A Letter to a Retired Chaplain About: Evil and War

Dear F. L. R.:

Although Satan was instrumental in bringing so many afflictions, including the greatest of all evils, death, upon Job, yet he recognized it all as the work of the Lord.  He said, “shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).  But it is more than hasty to conclude that our (Reformed) interpretation either excuses Satan, by virtue of his having some association (relation) to God, or that it makes God the responsible doer of the evil.  The Reformed doctrine does neither.  Take the crucifixion, for example.  As it proceeded from Christ’s murderers (they did it), it was the heinous crime ever committed.  But considered as ordained and ordered by God, and performed by Him (“It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’), it was the gracious and glorious of all events.  Evil men by wicked hands slew Him.  But also God put Him to grief.  The difference between these doings, man’s and God’s lies in the purpose and intent of the act, and in the manner in which it was done.  Man’s purpose and end was evil.  God’s was His own glory.  They did what they did in the way of murder and hate.  God did it in the way of a propitiatory sacrifice.  Yet God did sovereignly determined beforehand that their wicked deed be perpetrated (Acts. 2:23), but that it be done, not according to their design, but according to His eternal counsel (4:27f).  Why, for another example, did not Sihon let the children of Israel pass?  Because the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.”  And what was God’s purpose in this?  “That He might deliver him into thy hand” (Dt. 2:30).  Why do men thus go out of the way into evil?  Is it not that God sends them strong delusion that they should believe the lie?  Is this not Scripture:  “O Lord, why has Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear?”  (Is. 63:17)?  Is it not because “He turned their heart to hate His people” (Ps. 105:25)?

Pursue this thought further with me.  Why were the nations around Israel hardened?  Because they hardened their own hearts?  No! but because “it was of the Lord to harden hearts.”  Why?  “That (in order that) they should come against Israel in battle, that (so that) He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them…” (Josh 11:20).  This proves that God is the ordainer of whatsoever comes to pass.”  All happens, whether good or ill, according to His determinate counsel and foreknowledge.  “Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?”  (Lam. 3:38).  This is a question requiring an affirmative answer.  But that does not mean that God is both the Truth, and Liar!  It means that from His mouth issues the sovereign decree of both evil and good; and that the evil He has decreed is made subservient to His holiness and election.  So with, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”  (Amos 3:6).  True, “an enemy hath done this” evil.  But also God did it.  but God has a different end in view, and does it in a different manner from that of His sinful secondary agents.

I notice that you, in this connection, have recourse to the term “permissive” relative to the will of God.  I, too, at one time made use of the term as you do.  But I have come to believe that both this word and message are extra-biblical, and detract from the intent of Scripture.  Therefore, it should not be used, as for example it is often used with respect to Pharaoh’s heart-hardening.  It is not Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart which is first, but rather God’s will that he be hardened  (Ex. 3:19).  “But I will harden his heart that (with the result that) he shall not let the people go” (4:21).  His heart was not hardened by a bare permission of God, but by God who willed to harden him.  There is a much initiative in this “I will” as in the “I will establish My covenant with you” of Gen. 9:11).  The problem of Pharaoh’s hardening is not “solved” by “permission.”  We must not say that God permitted Pharaoh to harden himself, when the Scripture neither says nor implies this.  For when we read that “Pharaoh … hardened his heart,” it neither says nor means that he permitted himself to be hardened.  “Hardening” does not denote “permission.”  No less than 10 times does the Exodus account speak of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart; but only three times does it mention Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart.  Five times we read of Pharaoh’s heart being (passively) hardened, which implies this was not by his own act, but by God’s sovereign operation (7:14 ,22;8:19 ;  9:7; 9:35).  Thus the sovereign will and work of God is in view, nothing of “permission.”  The term “permission” implies that there is some dualistic power over against God.  Satan’s dark power and all evil are in God’s hand and control.  There is no power but of God.  What was said of a wicked king may also be said of the Devil.  “thou couldst have no power at all against Me, except it be given thee from above!” (John 19:11).  So you see, what I meant by God’s relation to evil is nothing more than that expressed in Scripture.

The same applies to the Divine deception of Ahab.  This did not occur merely because God permitted it to happen.  Things do not happen by chance – not with the sovereign Triune Jehovah on the throne!  “Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these they prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee” (I Kings 22:23).  It is plain from this that God arranged this trial, although Satan and his emissaries were God’s agents.  So when David had to suffer the cursing of Shimei, he took it as coming from the Lord, “the Lord had said unto him (Shimei), Curse David!” (II Sam. 16:10).  God ordained the evil act, and brought it to pass, according to His own purpose.  So, whether false prophets, devils, bad kings or wicked men, they all do whatsoever His hand and His counsel foreordained should come to pass (Ac. 4:27f, ASV).  “The kind’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water He turneth it whithersoever  He will” (Pro. 21:1). And also, “if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, that I might destroy him out of the midst of Israel” ( Exek. 14:9).  You must be ready by now to agree that evil as well as good is embraced in the plan of God.  Joseph said of the sin of his brethren done against him, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant if unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20).  But this should be sufficient to show we do not make God responsible for sin!

Will you then contend that wars of aggression are not of God? i.e., not of His sovereign will and counsel?  Will you claim that wars are not just as much ordained as Judas betrayal?  Or the murder of the Prince of Life?  Perhaps your problem is if such a war is ordained of God, then how may the aggressors be held responsible?  However, it is, and they are! “The Lord hath opened His armory, and hath brought forth the weapons of His indignation, for this the work of the Lord” (Jer. 50:25).  “The Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes; for His device is against Babylon (the aggressor), to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of His temple! (51:11). Wars are then one of God’s ways of destroying the wicked, of taking vengeance for His elect (Luke 18:7f).  and of building His Church.  “Thou are My battle axe and weapons of war:  for with thee will break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid” (51:20-2).  All this is according to the doing, devising and purposing of the Lord: “the Lord hath both devised and done” it; “for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed” (51:12, 29).  Why is it that the great rulers of the earth make foolish moves, fatal to themselves and their country?  “Through the anger of the Lord it came to pass… that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (52:3).  God orders the tumults of the peoples and the rebellions of the masses.  But it is often the case, as here, that God raises up an aggressor to punish another aggressor.  The Assyrian was an aggressor against Israel, used by God to chastise Israel.  Then God punished him for so chastising Israel (Is. 10: 5-17).  This is the biblical view of God, of the living God who is really God!  The God who does whatsoever He pleases!  God need not give any account of His matters to puny man.  Nor need man attempt to justify God.  Only little men, who themselves need excuses, attempt to excuse God.  Great men bow before Him who “is in one mind (and who can turn Him?) and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job 23:13)!  God is as Scripture and Calvinism represent Him!