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Posts tagged ‘evil’

God Governs All Things: Good & Evil

Why I Do Not Say, “God Did Not Cause the Calamity, But He Can Use It for Good.”

SOURCE:  John Piper

Many Christians are speaking this way about the murderous destruction of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. God did not cause it, but he can use it for good. There are two reasons I do not say this. One is that it goes beyond, and is contrary to, what the Bible teaches. The other is that it undermines the very hope it wants to offer.

First, this statement goes beyond and against the Bible. For some, all they want to say, in denying that God “caused” the calamity, is that God is not a sinner and that God does not remove human accountability and that God is compassionate. That is true—and precious beyond words. But for others, and for most people who hear this slogan, something far more is implied. Namely, God, by his very nature, cannot or would not act to bring about such a calamity. This view of God is what contradicts the Bible and undercuts hope.

How God governs all events in the universe without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But that is what the Bible teaches. God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

This “all things” includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure—God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son’s house, Job says, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).

Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. “Shall we not accept adversity from God?” And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job’s brothers and sisters “consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God’s purposeful goodness in Job’s misery: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible—and he is on a leash.

The other reason I don’t say, “God did not cause the calamity, but he can use it for good,” is that it undercuts the very hope it wants to create. I ask those who say this: “If you deny that God could have ‘used’ a million prior events to save 5,000 people from this great evil, what hope then do you have that God could now ‘use’ this terrible event to save you in the hour of trial?” We say we believe he can use these events for good, but we deny that he could use the events of the past to hold back the evil of September 11. But the Bible teaches he could have restrained this evil (Genesis 20:6). “The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). But it was not in his plan to do it. Let us beware. We spare God the burden of his sovereignty and lose our only hope.

All of us are sinners. We deserve to perish. Every breath we take is an undeserved gift. We have one great hope: that Jesus Christ died to obtain pardon and righteousness for us (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and that God will employ his all-conquering, sovereign grace to preserve us for our inheritance (Jeremiah 32:40). We surrender this hope if we sacrifice this sovereignty.

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The New Normal: Things Aren’t The Way They Are Supposed To Be

SOURCE: Based on an article at  Practical Theology For Women

I have had a few circumstances over the last 4 years that have grown and changed me. Inevitably, it is hard, not easy, circumstances that change us deeply.

Three years ago this month, my aunt was murdered.

I remember my sister’s story of the moment she had to tell my family. They were all on family vacation in the mountains. My sister got the call on her cell phone from another aunt. She told me she just stared at the scene in front of her–everyone enjoying the mountain air and time together as family–knowing that the news she had to share would change everything. It was a surreal moment. She did tell everyone, and nothing has been the same. Three years have passed. It’s fully incorporated into our lives now. It’s the new normal.

I’ve been thinking about this new normal. What has changed now? Besides all the obvious changes surrounding such a tragic loss, the foundation of change in my personal life has been, simply, my perspective. God shook the snow globe of my life, and some truths that were obscured by complacency have now taken a more prominent place in my thinking.

Here are some truths that are front and center now.

1) This world is not my home. I have to repeat this to myself regularly, but frankly it’s foundational to understanding everything else in this life.

2) Evil is very bad and we are not immune from it in this world. And rather than shaking my faith, this reminds me exactly why I desperately need a Savior. I need Jesus to save me from my own sin within me. And I long for King Jesus established on this earth as the sovereign authority who rules with complete justice. When God’s kingdom is fully established, there will be no more murder. There will be no more sickness.

3) Happy is a yuppie word. I struggle with the term happy. It isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, and peace are not necessarily grown in our lives through traditionally “happy” circumstances. Yet the beatitudes use the term freely. Blessed or happy are the spiritually bankrupt, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and, maybe most surprising, those who are persecuted for righteousness. Whatever happiness/blessedness is in Scripture, it is counterintuitive. I’m learning to think about happiness in new ways.

4) Our need for God is better highlighted in hard circumstances. When life is good, I inevitably gloss over my need for Him. But His unchanging character is the only anchor for my soul when life gets messy.

If you’ve had a life-shaking, perspective changing event rock your world recently, I recommend spending some time in Hebrews 11-13. Three years ago, the Lord saved me from despair through that section of Scripture. It reminded me that hardship, persecution, and endurance have been common to the Christian life since shortly after time began, and they will continue to be so until Christ returns. It also reminds me that despite it all, God’s purposes can not be shaken. It teaches me that my new normal is really just the old normal with complacency removed.

Hebrews 12
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

God and the Problem of Evil

Editor’s Note:  Questions such as “why do bad things happen; why does evil seem rampant; why do the innocent suffer; does God care; Is God good; can’t God do something about these tragedies?” seem to constantly come before us.  The below article by Dallas Willard helps give more understanding about this.

SOURCE:  Dallas Willard

There are very few people who do not ask “Why?” when confronted with the terrible things that have happened in history and continue to happen day by day. This is because we nearly all believe, to some degree, that there really is a God who is conscious of human beings, who is good, and who has sufficient power to prevent bad things from happening. Unless there is such a God, there is no “problem of evil” as usually understood. If there is no God, the only answer to the question “Why are children starving in Somalia?” is “Why not?” We would have no reason to think that they shouldn’t be starving. The occurrence of evil would no longer be strange, and might even seem quite natural–though we would still have the “other” problem of evil, the problem of how to get rid of it.

