I suspect there is an element of this use in our question.

So, rather than asking, “Who failed? Who messed up and let sin in?” the question is more—“Who is ultimately responsible for sin’s presence?” We’re asking—Did God will or ordain that there be sin in the world? Did God know what Satan and Adam and Eve would do and permit sin to happen? (And if he foresees and permits, hasn’t he basically ordained it?!) And if God did not ordain or permit it, did Satan and/or Adam and Eve take God by surprise? Did they thwart his plan?

But this use of “fault” isn’t so far from its technical use. For a question follows: If God did ordain and/or permit sin, how is he not actually morally guilty of sin? He’s responsible in some sense! Is there a way that God could ordain and/or permit evil without incurring moral guilt himself?

And this problem brings us to our next major question—Why does this question matter?

(2) Why does the question matter?
The origin of sin matters, quite simply, because (a) we sin, (b) we’re sinned against, (c) we suffer because of those sins, and (d) all sin flows from the first sin. So, we want to know how we got in this mess! Whose fault is it!

This question matters because it effects how we view and relate to God. What come into play in this question are questions like:
  • Is God absolutely sovereign over all things?
  • Is God absolutely good?
  • Is God worthy of worship?
  • Can God be trusted?
  • Does sin—my sin, others’ sin, demonic sin—thwart or hinder God’s will?

If God is sovereign over all things, then he must have been sovereign over the first sin and all that flows from it. But, sin is evil and brings with it great evil and great suffering. How then can God be good? How is it that God can be worthy of worship, honor and praise? Can we trust God to do good to us?

If God is not sovereign over the first sin, was his will thwarted? Are there bad, evil, harmful things that happen outside his sovereign control? If so, why should we trust God? How can we praise God? He fails! He means well—but he cannot be depended upon to deliver what he promises.

And so, you see how this question could keep one up at night and spark vicious debates. God’s power, goodness, trustworthiness are on the line—along with our hope for the future! And so, this prompts our next question—Can this question be answered? If so, how?

(3) Can this question be answered? If so, how?
Yes, this question can be answered. However, the answer is difficult.

It is difficult because the Bible is not mainly addressing these questions. The Bible was written, ultimately, to proclaim the Gospel, the saving promises of God, so that sinners might repent and believe, trusting in God’s promise, and so be saved.

So, for example, while Genesis 3 is about the origin of human sin, it is not exhaustive. It does not tell us everything there is no about the situation. It only tells us what is necessary for us to know to understand the storyline of the Bible, particularly the saving promise that God will make.

For sure, the Bible is the word of God, without any mixture of error, and applies to all of life. Nevertheless, the Bible simply wasn’t written to resolve all our philosophical problems, scientific questions, and other curiosities. Such things might be alluded to. But they simply aren’t the Bible’s main point.

This means we are often left to address these questions by gathering “bits of truth” from passages addressing other issues. We learn something of God’s sovereignty here, and something of his goodness there, and someplace else we see how God’s sovereignty, Satan’s activity and a human’s responsibility intersect in one situation. From these, we can draw conclusions about how they must intersect in the origin of sin.

This is also difficult because the Bible affirms diverse truths that must be held in tension. The Bible does not contradict itself. It contains no errors, no true contradictions.[7] Nevertheless, it does teach truths that we must hold in tension. From a human perspective, they can be difficult to fully explain. As we will see: God is perfect, good, and sovereign over everything that has ever and will ever come to pass. He does not do evil and takes no delight in it. Angels, demons and humans are free moral agents who are responsible for their decisions and actions.

How do we answer this question? By understanding what the Bible says about each aspect of the question, especially as they appear together.

The Bible does say something about each aspect of the question—about God’s sovereignty and goodness, about Satan and man’s freedom and responsibility. We take these revealed truths, put them together and draw conclusions

Sometimes the Bible addresses these parts in one passage—even when this question is not the main point of the text.

Main points are made by a series of sub-points. And we can learn truth from these sub-points, even though they are not the main point of the passage.

So, for example: The main point of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery and rising to a high position in Egypt is not to teach us about the sovereignty of God in the evil actions of humans (such as Joseph’s brothers). Despite that, it does say true things about this, and it is legitimate to learn from these.

