Does God sometimes use evil to accomplish his plans?

Question
Does God sometimes use evil to accomplish his plans?
Answer

Thanks for your question. The short answer is yes, he does (Prov. 16:4).

The book of Habakkuk in Scripture provides an example. Habakkuk 1:5-11 is a prophecy in which God announces his intention to raise up Babylon (literally the Chaldeans), a bitter, hasty, dreaded and fearsome nation, to judge unfaithful Judah. Babylon was the instrument of God's judgment (cf. Isa. 10:5; Jer. 12:1). This threat became an ultimate reality in 597 B.C. Habakkuk asked how God could use a nation more evil than Judah to judge Judah (Hab. 1:12-2:1). God's divine holy and just response was a promise that he would later punish Babylon as well (Hab. 2:2-20). Ultimately, Habakkuk could only acknowledge the Lord's perfect wisdom, as in his song of praise in Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Here is how Habakkuk is described by The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible:

Habakkuk, a man with a burning passion for the honor of his holy God (Hab. 1:12; 3:3), experienced a profound spiritual crisis because of the Lord's apparent indifference to appalling spiritual conditions among his people (Hab. 1:2-4). The absence of covenant life and obedience was not only dangerous to the people of God but also an insult to, and a rejection of, the covenant Lord himself. Because only divine intervention could bring about a reversal of this lethal situation, Habakkuk urgently and persistently (but seemingly in vain) appealed to the heavenly Judge (Hab. 1:2). In response the Lord revealed that the Babylonians who were then appearing on the scene of history (Hab. 1:6) would be his instrument of judgment. This cure sounded even worse than the disease and added to the prophet's distress (Hab. 1:5-17). How could the holy God, for whom it is impossible to tolerate wrong (Hab. 1:3-13), use these wicked people for the fulfillment of his purposes? Does God really maintain the difference between evil and good in the outcome of history?

Convinced that the events of history were not determined by blind fate but by the living God of Israel, Habakkuk stationed himself in expectant waiting on the Lord until he received an answer to his painful questions (Hab. 2:1). The Lord's subsequent reply or revelation (literally, "vision"; Hab. 2:2-3) provides his people with a true perspective on the promised outcome of history. It does not resolve all the painful questions, but it does teach the secret of covenant life in the here and now of history (Hab. 2:3-4); i.e., perseverance, patience, and hopeful expectation in waiting for the coming fulfillment of the Lord's unfailing promise. In spite of the inscrutability of his ways, God's purposes are consistent and will culminate in eternal life for the faithful and righteous but woe and death for the self-sufficient and arrogant (Hab. 2:4-19). The Lord's presence in his Temple affirms his lordship over history and carries the assurance that, in the end, his legitimate claim to the whole world will be universally acknowledged (Hab. 2:14, 20; Isa. 45:21-25; 1 Cor. 15:28).

The revelation of the Lord's purposeful guidance of history transformed Habakkuk's complaint into a hymn of prayer, praise, and joy (Hab. 3:2-20). Instead of passively waiting for divine intervention, he began to positively pray that the Lord would again act in accordance with his mighty deeds and with his qualities as displayed in the exodus and at Sinai. In his prayer the future moved into the present. In anticipation he celebrated the Lord's coming (Hab. 3:3-7) and his conflict against (Hab. 3:8-12) and triumph over all opposition in nature and history (Hab. 3:13-15). Nothing, not even the possibility of the severest calamities, could any longer dampen Habakkuk's overwhelming joy in the expectation of the coming salvation guaranteed by the Lord's faithfulness to himself and to his revelation (Hab. 3:17-19).

While God is not the author evil (Jas. 1:13; cf. Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Psa. 18:30; Matt. 5:48), he definitely uses it at times to accomplish his divine purposes and for his own glory (Rom. 9:17, 22). The ultimate example is God's ordaining the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). God ordained — not authored — the death of his Son (1 Pet. 1:18-20) to bring about the salvation of his elect (Matt. 25:34; Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-5; 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

Related Topics

Overview of the Book of Habakkuk
What is theodicy?
Evil and God?
Does God Use Evil to Accomplish His Purposes?
Calvinism and Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11?
What is Evanescent Grace?

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).