God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are difficult subjects. The Bible deeply affirms both man’s responsibility for rebelling against God along with God’s sovereignty to bring about His plans. These are not bad topics to ponder. However, we must approach them with the understanding that we are finite (limited, unable to fully comprehend) and God is infinite (unbounded, eternal, limitless). We are the created, He is the Creator. As we wade into a heavy topic, there must be a disclaimer. We are like a child who, having just learned how to move a chess piece, tries to then plot grand strategy. The child does not even know how all the pieces move, therefore strategy is limited. The child is limited, and so are we.
That being said, I would like to weigh in specifically on the notion that “If God is really sovereign, then He is responsible for evil – this mess is His fault.”
C.S Lewis reflects on our free will-
God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata- of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free. – Mere Christianity
Did God know that humans would turn away from His love and disobey Him? I should guess yes. But like the composer which upon realizing there is dissonance, in order to create a greater masterpiece in the end, reinvents the whole piece, God allowed it. We cannot say that He created evil in the sense that He caused it, in the sense that it is a reflection of His character. His mere knowing does not mean He is the one to blame. It seems abundantly clear, and the Bible confirms this- We are the ones to blame. And for that we should be thankful that our God took pains to guarantee that despite our disobedience, He has made a way for us (much to His own cost, much more than we can fathom) to know Him.
I share this because I am often prone to finding others (and even God!) to blame for any and all kinds of troubles, in and around me. This is wrongheaded, false, sinful thinking.
James 1:13-17 “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
We are the ones who rebelled. The problem originates from within us. But we can rejoice, for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that through Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Don’t shy away from thinking through, reading about, and dialoguing with difficult concepts like these. But do that under the Word of God. Be careful not to conclude things about His character that contradict His Word. And don’t let secondary arguments and ideas distract you from Jesus, our need to repent and believe in His glory, His redeeming love, His return.