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Todd explains that God is in control even when evil seems to rule the day by addressing the following questions: Is this the best God can do? Is God the author of evil? Is God incompetent? Does God care? Are you mindless if you believe in God when there's so much evil under His rule? Is God compassionate? The answers increase our understanding of the seemingly contradictory aspects of God's nature and the chaotic world we live in.
If God Already Knows What He's Going to Do, Why Should I Waste My Time Trying to Talk to Him?
If God is So Loving, Why Does His Book Endorse so Much Slaughter? Isn't Religion the Main Reason There are so Many Wars in the First Place?
If God is So Smart and So Strong, Then Why is This World So Scary and Screwed Up?
If God Owns Everything, How Come He's Always Broke and His People are Always Asking for Money?
Why Believe in God when He's Nothing More than a Man-made Guilt Trip Obsessed with '10 Very Important Rules'?
Father, we are grateful that it wasn't just your erring children in the garden who you reconciled to you but all who are part of their lineage, all who have followed in their way of believing that you are not good, your Word is not true, that judgment isn't that bad, and we can do it better on our own, all those you have reconciled, all us erring children, through your perfect Son, who you've told us is not just the highest of all men, but the most amazing thing is the greatest expression of your love for us in that you yourself came, identified with us, trusted in yourself, and then paid a wage that you did not owe, a debt that you did not owe. We are grateful for that.
This morning, as we reflect on the length and the width and the height and the depth of your love, we are also so grateful that we can tell you about some problems we have about the way you operate, because it doesn't always look like a loving God is in control. So we come to you and we sing songs of faith, but we also get to come to you and wrestle with you about questions of our hearts and our minds in this world that is still erring and does not have the fingerprints of a loving God all over it.
Would you explain that to us and let us in our skepticism, scoffing, hurt, and pain find answers? We thank you how you use song to drive us toward truth. No matter how dark it gets, we can be reminded that you're here with us. Would you use this morning toward that end? We thank you that we could already find encouragement as we declare who you are and meditate on it through song. Take us even deeper now as we reflect on truth that you've given us from your Word, amen.
Robin Williams (as Patch Adams): So what now, huh? What do you want from me? Yeah, I could do it. We both know you wouldn't stop me. So answer me, please. Tell me what you're doing. Okay, let's look at the logic. You create man. Man suffers enormous amounts of pain. Man dies. Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day. Maybe you should have spent that day on compassion. You know what? You're not worth it.
[End of video]
Well, is he worth it? Is there a God out there who's worth knowing, and is there a God out there who's worth serving, or is it just for imbeciles who choose to wish in that because they can't create another possible solution for evil? If God is good and God is God, then why is this world so scary and so screwed up? What I want to let you know and what's so great about God is because he says that he is truth, he welcomes all questions and interrogation.
If something is true, then no amount of scrutiny will affect it. God says that he is truth, that he is light and there is no darkness in him, so he welcomes questions, but he wants to make sure that those who are asking questions are there to really have him respond and not just to rail on him because they can't understand why he does the things he does, but to be still and give him a chance to speak in response to our pain.
He doesn't mind Patch Adams, a real figure, played by Robin Williams in that clip, who lost this dear woman who, with him, served the oppressed and dying, only to fall victim to a wicked and selfish individual. Where was God in that? God wanted to respond. God wants to respond, not just to Patch but to you and to me, because we feel the same thing. Clay Walker is the one who sings that song we just heard. "These are just a few questions I have." "I want to ask them as humbly as I can, but I really have questions."
You need to know that's not the first time a songwriter has taken the problems of his day and put them to the harp and the lyre. Those questions have been around for as long as man has been around, as he has wrestled with evil in this world. In fact, one of these original artists was not country Western; he was Middle Eastern, and his name was David. This was his song, "Just a few questions I have." In Psalm 13, you find David saying this:
"How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O ** Lord **** my God; enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, 'I have overcome him,' and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken."**
You'll see that there is a break, if you read your Bible. The word selah appears right there. They say, basically, it's rest. It's a musical interlude. What that musical interlude suggests in this psalm is that there is reflection. There's meditation. There's thought. His eye goes backward, and he considers all that God has done. He realizes that even in this day there are some things he doesn't understand.
But David gets to a place where he says, "You know what? In the past I have trusted in your lovingkindness." He says, in effect, "My heart will do it again. My heart is going to rejoice in the fact that you're my salvation. I'm not going to turn somewhere else into something else. There's nowhere else to turn. I'm going to sing to you, because I know that you have dealt bountifully with me."
