Divine Concurrence – What is the relationship between God’s sovereignty and earthly causes or earthly actors?
You may not be giving it much thought now, but eventually you will. There will be a tsunami, or an earthquake, or a bombing, or a murder. You will hear about it in the news. Or perhaps, God forbid, something catastrophic will happen to you or to somebody you know and love. And you will ask, “Why did God let this happen?”
If you believe in a sovereign God who loves you, his child, with an everlasting love then you have to somehow come to grips with why bad things happen. Whether it’s natural evil, like an earthquake, or moral evil, like a chemical warfare attack, bad things happen in this world over which a sovereign God rules.
I can carry two watermelons. One under each arm. I could carry three with some difficulty. But add another, and then another, and then another… well… eventually it’s just too much for me to handle. This is true mentally, especially when trying to grapple with something like “divine concurrence.”
Let’s take a look at some truth statements from the Scriptures, each one an individual watermelon as it were, and see how many you can carry at one time by yourself.
1. God has a purpose for everything in creation.
2. God’s sovereign purpose includes the creation of all things.
3. God’s sovereign purpose includes the creation all things in a way that some creatures function with free will (that is, they act freely and in accordance with their own natures).
4. God’s sovereign purpose includes the fall of mankind into sin.
5. Each individual is responsible for his own consequent sinful choices.
6. God is not in any way morally responsible for the sinful choices of free moral agents even though he has a purpose for those sinful choices.
7. How God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible is a mystery. God never fully explains this relationship in the Scriptures; he just states it to be so.
8. God is able to make eternally good and beautiful things come from the sinful choices of free moral agents.
All of this can be seen in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Joseph affirms both God’s sovereignty and his brothers’ culpability. The story culminates in the statement that Joseph made to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 (ESV) – 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.
Both the brothers and God MEANT for something to happen. The brothers are responsible for their sinful choices; God is responsible for making something great come out of those sinful choices. We are not MEANT to understand it; we are MEANT to enjoy the amazing grace of a sovereign God in the midst of guilty, evil people.
Have a great time with all those watermelons!