Likewise, it would be wrong to conclude that because there is no passage dealing explicitly with this question that it is wrong to meditate on it. There are answers revealed in various passages scattered throughout the Bible. Our task is to discern what is taught or implied in each passage and bring them together to get at an answer to our question.[8]

All that said—the answer may not be satisfying to all. We are sinful. We are finite. And, we often come to the Bible with presuppositions and cherished ideas that we want to cling to, regardless of what the Bible says. Let us humble ourselves beneath God’s word and believe what it reveals!

So then, what does the Bible say?

(4) How does the Bible answer this question?
I’ll begin by stating four things the Bible teaches clearly:

(1) God is good. He does not sin or take pleasure in evil. He always does what is just and right.
From beginning to end, the Bible assumes and affirms the moral goodness of God.

Abraham asks, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25). And Moses proclaims, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice” (Dt 32:4). The Psalmist declares, “You are not a God who delights in wickedness” (5:4) and “You are good and do good” (119:68) and “The Lord is righteous in all his ways” (145:17). And the last book of the Bible finds all God’s people singing, “Just and true are all your ways, O King of the nations” (Rev 15:3).

We would run out of time if we simply read all the texts that affirm God’s moral goodness.

(2) God is absolutely sovereign. Absolutely nothing happens apart from his will. God ordains everything.

God is governing all things. He is sovereignly working all things so that his purposes will be accomplished. Scripture is clear that nothing happens, nothing comes to pass apart from the sovereign will of God.

God preserves every created thing.[9] The prophet Nehemiah declared (9:6):
You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them…
Hebrews 1:3 states that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power,” as Colossians 1:17 says that “in him all things hold together.” This “upholding” is more than a passive willing of its existence. The idea is of Christ actively “‘carrying’ all things to their appointed end or goal,” suggesting he is directing and purposing their movement toward an objective.[10]

This means that as Satan, Adam and Eve, or any other moral being makes a choice or carries out an action, even those that are evil, Christ is, at the very least, keeping them existing and, therefore, allowing and empowering them to act. At any moment, he could choose to cause them to cease existing.

Moreover, Scripture affirms that God is actively involved in creation at every moment, directing everything according to his holy will. The Apostle Paul declares, in Ephesians 1:11, that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

"All things" includes inanimate creation[11] and animals.[12] Even “random” or “chance” events are determined by God, for “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov 16:33).[13]

God is sovereign over the affairs of nations.[14] Nebuchadnezzar must confess (Dan 4:34-35):
…all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
He directs the decisions of rulers[15]—“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1)—which is true whether that is the king of men, the king of angels, or the king of demons.

He is sovereign over every aspect of our lives, both our sustenance and our days.[16] He reigns over all our actions; for, “it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23).[17] He reigns over our success and failures, our talents and abilities.[18]

The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah (46:9-10):
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…'
And, in Lamentations (3:37-38), Jeremiah asks in lament, “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?”

All Things—Even Evil?
Yes, God works all things after the counsel of his own will. But does “all things” include even evil?

Yes, as difficult as it can be to comprehend, the Bible speaks this way even of evil. The Bible can speak of God creating evil, sending evil, permitting evil, and inciting others to do evil.[19]

Creates – In Isaiah 45:7 (KJV), the Lord says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” The word for “create” is the same word used in Genesis 1 for God’s direct creation of the heavens and earth. And the word for “evil” is the word almost always translated “evil” in the Old Testament—the same word used when speaking of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9; 3:22). This verse speaks of the Lord creating whole categories of things—light, darkness, peace and evil.

Sends – In 1 Samuel 16, we read the Lord sends an evil spirit to torment King Saul. This spirit, which is evil, operates at the Lord’s command.[20]

Permits – The Lord also permits people to do evil. We see this in Job 1-2, where the Lord must give Satan permission to kill his livestock and children. Likewise, in Luke 22:31, Satan must ask permission to “sift [Peter] like wheat.”[21]

Incites – The Lord also incites or moves others to do evil. In Job 1, it is actually the Lord that draws Satan’s attention to Job, which prompts what will unfold. Likewise, in Isaiah 19, the Lord says, “I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor…” And in 2 Samuel 24:1, we read that the Lord “incited David against” Israel, to command a census—an act that David will confess as sinful. The Lord will punish Israel for this act, killing 70,000 men through pestilence.

What is notable in all this is that the Lord is never said to actually do evil. He can be said to create, send, permit and incite it—but he does not do it, nor is he guilty of it.

So, these two things are true of God: God is absolutely good and innocent of all evil. And, God is absolutely sovereign, reigning over all that comes to pass, including evil. There are likewise two things that are true of moral beings, such as humans and angels.