In the midst of this, do you catch the honesty? He's saying, "But right now, I want to know where you are, this loving, all-powerful God. Where are you and how long are you going to leave me in this condition? I know you're good. I know you're there. I think you must be. I've seen you work in the past, but man, this world is scary and screwed up."
Some people just say, "God, you're not worth it; I'm going another direction," and then some people become vocal proponents of leaving him. You're going to hear from George Carlin right now. Carlin is going to start by saying, "I tried. Oh, I really tried, but I couldn't get over the problem of evil." He says it in a very powerful, sometimes humorous way. Maybe this is where you are in your journey away from God because you can't reconcile the problem of pain. Watch this.
George Carlin: I want you to know something. This is sincere. I want you to know when it comes to believing in God I really tried. I really, really tried. I tried to believe that there is a God who created each of us in his own image and likeness, loves us very much, and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I've got to tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize something is wrong here.
War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a supreme being. This is the kind of [blank] you'd expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. Just between you and me, in any decently run universe, this guy would have been out on his all-powerful [blank] a long time ago.
If there is a God, if there is, I think most reasonable people might agree that he's at least incompetent and maybe, just maybe, doesn't give a [blank], which I admire in a person and which would explain a lot of these bad results. So rather than be just another mindless religious robot, mindlessly and aimlessly and blindly believing that all of this is in the hands of some spooky, incompetent father figure who doesn't give a [blank], I decided to look around for something else to worship.
[End of video]
Well, first of all, there's some funny stuff in there. Do y'all know you can laugh when somebody says something funny? Now maybe you kind of go, "Whoa!" I have to tell you, what you're going to hear the next two weeks, you're really going to be uncomfortable. But you know what? We're not just uncomfortable because somebody says it; we're uncomfortable because a lot of times when somebody says it we don't have answers.
Maybe there are not answers. Maybe we are a bunch of incompetent people who are a bunch of imbeciles who just believe in this because we don't know what else to believe in. That doesn't give me much hope. Are there good answers to these questions that are proposed here by Robin Williams in the person of Patch Adams, by David, and by George Carlin?
Here are the questions as I saw them today: Is this the best God can do? _Is evil ultimately God's? Is it on his résumé?__ Is God incompetent?Does God give a rip?_ (I don't know why we kept editing rip out of that little series, but we did.) Are you mindless if you believe in a God with so much evil that continues under his rule? This is the way Patch said it. _Is God short on compassion?Did he not think this thing through enough before he got the ball rolling?_
Well, I'm going to answer all of those questions today, because they're real questions and God says, "I want to give you real answers." Not just little nickel answers to million-dollar questions, but I'm going to ask you to think today. The basic premise we have put out before us is that there is no good purpose for all this evil and suffering that is in this world, and an all-good and powerful God must have a good purpose for everything; therefore, there cannot be an all-good and all-powerful God.
The problem with that is that we make this basic premise, which is if we can't get our arms around something there must not be something that arms can get around, and that is arrogant. Carlin starts off by saying, "I tried. I really tried to believe in God." Now I want to say this to anybody who scoffs at what God says: if you're going to say with integrity that you really tried, you have to do a couple of things.
The very first thing you have to do is to admit, just possibly, that an infinite, eternal, all-knowing God… If he's not that, then let's not call him God, but God has claimed that he is infinite, eternal, all-knowing. It is possible that he understands some things that you, in your finiteness and temporalness, do not. You cannot say if God in his genius (that's just too small a word; omniscience is the right one), in his all-knowing, all-glorious, eternal God-ness, if he can't explain everything to you, then it can't exist. That is arrogant.
In the same way that I cannot sit with a Nobel laureate and say, "If you can't help me understand that mathematical equation, that scientific theory, that complexity, then it must not be true." In the same way that I can't go to a 3- or 4-year-old and expect them to understand everything I do as a man in his 40s. No, I have to say, "You need to trust me on some things. There are some things that your little mind, as it develops, can't get its arms around."
So if I'm going to say that I really tried, I'd better start by at least trying to acknowledge that it doesn't make logical sense that I can explain everything about God and everything God does makes sense to me, because if that's the case, then why should I worship somebody who I can reason and figure?
Now, if there are things that are contrary to what is good and knowing, even in my brokenness and wickedness, then I might challenge God, but God says, "Before you rush to judgment, make sure you give me a chance to speak." God says, "My ways aren't your ways. My thoughts aren't your thoughts. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways above yours."
So, first of all, you need to take a position of humility. God understands your pain, and that's why he doesn't have a problem with your questions. He understands your pain to such a degree because, we're going to find out, his claim is that he walked on this earth as one of us: Jesus, fully God and yet fully man.
