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This post is part of a series on faith and suffering. I’ll call it part 3, since it continues thoughts from the last post.

An emphasis on the free will of humanity can make us wonder about the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. It can be easy to look at the world and feel like things are out of control. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches both God’s sovereignty and meaningful human choice. It is a tension that confuses us, but these concepts coexist in the Bible. The old hymn reminds us, “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”  Ephesians 1:11 tells us that “God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”  We also need to remind ourselves again of the grand metanarrative of Scripture, and that everything is moving towards the climactic conclusion when God will deal with evil once and for all.

In this regard, it should be emphasized that biblical Christianity does not teach that God and Satan are equal powers, dueling it out in a “Star Wars” fashion, with the outcome unsure. Although Satan is clearly at work in this world, God is ultimately the omnipotent one. Satan and his demons are finite created beings that do have restrictions. For example, in Job and Luke 22:31, it is indicated that Satan had to get permission from God before doing certain things.

However, there are still so many questions. Couldn’t God at least lessen some of the suffering going on? Why doesn’t God intervene in smaller ways sooner? Why does God give Satan permission to do anything?

Well, in all honesty, how do we know that God hasn’t been intervening all along? Each of us has probably been diverted from countless tragedies that we are unaware of because they never happened. I believe that God is restraining evil, and things would be much worse if he was not.

Or we may wonder why God couldn’t punish evil immediately? Yet, is this the type of world we’d want to live in? Imagine if every time we were about to make a “bad” or sinful decision we were immediately electrically shocked or struck by lightening or given a migraine headache? Or imagine if God was constantly overruling human choice by stopping certain events from happening? I think the world would become chaotic and unpredictable, more so than it already appears to be!

Randy Alcorn also explains that this would ultimately hinder human freedom. When God grants humans choice, he does not lose power. Rather he has delegated some power, which can indeed be abused. God can step in and perform miracles of intervention to hinder evil. However “if he does this too often, he will take back the power he has delegated, thus minimizing the consequential dimension that makes choice meaningful.”  [1]

This reminds me of a movie I recently watched: The Adjustment Bureau with actor Matt Damon. This movie will certainly give you some food for thought about the tension between human choice and God’s sovereignty. The character played by Matt Damon accidentally becomes privy to how a “higher authority” is altering human choices in life. He decides to fight it, and the movie gets pretty crazy!

The balance between human choice and God’s sovereignty seems a delicate one, and as finite humans we must trust that the infinite and wise God knows what is best for us and this world. Justice delayed is not justice denied. We can better accept evil in the short term by remembering that God’s justice will prevail in the long term.

* Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on the complex issue of faith and suffering. In parts 1, 2, and 3 I tried to cover some of the core issues. (Although much, much more could be said!!)  And while Christianity can’t answer every question, for myself the Christian faith makes the most sense of the world around me.  It completes more of the puzzle than the other options out there. The missing puzzle pieces come down to faith…

I will have a few more posts on faith and suffering, but they will be separate “stand alone” posts on the causes, purposes, and responses to suffering.

[1] Randy Alcorn, If God is Good (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), 285.