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Did God Foreordain Evil and Evil Doers?

Category Articles
Date May 21, 2010

I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity. I am the Lord who does all these. (Isaiah 45:7)

The attacks of 9/11, killing nearly three thousand people, were acts of pure evil. The tsunami that washed over much of the Indian Ocean in December, 2004 killing 300,000 people, and the earthquake that struck Haiti in January, 2010 yielding an estimated 230,000 deaths were acts of untold suffering and misery. Did God foreordain the evil of 9/11? Did he foreordain the suffering and death from these so called natural disasters?

Some say that God had nothing to do with any of it, that the devil is the catalyst for all evil and suffering. Others say there is no rhyme or reason for anything, good or bad, that happens in the world. It simply is fate. Some believe man is totally free and can do as he pleases. Consequently, because God made him that way, God does not know what man will do, he does not know what tomorrow may bring. Others say that God allows evil and evil doers, kind of like a policeman who sees a drug deal going down and approaches three men to make an arrest, but seeing their assault rifles when he has only a pistol, knowing he is out-gunned, allows the drug deal to continue.

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and sceptic, along with Bertrand Russell who wrote a book entitled Why I Am not a Christian, argued that the presence of evil and suffering proves that God does not exist. Their argument goes like this, ‘If God wants to stop evil, but cannot do it, then he is impotent. If God can stop evil, but chooses not to do so, then he is malevolent.’ Both C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller, however, argue just the opposite.1 How do we to know something is evil or unjust unless we have God’s law written on our hearts? The very fact that people are angry at injustice – when hearing of small children being sexually assaulted and murdered – does more to prove the existence of God than to deny it.

Why evil? From where does it come? If God foreordains all things2, then did he also foreordain evil and evil doers? Well, consider some of the Biblical data. Isaiah 45:5 says that God created calamity. Amos 3:6 says, ‘If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?’ The Psalmist says, ‘But our God is in the heavens; he does as he pleases’ (Psa. 115:3). In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter said, ‘This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death’ (Acts 2:23). And in Ephesians 1:9, Paul says that we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose who works all (italics mine) things after the counsel of his will. Note several things – God creates calamity, God does as he pleases, God foreknew and predestined the death of Jesus, and God, according to his own purpose, predestined all things and works all things after the counsel of his will.

So to answer the question – did God foreordain evil?, did he foreordain evil doers? – the answer is ‘Yes.’ He foreordains all things. There are no accidents. He foreordained 9/11, the tsunami, and the earthquake in Haiti. He foreordains everything in your own world too. But doesn’t that make God the author of evil? Doesn’t this impugn God’s character? Don’t Hume and Russell have a point? The answer to all three questions is a resounding, ‘No.’ And here’s why. To even ask these questions proves a hopelessly flawed, man-centred approach. God is the creator. We are merely his creatures. He is in heaven and he does as he pleases.

While it is vitally true that God foreordains all things, it is also equally true that man is totally and completely responsible for his actions. Though God foreordained 9/11, it is also true that these wicked men acted freely, doing exactly what they wished to do. How can we reconcile the foreordination of God with man’s sinful actions? We cannot. This is what theologians call concurrence or what Henry Krabbendam calls the complementarity of truth. These doctrines are infinitely glorious and do not fit within finite minds. They fit only in regenerate hearts. And when Adam sinned in the garden he deliberately went his own way with disastrous consequences to all the world and human race (Gen. 3:16-17, Rom. 5:12-14). Evil, evil doers, earthquakes and tsunamis, wars, and all forms of evil (evil is sin plus suffering) are the result of the sinfulness of sin. The results of sin are so pervasive and devastating to the world that when tragedy strikes, instead of saying, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ one ought to say, ‘Why not?’ In other words, the consequences of sin are so debilitating that we ought to marvel that things are no worse than they already are. I am not saying that those who died at 9/11 or in the tsunami or earthquake were evil. Many no doubt were believers in Jesus. God causes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends his rain on the righteous and unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). In his common grace, God constantly restrains evil.

But why does God ordain evil and evil doers? I suggest two reasons. First, on that great day, on the day the Lord Jesus returns in glory with his holy angels and all those redeemed by his blood, he will unveil the sum total of all his divine attributes. ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9). In Revelation 5 John weeps because he finds no one is able to open the book with the seven seals3. He then is told that the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus, is able to open the book and to look into it. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, along with myriads of angels and the redeemed of the Lord, give praise to Jesus singing, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.’ They continue by singing, ‘To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ John goes on to say that the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshipped. Why such an atmosphere of worship, awe, and adoration? Because the eye-witnesses to this glorious unveiling are seeing the sum total of God’s glorious attributes. He is one of incomparable condescension, inexhaustible love, unfathomable grace, unsearchable wisdom, immutable goodness, undeniable veracity, immeasurable immensity, unassailable aseity, unmitigable transcendence, and unrestrictable immanence. But the sum total of all these glorious attributes is his holiness. Scripture repeatedly says that God is holy4. Isaiah saw God in the temple, being worshipped by the seraphim who said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts’ (Isa. 6:3). How do we know God’s holiness is the sum total of all his attributes? Scripture never says, ‘God is good, good, good’; or ‘God is wise, wise, wise.’ It only says that he is ‘holy, holy, holy’. And what does God’s holiness mean? There is not the slightest hint, even a trace of evil or wickedness in God’s thoughts, words, actions, values, intentions, or attitudes. So this means that though God foreordained all things, including evil, he cannot be charged with evil himself. And on that great day when Christ returns, God will unfurl before our very eyes the story behind the story of redemption. Everything that happened in the world, all the evil, suffering, and injustice, will then make perfect sense to the redeemed, who will bask in the splendour of God’s holiness, who will bow in awe and wonder. It will all make sense then and we will give him the adoration he deserves.5


  1. See Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, page 26ff.
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, paragraph 1 teaches that he does.
  3. A reference to God’s plan for a future kingdom. See David Chilton’s The Days of Vengeance, page 166.
  4. Exodus 15:11, 1 Samuel 6:20, Psalm 99:9, Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 15:4.
  5. I look at the second reason for God foreordaining evil and evil doers in the article ‘Super Supralapsarianism’ on the Banner of Truth website.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Al Baker’s sermons are now available on

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