Though he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but being made in the likeness of a man and being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient, obedient even to the point of death…death that was so stressful, a beating that was so overwhelming, a betrayal that was so daunting, loneliness and isolation from the God he knew eternally that was so overwhelming that as he stressed about it in the garden he was depressed to the point of death, are the exact words of Scripture.
He cried out and said, "You know what? As a man, God, you make no sense, and you have forsaken me and failed me," yet as a man who does what all men should do, he lived in humility and cried out where we should all cry out as we leave today: "At the end of the day, because I am like a man," and because, in our case, we are men, we cannot understand all that God is doing.
So we're going to say in the midst of a very overwhelming world that is broken and not as it should be, "Not my will but your will be done, and I know there's a day that you're going to make it right. Give me the strength." That's where he has been, and that's why he doesn't scoff at your pain and tell you to silence yourself in the midst of your questions. You have to assume a position of humility if you're going to say you really tried.
Secondly, you have to examine and equally evaluate all other options, and then you have to listen and let God explain himself and not just put up straw men that you can easily take down. Let me do this very quickly. Evil is a question and a problem that all men have dealt with, but all men don't deal with it the same way. Here are some of the options with what you can do with evil.
First, you can be an atheist. You can be what is called a naturalist. In other words, that we are here only because things have happened in a blind closed system that nothing has ever intervened into in the past or ever will intervene into in the future and just say, "We are here by chance, and some are going to get hurt and some won't, so just get over it."
One man said it this way. DNA, which he in this illustration uses as the most basic of all matter, which we know it's not and he knows it's not, but he's just saying it this way for the purpose of explaining it… He says, "DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is, and we dance to its music." In other words, "Don't complain about anything. It's just something that is, and you're going to have to deal with it."
I want to say, if I was not a follower of Jesus Christ, what I would be personally is a hedonist, because I think it's the most logical and consistent thing you can be if there is no God, if, in fact, we are living in a closed system and things have just evolved the way that they've evolved. My question to anybody who believes that… This is one of the problems with what they say about evil, "It just is and get over it." I'm going to say, "Why? Why endure it at all?"
If all we are is just matter that has evolved from slime and single-cell organisms to complexity, why would we allow any suffering to happen? If all we're going to do is go back to be food for the worms, why not expedite the process? Before we do that, let's milk all the joy and gluttony and pleasure we can out of this thing.
Frankly, if you're in my way and I'm stronger than you, I'm going to just send you on to the worms quicker than me. I will exploit you. I will hurt you. I will defraud you. I will use you. As long as the benefit is worth the cost, I'll hang around, but the second you guys are angry at me or coming at me and want to imprison me or cause me pain, I'll just check out and move right along.
By the way, very few atheists live with any integrity, because for some reason, they keep facing evil. They keep trying to endure. They keep trying to make it another day. I say, "Why? What is the purpose?" There are very few intellectually honest atheists. Ernest Hemingway is one. To his great credit, when wine, women, and wealth did not fill his cup up anymore and his despair overcame his ability to anesthetize himself with pleasures, he took a shotgun, put it in his mouth, and moved on, in his mind, back to be food for the worms.
The problem is that wasn't the end. That is why, by the way, suicide is the greatest of all lies. What the Enemy does is he comes alongside of you and says, "Listen. God doesn't care. God doesn't even exist. If he does exist, all he is is a cosmic killjoy. He's trying to keep you from having life as you should have life, because he gets some thrill out of keeping his thumb on you, so just go on and do what you think is right."
When you go and do what you think is right and you experience the wages of that, which is always isolation, always brokenness… Yes, there's fleeting joy and fleeting pleasure, but at the end of the day there's always despair, always brokenness, always hopelessness.
If we can't anesthetize ourselves from that brokenness and despair through some chemical solution or through some other outlet where pleasure overcomes that pain, then Satan whispers in our ear or the Enemy says to us, "There's still hope. You can still be sovereign and in control. Don't let God number your days, this God who I told you earlier doesn't exist and doesn't love you. Be your own god. Don't let him tell you when your life should end. End your own life. Be sovereign even in that."
I did not just say that suicide is the unforgivable sin. What I just said is if you don't wrestle with God and respond rightly to him, it will drive you to a place of hopelessness and despair to where you might decide that since you're here without anything to do with God, you may as well be god to yourself and end this life and check out. If you live life that way and end life in that state of mind, then there is judgment, not because you committed suicide but because you had a belief that suicide was only the natural option for you.
That's the way the naturalist or the atheist handles God. The deist… A deist is really a chicken theist or a chicken atheist. What they say is, "There is a God. He created the world, and now he has nothing to do with it. He is the divine watchmaker who made the world and wound it up, and now he lets it go, and the reason evil is here is because men don't think well."
