The concept of God’s permissive will is crucial for understanding why evil and suffering exist in the world even though God is all-powerful and good. At its core, God’s permissive will refers to those things that God allows to happen but does not directly will to happen.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: God’s permissive will encompasses those events, actions, and outcomes that God does not explicitly will but nonetheless allows or permits to occur through human free will and natural processes.
Defining the Permissive Will of God
God’s Sovereign Will vs. Permissive Will
God’s sovereign will refers to His perfect plan for everything that happens in the universe. As the all-powerful Creator, God has the authority and ability to accomplish whatever He desires (source). However, God also has a permissive or passive will.
The permissive will of God allows human beings, who have free will, to make their own decisions and choices, even if those go against God’s desires or commands.
For example, God’s sovereign will is for everyone to follow His moral laws and come to salvation through Jesus Christ. However, He allows people to rebel and sin, albeit with eventual consequences. So while evil and suffering are not part of God’s original blueprint, He permits them temporarily because He endowed humanity with free will.
God’s permissive will coexists with His sovereign will.
Why God Permits Evil and Suffering
A loving God permitting evil and suffering seems contradictory. However, God has wise reasons for allowing free will and moral evil temporarily (source):
- It allows for the existence of free will and human responsibility
- It makes room for redemption and grace
- It sets the stage for judgment and justice
Additionally, God can use suffering to get people’s attention, stimulate spiritual growth, refine their character, and equip them for ministry to others who suffer. While misery ultimately stems from sin, God somehow works it for eventual good (source).
In the end, God will eradicate evil and suffering completely. His permissive will is only temporary. His sovereign will and glory will prevail!
Examples of God’s Permissive Will in the Bible
The Fall of Mankind
The fall of mankind into sin as described in Genesis 3 is a prime example of God allowing something He did not prefer or desire to happen. God created Adam and Eve without sin and placed them in the perfect Garden of Eden.
However, God also gave them free will, which made it possible for them to choose to disobey His command not to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:16-17). God could have prevented their fall, but He permitted it as part of His permissive will.
The consequences of the fall were disastrous. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, pain entered childbirth, work became hard labor, and humanity inherited a sin nature (Genesis 3:16-24). Yet God allowed it to occur.
He did not cause mankind’s fall into sin, but He permitted it as part of His divine plan to ultimately demonstrate His glory and grace.
Israel’s Demand for a King
Later in Israel’s history, we see another example of God’s permissive will in allowing them to have an earthly king. 1 Samuel 8 records how Israel demanded a king to rule over them like the other nations, despite God’s desire for His own direct kingship.
God tells Samuel that Israel has rejected Him as king by making this demand (1 Samuel 8:7). Yet God chooses to grant their free will request instead of forcing them to follow His perfect will: “Listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” (1 Samuel 8:9).
God then permits Israel’s first king Saul to reign, though he turns away from God.
This again shows God allowing something He did not ultimately desire, giving free will and choice priority over perfectly carrying out only His preferred will. Yet God’s ultimate purposes still stand in the midst of human failure.
Implications and Applications
Trusting God’s Wisdom and Plans
The concept of God’s permissive will reminds us that even when bad things happen, God is still sovereign and in control. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. Even in the midst of suffering, we can trust that God has a purpose and plan that we may not fully understand.
This truth should lead us to faith and reliance on God, rather than bitterness or despair. We can surrender the situation to God in prayer, asking for his comfort, wisdom, and guidance. We can also look for ways to grow spiritually through the experience.
As Romans 8:28 promises, God works all things for the good of those who love him.
Additionally, trusting in God’s sovereignty empowers us to boldly serve him and share the gospel, even in the face of opposition. Just as the early church prayed for boldness in the face of persecution (Acts 4:29), we too can ask God for courage to stand strong and be a light in dark times.
Responding to Suffering Biblically
When encountering trials and suffering, we should respond as Job did by blessing and trusting the Lord (Job 1:20-22). Other biblical examples to follow include David, who encouraged himself in the Lord when facing affliction (1 Samuel 30:6), and Paul, who rejoiced in suffering because it produced perseverance and character (Romans 5:3-5).
Here are some positive ways to respond to suffering:
- Draw near to God in prayer and worship (James 4:8).
- Lean on the support of Christian community (Galatians 6:2).
- Look for opportunities to serve others going through similar struggles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
- Give thanks to God in the midst of the trial (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
- Meditate on God’s Word and promises (Psalm 119:50).
In contrast, responding with anger, doubt, or despair only leads to more spiritual turmoil. By turning to God and viewing trials through the lens of his sovereignty, we can endure suffering with grace and hope.
In closing, the permissive will of God is a complex theological concept with profound practical implications. As we strive to reconcile God’s goodness and power with the existence of evil and suffering, understanding divine permission provides insight into how an all-good, all-powerful God interacts with human free will to accomplish His ultimate plans and purposes.