Within God’s sovereign will, He chooses to permit many things to happen that He takes no pleasure in. God’s allowance of certain things—even sinful things—that indirectly accomplish His will is often called God’s permissive will.
In the beginning, God created a perfect world (Deuteronomy 32:4) as part of His perfect plan. God also created spiritual beings and humans with a will and the ability to make decisions. This was all “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As God’s moral creations exercised their free will, however, they chose disobedience, and sin entered the world. God’s perfect world did not include death, suffering, disease, and other consequences of sin, yet God allowed these things as part of His permissive will.
God is omniscient and sovereign over all things. Because God is omniscient, He knows everything that has occurred and all that will occur until the end of time (Isaiah 46:9–10). Because God is sovereign, He must at least “permit” all events and happenings. God does not make mistakes. He intentionally made humans with the ability to make decisions, and He placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, even though He knew Adam and Eve would choose to sin. Within God’s sovereign will, He chooses to permit many things to happen that He takes no pleasure in. The fall of man is one of those things God permitted.
God does not force us to carry out His commands (His preceptive will). Rather, in His permissive will, God allows us to make decisions—even sinful decisions that are not God’s best for our lives. At the same time, not following God’s preceptive will comes with consequences. In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites demanded Samuel give them a king. This was not God’s will for them, and He warned them that their decision would bring negative consequences. “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles’” (1 Samuel 8:19–20). So, God, in His permissive will, allowed them to have what they demanded. He gave them a king like the other nations.
We experience God’s permissive will every day. God allows us to make decisions: what we eat, how we spend our time, where we work, whom we marry, and much more. Some of our choices will have lifelong consequences, but some won’t. Some choices other people make affect us negatively, and sometimes unpleasant circumstances come our way. We should remember that whatever is happening is part of God’s permissive will. God is still on the throne. He has not lost control.
In God’s permissive will, evil is allowed a certain amount of freedom, but that freedom is curtailed. For example, Satan was allowed to torment Job, but God placed strict limits on how far Satan could go (see Job 1—2).
In God’s permissive will, evil is allowed to function, but God’s perfect plan triumphs every time. For example, God allowed the kidnapping and enslavement of Joseph. At every mistreatment of Joseph, God had the power to intervene, but He “permitted” the evil and, in that limited sense, He sovereignly “willed” it to happen. It’s important to note that God’s permissive will never counteracts His sovereign will or His overarching plan. God allowed the sins of Joseph’s brothers in order to bring about a greater good (see Genesis 50:20).
When Jesus was arrested, He told His enemies, “This is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). Jesus’ statement suggests that evil had been granted a window of opportunity, and evil men were taking full advantage of it. That was indeed a dark night, but the end result was the salvation of mankind. All things work “for the good of those who love [God], who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God only permits that which will lead to His sovereign will being accomplished.