Certainly the Christian faith is committed to a picture of God and the world that makes every event ultimately redeemable, and therefore permissible, by a personal God who is both willing and able to nurture into being a creation which cannot be improved on. It does not hold that every event is good in itself. Bad things, even horrendous moral evils, do come to pass. But in the vision of Jesus Christ communicated to his people, all human beings–and yes, even the sparrows and the lilies–are effectively cared for. Every person is invited to say in faith and obedience, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

But how can we resolve the classical thorn in the side of such faith, which insists that if God were both all-good and all-powerful, he would not permit the evil things which do happen to occur at all? (We shall concentrate here on the evils that men do or cause, the moral evils. They pose the most serious problem. We shall ask why God permits human beings to do evil.) It would seem that God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful, if moral evil exists, and that we are forced to let one or the other go.

In resolving this dilemma, the first step is to affirm that a universe which permits the development of moral character–one which makes it possible for persons to become the immeasurably precious and even glorious beings that they sometimes do–is of greater value than any world which does not. A world containing only minerals, or minerals and plants, for example, would be of much less worth or intrinsic value than one which also contained human beings as we know them. If personality is not to be regarded as having a very great value, it would clearly be wrong of God to permit the actual suffering and wrong-doing that occurs in order to procure it.

But the moral development of personality is possible only in a world of genuine freedom. To nurture moral perfection, horrendous moral crimes must be permitted by God–though he himself never approves of them, actualizes them or requires them. Nurturing moral perfection (within a suitable world) and not allowing wrong doing is impossible. If a child is never permitted to do wrong, it will never become capable of developing a nature or character that resolutely chooses the good. Good persons must live in a world where doing evil is a genuine choice for them.

But does this not mean that God is limited in power, that there is something he cannot do? Not at all, for the impossible is not something that could be either done or left undone. If the janitor does not sweep the room after a lecture, his supervisor can rightly point that out to him, and require that he do it. But the supervisor cannot require that he both sweep the room and not sweep the room. Sweeping the room and not sweeping the room is not something that can be done or left undone. It is nothing at all. The fact that the janitor “cannot do it” does not mean that the janitor is limited in some way, as he would be if he had no arms and could not hold the vacuum or broom.

To hold God to be limited because he does not nurture moral character while simultaneously preventing choice is like regarding the janitor as limited because he does not both sweep and not sweep the room. Producing people with character without giving them choice is impossible because the capacity to choose is a part of character. So it is not something God “left undone,” for it is not anything at all. It is not something he cannot do, because it is not `something’. Period. God remains of unlimited power. He can do anything that might be either done or left undone.

Hence the presence of moral evil in the world does not mean that God is lacking in goodness or in power. The classical dilemma is dissolved by setting existing evil in the context of the good that God achieves in permitting (but not producing) moral evil.

While this may seem like a “merely logical maneuver,” it in fact yields the conclusion that permits us to see the suffering of individuals, ourselves or others, in the larger world of a great and good God, who has all eternity, and resources beyond our wildest imagination, to ensure that the life of every individual who suffers, in whatever way, is ultimately one that even that individual will receive with boundless gratitude.

If all the individual has is `this’ life, then clearly evil, pain and frustration is not redeemed. But seen in the context of God’s world as a whole, seen as but a part of a life that never ends and endlessly becomes more and more glorious, there is no evil individuals may suffer that can prevent them from finding life to be good and God to be good. Theirs is the perspective of St. Paul, who speaks of great suffering as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment and which produces for us a weight of glory far greater than it.” (II Cor. 4)

The child dying in famine is ushered immediately into the full world of God in which it finds its existence good and its prospects incomprehensibly grand. There God is seen, as he now surely is not seen, to be good and great without limit, and every individual received into his presence enjoys the everlasting sufficiency of his goodness and greatness. There is no tragedy for those who rely on this God.

It is the hearty assurance of this for the individual–which we here do not attempt to prove, but only to show that it is not automatically ruled out by the presence of evil in our world–that empowers the individual to deal with the “other” problem of evil: namely, how to get rid of it. If I am truly concerned about moral evil in the world, I should at least worry as much about my responsibility for it as about God’s. By ceasing to do evil I can make a significant impact on the moral evil that is in my world. By trusting the goodness and greatness of God, I can turn loose of the chain that drags me into moral evil: the chain of self-deification, which puts me in the position of the one I trust to take care of me. Nearly all evil-doing is done under the guise of `necessity’. “I wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, hurt others but for the fact that it is necessary to secure my aims–which of course I must bring about.”

By contrast, if I rely upon God, I can relinquish the realization of my aims to him. I can stop doing what I and everyone else knows to be wrong, and I can calmly cease co-operation with immoral behavior occurring around me. I also can stand against the evils in my world, unconcerned about what is going to happen to me if I do. We need not try to be perfect. We can concentrate on just doing a lot better. That is the surest way of vastly improving the world we live in.

And by far the best way of taking this stand is by simply relying on Jesus Christ to guide and help us. The life that is in him is the best light that has ever been given to human beings. The surest sign that God is who we hope he is is the presence of Jesus Christ in human history. By trusting him the best we know how, we will begin to share in the eternal kind of life that belongs to God. We will begin to live in the world of the Twenty-Third Psalm, where we “fear no evil,” where “goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That will be given to us in response to our trust. Experience will confirm it to us.

Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, “Why do you follow Jesus Christ?” My answer is always the same: “Who else did you have in mind?” I am open, I am willing, and I always seek to know more. But so far I have found no one who remotely compares to Jesus Christ as a practical guide to how things are and should be in human life. He proves to be one who is in touch with reality in depth and who guides me evermore into a life that comes to terms with evil in all of its dimensions. He brings us into the path leading to an experiential solution for the problems of evil.


Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It

SOURCE:  John Piper/Desiring God

1. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s delegated world rule.

Satan is sometimes called in the Bible “the ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11) or “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), or a “cosmic power over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). Which means that we should probably take him seriously when it says in Luke 4:5-7 that “The devil took Jesus up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’”

And of course that is strictly true: If the sovereign of the universe bows in worshipful submission to anyone, that one becomes the sovereign of the universe. But Satan’s claim that he can give the authority and glory of world kingdoms to whomever he wills is a half truth. No doubt he does play havoc in the world by maneuvering a Stalin or a Hitler or an Idi Amin or Bloody Mary or Saddam Hussein into murderous power. But he does this only at God’s permission and within God’s appointed limits.

This is made clear over and over again in the Bible. For example, Daniel 2:20, “Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.’” AndDaniel 4:17, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” And when the kings are in their God-appointed place, with or without Satan’s agency, they are in the sway of God’s sovereign will, as Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Evil nations rise and set themselves against the Almighty. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:2-4). And do they think that their sin and evil and rebellion against him can thwart the counsel of the Lord?Psalm 33:10-11 answers, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”

God is sovereign over the nations and over all their rulers and all the Satanic power behind them. They do not move without his permission, and they do not move outside his sovereign plan.

2. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s angels (demons, evil spirits).

Satan has thousands of cohorts in supernatural evil. They are called “demons” (Matthew 8:3James 2:19) or “evil spirits” (Luke 7:21) or “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1), or “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). We get a tiny glimpse into demonic warfare in Daniel 10 where the angel who is sent in response to Daniel’s prayer says, “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Daniel 10:13). So apparently the demon, or evil spirit, over Persia fought against the angel sent to help Daniel, and a greater angel, Michael, came to his aid.

But the Bible leaves us with no doubt who is in charge in all these skirmishes. Martin Luther got it right:

And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure
For low his doom is sure.
One little word will fell him.

We see glimpses of those little words at work, for example, when Jesus comes up against thousands of demons in Matthew 8:29-32. They were possessing a man and making him insane. The demons cry out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”—they know a time is set for their final destruction. And Jesus spoke to them, one little word, “Go.” And they came out of the man. There is no question who is sovereign in this battle. The people have seen this before in Mark 1:27 and were amazed and said, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Theyobey him. As for Satan: “We tremble not for him; his rage we can endure.” But as for Christ: even though they slay him, they always must obey him! God is sovereign over Satan’s angels.

3. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in persecution.

The apostle Peter describes the suffering of Christians like this: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). So the sufferings of persecution are like the jaws of a satanic lion trying to consume and destroy the faith of believers in Christ.

But do these Christians suffer in Satan’s jaws of persecution apart from the sovereign will of God? When Satan crushes Christians in the jaws of their own private Calvary, does God not govern those jaws for the good of his precious child? Listen to Peter’s answer in 1 Peter 3:17, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” In other words, if God wills that we suffer for doing good, we will suffer. And if he does not will that we suffer for doing good, we will not. The lion does not have the last say. God does.

The night Jesus was arrested, satanic power was in full force (Luke 22:322:31). And Jesus spoke into that situation one of his most sovereign words. He said to those who came to arrest him in the dark, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. Butthis is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:52-53). “The jaws of the lion close on me tonight no sooner and no later than my Father planned. ‘No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:18). Boast not yourself over the hand that made you, Satan. You have one hour. What you do, do quickly.” God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in persecution.

4. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power.

The Bible does not take lightly or minimize the power of Satan to kill people, including Christians. Jesus said, in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.” John tells us, in fact, that he does indeed take the lives of faithful Christians. Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Is God then not the Lord of life and death? He is. None lives and none dies but by God’s sovereign decree. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). There is no god, no demon, no Satan that can snatch to death any person that God wills to live (see 1 Samuel 2:6).

James, the brother of Jesus says this in a stunning way in James 4:13-16:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

If the Lord wills, we will live. And if he doesn’t, we will die. God, not Satan, makes the final call. Our lives are in his hands ultimately, not Satan’s. God is sovereign over Satan’s life-taking power.

5. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s hand in natural disasters.

Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, blistering heat, deadly cold, drought, flood, famine. When Satan approached God in the first chapter of Job, he challenged God in verse 11, “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And then the Lord said to Satan (in verse 12), “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”

The result was two human atrocities and two natural disasters. One of the disasters is reported to Job in verse 16: “The fire of God fell from heaven [probably lightning] and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” And then the worst report of all in verses 18-19, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead.”

Even though God had loosened the leash of Satan to do this, that is not what Job focused on. “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20-21). And the inspired writer added: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

Job had discovered with many of you that it is small comfort to focus on the freedom of Satan to destroy. In the academic classroom and in the apologetics discussion, the agency of Satan in our suffering may lift a little the burden of God’s sovereignty for some, but for others, like Job, there is more security and more relief and more hope and more support and more glorious truth in despising Satan’s hateful hand and looking straight past him to God for the cause and for his mercy.

Elihu helped Job see this mercy in Job 37:10-14. He said:

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Job’s first impulses in chapter one were exactly right. When James wrote in the New Testament about the purpose of the book of Job, this is what he said, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).

God, not Satan, is the final ruler of wind—and the waves. Jesus woke from sleep and, with absolute sovereignty, which he had from all eternity and has this very moment, said, “‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39; seePsalm 135:5-7148:7). Satan is real and terrible. All his designs are hateful. But he is not sovereign. God is. And when Satan went out to do Job harm, Job was right to worship with the words “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes Thy glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from Thy throne.
(“I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” Isaac Watts)

6. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s sickness-causing power.