(3) Human beings (and angels) are responsible, free moral agents—that is, they possess freedom of choice, effect what happens in the world, and are responsible for those choices and actions.

a. Humans and angels are “free agents.” This is an idea that we will explore more in our sermon on predestination. But for now, an agent is simply a person who acts.

By “free agent,” we mean that we are free to act according to our desires. We have “freedom of choice”—we can choose what we desire, so long as what we desire is possible.[22] (Free agency (or freedom of choice) is different than “free will,” which is the freedom to determine what we will desire and what we will be—the freedom to control and determine our very nature. This, Scripture denies.)

We see evidenced everywhere throughout the Bible, as God exhorts people to make decisions—“Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…” (Dt 30:19).[23]

b. Those decisions and actions actually effect what happens in the world. That is, they have real consequences and significance. This also is a truth evidenced throughout the Bible. In Job 1, the Sabeans took the donkeys and the oxen and killed the servants. They did it—and the result was the servants died. The Chaldeans stole the camels and killed the servants. They did it with a real result—the servants died.

This is so obvious, it hardly needs defending. The Bible speaks of people acting and real results are attributed to those actions. They have real significance, real consequences.

Likewise, with Satan—he has a real degree of control over what happens in the world.[24] Scripture speaks of him exercising authority over the world,[25] demons,[26] persecution,[27] taking life,[28] natural disasters,[29] sickness,[30] temptations to sin,[31] the blinding of the minds of unbelievers[32] and in spiritual bondage.[33] Satan is said to do all this things; and they result from his actions. (An interesting study is to compare what Satan does with Scripture that affirm that God is ultimately sovereign over all these things.[34])

c. Not only are humans and angels “free agents” who make decisions and actions that have actual effects—they are also responsible for their choices and actions. That is when humans or evil angels choose and do what is evil, they actually incur guilt and are held accountable for their choices.

Romans 5:12 says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” Adam is plainly held responsible for the entry of sin into the world.

Likewise, the concept of God’s wrath hangs on the responsibility and accountability of those who sin. Romans 6:23 says plainly, “the wages of sin is death.”

2 Peter 2:4 says that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…” They are responsible and will be judged, as will Satan himself (Rev 20:10).

So, how does this responsibility fit with God’s sovereignty over all? Scripture affirms also that:

(4) They are responsible, even when God foreordains and predestines their choices and actions.

For now, one example: In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaims to the crowd that (Act 2:23):
“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
On the one hand, Jesus death was murder. They crucified him. Lawless men killed him. They did it. They acted. They are responsible. In fact, when Peter ends by emphasizing that they crucified Jesus, the crowd is cut to the heart and Peter calls them to “repent” (36-38). Repentance is appropriate because they need forgiveness, because they are guilty for their actions.

On the other hand, their free act of murdering the Messiah (the most evil act to ever occur) was “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Judas delivered him—and was accountable for it—but he was delivered up according to God’s “definite plan.” Furthermore, in Acts 4:24-28, the believers pray:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Again—on the one hand, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Israelites, plotted and acted. They did it—against the Lord! And yet, on the other hand, they would “do whatever [the Sovereign Lord’s] hand and plan had predestined to take place.” The “Sovereign Lord” destined the murder of Christ before the heavens and earth existed.

Dual Truths
Therefore, we can say this about evil and sin—Scripture presents dual-truths, dual-explanations for evil.

The Scripture can explain sin and evil by simultaneously affirming two compatible truths:

First – God is the primary agent of everything that occurs. Behind everything that ever occurs stands a good, holy, righteous and just, sovereign God.

Second – Creatures (man and angels and fallen angels) are secondary agents when they act. They act under the sovereignty of God—and yet, they act. They are choosing. They are doing what they desire. They are doing what they want to do. And, therefore, they are responsible.

These are compatible truths. They are not contradictory. (A contradiction is to state that something is both true and not true at once. It is a contradiction to say both “God exists” and “God does not exist.” To say that man, Satan, and God are responsible for the same act is not contradictory, even if it is difficult to understand.)

