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Posts tagged ‘free-will’

My Salvation: Didn’t I Choose Christ? Yes and No!

Christ Is The Point

SOURCE: adapted from an article by  Mark Galli

Many people recognize their need for God—that their lives are a mess and that this world is headed for destruction.  They know they need to be saved.  But they imagine that salvation is within their grasp.

They may reject the idea that they can earn God’s favor with works, but they are fully convinced that the solution lies within them. After all, they reason, it’s just a matter of choosing—in this case, choosing God by faith using their autonomous free will….

                      Evil and injustice may abound on the earth, and we may

                     participate in it from time to time, but the one thing that is not fallen,

                    corrupt, or evil is the will. It is perfectly free and able to choose God.

This is a naive view of human freedom.

It results from a view of sin that is not as radical or as truthful as the view we find in Scripture.

In the Bible, the will itself is so corrupt and enslaved that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to see what Christ has done for us and to free us to respond in faith to him.  As Jesus put it, no one comes to him unless the Father (through the Holy Spirit) grants it (John 6:65). Otherwise the human condition is considered hopeless, which is why the Bible uses such words as blind, dark, deaf, and dead to describe our situation outside Christ.

The good news is that our salvation is not dependent on our success at making right choices, even the right choice of faith.In fact, the Bible regularly reminds us that we cannot consistently make good choices with our corrupt wills.

As Paul puts it, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, NIV). Instead of relying on an autonomous free will to remind us to make right choices, we are called to simply trust what Christ has done for us on the cross and through his resurrection.

But isn’t that a choice, to trust in Christ? Yes and no.

It is not even a possibility without God’s intervention. We can’t even recognize who Christ is, what he has done for us, and sense his invitation to respond in faith without the work of the Holy Spirit. The very fact that we can apprehend all this is a gift right from the start.

Furthermore, to trust in Christ means that it is not my trust that reconciles God to me or me to God. It is the death and resurrection of Christ that reconciles God to me, and the faith empowered by the Holy Spirit that reconciles me to God.

This is why the gospel is such good news.

There are times when even the most dedicated Christian will recognize that his or her life is still in shambles, still driven by selfishness, still filled with doubt and confusion about God. At such times, panic can set in:

Am I really a Christian? Is God working in my life to bring me into deeper fellowship with him? Has God given me the gift of grace? Will I enjoy the fellowship of heaven? Do I believe enough to be saved? 

The very fact that these sorts of questions bother us at such times shows that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, working in our lives. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to convict the world of sin and guilt (see John 16:8). So the paradox is that when we’re troubled like this, it’s the very sign of God working in our lives to bring us into deeper fellowship with him.

And of course, we do not believe enough to be saved. Of course, selfishness rules our hearts in too many ways. Of course, we have doubts and confusion about God. It’s called sin. But the gospel calls us to stop looking at ourselves—at our doubts, our sins, and our choices. The gospel says look to Christ. Don’t trust in your ability to choose right or even to trust perfectly. Look to Christ, who died for sinners. Faith is recognizing the reality of our situation and the deeper reality of our Savior. Faith is the drowning man grasping the outstretched arm of his rescuer. Faith includes a response, but our response is not the main thing.

Christ is.

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Mark Galli (read more about Mark here). This blog is adapted from Mark’s new book God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins (Tyndale).

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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.


God offers: Heaven or Hell; The Choice is Ours

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 NIV

The hero of heaven is God. Angels don’t worship mansions or glittering avenues. Neither gates nor jewels prompt the hosts to sing . . . God does. His majesty stirs the pen of heaven’s poets and the awe of her citizens.

They enjoy an eternity-long answer to David’s prayer: “One thing I ask of the LORD . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4). What else warrants a look? Inhabitants of heaven forever marvel at the sins God forgives, the promises he keeps, the plan he executes. He’s not the grand marshal of the parade; he is the parade. He’s not the main event; he’s the only event. His Broadway features a single stage and star: himself. He hosts the only production and invites every living soul to attend.

He, at this very moment, issues invitations by the millions. He whispers through the kindness of a grandparent, shouts through the tempest of a tsunami. Through the funeral he cautions, “Life is fragile.” Through a sickness he reminds, “Days are numbered.” God may speak through nature or nurture, majesty or mishap. But through all and to all he invites: “Come, enjoy me forever.”

Yet many people have no desire to do so. They don’t want anything to do with God. He speaks; they cover their ears. He commands; they scoff. They don’t want him telling them how to live. They mock what he says about marriage, money, sex, or the value of human life. They regard his son as a joke and the cross as utter folly.1 They spend their lives telling God to leave them alone. And at the moment of their final breath, he honors their request: “Get away from me, you who do evil. I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23 NCV). This verse escorts us to the most somber of Christian realities: hell.

