Does God Cause Evil in this World? Thoughtfully Responding to the Tragedy in Las Vegas
Does God Cause Evil in this World?
Thoughtfully Responding to the Tragedy in Las Vegas:
The conflict between the nature of God and evil in the world
Gunshots in rapid succession, this time leaving behind 59 dead in Las Vegas, Nevada, remind us that we live in deeply troubled times. It seems just yesterday that the same tragic news came out of Manchester, England. While hundreds of families grieve and mourn, many others turn up the volume looking for someone or something to blame. It can shred our confidence in God. How can thinking, compassionate Christians respond with confidence in the character of the God they trust and worship?
According to a portion of Christianity in this nation, the Triune God is the agent and cause of all things, including tragedies such as untimely deaths, murder, birth defects, the sexual abuse of children, rape, war, the Holocaust, Stalin’s elimination of 40-50 million of his own citizens, abortion, and a million other human-caused tragedies.
Their explanation is that God ordains tragedy in order to display His sovereign glory in our lives. That is their answer to the question, “Why does God allow evil?” According to this understanding, known as meticulous providence, God is seen as the agent and cause of all things (meticulous), tragic or otherwise. He is responsible for all the brokenness in our world and everything—even the Holocaust, was part of His perfect plan. Meticulous providence sees every aspect of our life as pre-programmed, adhering closely to a tightly scripted narrative, so that each event, good or evil, is part of God’s ordained purpose.
Regardless of how we parse the term “ordain,” it follows that all the evil acts perpetrated upon human beings can be traced to God’s will, whether we speak of His permissive or perfect will. No disconnect exists between evil and God. God has eternally willed the history of sin and death and so all events—none excepted—that occur in time-space are the proper and necessary ends to achieve His goals.
It Can Bring Comfort
The doctrine of meticulous providence can provide some level of solace to people. Men and women who suffer—while not understanding their suffering—can be comforted by knowing that their affliction does have a purpose, despite the elusiveness of that purpose.
God is Responsible
But, to see this view to its logical conclusion, all the suffering men, women, and children through the ages (i.e., the colonial plantation enslavement of Africans, the willful destruction of native Americans cultures, the genocide of the Jews by Hitler and his Nazis, the butchery of Josef Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, the lynching of African Americans, the trafficking of women and children in India for prostitution, etc.), and the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada occurred in order to manifest God’s divinely ordained script, despite His essential character of goodness and love. God is responsible.
If He did write these events into His divine script for humanity in time-space, can we still worship, adore Him, and maintain confidence in Him as One whose character is goodness and love and worthy of our sole allegiance? Perhaps we can. But perhaps we need to rethink the question.
I am not intending to build a straw man here or to misrepresent this particular view. This view has merit and is held by many intelligent, compassionate, and thinking men and women. Their names are familiar. I respect them as people trying to help others understand the complexities and tragedies of life and bring comfort. It isn’t easy. They too struggle to make sense of the unimaginable. Their motives are sincere.
There May be Another Answer
I suggest that perhaps Scripture provides another answer, a more logical alternative to the problem of the inconsistency of God’s love in bed with evil. It seems more consistent to me.
The Conflict between the Nature of God and Evil
Here’s my problem with it: How can we square the meticulous providence view with the doctrine that the basic nature of God is love? That is the question. There’s the rub. If suffering, tragedy, and death were part of God’s ordained plan, then those elements must also, it seems to me, be a part of His nature and His essence. But they are not.
The Nature of God
As I understand the Scripture, the essence of God’s nature is omniscient wisdom, omnipotent power, perfect justice, absolute righteousness, unwavering truth, goodness and love (involving displays of mercy and grace), expressed best at the cross of Jesus. The Triune God is glorious and holy. It is not simply that God loves; it is that His very essence is love; His very character is pure love. He loves because He is love.
Jesus and Evil
My pondering of the Gospel narratives, examining Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s God, offers nothing—as I understand it—to support the relationship of evil to Jesus or His Father that meticulous sovereignty claims. I find that omission striking. Does Jesus lay the ultimate responsibility for tragedy at the feet of His Father in heaven?
If Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s nature and will and the perfect embodiment of humanity, why do we hear no support for that view from His own words in the Gospels?
My mind goes to Gethsemane where Jesus begged His Father to take the cup of suffering away from Him. He dreaded the cross because He knew it meant that—as He became sin on the cross—His Father would of necessity abandon Him, forsake Him. The cross meant complete alienation from His Father, a thought He shuddered at and wanted to avoid. The emotional anguish associated with alienation from His Father almost killed Jesus on the spot. He said: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
No wonder, in His humanity, that Jesus wanted to take an exit ramp off the road to the cross. The cross of Jesus, where He became sin, shows the necessary divide, the ontological disconnect between God and sin, even when that disconnect required the Father to do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, to abandon His only beloved Son. No wonder Jesus begged His Father to take the cup of suffering from Him. No wonder the sky turned dark in mid-day in creational protest against such an awful sight.