Do we see this in the Bible? We’ve seen it in Acts, with the crucifixion of Jesus. Scripture affirms it on many other occasions. Let’s look at only a couple—the classic examples of Job and Joseph.[35]

Job (Job 1-2)
In Job 1, the Lord gives Satan permission to afflict Job. As a result, the Sabeans murder Job’s servants and steal his oxen and donkeys. Likewise, “fire of God” fell from the sky, burning up Job’s sheep and servants. Next, the Chaldeans stole Job’s camels and murdered his servants. Finally, a great wind blew down one of Job’s son’s house, killing everyone within it, including all of Job’s children.

What happened? Two natural disasters resulted in significant loss of human and animal lives. Moreover, there was evil human action—murder and stealing.

Who is responsible for it? The text implies, given the Lord’s permission to Satan, that Satan did it. Moreover, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans are humans—moral agents—who willfully engage in evil activity. But, the text also states that the fire was “the fire of God.”

Who does the text assign responsibility to? When Job received the news of all this tragedy, we are told that Job said—“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job assigned responsibility to God.

Of course, Job could be wrong. And we, who know the backstory that Job does not, want to yell, “No, Job, it was Satan!” And so, the narrator, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, assures us that “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” In other words, Job was right—ultimately, it was God who “took away” all of Job’s possession—even though it was carried out through Satan, humans and nature.

In fact, God himself affirms this in 2:3, when he says to Satan, “[Job] still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” In other words, the Lord himself says that Satan’s accusation of putting a hedge around Job incited the Lord to act against Job and destroy. The Lord states that he destroyed Job—and we know he did it through murdering Sabeans and Chaldeans (through evil).

We see the same thing happen in Job 2. After Satan afflicts him, with God’s permission, with terrible sores from head to foot, Job’s wife encourages him to “Curse God and die.” Job replies, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” But, Job 2:7 specifically says that “Satan…struck Job with loathsome sores.” How can Job say that he received this from God? And so, again, the narrator tells us in verse 10, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

The Sabeans and Chaldeans murdered and stole—they did it and are responsible for it. Satan acted against Job and afflicted him—he did it and is responsible for it. And yet, in the end, it is the Lord who did it—and it is right of Job to say so.

Joseph (Gen 45-50)
The story of Joseph, which begins in Genesis 37 and continues through the end of the book, is one of the clearest examples of God’s sovereignty over and in the evil actions of human beings.

His brothers hated him, plotted to kill him, and ended up selling into slavery, which brought Joseph to Egypt. There, in God’s providence, after a series of seemingly unfortunate events, he becomes Pharaoh’s second-in-command. A famine brings Joseph’s brothers from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain. In the end, Joseph reveals himself as their brother.

Who was responsible for moving Joseph from Canaan to Egypt? In Genesis 45:4-5, Joseph twice says to his brothers, “you sold [me] into Egypt.” But, in the same breath, Joseph will say, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Again, in verse 7, Joseph says, “God sent me” and in verse 8, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” In other words—“You sent me here. You sold me here. But, ultimately, God did it—not you.”

In fact, this is reaffirmed at the end of the story in Genesis 50:15-20. After Jacob, Joseph’s father, dies, his brothers become anxious that Joseph will seek revenge. As Joseph reassures them that he will care for them, he says, “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.”

Joseph’s brothers are clearly guilty of willing and carrying out evil. He plainly says, “You meant evil against me.” But, Joseph continues the sentence, “but God meant it for good, to bring it about…” What does “it,” in “God meant it,” refer to? In the sentence it can only refer back to what Joseph’s brother meant—evil. Rewrite that sentence, removing “it” and replacing “it” with what “it” stands for—evil. “You meant evil against me, but God meant evil for good, to bring evil about that many people should be kept alive.”

Joseph’s brothers intended an act of evil—selling Joseph into slavery—in order to harm Joseph. God, on the other hand, intended that very act of evil to occur—that Joseph be sold into slavery—but for a very different purpose, for the good of preserving many people alive. They both intended the same (evil) event—but for radically different purposes.

We have one event and two explanations—both true. Joseph’s brothers willed it—and are guilty of evil. God willed it—and is worthy of praise.

A Mystery
How can this be so? How can God be sovereign over sin and evil, even intending for it to come to pass, and yet not be guilty of that evil? How can God create moral agents who will do evil, permit them to do it, incite them to do it, sustain and preserve them as they are doing it—and they, who willfully do evil, are guilty? Indeed, how can God work all things after the counsel of his will, and yet be righteous and just?

Simply put—it is a mystery. We cannot understand how this can be. We can only understand that Scripture reveals that it is.

