I interviewed an atheist for a class assignment. While I asked my questions, he peppered me with his own. I remember one question clearly, even after so many years: “Why would a good God let His Son suffer and be killed on the whim of evil people?”
“He didn’t,” I replied.
“But isn’t that what your Christianity teaches?” he insisted.
“Not exactly,” I answered. “God didn’t let anything happen. He planned it and foretold it. Jesus’ death wasn’t by the whim of man. It was an intentional act of the sovereign God to fulfill His purpose – the salvation of men.”
He cocked his head to one side, “I’ve never heard it put that way. My church always taught us kids that people acted of their own free will to kill Jesus.”
“They did,” I replied. “But they acted within the sovereign will of God.”
At that moment I felt like a salmon swimming up a waterfall, trying to explain a concept that has baffled the wisest theologians for ages. I still don’t understand it completely, but I know it is true. The Bible clearly teaches both and doesn’t try to make it neat and tidy.
Please take a moment to read Acts 3:17-26.
When Peter addressed the crowd that gathered around the once-crippled man, he invoked the name of Jesus as the source of healing power. The same Jesus they had crucified. The same Jesus God had raised from the dead. Peter said that they had “acted in ignorance,” not realizing that this Jesus was God’s Messiah (Christ). But Peter also said that God used their actions to fulfill His Plan of the Ages. God had foretold the suffering of His Servant through Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all the prophets. He had promised salvation long before Jesus’ birth.
John wrote that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before the first human and the first sin. This was all within God’s eternal plan: the salvation of humanity. I once heard a preacher say that long before Jesus came to earth God knowingly planted the seed that would become the tree that would be made into the cross on which His Son would die.
I take great comfort in the truth of God’s sovereignty over the will of human beings. I am sitting in the middle of a family mess right now because of another’s free will choices. But I am convinced this did not occur outside of God’s sovereign plan. Somehow this too will fall in line with His “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). And when it does, there will be Joy.