The Bible is vivid with the truth that Satan can cause disease. Acts 10:38 says that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” The devil had oppressed people with sickness. In Luke 13 Jesus finds a woman who had been bent over unable to stand up for eighteen years. He heals her on the Sabbath and in response to the criticism of the synagogue ruler he says (in verse 16), “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” There is no doubt that Satan causes much disease.

This is why Christ’s healings are a sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God and its final victory over all disease and all the works of Satan. It is right and good to pray for healing. Christ has purchased it in the death of his Son, with all the other blessings of grace, for all his children (Isaiah 53:5). But he has not promised that we get the whole inheritance in this life. And he decides how much. We pray and we trust his answer. If you ask your Father for bread, he will not give you him a stone? If you ask him for a fish, he will not give you a serpent (see Matthew 7:9-10). It may not be bread. And it may not be a fish. But it will be good for you. That is what he promises (Romans 8:28).

But beware lest anyone say that Satan is sovereign in our diseases. He is not. When Satan went to God a second time in the book of Job, God gave him permission this time to strike Job’s body. Then Job 2:7 says, “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” When Job’s wife despaired and said, “Curse God and die” (2:9),” Job responded exactly as he did before. He looked past the finite cause of Satan to the ultimate cause of God and said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not accept evil?” (2:10).

And lest we attribute error or irreverence to Job, the writer closes the book in the last chapter by referring back to Job’s terrible suffering like this: “Then came to him all his brothers and sisters . . . and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (42:11). Satan is real and full of hate, but he is not sovereign in sickness. God will not give him even that tribute. As he says to Moses at the burning bush, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

7. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s use of animals and plants.

The imagery of Satan as a lion in 1 Peter 5:8 and as a “great dragon” in Revelation 12:9and as the “serpent of old” in Genesis 3 simply makes us aware that in his destructive work Satan can, and no doubt does, employ animals and plants—from the lion in the Coliseum, to the black fly that causes river blindness, to the birds that carry the avian flu virus, to the pit bull that attacks a child, to the bacteria in your belly that Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren just discovered cause ulcers (winning for them the Nobel Prize in medicine). If Satan can kill and cause disease, no doubt he has at his disposal many large and microscopic plants and animals.

But he cannot make them do what God forbids them to do. From the giant Leviathan that God made to sport in the sea (Psalm 104:26) to the tiny gnats that he summoned over the land of Egypt (Exodus 8:16-17), God commands the world of animals and plants. The most vivid demonstrations of it are in the book of Jonah. “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). And he did exactly as he had been appointed. “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah” (Jonah 4:6). “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered” (Jonah 4:7).

Fish, plant, worm—all appointed, all obedient. Satan can have a hand here, but it is not sovereign. God is.

8. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s temptations to sin.

Much of our suffering comes from the sins of others against us and from our own sins. Satan is called in the Bible “the tempter” (Matthew 4:31 Thessalonians 3:5). This was the origin on earth of all the misery that we know—Satan tempted Eve to sin and sin brought with it the curse of God on the natural order (Genesis 3:14-19Romans 8:21-23). Since that time Satan has been tempting all human beings to do what will hurt themselves and others.

But the most famous temptations in the Bible do not portray Satan as sovereign in his tempting work. The Bible tells us in Luke 22:3-4 that “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot. . . . And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them.” But Luke tells us that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was the fulfillment of Scripture: “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). And therefore Peter said that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). As with Job, the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away—the life of his Son, Jesus Christ. Satan was not in charge of the crucifixion of Christ. God was.

Even more famous than the temptation of Judas is the temptation of Peter. We usually think of Peter’s three denials, not his temptation. But Jesus says something to Peter in Luke 22:31-32 that makes plain Satan is at work here but that he is not sovereign: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again [not: if you turn], strengthen your brothers.” Again, as with Job, Satan seeks to destroy Peter’s faith. God gives him leash. But Jesus intercedes for him, and says with complete sovereignty, “I have prayed for you. You will fall, but not utterly. When you repent and turn back—not if you turn back—strengthen your brothers.”

Satan is not sovereign in the temptations of Judas or Peter or you or those you love. God is.

9. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s mind-blinding power.

The worst suffering of all is the everlasting suffering of hell. Satan is doomed to experience that suffering. Revelation 20:10 says, “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Satan’s aim is to take as many there with him as he can. To do that he must keep people blind to the gospel of Jesus Christ, because the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). No one goes to hell who is justified by the blood of Christ. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). Only those who fail to embrace the wrath-absorbing substitutionary work of Christ will suffer the wrath of God.

Therefore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This blinding is the most deadly weapon in the arsenal of Satan. If he succeeds with a person, their suffering will be endless.

But at this most critical point Satan is not sovereign, God is. And Oh, how thankful we should be! Two verses later in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul describes God’s blindness-removing power over against Satan’s blinding power. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The comparison is between God’s creating light at the beginning of the world and God’s creating light in the darkened human heart. With total sovereignty God said at the beginning and at your new birth, “Let there be light.” And there is light.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but in great mercy God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). We were blind and spiritually dead. We saw nothing compelling or beautiful in the gospel. It was foolishness to us (1 Corinthians 1:1823). But God spoke with sovereign Creator authority, and his word created life and spiritual sight, and we saw the glory of Christ in the gospel and believed. Satan is a terrible enemy of the gospel. But he is not sovereign. God is. This is the reason that any of us is saved.