The reason that we cannot understand it is that we cannot fully comprehend the Creator-creature relationship. Every analogy that we can think of is a creature-creature situation. There is only one Creator-creature relationship—God with all that is. There is no analogy that can be offered.

In the end, we can only say with David (Ps 139:6): “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

Our Answer
So what is our answer? Whose “fault” is it that sin is here: Satan’s, God’s, or Adam and Eve’s?

The answer is: Yes.

Satan did tempt and incite Eve to eat the apple, who gave it to Adam who ate. Satan willed and carried out evil. He bears responsibility.

Adam and Eve acted wickedly, disobeying God’s clear instruction. They rebelled, and through Adam sin entered the world. He bears responsibility.

But, ultimately, we know that God is sovereign over all that comes to pass. He chose, before the foundations of the earth were laid, to redeem a people for his glory in Christ (Eph 1:4; Rev 13:8). This—including the fall and all its consequences—was his plan and his sovereign will. And yet, wonderfully and mysteriously, God can be charged with no evil, with no wrong-doing. He is the Sovereign Lord, who is righteous and just in all his ways.

How does this apply to our lives?
Let me leave you with a few “starter-thoughts” to meditate on for application to your life.

1. Do not underestimate your choices, the evil of your sin or the power of Satan.
When we meditate on God’s sovereignty, it can be tempting to conclude that our decisions are not significant or that Satan can be toyed with. After all—“If God works all things for good, why not sin that grace may abound!? Sure, sin is evil—but God will work it for good!”

Such thinking is a grave mistake, and is as evil as it is foolish. While the Bible teaches God’s sovereignty, it clearly teaches that our choices have real significance. We are responsible for what we choose and do. Sin brings death and harm. Satan is a raging lion who is seeking someone to devour—and we must resist him (1 Peter 5:8-9).

2. Do not overestimate yourself, others, sin or Satan.
On the other hand, we should rest in God’s good sovereignty. The story of Joseph is the story of the world. God is working in and through the evil choices of sinners to faithfully carry out his promises for the good of his people. The evil sin of the sons of Israel was not working to thwart God’s purposes. Rather, their sinful choices were actually part of God’s plan to keep his promises!

Therefore, do not give your choices more credit than they deserve. Perhaps you hate God and are determined to thwart his plans and his will. It is a fool’s pursuit. You can no more escape the realm of God’s sovereignty than you can step outside the universe. Humble yourself before God!

In the same vein, do not overestimate the power of your sin (or the sin of others). It can be easy to look back on the sin that we have committed (or the sin that others have committed against us) and conclude that life is ruined and hope is gone. No matter how big God may be, we think, this sin is too much even for him!

This too is a foolish conclusion. In fact, despair over sin is a subtle form of sin. It is pride to believe that your sin or another’s sin could actually prevent God from accomplishing your good.

The greatest sin in the history of the world—the crucifixion of the Messiah—did not thwart God’s plan. Rather, in the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God, God was carrying out his predetermined plan. There, atonement for sin was accomplished, as Jesus died for our sin, so that through his resurrection, whoever trusts in him would have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

And therefore, do not give Satan more credit than he deserves. Ever since his creation, as powerful as he may be, Satan has never been anything more than God’s pawn. He is on a leash, allowed to do no more (and no less) than what God would have him to do. Satan’s greatest hour, the crucifixion of Jesus, was the hour in which he was overthrown and cast out (Lk 22:53; Jo 12:31).

3. Worship God and hope in Christ!
God reigns. He alone is worthy of honor, glory and praise. He alone can be trusted and hoped in.

He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He sent the good Shepherd to die for the sheep and to call us by name.

Your sin cannot thwart God’s purposes. The sin of others cannot harm you apart from God’s ordinance. Do not despair that evil seems to prosper. God will call all to account. He will deal with sin justly.

Likewise, trust that—in good or in evil—God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). That is a verse written for sufferers by a sufferer.

We will not always know what God is working through evil. We will not always (or often) know how God is working for our good and his glory. It will not always feel or appear true.

But, it is. We can always be sure God is good. And God is working our good and his glory, even through unspeakable evil.

Let us, like Job, put our hands to our mouths and worship God in faith and humility.


[2] Grudem, Systematic Theology, chapter 20.

[3] from “Spiritual Powers,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

[4] from “Sin,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

[5] ibid.


[7] If you find one, please show me! I’ve heard it claimed many time and in many ways that the Bible contains them, but have yet to be shown a true error or contradiction in the Bible.