The question may not be of any interest to some because their lives are free of suffering and tragedy. But for those who have incurable cancer or whose child has died in infancy, or is born with serious defects, or who lost entire families in the Holocaust or loved ones in Las Vegas, it is a serious question and warrants a thoughtful answer. How can God ordain evil and tragedy when it is not a part of His essence or nature? And why doesn’t He stop it before it happens?
As I understand the character of the Triune God and its relationship to how He governs His universe, He is, simply, incapable of ordaining means contrary to His nature. For example, He cannot lie because truth is a part of His character.
Evil: Privations in God’s World
So, rather than viewing sin, suffering, evil, and death, as part of His perfect plan, these elements of life are, instead, stark manifestations of creation’s alienation and rebellion from a loving God. The presence of evil acts in Auschwitz, Poland, Manchester, England, Las Vegas, Nevada, or on our own streets are understood as privations in God’s creation; they are not products of God’s meticulous will.
From a practical viewpoint, then, having pancreatic cancer, suffering macular eye degeneration or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, other mental disorders, and man-made atrocities are all symptomatic of the privations in the world. God did not plan these tragedies to happen.
As I understand the message of Jesus in the Gospels, supported by Scripture on both flanks, God has willed His good in creatures from eternity and will bring it to pass, despite their independent rebellion and unbelief, by ordering all events towards His goodness so that even evil events and people—though He does not cause them—become an occasion of the operation of His grace.
Confusion of Providence and Determinism
The strict meticulous providence explanation, in my view, confuses Providence and Determinism and the result of that confusion is that the transcendent (God) collapses into the non-transcendent creation. God ends up needing the evil in the world and needing the world itself. But God needs nothing in my understanding. God is independent, free, self-existing.
So, does God will your sin? No, God does not will sin or evil, but He may permit it rather than violate the autonomy of the created world—the world He’s made to love Him in freedom. The great commandments, to love God and neighbor, flow out of His character, which means that we are to love Him and our neighbor in freedom, just as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit love one another in freedom.
God’s Relationship to Evil in Narrative Form
Before Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, decided to oppress the Israelites, they had multiplied and become super strong (Ex. 1:7). Out of fear of their numbers, he decided to enslave them (1:8-11). But as he afflicted them, the Israelites continued to multiply like rabbits (1:12)! Pharaoh’s plan backfired.
So his next strategy to slow the population of Israelites was to eliminate all male newborns, secretly ordering the Hebrew midwives to kill them at birth, only allowing the girls to survive (1:15-16). Yet this strategy, too, failed (1:17-19). The Hebrew midwives defied Pharaoh, refusing to kill the infants. The Israelites continued to multiply and became very strong (1:20). What’s a Pharaoh to do?
Finally, Pharaoh decided to take action more directly. Because the Hebrew midwives refused to obey him, he ordered his own people to kill the newborn Israelite males (1:22).
Did God ordain that all those babies would be killed? Or did the evil intention begin in the evil heart of Pharaoh? Did the Israelites believe that their God, the God of their fathers, ordained the genocide of infants? Or did they recognize the evil intention had its source in the heart of a human being—in rebellion against God?
God Does Not Look the other Way
Ironically, and unknown to Pharaoh, however, his own daughter undermined his murderous decree. Out of compassion for a Hebrew baby (2:6-10) —Israel’s future deliverer —his daughter rescued Moses as an infant. God did not look the other way. He did not ordain the tragedy nor did He prevent it—but He did ensure that His plan for the future of His people and for ultimate justice would occur (Rom 8:28). He overruled the evil intentions of Pharaoh by using his own daughter.
Exodus confirms the axiom that God, while not ordaining or even stopping human wickedness, does not ignore it. He can overrule or undermine the plans of the human race. But He does not ordain evil.
The Justice of God
Observe how God took vengeance against the next generation of Egyptians for what Pharaoh had done. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the first plague would turn that same Nile River to blood and deal a blow to their economy (7:20). “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the last plague would strike Egypt’s firstborn children (12:29). “I will repay.” Pharaoh drowned Israel’s male babies in the Nile (1:22); God would drown Egypt’s male army in the Red Sea (14:28). “Vengeance is mine.” God’s retributive justice.
Though justice was long delayed, bringing many questions to the minds of God’s people, divine justice would eventually be served. God did not look the other way. He detests sin. But He slowly turns His wheel of justice. We must be patient. God doesn’t always come when we want Him to, but He’s never late. He is always punctual, right on time.
This doctrine of the justice of God gives meaning to our lives. It means that human history is moving toward a goal. The present tragedies we see, the conflict between good and evil, will one day end. God’s justice, rippled with grace and mercy, will triumph. His agenda will prevail. This provides assurance and confidence in His character and energizes us to worship Him (love God) and to act compassionately for the wounded in this world (love our neighbor).
Thank you for reading.
Thank you for praying for the families of the victims in Las Vegas.
 1 John 4:8
 Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
 Mark 14:35-36
 2 Cor 5:21
 Mark 14:34
 The order to kill all the infant males is parallel to King Herod’s order to kill all the infant males two years and under in Bethlehem. See Matthew 2:13-23.
 It is important to understand that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart did not occur until Ex. 7:3; cf., 4:21.