10. Let us celebrate that God is sovereign over Satan’s spiritual bondage.

Satan enslaves people in two ways. One with misery and suffering by making us think there is no good God worth trusting. The other is with pleasure and prosperity making us think we have all we need so that God is irrelevant. To be freed from this bondage we must repent. We must confess that God is good and trustworthy. We must confess that the pleasures and prosperity of life do not compare to the worth of God. But Satan hates this repentance and does all he can to prevent it. That is his bondage.

But when God chooses to overcome our rebellion and Satan’s resistance, nothing can stop him. And when God overcomes him and us, we repent and Satan’s power is broken. Here it is in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhapsgrant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Satan is not sovereign over his captives. God is. When God grants repentance, we are set free from the snare of the devil—and spend our days celebrating our liberation and spreading it to others.

Conclusion

The evil and suffering in this world are greater than any of us can comprehend. But evil and suffering are not ultimate. God is. Satan, the great lover of evil and suffering, is not sovereign. God is.

“He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)

He declares “the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:10)

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38; see Amos 3:6)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21; see 16:9)

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33)

Therefore, “if God is for us, who can be against us? . . .Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Is It Spiritual Oppression or Just a Bad Day?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Tom Eisenman

Some days are ugly: Our attitude is in the pits, the boss is all over us, we can’t keep our minds on our work, the customers are rude. At home, the kids are out of control, and we snap at our spouses. In other words, it’s a bad—yet pretty ordinary—day. They happen.

Other times we’re confronted with what may be more than just a bad day. We may be under spiritual attack or oppression. How do we tell the difference? The following clues can help us to discern if spiritual forces may be at work in our circumstances.

Powerlessness. If you are suddenly unable to accomplish things you would normally be able to do easily, either in the natural world or the spiritual realm, this might indicate the presence of spiritual forces of evil.

Inner turmoil. Emotional turmoil or depression can also signal an attack. A key indicator that something might be spiritual oppression is hearing yourself saying, “This is just not like me.” Maybe your normal disposition leans toward optimistic and hopeful. But now you can’t seem to shake this sudden case of depression or these ongoing, nagging fears. Or perhaps you experience unusual jealousy so intense that you go into a rage about it. Sometimes you might start having horrible dreams and wake up every morning unsettled and troubled.

A time to be especially alert to your emotional state is just after intense ministry to others. When you’ve given yourself fully in something for the Lord, you will often be vulnerable to emotional attack or even intense temptation. Remember Elijah’s depression after facing off the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19). Satan loves to steal or tarnish any victory.

Accusation. Spiritual attack may take the form of lies that others tell about you that have no basis in fact. You are completely innocent, yet a story of your complicity in something has sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Doubt. If you become overwhelmed with doubts in areas where you’ve previously had certainty and assurance, this too could be an attack of the enemy. This is not healthy doubt, but dark stuff that threatens your faith. Don’t hesitate to gather believing friends to pray.

Another ploy of Satan is to attack your spiritual self-concept. You can live a life sold out for Christ, have discerning friends encouraging you because of the godly characteristics they see in you, and still wake up one morning believing that nothing you have ever done has amounted to anything.

Evil. At times you may sense evil in something or somebody. I have sensed the presence of evil in certain men and women and in certain places I’ve visited. In our polite society, we tend to disregard such intuitions. But I believe that we should pay special attention to those times when we sense the powers of darkness. These are times when we need to be very careful and very prayerful.

Finding God in the Midst of Pain

SOURCE:  Alex McFarland

Devastation… danger… desperation. Such words are still being used in headlines referencing Japan (2011), as observers struggle to adequately describe the magnitude of this tragedy. Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation-related statistics are continually being updated as accounts of death, damage and turmoil among the survivors dominate the news.

Whether facing a human-initiated tragedy such as a terrorist attack, or in times of natural disaster like the earthquakes that hit Haiti, Chili, and now Japan? we invariably ask ourselves, “Why?” In the process of enduring such calamities, people may wonder, “Where is God? Could He have prevented this? Does what I am going through matter to God?”

As limited, finite human beings, no one can fully know why a given event might have happened, or why seemingly innocent individuals suffer. But we long for an answer to the elusive issue of why. People in Jesus’ time wanted to know why a certain man was born blind (John 9) and why lives were lost through a prominent disaster of that era (Luke 13). Should we automatically conclude that sinners were getting their “just deserts?” Or like John the Baptist’s moment of doubt while in prison, should we conclude that maybe God isn’t as authentic or faithful as we had first thought (Matthew 11)?

We may not know every reason behind the events of life, but meaning and hope can come from reflecting on what humans do know about God and this world. In a number of ways (through creation, conscience, Scripture, and through Christ Himself), God has shown His creatures that He exists. Further, God has revealed much about this world and His plans for it. God says that the original creation was perfect, but sin and fallenness was introduced through human rebellion.

With this in mind, it’s a wonder that more places aren’t severely damaged by weather, or that more lives aren’t lost. Rather than blame God, it’s probably more suitable to praise God, given the data, and ask, “How is it that the human race is so protected and shielded, given the self-inflicted dangers posed to humans by this world?” We cannot forget that humanity—not God—is to blame for natural evil. It was our sinfulness that caused God to curse the earth (Gen. 3:17). As Romans 8:21-22 points out, the world is in bondage and is suffering from man-induced “corruption.”