They will tell you that life can be found, salvation can be found in reasoning and enlightenment and the pursuit of truth. That is what will bring happiness. The reason there's evil is not because this is a fallen, broken world but because men aren't smart, so we need to open people's eyes, enlighten them and teach them. Education and advancement is the key to dealing with evil, yet we see where that takes us.
Every new tool and every new toy humankind gets, while there are some things that, in a sense, deal with pain…morphine, chemical substances that allow us to avoid dealing with some of even the psychological issues we might think we have… All of those things really don't deal with the reality of evil; they just help us escape it. Education, advancement, industry, and invention have created as many problems as they have solved.
Thirdly, there is what is called pantheism or monism. All is God and God is all. Creation isn't so much something God spoke into existence; creation is god. God is not a he; it is an it. Everywhere you look there is God. They would tell you God is mind, that no material thing exists. Their solution to evil is that evil is an illusion. They would tell you, "What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? Never matter." They would tell you not to worry about evil; it's an illusion.
The problem with that is it's a completely unlivable system. Nobody really lives as if evil is an illusion. Mark Twain talks about the fact that there was somebody who lived in this mindset, and they said to him that nothing exists but mind. So he did business with them, and since everything is substanceless and meaningless, he wrote her an imaginary check, and then she sued him for a substantive amount. In other words, she might say that everything is an illusion, but she wants to live in the real world. They want to avoid that which is a reality of evil to them.
The fourth group is what is called the finite godist or the fatalist. They believe that God is there and God is good; he's just not big enough to protect you. In other words, there is a relentless force that is blind to our suffering that is bigger than God that God can do nothing about. The most famous of these individuals is a gentleman by the name of Harold Kushner. He wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
He would tell you that to live this life in a good way and to suppose that would somehow allow you to not experience suffering is as naïve as thinking because you come upon a lion he won't eat you because you're a vegetarian. He would just say that lions eat people. This is what lions do. It doesn't matter if you're a vegetarian. This world eats up people whether you're good or whether you're evil, and God can't do anything about it.
You talk about desperation and hopelessness, and on top of that you talk about creating a god who is not worthy of being worshiped, who's not powerful enough to protect you. That's not creating a god at all.
The last option is what is called polytheism or dualism, that there are many different gods that are warring with one another. They have competing plans. They are all coexistent and coeternal. Evil is just something we have to necessarily struggle against, a force we must all reckon with, and ultimately, we have to hope that the good gods win over the bad gods.
There's no basis, really, to believe in this, but we trust ourselves to the fates, and we are constantly trying to pay more homage and worship and feed, if you will, the good gods so that evil doesn't befall us. This is one of the places, by the way, that men have gone over the ages and the basis for a lot of mythology and belief and superstition.
Now you can live all of those other ways or you can begin to say, "What has God said is the solution to evil?" Let me just walk you back through some of the things Carlin said to start us off.
1._ Is this the best God can do, really?_ The answer to that question is "Certainly not." This is not the best God can do. God does not call the world that we're in now very good. In fact, God says the world we're living in right now groans for deliverance. This is a broken and fallen world.
God did create this world, and when he was done creating it he did say, "This is very good. It is a world that is perfectly suited for that which I created. The pinnacle of my creation is man and woman made in my image, and all that is around them is perfectly suited for them to have all the sustenance, life, and joy that they could ever possibly need, and it's all rooted and tied to their relationship with me. Because I am good, I provide for them and bless them."
What happened, God tells in this story… The worldview that makes the most sense, that is the most consistent, that gives us the most hope, that has the most evidence to support it is the story God has revealed to us in his Word. The story is that God did make this world, and he made it a very good place, but because the world God created is a perfect world, he gave that world the ability to choose to not live the way he called them to live in his kindness and love. I'm going to show you that in a little bit.
God would tell you that the reason evil is here is because somebody has stolen our hearts from God, and we now live underneath, if you will, his domain. God still restricts him in a way that allows us to prevail in the midst of the struggle and to consider truth in the midst of the struggle, but at the end of the day, the reason this world is the way it is is not because God wanted it to be this way but because we have left the way God intended it to be and are experiencing the consequences of it.
2._ Is evil on God's résumé?_ The answer is no. God is not the author of evil, but the fact that the world is evil still creates a problem for us at first glance. Why do I say that? I'll explain this to you in a little bit. God created everything. We don't want to say evil is nothing, because that's what the pantheist does. That's what the Eastern mystics do. They'll say that evil is an illusion. We can't say evil is nothing, because if we do that we're like them, and we talked about the nonsense of that belief. So if God created everything and evil is something, isn't he responsible for it? I'm going to answer that for you in just a minute.
