Does God inspire evil?

Somebody asked this on our website:


Have you written something that specifically deals with the difficulty in 2 Samuel 12:11 where in looks like God is going to push people to commit adultery and murder within David’s house?


I don’t think I have!

I guess if I were Paul, I would answer the same way that Paul does in connection with a similar remark that he makes. In Romans 9 he refers to God’s saying that he raised up Pharaoh to show his power in him, by defeating him. He was “a vessel of wrath.”

So when Pharaoh refused to hold onto the Israelites, it wasn’t just because he wanted to. It was also because God didn’t want him to. God has mercy on whomever he wills, says Paul, and he hardens whomever he wills. He’s God, so shut up.

And in the end, we have to shut up, on the basis of the fact that he is not only more powerful than us, but also more caring and faithful to the world, and anything unfair-looking that he does must be in the service of some fair and loving purpose.

But the story in Exodus, and the story in 2 Samuel, suggests that there is more than can be said. Suppose you asked Pharaoh or Absalom, why did you do what you did? Did your own action seem mysterious to you? Were you being manipulated? To judge from the way the story unfolds, they would have been able to give you an entirely logical account of their action. They made their decisions, and those decisions were quite rational.

Isaiah speaks similarly about God “raising up” the Assyrians (it’s the same expression) to invade Judah. The Assyrians will invade Judah because they want to extend their empire and get control of the trade routes. But unbeknown to them, God is using their self-centered policies to achieve his purpose when he needs to punish Judah.

Maybe we think God shouldn’t use people’s self-centered stupidity to achieve his purpose. The Bible implies that God works with what’s there, or what we give him to work with, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in this way.