No topic stirs greater resistance. Who wants to think about eternal punishment? We prefer to casualize the issue, making jokes about its residents or turning the noun into a flippant adjective. “That was a hell of a steak.” Odd that we don’t do the same with lesser tragedies. You never hear “My golf game has gone to prison.” Or “This is an AIDS of a traffic jam.” Seems a conspiracy is afoot to minimize hell.

Some prefer to sanitize the subject, dismissing it as a moral impossibility.

“I do not myself feel that any person,” defied atheist Bertrand Russell, “who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”2 Or, as is more commonly believed, “A loving God would not send people to hell.” Religious leaders increasingly agree. Martin Marty, a church historian at the University of Chicago Divinity School, canvassed one hundred years of some scholarly journals for entries on hell. He didn’t find one. “Hell,” he observed, “disappeared and no one noticed.”3

Easy to understand why. Hell is a hideous topic. Any person who discusses it glibly or proclaims it gleefully has failed to ponder it deeply. Scripture writers dip pens in gloomy ink to describe its nature. They speak of the “blackest darkness” (Jude 13), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9), “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12).

A glimpse into the pit won’t brighten your day, but it will enlighten your understanding of Jesus. He didn’t avoid the discussion. Quite the contrary. He planted a one-word caution sign between you and hell’s path: perish. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus spoke of hell often. Thirteen percent of his teachings refer to eternal judgment and hell.4 Two-thirds of his parables relate to resurrection and judgment.5 Jesus wasn’t cruel or capricious, but he was blunt. His candor stuns.

He speaks in tangible terms. “Fear Him,” he warns, “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28 NKJV). He quotes Hades’s rich man pleading for Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24 NKJV). Words such as body, finger, and tongue presuppose a physical state in which a throat longs for water and a person begs for relief—physical relief.

The apostles said that Judas Iscariot had gone “to his own place” (Acts 1:25 NASB). The Greek word for place is topos, which means geographical location.6Jesus describes heaven with the same noun: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 NKJV). Hell, like heaven, is a location, not a state of mind, not a metaphysical dimension of floating spirits, but an actual place populated by physical beings.

Woeful, this thought. God has quarantined a precinct in his vast universe as the depository of the hard-hearted.

Exactly where is hell? Jesus gives one chilling clue: “outside.” “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness” (Matt. 22:13). Outside of what? Outside of the boundaries of heaven, for one thing. Abraham, in paradise, told the rich man, in torment, “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26 NKJV). No heaven-to-hell field trips. No hell-to-heaven holiday breaks. Hell is to heaven what the edge of our universe is to earth: outside the range of a commute.

Hell is also outside the realm of conclusion. Oh, that hell’s punishment would end, that God would schedule an execution date. New Testament language leads some godly scholars to believe he will:

Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 10:28 NKJV)

Whoever believes in him shall not perish. (John 3:16)

Destroy. Perish. Don’t such words imply an end to suffering? I wish I could say they do. There is no point on which I’d more gladly be wrong than the eternal duration of hell. If God, on the last day, extinguishes the wicked, I’ll celebrate my misreading of his words. Yet annihilation seems inconsistent with Scripture. God sobers his warnings with eternal language. Consider John’s description of the wicked in Revelation 14:11: “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (ESV). How could the euthanized soul “have no rest, day or night”?

Jesus parallels hell with Gehenna, a rubbish dump outside the southwestern walls of Jerusalem, infamous for its unending smoldering and decay. He employs Gehenna as a word picture of hell, the place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48 ESV). A deathless worm and quenchless fire—however symbolic these phrases may be—smack of ongoing consumption of something. Jesus speaks of sinners being “thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). How can a nonexistent person weep or gnash teeth?

Jesus describes the length of heaven and hell with the same adjective: eternal. “They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46 RSV). Hell lasts as long as heaven. It may have a back door or graduation day, but I haven’t found it.

Much perishes in hell. Hope perishes. Happiness perishes. But the body and soul of the God-deniers continue outside. Outside of heaven, outside of hope, and outside of God’s goodness.

None of us have seen such a blessingless world. Even the vilest precincts of humanity know the grace of God. People who want nothing of God still enjoy his benefits. Adolf Hitler witnessed the wonder of the Alps. Saddam Hussein enjoyed the blushing sunrise of the desert. The dictator, child molester, serial rapist, and drug peddler—all enjoy the common grace of God’s goodness. They hear children laugh, smell dinner cooking, and tap their toes to the rhythm of a good song. They deny God yet enjoy his benevolence.

