God’s Sovereignty in relation to Man’s sinful acts

[The following excerpt is taken from Henry Clarence Thiessen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979), pp.124-125]

“How then do the sinful acts of men fit into the program of a sovereign God? Does God necessitate sin? Several incidents make it appear that way. God hardened Pharoah’s heart (Exod. 10:27); it was sin for David to number Israel, yet the Lord moved him to do it (2 Sam. 24:1; cf. 1 Chron. 21:1); God gave the sinner up to more sin (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28); he shut up all in disobedience (Rom. 11:32); and, during the tribulation, God will send a deluding influence so that unbelievers will believe a lie (2 Thess. 2:11). If God is not the author of sin (Hab. 1:13; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; 2:16), how can these incidents be explained? How is God related to man’s sinful acts?

This can be answered in four ways. (1) Often God restrains man from the sin which man intends to do. This is called “preventative providence.” God said to Abimelech, “I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her” (Gen. 20:6). David prayed, “Also keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me” (Ps. 19:13; cf. Matt. 6:13). God has promised not to allow the believer to be tempted above what he can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).

(2) God, instead of actively restraining man from doing evil, will sometimes permit sin to take its course. This is called “permissive providence.” In Hosea 4:7, God said, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.” God “permitted all the nations to go their own ways.” (Acts 14:16; cf. 2 Chron. 32:31; Ps. 81:12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).

(3) Further, God uses directive providence. He allows evil but directs the way it goes. Jesus said to Judas, “What  you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Those involved in the crucifixion of Christ did what God predestined to occur (Acts 2:23; 4:27f.). Man’s intent was evil, but God used this evil intent to accomplish his will. God used the wrath of man to praise him (Ps. 76:10; cf. Isa. 10:5-15).

(4) Finally, God, through restrictive providence, determines the limits to which evil and its effects may go. He said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him” (Job 1:12; cf. 2:6; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Thess. 2:7; Rev. 20:2f.).

From these considerations it is clear that all evil acts of the creature are under the complete control of God. They can occur only by his permission, and insofar as he permits them. Though they are evil in themselves, he overrules them for good. Thus the wicked conduct of Joseph’s brethren, the obstinacy of Pharaoh, the lust for conquest of the heathen nations that invaded the Holy Land and finally carried the people into captivity, the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, the persecution of the church, and the wars and revolutions among the nations have all been overruled for God’s purpose and glory.”

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