Hope or consolation would be scarce if the story ended there. However, there is valid reason to trust God’s promise that He will one day “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). John the Baptist was encouraged to evaluate his own doubts in light of the promises of Scripture and the Person of Christ. Divine love, forgiveness, healing and even victory over death are not just pious platitudes, but are realities promised by both the Bible and Jesus. Christ’s historically verified empty tomb is tangible proof that this death-conquering Jesus was indeed in a position to authoritatively speak about the here and the hereafter.

The question becomes, “Could there be a morally sufficient reason for God to allow pain and suffering to enter our lives?” The answer is yes. Suffering may be the only means by which a nonbeliever will see his need for Christ (though only God knows this). Meanwhile, believers who suffer can emerge from their valleys with purified character, deeper faith and a greater awareness of how truly faithful God is. C.S. Lewis asserted that, “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”(1) If this is indeed the case, then we may peacefully accept that God is still loving and merciful even when trials and sufferings have been permitted to come into our lives. For the one willing to process their suffering with an eye on God, there is purpose in pain. Here are some reasons why God may allow pain and suffering in the world? Even on the scale of what the nation of Japan is now going through:

  • Suffering uncovers what is really inside of our hearts.
  • Suffering breaks us of our pride.
  • Suffering can deepen our desire for God.
  • Suffering can mature us.
  • Suffering can breed humility.
  • Suffering may be a warning of something potentially worse
  • Suffering can jump-start our prayer life.
  • Suffering may prompt a lost person to receive Christ.
  • Suffering may lead a Christian to confess sin.
  • Suffering helps deepen our trust in God.
  • Suffering can deepen our appreciation for Scripture.
  • Suffering helps us appreciate other Christians who were victorious.
  • Suffering can take our eyes off ourselves and this world.
  • Suffering can teach us firsthand that God truly is sufficient.
  • Suffering can connect us with other people.
  • Suffering can create an opportunity for witness.
  • Suffering can lead a person into Christian ministry.
  • Suffering can make us grateful for what we had or still have.
  • Suffering can position our lives to bring more glory to God.
  • Suffering, properly handled, will result in rewards in heaven.

Christians do not deny the realities of evil and tragedy, but we do affirm that God can (and will) bring good from it. Like Jesus, we weep with those who weep (see John 11:35 and Romans 12:15) and long for the day that evil will be quarantined and this world restored. Believers everywhere extend their prayers, love, sympathy, and support for the people of Japan.

The reality of evil, pain, and suffering in the world does not negate the reality of God. Far from it? if there were no God, then not only would there be no answer to the question of suffering, life itself would have no meaning. The healthiest way to understand and endure life’s valleys is to find our solace and sanctuary in Christ. At this time, may God draw the Japanese closer to each other, and closer to Himself. At this time, may God enable people of goodwill everywhere to pull together with brave, humble, and grateful hearts.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1962, page 93.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? The Problem of Evil

SOURCE:  Adapted from a post by Tawa J. Anderson


Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the most haunting questions facing modern man. Why does such seemingly senseless tragedy strike such seemingly innocent victims? Why are many babies born with deformities or handicaps? Why are young women in southern Sudan raped and beaten by armed militia from the north? Why are girls in Thailand sold into sexual slavery to provide a few months income for their families and to satisfy the perversions of Western tourists? Why did an unimaginably powerful earthquake in Japan cause a massive tsunami and cause so much destruction and death? 

To put the question in another way, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why is there such deep and senseless evil and suffering on earth? David Hume, the eighteenth century atheist philosopher, stated the logical problem of evil when he inquired about God, “Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

According to Hume, and many skeptics since, an all-powerful and loving God would not permit the existence of the evil that we perceive and experience. Indeed, since Hume’s day, the ‘problem of evil’, as it is known, has been the strongest challenge to Christian belief, and a key argument put forward in favor of atheism. The argument is basically thus: ‘if the Christian God exists, then evil would not be. Evil is, therefore God is not.’

We all struggle to understand why God allows horrible things to happen to people who do not deserve it. Tonight we are going to ponder this issue together. I want to suggest that we can come to a better understanding of why bad things happen to good people by identifying the who, the why, the what, and the how of evil and suffering. Who causes evil? Why does God allow evil? What does God do about evil? And How are we to respond to evil? As we search out an understanding of the who, why, what, and how of evil, I pray that God will illuminate our hearts and minds.

Before we delve into the who, why, what, and how of evil, we need to establish two preliminary facts. First, if Christianity is true, then there are no truly ‘good’ people. Second, if there is no God, then there are no truly ‘bad’ things to happen to people. We could spend an entire week talking about both of these fundamental truths, but we simply do not have the time. Thus, I am going to just touch on them briefly and then move on.

I. There are no “Good People”, only “Relatively Good People”


The Bible insists, and human experience confirms, that there are no truly ‘good’ people. Psalm 14:2-3 reads: The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:9-20 quotes Psalm 14 and builds upon it, insisting that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. Verse 20 concludes: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  

The bad news of humanity, which must be understood before we can acknowledge the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that we are all alike sinners deserving of God’s just condemnation. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Only after acknowledging universal sinfulness can we proclaim that we are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. The bad news precedes the good news. This is crucial when we consider why bad things happen to ‘good’ people. The bottom line is that no one is truly ‘good’; there are only ‘relatively good’ people. We are ‘relatively good’ in comparison to Hitler or Charles Manson. But none of us is ‘relatively good’ compared to God. God alone is good. We are good only insofar as we have the spirit of the living God within us. This truth has no impact upon our existential experience of evil and suffering, and it does not answer the question that we have asked. It just helps us to realize that we have to put good in quotation marks. The real question is ‘why do bad things happen’, period.