But these privileges are confiscated at the gateway to hell. Scofflaws will be “shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9). Hell knows none of heaven’s kindnesses, no overflow of divine perks. The only laughter the unrepentant hear is evil; the only desires they know are selfish. As the Scottish professor James Denney describes it, God-rejecters “pass into a night on which no morning dawns.”7 Hell is society at its worst.

More tragically, hell is individuals at their worst. It surfaces and amplifies the ugliest traits in people. Cravings will go unchecked. Worriers will fret and never find peace. Thieves will steal and never have enough. Drunks always craving, gluttons always demanding. None will be satisfied. Remember: “Their worm does not die” (Mark 9:48 ESV). As one writer put it, “Not only will the unbeliever be in hell, but hell will be in him too.”8

Death freezes the moral compass. People will remain in the fashion they enter. Revelation 22:11 seems to emphasize hell’s unrepentant evil: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy” (RSV). The God-less remain ungodly.

Hell is not a correctional facility or reform school. Its members hear no admonishing parents, candid sermons, or Spirit of God, no voice of God, no voice of God’s people. Spend a lifetime telling God to be quiet, and he’ll do just that. God honors our request for silence.

Hell is the chosen home of insurrectionists, the Alcatraz of malcontents. Hell is reserved, not for those souls who seek God yet struggle, but for those who defy God and rebel. For those who say about Jesus, “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Luke 19:14). So in history’s highest expression of fairness, God honors their preference. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33:11). It is not his will that any should perish, but the fact that some do highlights God’s justice. God must punish sin. “Nothing impure will ever enter [heaven], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). God, inherently holy, must exclude evil from his new universe. God, eternally gracious, never forces his will. He urges mutineers to stay on board but never ties them to the mast. C. S. Lewis wrote, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”9 How could a loving God send sinners to hell? He doesn’t. They volunteer.

Once there, they don’t want to leave. The hearts of damned fools never soften; their minds never change. “Men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory” (Rev. 16:9 NKJV). Contrary to the idea that hell prompts remorse, it doesn’t. It intensifies blasphemy.

Remember the rich man in torment? He could see heaven but didn’t request a transfer. He wanted Lazarus to descend to him. Why not ask if he could join Lazarus? The rich man complained of thirst, not of injustice. He wanted water for the body, not water for the soul. Even the longing for God is a gift from God, and where there is no more of God’s goodness, there is no longing for him. Though every knee shall bow before God and every tongue confess his preeminence (Rom. 14:11), the hard-hearted will do so stubbornly and without worship. There will be no atheists in hell (Phil. 2:10–11), but there will be no God-seekers either.

But still we wonder, is the punishment fair? Such a penalty seems inconsistent with a God of love—overkill. A sinner’s rebellion doesn’t warrant an eternity of suffering, does it? Isn’t God overreacting?

A man once accused me of the same. Some years ago, when my daughters were small, we encountered an impatient shopper at a convenience store. My three girls were selecting pastries from the doughnut shelf. They weren’t moving quickly enough for him, so he leaned over their shoulders and barked, “You kids hurry up. You’re taking too long.” I, an aisle away, overheard the derision and approached him. “Sir, those are my daughters. They didn’t deserve those words. You need to apologize to them.”

He minimized the offense. “I didn’t do anything that bad.”

My response? That verdict was not his to render. Those were my daughters he had hurt. Who was he to challenge my reaction? Who are we to challenge God’s? Only he knows the full story, the number of invitations the stubborn-hearted have refused and the slander they’ve spewed.

Accuse God of unfairness? He has wrapped caution tape on hell’s porch and posted a million and one red flags outside the entrance. To descend its stairs, you’d have to cover your ears, blindfold your eyes, and, most of all, ignore the epic sacrifice of history: Christ, in God’s hell on humanity’s cross, crying out to the blackened sky, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). You’ll more easily capture the Pacific in a jar than describe that sacrifice in words. But a description might read like this: God, who hates sin, unleashed his wrath on his sin-filled son. Christ, who never sinned, endured the awful forsakenness of hell. The supreme surprise of hell is this: Christ went there so you won’t have to. Yet hell could not contain him. He arose, not just from the dead, but from the depths. “Through death He [destroyed] him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14 NKJV).

Christ emerged from Satan’s domain with this declaration: “I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18 NKJV). He is the warden of eternity. The door he shuts, no one opens. The door he opens, no one shuts (Rev. 3:7).

Thanks to Christ, this earth can be the nearest you come to hell.

But apart from Christ, this earth is the nearest you’ll come to heaven.

