A Question About God's Providence
September 19, 2023, 9:06 AM

Question: Why did God not save Africa from colonialism?

Answer: Thank you so much for your question. This is a good question that gets at the heart of God, His goodness, His sovereignty, and His providence (or His governance of all things). At the same time (and I’m not accusing you of this), this is a question that seems to rise from our current obsession today with “social justice,” “racial grievance” politics, and “white European” guilt. As I said, I’m not saying this is your motivation for asking the question, but it’s a question that smacks of our current political situation.

From one perspective, one can ask this question from any number of viewpoints. Why didn’t God prevent the holocaust? Why didn’t God prevent the communist purges of the 20th century? Why didn’t God prevent what happened on 9/11? They all come in the form of “Why didn’t God prevent X?” (Fill in the blank for “X”). European colonization of Africa is not the worst thing that has happened on the African continent. This is not to downplay the evils committed or to justify the exploitation of the people and the continent. But before and after, African tribes have been committing evil and atrocities against one another. Much of the evil in the world that you see is simply because we live in a fallen world filled with fallen people.

This leads me to the biblical/theological consideration of your question. If you know the Bible’s story from the earliest chapters of Genesis, you will see why the world is in the sorry state it’s in. A secular perspective cannot answer your question because they see the world as progress from primitive to sophisticated. Everything must be moving forward toward enlightenment. Yet, it was enlightened, “liberal” people in the 18th & 19th centuries that saw Africans as “primitive” and “sub-human,” which led to their subjugation and slavery.

Getting back to the Bible. In Genesis 1-11, we see how God created everything originally very good. Yet it was the sin of our first parents, Adam & Eve, that plunged the world into sin and misery. That sin was manifested in brother killing brother (Cain & Abel) and so filled the world that by Genesis 6, the world was filled with wickedness to the point that God brought a global judgment by way of the flood. The NT sees the flood as but a picture of a far greater final judgment to come in the day Jesus Christ returns. After the flood, rather than fill the earth and multiply as God commanded Noah and his sons to do, the post-flood population decided to build a tower to ascend into the heavens. God, in another act of judgment (though much milder than the flood), confuses the languages and causes humanity to disperse. This is the birth of the various nations, languages, and cultures we see in the world today (see Genesis 10).

Why do I mention all this? Because we need to know our history. The nations that dispersed at the Tower of Babel, whether into Europe, Asia, or Africa, were, for the most part, sinners that rejected the one true God. The Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God will judge our sin, and that judgment doesn’t always take the form of direct judgment (such as the flood or Sodom & Gomorrah). Paul, in Romans 1:18-32, says that the wrath of God is being revealed against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth. What is the truth that is being suppressed? The knowledge of God, that He is the Creator and worthy of worship. How is God’s wrath being revealed? Through what is called judicial hardening. Three times (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) we read that God “gave them up.” This is God letting mankind reap the harvest of their sin. Sin has real world consequences, and God, as a form of judgment, will let mankind feel the force of those consequences.

We must not also lose sight of God’s providence in all of this. Providence is the teaching that God governs all things that happen in this world so that they do not happen by chance, but by His “Fatherly hand.” All things would include the colonization of Africa by European settlers (as well as the holocaust, the communist purges, 9/11, etc.). We can’t answer the ultimate “why” question in all of this, but we can say that God allowed this and so governs this that it will work ultimately for His glory and the good of His people.

You may ask how this works for God’s glory? Well, first, God is glorified when sin and evil is judged. In the OT, God often used foreign nations to punish His chosen people, the Jewish nation. The Assyrians and the Babylonians decimated the northern and southern kingdoms respectively. God prophesied this (read the OT prophets). God will judge sin and he often uses means to execute His judgment.

How else is God glorified? Despite the evils perpetrated in European colonialism, this did lead to the introduction into Africa of greater technology and advanced medical science. One can argue that colonialism was evil, but you cannot argue that areas like Africa and India are not better off for having advanced science and technology (both of which are the fruits of a Christian worldview). This is not to justify the evil, but to say you cannot ignore the good that has come of it. Finally, it was through these evil means that God introduced the gospel to Africa (as well as other places). Would the gospel have gotten to Africa if Europeans hadn’t colonized it? Christians saw these inroads into the African continent as opportunities to send missionaries into Africa. How many hundreds of thousands of Christians owe their faith (from a human perspective) to the fact that Europeans colonized Africa. Again, this is not to justify colonialism, but to say that God providentially is working things for His glory and our good. As Joseph told his brothers, “You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

So, to your specific question, why did God allow the colonization of Africa? Part of it was a judicial hardening of the people for their sin in rejecting the one true God for countless generations. The people of the African continent are born in sin just like people around the world. Their rejection of God led to God giving them over to their sin. Another part of the answer is God is working His sovereign plan to bring the gospel to people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Through the colonization of Africa, God has brought the gospel to a continent that was lost in sin and darkness. God judges sin through the actions of others and God saves sinners through the actions of others. In all of this, God is to be glorified.

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl

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