14. So what about in the Old Testament when we read things like God sending a nation to destroy another nation as a punishment, but then He turns around and punishes the nation that He just used as a tool of discipline? How could He cause this - force a nation to be His tool of discipline - and then punish them for it? Isn’t that unfair?
I have a hard time understanding this, too, to be honest. I’m not totally sure how He works or how much free-will overriding He does here. But keeping in mind His justness, His sovereignty, His fairness, and His decision to allow us free-will (and the consequences), this is the best way I can understand it.
Let’s look at Isaiah 10 as an example. In verse 5, God calls Assyria the “rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!” And God uses Assyria to punish His people who have turned to idols. And then in verse 12, He says that when it is finished, He will punish Assyria for their haughtiness and pride.
So how can God cause a nation to attack another, and then punish them for it? Personally, I think that it comes down, once again, to the difference between “cause versus allow”. Or in this case, “cause versus use”. I think it’s not that He caused Assyria to be a certain way and forced them to do what they did. It’s that He used them.
He looked ahead and knew what that country was going to be like, and so He saw how they could be used to accomplish His purposes. And so He took them as they were (not forcing them to be the way they were) and worked it into His plan to discipline Jerusalem. And then, since the Assyrians were responsible for the way they were, for the kind of people and nation they had become, God could righteously punish them, after He had used them to accomplish His purposes.
Imagine, as an imperfect illustration, an undercover sting by police. Let’s say that they need to get Big Man X. And they know the best way to get Big Man X is to use Little Man Y, the crummy toady. And so they work out a plan that uses Little Man Y to get access to Big Man X, though Little Man Y is unaware that he is being used to mete out justice. And when the plan works, they arrest Big Man X and Little Man Y.
Now, they didn’t cause Little Man Y to be the way he was, they didn’t force him to be a criminal and do illegal things, they just used what he was to their advantage and to administer justice. And so he could be fairly punished, after being used to catch Big Man X. This, to me, seems to be the best way to view it because it factors in God’s justness and sovereignty and our free-will.
15. So, you believe that He is sovereign over all things?
Yes, I do. I believe that all things are ultimately in His hands. And all things have to ultimately pass through Him: what the enemy can do to us, what situations and trials we face, what consequences we reap from our choices, etc. It all has to go through Him, and He will only allow what He is willing to allow. That doesn’t mean that He desires all these things to happen, but in deference to our free-will, He does allow it. And He allows what He knows He can use for our good, for mankind’s good, or for His glory in the near or distant future. But we still have free-will, and God can use the free-will choices that we make to accomplish His purposes.
Posts in this "Understanding God's Will" series:
3: His Will Is A Verb 4: Taking It Seriously 5: Prayer Matters 6: But God Can Read Minds 7: But God Knows Our Needs 8a: Pray Specifics? 8b: Three Keys For Next Step 8c: About Smaller Decisions 9a: Name It Claim It 9b: Help
9c: Verses 9d: Idolatry 9e: Unanswered 9f: Not Listening 9g: More Verses 9h: Effective Prayer 9i: Still Waiting 10: Bad Things Happen 11a: Happens For A Reason? 11b: Marriage Trouble 11c: Deliberate Ignorance 11d: Bad Things Beyond Us 12: God Works Good 13: Limiting God? 14/15: God Forcing Things? 16: Change God's Mind? 17: But God Can't Change? 18: Our Responsibilities