[8] Sometimes people try to sidestep and avoid these hard questions by stating that it is inappropriate to draw conclusions from truths revealed in a passage that is not written to address the particular question at hand. But, main points depend on the validity and truthfulness of the sub-points from which they are drawn. Moreover, incidentals mentioned can also be true, even if not contributing to a main point.

For example: If I tell call my wife to say, “I love honey-roasted peanuts almost as much as I love jelly beans. The grocery store has an incredible sale on honey-roasted peanuts and I’m standing in line to buy a bunch. Therefore, I’ll be late getting home for supper. Please eat without me,” my main point is that my family should eat supper without me. The other facts support that main point. Nevertheless, it would not be wrong of a third party who is listening to our phone call to state, “Eric Schumacher loves jelly beans more than honey-roasted peanuts,” even though that is not the main point of the conversation. It is an incidental, but still true.

(Why a third party is listening in on that phone call is a question that I cannot answer! Possibly, they also love honey-roasted peanuts and are looking for insider knowledge on the best prices. Or, they are communist spies. Maybe, they are communist spies that love honey-roasted peanuts. Whether they love jelly beans does not matter. But they probably don’t, since Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans and he brought down the Soviet Union. Then again, spies try to blend in. So, they could pretend to love jelly beans. Nevertheless, their preference for jelly beans is irrelevant (irrelevant to this discussion, that is, though not to Cold War spy-rings).)

[9] See also: 2 Peter 3:7; Acts 17:28; Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29

[10] Peter O’Brien, Hebrews, 56-57.

[11] Ps 104:4, 14; 135:6-7; 148:8; Job 37:6-13; 38:12-13, 22-38; Ezek 14:21; Mt 5:45

[12] Ezek 14:21; Job 38:39-39:30; 2 Kings 2:23-24; Ps 104:25-29; Mt 6:26; 10:29

[13] Cf. Esther, Ruth

[14] Job 12:23-24; Ps 22:28; Acts 17:26

[15] Ezra 1:1; 6:22

[16] Mt 6:11 Phil 4:19; Ps 139:16; Job 14:5; Gal 1:15; Jer 1:5

[17] Acts 17:28; Prov 16:1, 9; 19:21; 20:24

[18] Ps 75:6-7; Luke 1:51-53; Ps 127:3; 1 Cor 4:7; Ps 18:34

[19] For more on these four categories, see Mark R. Talbot, “All the Good That Is Ours in Christ,” 
in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor).

[20] See also Judges 9:23; 1 Kings 22:13-40; 2 Thess 2:11f; Ex 7-12; Num 21:6; 2 Sam 24; 2 Kings 24; Isa 10

[21] See also: Gen 31:7; Exod 12:23; Acts 14:16

[22] I may desire to fly like a bird, but the limits of my nature do not allow it.

[23] Josh 24:14f; Prov 1:29; 3:31; Isa 56:4f; Lk 10:41f

[24] See John Piper, “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It,” in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

[25] Jo 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12; Lk 4:5-7

[26] Mk 1:27

[27] 1 Pt 3:17; 5:8-9; Lk 22:52-53; John 10:18

[28] Jo 8:44; Rev 2:10; Dt 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6; James 4:13-16

[29] Job 1

[30] Job 2; Lk 13:16; Ex 4:11

[31] Lk 22:34; Acts 1:16; 2:23; Lk 22:31-32

[32] 2 Cor 4:4-6; Eph 2:1-5

[33] 2 Tim 2:24-26

[34] For the sake of such study, I have included such Scriptures in some of the above footnotes.

[35] Other examples include: Jonah—where both the sailors and the Lord are said to be responsible for hurling Jonah into the sea (Jonah 1:12, 15; 2:1-3); Saul’s Suicide—where Saul takes his own life and the Lord is said to have “put him to death” (1 Chron 10:1-14); Pharaoh—where both the Lord and Pharaoh are said to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4-11); David’s Census—where both the Lord and Satan are said to “incite” David to number Israel, for which David is held sinfully accountable (cf 2 Sam 24:1-25; 1 Chron 21:1-28); Jesus’ Betrayal and Crucifixion—Jesus is murdered by sinful men according to God’s predetermined plan, yet Jesus says that no one takes his life from him (Acts 2:23; 4:27; Jo 10:18; Lk 22:3-4). Examples could still be multiplied.