Regarding evil, is there a permissive will of God?

Question
Regarding evil (Acts 14:15-16), is there a permissive will of God?
Answer

The permissive will of God is often misunderstood. Acts 14:15-16 reads:

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.

As the emphasized section above reveals, God permitted the nations to walk in their own ways for a season. However, this was not some bare hands-off permission, where God has removed his sovereignty from the nations, but a "designed permission," where God still ultimately controls all things for his own distinct purpose(s); through his own means to bring about his own ends. God can defer judgment for a season (Eccl. 8:11-12). Even the reality of Hell, is the ultimate deferment of ultimate judgment; it was made for the Devil and his sent ones generations ago (Matt. 25:41). God can also temporarily overlook sin to bring people to godly repentance (Acts 17:30; Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; cf. 2 Cor. 7:10) and ultimately graft repenting ones from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) into his Olive Tree (Rom. 11:17, 26). So, God's permissive will always has a divine sovereign purpose.

We should also note that God's will is always a willing will, not an unwilling one. If it were an unwilling will, then this would mean that someone greater than God existed. So, when God permits evil, he is actively and divinely willing not to deter a particular sinful act or existence and actions of a depraved person, so he can justly use it and / or them to bring about his own ends. We can observe this is such passages as:

The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead (Prov. 11:8).

The LORD works out everything for his own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster (Prov. 16:4).

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright (Prov. 21:18).

In each case above, there is seen a divine purpose for evil, wickedness, etc. which God ultimately works out for his own ends, or purpose. So, there is a permissive will of God in regards to evil and it will always bring about God's intended purpose(s).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).