3._ Is God incompetent?_ No, he's not incompetent, but he's incredibly patient, and I will show you verses that will explain that. I will show you that God is right now sovereign over that which is not running the way we would want it to run and how it can still reconcile with this issue of God being good.
4._ Does God give a rip?_ You bet. God has dealt with evil. He has made a solution in his first coming for wicked man to have a relationship once again with his goodness and experience his mercy, and he says that at his second coming he will deal with evil again, this time not allowing wicked men to have a relationship with him but dealing with those who want nothing to do with him and judging them forever in a way that will deal with evil so we will never experience its presence again.
5._ Are you mindless if you believe in a God with so much evil that continues under his rule?_ Again, we've answered that already by saying, "Consider your options."
6._ Is God short on compassion?_ Let's start looking at some Scripture. In Isaiah 40:27-31 he says, "Why do you say, O Jacob [the people of my attention and love] , and assert, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord** , and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard?**
The Everlasting God, the Lord** , the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the **** Lord **** will gain new strength…"**
God is completely aware of what's going on, and he says, "Don't assert that I have forgotten you." God has wept. One of the most encouraging Scriptures in the Bible is when Jesus walks up on his friends who are experiencing pain in the midst of the loss of a loved brother and these two words show up: Jesus wept.
If Jesus is God and Jesus is moved to compassion, moved to pain, and is all-powerful, then you can be assured that he will do something about the pain he can identify with that he sees. This is what it says, in fact, in the New Testament in Matthew 23:37-39. He cries not only over individuals who have lost loved ones, but he cries over the fact that people are lost in general.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
God is going to say to these folks, "You want nothing to do with me? I'm going to let you experience the pain of your choice of leaving away from me. Until you recognize who I am and until you say, 'We're only happy when we receive the relationship with God he offers to us,' I will let you experience your own way and the fruits of it. But I have wept over you, because I see the direction you're heading and the pain it's going to cause you." Well, let me dive in with this.
7._ Did God think this thing through before he got the ball rolling?_Should he have spent some more time brainstorming? When most of us talk about evil and we cry out, we say, "If God was good, he would not want evil to be here. If God was all-powerful, he would get rid of evil. Evil continues to exist in a way that we can all taste and see, so God is either not good or he is not God." That's the way most people go with this.
What we would say is, "Hey, if I was God, I would get rid of evil right now." The problem with that is when most folks say that what they mean is, "I would get rid of that which is evil to me. I would get rid of the things that bother me. I would get rid of the things that are in the way of my joy and contentment. I would get rid of long lines, people in front of me, people who annoy me, people who make life difficult for me." But if we want to really be consistent and deal with evil… What I say to folks who say that is, "Why don't we start with you?" They go, "What do you mean?"
"If you want to get rid of evil, let's just start with you. If you want to change the world, why don't you think about changing yourself?"
"Wait a minute. No, no, no. We need to deal with the most severe of all evil people."
"That's not what you said. You didn't say, 'Let's get rid of severe evil'; you said, 'Let's get rid of evil.' Are you yourself full of goodness and light or is there evil in you?"
"Well, there's some evil in me."
"Then let's get rid of that."
"I don't want to get rid of evil to that extent."
Then I want to say to them, "You need to understand that the reason there is evil in this world is because this world isn't about you. And aren't you glad? Because if this world was about you and we need to get rid of evil, then we'd need to get rid of you first."
There's a little book that has caught some attention lately. That book is called The Purpose Driven Life. Let me walk you through this. This book starts off this way, and it has had a response in the American culture like very few books have ever had. It starts off with these four words: "It's not about you."
"The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That's because we typically begin at the wrong starting point—ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like, What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life's purpose. The Bible says, 'It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone's life is in his power.'"
Now here's what I mean by this. Evil exists for other reasons because it increases our understanding of the nature of God. If it weren't for evil, we would not appreciate and it would not magnify justice. If there wasn't something that was evil, we could not appreciate that which was good. Augustine in the fourth century said it this way: evil is an ontological parasite which necessarily exists because God exists.
Let me explain that, because you didn't expect to hear the words ontological and parasite here this morning. Ontology is the study of existence or being. If something is eternally good and eternally benevolent and loving, there has to at least philosophically exist the possibility that something is wicked, because if all things are loving and good, then it's not loving and good; it just is. Does that make sense?
So something somewhere along the line moved evil from a logical possibility or a philosophical abstract to a present reality. What was that something? God tells us what that something is. Let me walk you through a few, what I will call, syllogisms. These are logical statements or equations of reasoning. Logic statements. This is what a lot of people will do when they run away from God. They come up with these things.