II. Outside of Christianity, there are no “Bad Things”, only “Things I Don’t Like”

Now consider this – what makes ‘bad’ things bad? To consider something ‘bad’, there must be some kind of objective standard to which it is being compared. As Christians, we certainly have this standard – something is ‘bad’ insofar as it falls short of the goodness and glory and perfection of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what about others? Where does their definition of ‘bad’ come from? For most Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, nothing is truly and objectively ‘bad’. Something may be maya, that is, illusory; but fundamental reality is one, Brahman, and transcends our categories of good and evil. There is not good and evil, there is only ‘is’. Evil is an illusion; suffering is an illusion. Thus, in those worldviews there is no point in asking the question ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’, because there are no ‘bad’ things.

How about the atheist? He fares no better. If there is no God, there is no objective standard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. There is only ‘what I prefer’ and ‘what you prefer’; or what different cultures prefer. Without a transcendent source for morality, we are driven to some form of ethical relativism. But then the whole argument against Christianity based on the existence of pointless evil and suffering collapses. C. S. Lewis writes:
“My [old atheistic] argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

If there is no God, then there is no such thing as objective evil; but then there is no problem of evil to begin with. An atheist can rail against the existential unlikeability of things that happen, but he can hardly shake his fist at the God in whom he willfully disbelieves, and blame God for allowing evil to persist. Only the Christian can raise the question of why bad things happen to ‘good’ people, because we have a transcendent standard by which some things are indeed declared ‘evil’ or ‘bad’. Again, this does not minimize the reality and significance of evil and suffering—it only sets the framework for our discussion. There are no ‘good’ people, because we are all sinners by nature, and unless Christianity is true, there are no ‘bad’ things to happen to anybody. With that groundwork in place, let’s proceed to our discussion of the who, why, what, and how of evil.

III. Who Causes Evil? The impact of human sin

First, who causes evil? Where does it come from? Why is there suffering at all? In Genesis 1, God creates the universe and everything within it. In verse 31, we read: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. In the beginning, creation was good. There was no evil, no suffering. But in Genesis 3, the picture changes. Adam and Eve disobey God, rebel against God’s loving Lordship, and plunge all of creation into a state of fallen sinfulness. Their sin affects not just their own relationship with God, but the status of the entire created order. Where does evil come from? Quite simply, from the sin of mankind. Why are young girls in Thailand sold into sexual slavery? Because of the moral evil of men and women around them—their parents’ sinful decision to sell them off, the sinful institutions in their country which perpetually impoverish their families, and the sinful perversions of sex tourists who come to Thailand solely to despoil and molest enslaved Thai women. Why do deformities and handicaps affect many children? Because the fall of man introduced sin and imperfection into the created order, including the genetic reproduction of humanity. Evil exists because human sin exists.

IV. Why does God Allow Evil?

Second, why does Almighty God allow evil? Granted that evil stems from the sinfulness of humanity. Why does God allow it? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop children from being born deformed? Why doesn’t He stop women from being abused? Why doesn’t He protect New Orleans from being decimated by hurricanes and floods? Before I begin to answer this question, I want you to note the irony of this complaint against God. Atheists frequently want to be left alone to do what they want to do, morally and intellectually speaking. In other words, they want God to let them do what they want to do. If they want to have sex with a multitude of women, let them. If they want to think that words are a power game and have no intrinsic meaning, let them. They want to be left alone. They certainly do not want ‘God’ (in whom, again, they do not believe) to interfere in their lives and disrupt their plans. And yet they raise a howl of protest against intuitively-known evil, and insist that if there was an all-powerful God, He ought not to let such things occur. They want God to intervene and prevent other people from perpetrating evil (that is, from doing the evil that they want to do), but they forbid God from intervening and preventing themselves from perpetrating what others might perceive as evil. Which is it? Do they want a God who intervenes in earthly affairs, or not?

A) Human Freedom

Why does God allow evil to occur? Why does He permit relatively good people to endure incredible suffering? First off, we must acknowledge that if God so desired, He could eliminate all evil and suffering with one word from His mouth. After all, God is all-powerful. However, we might not like what was left of the world if God did that, as we will come to see presently. At any rate, we can point to three broad reasons that God allows evil to occur.

First, and most commonly and generally, God permits evil to occur because He has endowed men and women with free will, and does not intervene to prevent His creatures from carrying out their freely-chosen evil intentions. We are all consciously aware of having the power of choice – the ability to determine what we do today and tomorrow. To be sure, we are strongly influenced and directed by our particular genetic make-up, as well as our environmental upbringing. Nonetheless, we choose our course of action. [For example], one could decide to go out after church on Sunday and bring sandwiches and cold ice tea to the homeless people living on the streets of Louisville. [Another], meanwhile, could choose to slip thumbtacks into the shoes and hats of those same homeless people. One would be choosing to do good, the other to do evil. But both would be making a decision to act. God would not approve of  [the latter’s] actions. [This] would be acting contrary to God’s prescriptive will – that is, what God desires and directs to happen. [This] act would fall under God’s permissive will – that is, what God allows to happen, even though it may be contrary to His character and commandments.