A friend told me about the final hours of her aunt. The woman lived her life with no fear of God or respect for his Word. She was an atheist. Even in her final days, she refused to permit anyone to speak of God or eternity. Only her Maker knows her last thoughts and eternal destiny, but her family heard her final words. Hours from death, scarcely conscious of her surroundings, she opened her eyes. Addressing a face visible only to her, she defied, “You don’t know me? You don’t know me?”

Was she hearing the pronouncement of Christ: “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:23 ESV)?

Contrast her words with those of a Christ-follower. The dying man made no secret of his faith or longing for heaven. Two days before he succumbed to cancer, he awoke from a deep sleep and told his wife, “I’m living in two realities. I’m not allowed to tell you. There are others in this room.” And on the day he died, he opened his eyes and asked, “Am I special? Why, that I should be allowed to see all this?”

Facing death with fear or faith, dread or joy. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish . . . ” God makes the offer. We make the choice.


1.  1 Cor. 1:18
2.  Robert Jeffress, Hell? Yes! . . . and Other Outrageous Truths You Can Still Believe (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2004), 71–72.
3.  Martin Marty, Newsweek, March 27, 1989, quoted in John Blanchard,Whatever Happened to Hell? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), 15–16.
4.  Jeffress, Hell? Yes! 73.
5.  Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? 105.
6.  W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Original Greek Words with Their Precise Meanings for English Readers (McClean: VA: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), 867.
7.  James Denney, Studies in Theology (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 255, quoted in Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 31.
8.  Thomas Vincent, Christ’s Certain and Sudden Appearance to Judgment,quoted in Eryl Davies, The Wrath of God Evangelical Press of Wales, 50, quoted in Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? 145.
9.  C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: MacMillan, 1962), 127, quoted in Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? 152.

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.

DECISION MAKING AND THE WILL OF GOD (Adapted from the book by Garry Friesen)

The expression “will of God” is used in the Bible in two ways. God’s sovereign will is His secret plan to determine everything that happens in the universe. God’s moral will consists of the revealed commands in the Bible that teach how we ought to believe and live.

The Nature of God’s Moral Will

  1. It is the expression, in behavioral terms, of God’s character.
  2. It touches every aspect and moment of life: goals, attitudes, and means (why, how, and what).
  3. It is fully revealed in the Bible.
  4. It is able to equip believers for every good work.

For God’s children, all things within the moral will of God are lawful, clean, and pure. In decisions that are made within that moral will, the Christian should not feel guilty about his choice; neither should he fear that his decision is unacceptable to God. God has made it clear what He wants: His plan for His children is for them to enjoy the freedom that He has granted.

What One Must Do To Acquire Wisdom
Have the right Attitude

  1. Reverence
  2. Humility
  3. Teachableness
  4. Diligence
  5. Uprightness
  6. Faith

Take The Right Approach

  1. Ask God for Wisdom
  2. Seek Wisdom in the pages of Scripture
  3. Seek Wisdom through personal research
  4. Seek Wisdom through wise counselors
  5. Seek Wisdom from life itself

To sum up: The ultimate Source of the wisdom that is needed in decision-making is God. Accordingly, we are to ask Him to provide what we lack. God mediates His wisdom to us through His Word, our personal research, wise counselors, and the applied lessons of life. Regarding counselors, one should seek two kinds: Of those who possess deep spiritual insight, the question should be asked: “Are you aware of any biblical principles that touch upon my decision?” To those who have gone through relevant personal experiences, the question should be: “When you went through a similar experience, did you gain any insights that would be of value to me?”

Principles of Decision Making – The Way of Wisdom

  1. In those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands and principles of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.
  2. In those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (non-moral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action. Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.
  3. In non-moral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise decisions on the basis of spiritual expediency. Spiritual expediency, put simply, means what works best to get the job done-within God’s moral will. Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.
  4. In all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God’s sovereign will as it touches each decision.

God’s Sovereign Will and Decision Making

  1. God’s sovereignty does not exclude the need for planning; it does require humble submission to His will.
  2. Circumstances define the context of the decision and must be weighed by wisdom�not “read” as road signs to God’s individual (as opposed to His moral) will. Such events are determined by God, to be sure, but they are not to be viewed as “signs” to be read. Circumstances must be evaluated, not to determine some clue from God, but to help decide the advisability of a given course of action. Circumstances indicate many of the pros and cons, but they carry no “yes” or “no” tags.
  3. Open doors are God-given opportunities for service�not specific guidance from God requiring one to enter. Opportunities, like everything else, come through God’s sovereignty. The nature of such opportunities indicates that most of the time “open doors” should be utilized as part of wise, resourceful living for the Lord. If a greater opportunity or more pressing work is at hand, it is acceptable and proper to pass by the open door. An “open door” is not a direct providential sign from God telling the believer to go in a certain direction. A door is used, not because it is a sign, but because doors facilitate entrance. Considering the concept of “closed doors,” if one were sovereignly prevented from pursuing a plan, and yet the plan itself was sound, one simply might wait and try again later. In this view, a blocked endeavor (i.e., closed door) is not necessarily a sign from God that a plan was faulty. One might accept the fact that he could not pursue it at this time and continue to desire, pray, and plan for the eventual accomplishment of the goal.
  4. “Putting out a fleece” is an invalid practice that sometimes works when it is really wisdom in disguise.