They will say something like this: "God is the author of everything. Evil is something; therefore, God is the author of evil." I mentioned I was going to share this with you in a little bit. If God is the author of everything and evil is something… And we want to say that evil is something, because if we say that evil is nothing we are guilty of those who want to live with a pie-in-the-sky philosophy that while it answers the problem of evil is not a tenable philosophy we can really live by.
We don't say that evil is nothing, and we don't want to say that evil is something, because God created everything. Nothing came into existence except through him and by him. What we will say is that evil is a no-thing. It is the absence of God. That's what evil is. What is darkness? Is darkness something? What darkness really is is the absence of light.
What is evil? It is the absence of good. What is hatred? It is the absence of love. What is rebellion? It is the absence of obedience. God calls us to light, he calls us to love, he calls us to obedience, and when we say we want nothing to do with God and will choose our own way, it is evil. Anytime you start to compromise on that which is good, it is evil, because you take away from all that God said should be there.
Now watch this. What God did make is perfect creatures. Follow me on this. "Every creature God made is perfect. Perfect creatures cannot do what is imperfect. Therefore, every creature must only act perfectly." If God made perfect creatures, why did somehow we move from the philosophical possibility that evil could exist to the practical reality that it does?
God tells us the answer to this. He says because the greatest thing God could make is perfect creatures. God made everything perfect. One perfect thing God made is free creatures. Freedom allows for choice. Therefore, imperfection can rise out of perfection. Why do perfect creatures have to have the ability to choose? Because if something cannot love, it is not perfect. When God created us, he created us in his image.
Part of being in his image means we have the capacity to love. God told us that we would always walk in the light and love and do good as long as we depended upon him and lived according to his ways and trusted in the light that he gave us to walk in those ways. God wanted us to live in relationship with him and to experience the joy of loving him; therefore, he did not make us robots that were required to do something, because God is not a divine rapist.
Let me read you a couple of paragraphs from a book called Disappointment with God from a guy by the name of Philip Yancey. Follow along with me on this. "Is God unfair? Silent? Hidden? Such questions must have troubled the Hebrews until in Moses' lifetime, God took off the wraps. He punished evil and rewarded good. He spoke audibly. And he made himself visible, first to Moses in a burning bush and then to the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire.
The response of the Israelites to such direct intervention offers an important insight into the inherent limits of all power. Power can do everything but the most important thing: it cannot control [or demand and make] love. The ten plagues in Exodus show the power of God over a pharaoh. But the ten major rebellions recorded in Numbers show the impotence of power to bring about what God desired most, the love and faithfulness of his people.
No pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence could make them trust and follow him. We do not need the ancient Israelites to teach us this fact. We can see it today in societies where power runs wild. In a concentration camp, as so many witnesses have told us, the guards possess nearly unlimited power. By applying force, they can make you renounce your God, curse your family, work without pay, eat human excrement, kill and then bury your closest friend or even your own mother.
All this is within their power. Only one thing is not: they cannot force you to love them. The fact that love does not operate according to the rules of power may help explain why God sometimes seems shy to use his power. He created us to love him, but his most impressive displays of miracle…do nothing to foster that love. As Douglas John Hall has put it, 'God's problem is not that God is not able to do certain things. God's problem is that God loves. Love complicates the life of God as it complicates every life.'"
Here's the story. God made humans. Now why did God make humans? Not because he was lonely and needed them. God made them because his character and nature demanded it, because God has eternally been a loving creature. The one thing love cannot do is not share its goodness and kindness with others. So God, in his goodness and greatness, decided to share his glory, not because he needed to be voted the most glorious but because that which is glorious and good and loving shares who he is with others. So he created those to live in relationship with him.
This is the worldview of the Scripture. This is the Bible story. Those he created to live with him… First, the angelic realm enjoyed him and were there to worship him forever, but there was within the angelic realm a rebellion, where one said, "You know what? I think I can rule and live better than God can." What God did was rather than just terminate evil at that moment he decided to say, "I'm not going to just prove that I'm the most powerful; I am going to prove that I'm the most loving."
So he cast evil out of his presence and gave it its own domain. Then into that domain he created something also created in his image: man and woman. He put them on that earth in a perfect place designed for them. While there was an Enemy that lurked there on that earth, God gave them everything they needed to resist the Enemy who said he was better than God and to follow him. We, though, gave ourselves to the Enemy and, in giving ourselves to the Enemy, are experiencing all that is not of God and the evil that goes with it.