The vast majority of evil and suffering we complain about is due to the sinfulness of mankind. The argument that God should not allow such evil to occur is really a demand that God should make man to be something other than what He is—that mankind should be compelled and forced by God to act rightly, instead of being exhorted, encouraged, and entreated to do what is right. A world without evil would be a world without free-willed men; a world of robotic androids, incapable of forming relationships, incapable of expressing worship, incapable of ‘doing good’ because they are incapable of choosing their path in any way. That is why we as human beings really do not want God to eliminate all evil and suffering—because if He did, we would cease to be conscious of anything. Removing the possibility of human-perpetrated evil also removes the possibility of human good.


B) Suffering as Discipline and Judgment


There are two other reasons that God permits evil and suffering. On the one hand, He sometimes allows us to experience a wake-up call—such as when a man who has been eating deep-fried fatty foods for years suffers a mild heart attack and ponders his need to alter his lifestyle and diet. God sometimes leads us through suffering in order to refine our character and will. Other times, suffering is a more direct judgment for sin, as when God judges His chosen nation of Israel in the Old Testament for their rebellion against Him, and sends them into exile in Babylon.

C) Suffering/Evil and the Greater Good

On the other hand, God often uses apparent evil to accomplish a greater good which we can not see because of our limited human perspective. Indeed, the comforting promise of Romans 8:28 is that we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. From my perspective (and I know there are many who disagree with this), God does not approve of or will the evil that occurs, but He does redeem it, working in the midst of great evil to accomplish greater good.

V. What does God Do about Evil and Suffering?

Indeed, that is part of the answer to our third question: What does God do about evil? Granted that mankind is the source of evil, and that God permits it primarily because He has divinely created us to be creatures with the freedom to choose good or evil—what does God do about it? Is He merely standing on the sidelines, cheering on the ‘good guys’ while booing the ‘evil ones’? Is He wringing His hands helplessly, weeping over His inability to rein in the forces of doom and darkness? In addition to working good out of evil, I suggest that there are four things that we can identify God as ‘doing’ about the evil and suffering in the world.

A) Grieves Over

First, God grieves with us over evil in the world. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus cries out:O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. Jesus is grieved by the unwillingness of the people of Israel to acknowledge and embrace His messianic ministry. Throughout Scripture, we see God expressing sympathy for those who are suffering, and promising to provide comfort to those who are afflicted. God grieves with us as we suffer, and carries us through the darkest times of our suffering.

B) Condemns and Judges

Second, God condemns evil. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus expresses strong anger and condemnation towards the evil of the religious leaders of Israel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. If you want even stronger expressions of condemnation for evil, check out the Old Testament prophets. A brief taste from Amos 2:6 – For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. God judges and condemns evil in all forms, from whatever corner it comes. God’s Church is not exempt from condemnation—if and when evil is perpetrated by professing Christians, God can and will condemn it also.

C) Absorbs and Endures

Third, God takes evil upon Himself. God descends to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Though a righteous, sinless man, incarnate God suffers intense evil at the hands of sinful men. Whatever suffering and evil we have endured, Jesus has gone through similar or worse. Furthermore, when Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, He assumed upon Himself the evil that we have committed, and endured the punishment that we had earned. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:21 reads – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As Jesus hangs on the cross, bearing upon Himself all of our evil and consequent punishment, God the Father judges the evil present upon God the Son. Jesus experiences this divine abandonment, and cries out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Never lose sight of the fact that the suffering of the cross is real, and that Jesus takes evil willingly upon Himself. God does not just witness evil from the sidelines; He enters into human suffering and takes it upon Himself.

D) Ultimately & Finally Defeats
Finally, God gives His divine and certain promise that evil will one day be defeated and eradicated. We live as fallen creatures in a fallen creation, but God has assured us that He will one day remake creation and re-establish for all eternity a righteous, perfect order. Revelation 16-20 (like many other biblical passages) describe the future defeat, judgment, and demise of Satan and other workers of evil; Revelation 21 then opens with a beautiful picture of the paradise that awaits us when evil is eradicated. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. God grieves over evil; He condemns it; He takes it upon Himself to redeem us; and He will ultimately defeat and demolish all evil and suffering.

VI. How are We to Respond to Evil and Suffering?

With all that in mind, then, how are we to respond to evil? Are we to throw our hands up in the air and cry: ‘There’s nothing we can do about it! We live in a terrible world!’? Or are we to take a shotgun and shoot whoever around us seems to be most evil? How does God desire us to respond to evil around us, and the evil that we ourselves endure. First, we need to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, as Philippians 2:1-11 reminds us. We must grieve with others who encounter evil and experience suffering, and seek to comfort them and carry them through their trials. We must also condemn the evil that exists in our society—as well as the evil that exists within ourselves. We must not be content to accept the inevitability of evil and suffering, but rather are called by God to strive against it. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We truly desire for God’s will to be done here, and thus we struggle and fight against evil, injustice, and sources of human suffering. 

Finally, when we experience evil personally, we must keep fresh in our minds the convicting, challenging, but comforting words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Yes, our suffering may be intense; the evil we encounter may be gratuitous, grievous evil. But we must keep in mind the victory over death and evil and suffering that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Christ won the victory over sin and death through His glorious resurrection, so too we are assured of our own victory over evil and death. Just as Christ was raised from the dead to eternal life with God the Father, so too we are assured of our own resurrection to eternal life.

Who causes evil? We do. Why does God allow evil to persist? Because He created us with the freedom to choose, for good or for evil, and allows us to act accordingly. What does God do about the evil that He permits? He brings good out of it, grieves over it, condemns it, takes it upon Himself, and ultimately defeats it. How are we to respond to evil? We are to grieve over it, condemn it, and keep our eyes focused upon the redemption of our suffering through our future resurrection.

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