If I want to drive my car here in South Carolina, I must qualify by taking a test to prove that I’m competent to drive. If I failed the test, then I would not be allowed to drive on a public thoroughfare. If, like Paris Hilton and other Hollywood personalities, I were to be found driving under the influence, that permit would be revoked. In all such cases, an authority above me had the right to issue or revoke my permit to drive. Driving is a privilege, not a right. To drive legally, I am wholly dependent upon the will of an outside force.
This ordinary understanding of a higher power giving permission to one that is subject to it’s authority is clearly understood. So, when commenting on a devastating hurricane like Katrinka, or a tornado that levels a town, when asked about it, it is very sad to hear preachers (some very prominent ones) say, “God permitted it.” This is not true. Yet it is precisely what preachers say over and over again.
Surely God is the higher (highest) authority—that’s plain enough to understand. But what person or force outside of himself is there that he “permits” to bring about such tragedies? Certainly, the State of South Carolina does not permit itself to drive. It permits me a subject-but, nevertheless, a distinct entity—to operate a vehicle. To what external entity—to whom does God grant permission to bring about earthquakes and Tsunamis?
Well, your immediate response might be, “to Satan.” After all, look at the case of Job. But Job’s situation was unique. Job “was blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1: 1, NASB). Satan was permitted to test what God can do in such a person. Nowhere in the Scriptures is it suggested that such a test would be given to other Christians. Surely, I wouldn’t want to put myself in the same category as this remarkable man. Would you? Most of us Christians are not on a spiritual par with Job, and in I Corinthians 10:13, God says that He will not try us beyond that which we are able to bear. That is, in most cases, far less than Job.
The inclusion of the book of Job in the Bible is helpful because it shows that God may so sanctify a person that he can stand firmly in the most extraordinary circumstances. But the book provides no evidence that Satan is allowed to attack us as he attacked Job. As a matter of fact, when referring to the believer, John said, “the evil one [Satan] cannot touch him” (I John 5: 18). Plainly, though we may learn much from Job, we must remember that his case was one of a kind.
So, again I ask, to whom does God issue permits to bring about hurricanes and the like?
The answer to that question is simply this: He doesn’t. It is God himself Who determines when and where such events will occur. It is He Who brought judgment upon the nations living in Palestine after the “Iniquity of the Amorite” was “full” (Genesis 15: 16). Their destruction wasn’t “permitted.” It is He Who moved Rome to destroy the temple and the city in 70AD. He didn’t “permit” Rome to do so. These were not cases in which God permitted any thing or any one to bring about the havoc that ensued. It was He, Himself, Who not only predicted each of these events but also fulfilled the predictions.
God uses agents to bring about His will, of course. In His time God raised up Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome (as the Book of Daniel indicates) to bring about His purposes. They were not permitted to successively destroy one another. The giant metallic image was not a symbol of what God would permit in the ages to come; it was a predictive picture of how He was going to order history in relation to His people. When God spoke of His “four sore judgments”—famine, plague, war, and wild beasts (Ezekiel 14: 21)—that He would bring upon Jerusalem, He didn’t “permit” these judgments to happen—He ordained them for His purposes. By calling these forces of nature “His” agents, He was making it clear that, like arrows in His quiver, He always possessed adequate arms to use in bringing rebellious people to their knees. By calling them “His” four sore judgments, He made it clear that they were His weapons to be used with His hands. Such forces do not seek permission from Him to be allowed to do their damage. He is the One Who declared, “I am beginning to work calamity in this city which is called by My name” (Jeremiah 25: 29, NASB), and then went on to say, “I am summoning a sword against all of the inhabitants of the land [or “earth”].” For sure, the sword did not seek “permission!”
It is such weak talk by preachers that gives outsiders the idea that God is not in control of the world He created. They tune it out. They don’t want to worship a being whose providential working is out of His immediate control. Who wants worship a god that is at the whim of forces or persons begging him to allow them to wreak havoc? God is not “vindicated” by such a soft view of Himself, as those who use this soft language seem to think. He needs no vindication. He is in charge; He rules the world as He sees fit, and He needs to answer to no one. Whatever He ordains is just—indeed, He is the standard of right and wrong. And He ordains whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1: 11). He isn’t a god who rules by giving or withholding permission to anyone or anything outside of Himself. He does His own holy will without advice, urging or nudging. He doesn’t permit calamities; He plans and brings them about for His good purposes and for the blessing of His people. That we cannot always understand why He does so, or how there are blessings in a tornado, we must hold firmly to the truth that calamities are God’s providential work that ultimately glorify Him, and that bring about good for the church.
So let’s stop using language that indicates there are entities outside of God that He permits or refuses to have their way. Rather, let us affirm with the whole of Scripture that in all of history God does as He wishes without need of promptings for or against any action. If this isn’t so, let me ask you, “To whom was the permit for Katrina issued?”
This article originally appeared in the Journal of Modern Ministry.
 The word translated “touch” is the same word used in the LXX of Job 2: 5.