God, in the midst of that, because he is glorious and loves those he created and in his sovereignty decreed would have a relationship with him, has decided to enter into their world, to reach out to them in their rebellion and pain and suffering, provide a solution to that suffering, and then one day come back and deal with all that is evil. That is the worldview of the Scriptures. Our belief is that God knows all about evil, God hates evil, God has dealt with evil on the cross, and one day will deal with evil in all its fullness by judging it severely.
I had somebody walk up to me after a service a couple of weeks ago and say, "Listen, one of the things I hope we answer is the problem of hell. I have a real problem with a loving God sending people to eternal judgment." I looked at them and said, "If you don't have a problem with eternal suffering, then you really haven't thought about it. You're not a loving, thoughtful person."
Let me explain to you. That's why God says, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," because this is not about us. This is the reality. You could take somebody who could commit great atrocities to my family, who could cause suffering that would be unspeakable to me by hurting, humiliating, exploiting, damaging my children, and I could be a person who would call for extreme justice. I would think death would be too good for some folks who would do that to an innocent child, innocent as I define it anyway.
Yet I would tell you that if I saw this person not just die but suffer in excruciating ways for ten thousand; no, a million; no, ten million; no, ten billion; no, ten trillion years, eventually I would go, "You know what? I know what you did to my daughter. I know what happened in that moment. I know how you made her suffer. I know how you had her cry out and me not be able to be there, but after 10 trillion years of watching you suffer unspeakable anguish, I think I would call off the dogs and at least move you to annihilationism."
But I want to tell you something: it's not me that they have offended. It's a God whose holiness is far beyond mine, therefore, his justice is far beyond mine. If God did not open my eyes to his character and nature, I would have a hard time with eternal hell. I would want to be an annihilationist. I would want to be somebody who believed that evil was eradicated in that way, but God says, "No, evil will be continually judged, because it has offended my eternal holiness, so it will pay an eternal debt."
So why hasn't God dealt with evil yet? Let me walk you through my last little logical statement. "If God is all-good, he would destroy evil. If God is all-good, he could destroy evil. Evil is not destroyed; therefore there is no all-good and all-powerful God." This is where Mr. Carlin started off, but this is the truth: If God is all-good, he will defeat evil. If God is all-good, he can defeat evil. Evil is not yet eradicated. The Scriptures would say it is defeated. Therefore, God will one day completely defeat evil. That's exactly the story of the Scriptures.
What God would say to Mr. Carlin is, "Listen. I understand that this world is broken and that you live in it and it brings about immense pain to you. I am familiar with the pain, and I have dealt with that which brings about the pain into the lives of those I love. I call you to trust me." Joni Eareckson Tada, who was a 17-year-old, very popular kid who dove into the shallow shoreline of one of our coasts at one point and became a quadriplegic, has written this about evil:
"If God didn't restrain evil, then suffering would come barreling at us, uncontrolled. His decrees and ordinances shape good and evil in such a way as to warn us of hell, woo us toward heaven, and fit us for life here and in the hereafter." In other words, what God is doing with this evil is he's bringing us to a place that we'll realize our ways and our choices are not good and we should not depend on them. Evil has a way of doing that.
Let me show you this. One guy who was a French novelist, whose name is Marcel Proust, said, "Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey." Philip Yancey and Paul Brand wrote a book called The Gift of Pain. Dr. Paul Brand is the world's leading expert on leprosy, and he is the one who discovered that leprosy is not a degenerative disease which eats the flesh; leprosy is a disease which causes death to the nerve endings and the ability to experience pain.
When you can't experience pain, when you get blisters on your hand you will continue to use them until you wear your finger down to a nub and it becomes infected and ulcerates, and you still won't do anything about it. The only time lepers begin to deal with the decay and rot is not because of pain, because they don't feel it. They begin to deal with it when there is a stench, and they want the doctors to do something about the stench that is affecting their ability to live. They don't care about the pain.
What happens is they wait so long the actual decay and disease goes all the way through the flesh and begins to get into the bone, and when it gets into the bone it's very difficult to treat. What happens is there's not such a thing as bad flesh that chews itself up; there is disease and decay that even gets into the bone, which actually reduces the structure of the body, and the skin shrinks over it. So you see lepers slowly pulling back. Why? Because they don't understand pain.
People who harden their hearts toward the reality of pain in this world are folks who are becoming less alive and are individuals who are not instructed by their pain to move toward healing. Let me give you a couple of verses, and then we'll close. In Psalm 119:66-67, this is what it says. This is what it means when it says pain we obey.
When God is all good and shows us great power, we promise him we'll never leave him, but the reality is, just like the Israelites left him in the midst of God's displays of power, we leave him when all that God does is show us kindness. Pain and brokenness in this world is one of God's greatest tools. "Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I [see the futility of life apart from you, so I] keep Your word." Verse 71: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn [that you are good] ."