Applicational Solutions of the Wisdom View

  1. Ordinary Decisions: One should exercise good judgment and not waste time.
  2. Equal Decisions: One should thank God for the opportunity to select from acceptable alternatives, and choose one’s personal preference.
  3. Immaturity: One should apply maturity by gathering and evaluating data, devoting sufficient time to the process, giving personal desires their proper place, and basing the decision on sound reasons.
  4. Subjectivity: Since God’s moral will has been completely revealed and the means of acquiring wisdom has been explained, the knowledge required for decision making is fully attainable.

The believer already has at his disposal everything that God is going to tell him about his decisions. The moral will of God is objective, complete, and adequate. God’s Word does not tell one what to decide in every situation; it teaches how to come to a decision that is acceptable to God. It is from Scripture that we learn the necessity of determining those choices that are both moral and wise. It is the Bible that tells us to acquire wisdom and apply it to our decisions. It is the Bible that tells us where wisdom is to be found. It is the Bible that tells us of God’s involvement in giving us wisdom. It is the Bible that established the objective standard by which we may define and recognize what is moral and wise. It is assumed in Scripture that knowledge of God’s moral will and the necessary wisdom for good decision-making are attainable. The Bible indicates that one’s depth of wisdom and knowledge of God’s moral will certainly will increase progressively over a period of time. The believer is expected to study the Word sufficiently to become personally convinced of its meaning. As he grows in spiritual insight and understanding of God’s Word, his convictions will be appropriately revised, his judgment will mature, and his decisions will reflect greater wisdom. But at any given point, the believer can acquire a sufficient knowledge of God’s moral will and an adequate level of wisdom to make a decision that meets God’s approval.

Wisdom Signs Pointing to God’s Moral Will and Wisdom

  1. Bible
  2. Inner Impressions
  3. Personal Desires
  4. Special Guidance
  5. Circumstances
  6. Mature Counsel
  7. Common Sense
  8. Results

Impressions can come from a multitude of sources. They must be judged by the moral will of God and by wisdom. On the basis of that evaluation, the believer determines his response to the impression. Those impressions that conform to God’s moral will and to wisdom may be followed.

The presence of peace or the lack of it may or may not mean a decision is the best. The lack of peace may indicate immaturity, fear of one’s inability to keep a potential commitment, concern about the wisdom of a course of action, or uncertainty about one’s judgment in the decision at hand. The way of wisdom judges the emotional makeup and momentary emotional state of the believer himself as one of the valid circumstances in the situation. That “concerned feeling” should be judged by wisdom. One’s emotional makeup should be judged by wisdom. In the final analysis, every good thing comes from God. So any thought, impression, or feeling that is both moral and wise has its ultimate origin in Him.

According to the Bible, God is involved in our decision making at several levels. First, He has provided the resources for making decisions that are acceptable to Him. He has revealed His moral will in its totality. He has instructed us in His Word to seek wisdom for making decisions, and has informed us how to do it. Further, He has given us a new nature which makes obedience of His moral will possible. As a loving Father, He has equipped us with everything we need to make decisions that are pleasing to Him. As we work through the process of arriving at a decision, God is continually present and working within us. The words of Paul remind us that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Specifically, His grace enables us to trust in Him (Acts 18:27). He gives the believer the desire to obey His will. By His Spirit, He provides the enablement to keep His commandments. Furthermore, it is God who sovereignly opens doors of opportunity for us. When we ask for wisdom, He gives it through the channels He has established for our benefit. He also answers the related prayers we offer concerning our decisions. And He brings to successful completion those of our plans that are within His sovereign will. Along the way, He utilizes the circumstances and the very process of decision- making to change our character and bring us to maturity. Finally, He works through our decisions to accomplish His purposes – not only in us, but through us. We can trust that if anything more is needed for guidance – such as an audible voice, an angelic messenger, or some other form of supernatural revelation – He will supply it just as He has when it was necessary in times past.

Decision Making and the Will of God

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