Does God use our disobedience to accomplish His will? There are many ick-sticky implications and theological crises involved with this question such as: Does God form or alter His will around our sinful choices, or are our sinful choices part of God’s will? If the former, does that mean God is not all-knowing (omniscient) or all-powerful (omnipotent) since He is reacting to our choices? If the latter, does that mean God causes us to sin in order to follow His plan, and if so, then doesn’t that contradict the Bible when it says God does not temp us (James 1:13)? What does the Bible in fact say about all this? Well, I promise you I cannot come close to addressing all the hard questions or to providing crystal clear answers in a single blog post (or in a hundred books, since I’m not that smart!). However, I will attempt to use one segment of Scripture to at least provide some of what I have found to be helpful in understanding (or, at least accepting) how our disobedience (sin) interplays with God’s sovereign will.
Though the Bible consists of 66 separate books written by 40-ish human authors (but, also only one Divine Author) over a span of roughly 1,500 years, there are common themes and major stories within its metanarrative of “creation-fall-redemption-new creation.” One major story is of the chosen people of God – Israel – and their formation, slavery, escape (or exodus), conquest, growth, kingdom, failing (idolatry, disobedience, etc.), exile and restoration. There are many actors, many plot twists, and many lessons to be learned from this human/divine interaction between a rebellious people and a God who said of Himself that He is a “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
God showed Himself faithful and loving to His special people in spite of their grumbling in the Arabian desert for 40 years, their failure to cleanse the Promised Land of all its wicked inhabitants, then their “whoring” after the false gods of those same people, then tolerating and eventually celebrating vile sexual perversion (sound familiar?), and more! This eventually culminated in the overthrow of Israel and Judah (the kingdom was split after King Solomon), which included the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Assyria and Babylonia – all part of God’s judgement on His people for their sins. God spoke to His people over and over again through His prophets, calling them to repentance and warming them of their impending doom if they did not. He also promised the land of Israel would be given 70 years of rest, at which point He would restore His people to the land He had given them.
You can read all about the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, the exile (to include intra-exile books like Esther, Daniel, Ezra and some of the other prophets), and the return of the people to rebuild the temple, and you’ll find that from the year of the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C. to the completion of the new, but much less splendid temple in 516 B.C. was in fact 70 years, just as God said it would be. What’s interesting though is that the Jews who returned to Jerusalem with the blessing and funding of King Cyrus of Persia (whom Isaiah prophesied of by name nearly 200 years prior in Isaiah 44 and 45), when confronted with opposition from the people who had come to inhabit the land during the exile, stopped rebuilding the temple for 15 years (Ezra 4:24). That was 15 years of the 70 that God decreed for the punishment of His people’s sin. Fifteen years that God had known his people would disobediently stop work that He providentially wove into the long-foretold timeline. Fifteen years that cause give us pause to consider how human action relates to the accuracy of prophesy and timelines and how God makes all things come to pass exactly as He says they will regardless of the circumstances.
Of course, there are other actors and storylines within the Bible where we see other instances of sinful choices playing integral roles in the fulfillment of prophecy, such as with King Herod’s decree to kill all infant boys that drove Mary, Joseph and Jesus into Egypt (see Matthew 2:15); or Judas Iscariot and his prophesied betrayal of Jesus (see Matthew 26:24); and even the actions of the Jews crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus and the Romans who acquiesced, bringing to pass a plan hatched by God before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1 and Revelation 13). While these passages make it clear God has so chosen to weave sinful actions into His overall plan, we still have to wrestle with the question of whether or not God is the cause of these sinful actions, whether proximate or remote. This is a tough question that requires much more explanation than I can cover here. However, here’s a great resource that does cover a lot of the nuances and semantics: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-author-sin. What I will say is that I see these 15 years (and the other instances mentioned above) God – the Author of all life, faith and the metanarrative in which all people have and will ever live – in His omniscience and omnipotence choosing to use even our sinful choices to bring about His ultimate plan.
I find this so encouraging because it proves God can, and will, fulfill His promise in Romans 8:28 to “work all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” This means my sinful actions, and even their consequences, can and will be turned for my ultimate good – which is to be “conformed to the image of Christ,” not that everything always goes my way and that I am healthy, wealthy and comfortable. God knew long before He sent the Jews into exile that they would disobey Him and stop work on the temple, and He built that into the timeline. God also knew Adam and Eve would sin in the Garden of Eden and that all mankind would be doomed. Could God have prevented these sins and their consequences? Sure, but He didn’t. He ordained that He Himself, the God of all Creation, would come into His creation as the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – and suffer and die to make atonement for the sins he knew we would commit.
Some will point out that I have not addressed the “freewill of man” or the importance of human autonomy. True, I have not, though it’s certainly part of this discussion. However, I believe therein lies a mystery we have to accept by faith. Somehow God is completely sovereign over all things, does not “tempt” us to sin, and clearly is at least the “remote cause” of what we would define as “evil;” and yet, we make choices and are culpable for them, and God is holy, just and “in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Here’s what it all comes down to, at least as far as I can understand: I can rest in the fact God has shown in multiple instances that He has providentially woven even our disobedience into His plans, and that all things will come to pass as He ordains. I can’t understand everything about God, but what I can understand and know from His Word is that He is faithful, good, and has saved me by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glory and that I will be forever with the Lord when I die or He returns to gather His people to himself.