What God is doing with evil in this world is he is allowing it to exist so the world might see that a world apart from God, trusting in anything other than him, is a broken, failed, and falling world, and God allows evil in this world to remind us that this world is spinning toward despair and hopelessness and not toward a greater advancement of goodness and hope. God has dealt with that which separates man from him that brings about a fallen world, and one day God will come and deal with it completely.
So in the midst of this, what God says about pain is, "Will you let me deal with the pain that's in this world? Will you trust me until that day that I deal with it ultimately? Will you allow me to let you endure hardship on this earth, knowing that there will be a day when I will dry every tear and bring you to a place of ultimate peace in my presence, where I am still glorious, where I have not winked at evil but judged it thoroughly and I have given mercy to those who are evil themselves?
Will you glorify me because I am worthy of being worshiped and not because right now it is easy for you? I am calling you to love me and trust me, and I have shown you that I care about the world you are in because I have dealt with the evil that is in your heart. I will give you the grace to sustain you through times of darkness, hopelessness, fear, and pain. Don't turn away from me and scoff at me and create your own failed solutions to why there is evil, including the fact that I don't know about it. I know about it, I have dealt with it, and I will deal with it completely one day."
Let me tell you how God tells us to live. There was a guy by the name of Horatio Spafford. He was a very successful real estate investor and lawyer in Chicago in the late 1900s. Good friends of D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey, who ministered together. These two men were friends. Mr. Spafford, this successful lawyer and real estate investor, lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1873, D.L. Moody, a worldwide-known evangelist, decided to go over to England and have a crusade.
So to give his wife and four daughters relief from all the pressures, they decided to take this little European vacation. Because of late-arising business affairs, he was not able to get on the vessel with them, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him. They got on a ship, and on the way there they were struck by an English vessel, and within 12 minutes that ship sunk, killing over 200 people, including all four of his daughters.
Spafford, this man who loved God and walked with him, was given a telegraph from his wife that said, "The ship has sunk. All are dead except me." Spafford got on a vessel as quickly as he could, and he wanted to sail over to be with his grieving wife. When he got to the place on that journey that the actual shipwreck had happened, he went below board. The captain said, "This is the spot that your daughters went down with the vessel," and he wrote a song called "It Is Well With My Soul."
In that song you will see these words: "When sorrows like sea billows roll…" He says, "When waves of sorrow roll over me the way these sea swells are coming up over this ship right now, I can still say, 'It is well with my soul.' Why? Because I know God, that in this evil, broken, fallen world where there is death there is also hope and deliverance, and there will be a day when you will deal with death and will reunite me to all that is right and good, including my daughters who loved you, in a world where we will be free from pain." We're going to close this service by singing that song of hope. Let me pray with you.
Father, we thank you for a chance to reflect this morning on the reality of pain and suffering in this world. We pray that as we reflect on these words that were penned by a grieving father who was not happy with the circumstance he was in we would leave here with the same faith that he did, as people who don't come up with our own solutions for evil but who choose to trust you, who choose to say, "There will be a day, Lord, I know, that you will remove from me every tear and every pain and every source of despair because we are not with you."
We thank you that on this day your patience…not your incompetence but your patience…has endured yet still, not because it is easy for us but because there is somebody in this room who, like us, can be best defined by evil, who your grace and mercy will go out to yet again, who your offer of love will be made known to so they could respond to you and join us in declaring for all eternity that you alone are good and worthy to be praised.
So, Father, as sorrows like sea billows roll over us, we know it's not because you're not aware of it; it's because you are aware of those who are still headed for judgment if grace doesn't intervene with them. So we count it a very small thing that we put up with these momentary light afflictions, that we might inherit the eternal weight of far greater glory that will surpass any suffering we have experienced.
In this world filled with sorrow and brokenness because it is a world bent on leaving you, I pray that we would serve you well and call others into relationship with you, that they might experience deliverance from a heart that is bent toward serving that which is not full of goodness and light. Father, use us, as we endure with hope, to call others to that same place of hope: the cross of Jesus Christ and his coming. Lord, hasten that day, amen.
What do you say to a skeptic who's funny, persuasive, and so confident, that you're afraid he might just be right? What would you say if you found yourself sitting on "Real Time with Bill Maher"? Would you know how to respond to Robin Williams or George Carlin if fate brought you together on a cross-country flight? How ready are you to engage effectively with your witty and well-read co-worker over a cup of coffee? Skeptical yourself? Have you wondered if there would ever be a safe place where you could ask good questions and receive honest, well-reasoned answers?