If God is good, and God is all-powerful, then why does evil exist? If God loves us, why does He still allow bad things happen to us? Why is there a villain in every great story? Todd explains why a good God would allow evil, and uses Old Testament scripture to show how Satan came into being.
Why The Bible Can Be Trusted
Why There is Hope
Why The Church
Why Change is Possible and Necessary
Why All the Passion
Why There is the Law
Why the Jews
Why We Are Here
Why There is Evil
Why the Story You Live in Matters
Have you ever met that crooked man? Yeah, some of y'all looked next to you right then just like he was sitting next to you again. A crooked man is out there, and because his heart is not pierced by the arrow of goodness, our hearts are often pierced by the arrow of pain. Where does that crooked man get his power? Where did he come into being? What is the source of crookedness in this world if there's a sovereign and good God over it?
Some of you ask questions like that. We all have; there's no doubt. You need to know that God is not offended by your questions. He understands them. He knows the world you live in demands answers to questions like that, and he's desperate for you to hear from him. He doesn't mind you asking those questions; he just doesn't want you to run somewhere else to have them answered. He can handle your questions. He wants to explain to you why, and he wants to comfort you while you're on the journey as he makes things right.
Here's what one man went through as he ran up against a crooked man. He said, "I first met him when I was a fourth grader at David C. Crockett Elementary School in Bryan, Texas. As a northerner recently moved from New Jersey, I quickly discovered that there had been a Civil War and that there will still amends to be made.
That fall, for what seemed liked weeks, the four of us from northern states were sent to one end of the playground where we waited to be attacked by the forces of the Confederacy. Since we were considerably outnumbered, unlike those 1860s Union infantry, we were soon enough captured and taken to prison camp. This camp was a large mulch pile of dead leaves surrounded by chicken wire and presided over by a sixth grader named Jimmy.
Jimmy's favorite form of punishment was to drag that terrified waif last captured to the middle of the pile and lower his considerable 150-pound bulk until the prisoner disappeared from view. I cannot describe the terror I felt at being taken to Jimmy. Much of any leg speed that I have came from the determination to be the last one captured on a given day, in hopes that the school bell would ring before my internment.
I remember one of my friends, a boy from Ohio named Terry, being sat on so long one day, I feared he was dead. I looked around for teachers or parents, or even sympathetic sixth graders who could help us, but no one came. I finally yelled for Jimmy to let Terry up before he killed him, and so, with a smile, and in his best bad guy form from the movies, he rose majestically and ordered my guards to put me in Terry's place.
I remember landing in the leaves with the only thought that I'd be suffocated or, worse, made to cry in front of everybody. Before Jimmy could lower himself all the way, though, I squirmed free, jumped the chicken wire, and raced to the far end of the playground to outlast the recess bell somehow. I could never find the way to express this daily terror to my parents. I felt totally alone with it.
Of course, all of us have lived through events such as I have described, some much, much worse. If they took place in the setting of family or school or work, sometimes they've lasted for years for some of you. The terror we enter and the seeming lack of rescue from it leave us with deeply imprinted questions about God that we hide in our heart, sometimes not allowing the light of day to touch it for years, even deep into our spiritual journey.
We ask, 'Do you care for me, God? God, why did you allow this to happen to me? Why did you make me like this? What will you allow to happen next?' in the secret places of our hearts. We believe God is the one who did not protect us from these things, or maybe worse, he's the one who perpetrated them upon us. And so we keep asking with deep apprehension, 'Do you really care for me, God?'"
When the crooked man comes into our world and into our life, it pierces us in the heart, and it makes us ask the deepest questions of the soul. You cannot have a deeply abiding faith in the God of the Scriptures without wrestling through the question of, "Why is there evil in this world?"
I want to let you know that everybody, as I said last week, lives in the context of some story. Everybody creates a reality, a story that they can be a character in that allows them to make sense of the world they're making their way through. There are a number of people who've created other stories, stories that are the invention of man, not the revelation of God, that help them deal with the crooked man, deal with the Jimmys that have absolutely brought terror into their hearts.
The fatalist, or better said, the atheist, the naturalist, will tell you that evil is not a problem; evil is the greatest evidence that there is no God. In fact, one atheist said this: "If there is a God, then he's my Devil." What he meant by that was, "If there is a God and he's good, then if he allows this world to go on the way that it's going on, and he calls that good, then he's my Devil. He's my Adversary. I want nothing to do with him." Atheists try to make sense of this.
They say that, basically, our world is a closed system of blind chance where some get hurt and some don't. For them, evil is not a problem; evil is the evidence. They'll tell you that DNA doesn't either know or care; DNA simply is. As one atheistic scholar from Oxford said, "We simply dance to its music." They will tell you that there is no such thing as evil because chance doesn't have any culpability. There is no guilt. There is no right. There is no wrong. There just is, and that's the way they deal with evil. It doesn't give us much hope. In fact, it's rather depressing.
There are others who are what are called deists. Deists are what many men who you know who founded our country were. They were men who did believe in the existence of God, but they believed that God, if you will, is a divine watchmaker. He made the world, made the watch, he wound it up, and now he's letting it go. This is kind of a chicken atheist, really. It's also maybe a chicken theist. A theist is somebody who believes in the existence of God and that God interacts with us. The deist is going to say, "There is a God, but he doesn't interact with us." They take the best of both without taking responsibility for either.
They will tell you, though, that since there is no longer relationship with God to be had, revelation doesn't exist; therefore, revelation is not how we are to navigate our way through life and make sense of evil. Reason is all that we're left with, and so reason is our highest authority. They will tell you that all problems that we have and all evil in this world is only the result of poor thinking, that God is not culpable; we are. God made us, and we ruined it, and now we need to think better about it.
What they don't resolve is the tension that comes when two people sit down to reason together and they cannot agree as to what is right. Then what they must do is be forced into a position of who has the greatest amount of power to impose their will on another, even if that means war, which, of course, in and of itself is one of the greatest evils. The way a deist deals with evil is he doesn't blame God. He just says, "God made us, but God left us, and we are the ones who really screwed this thing up."
Then there is what is called the polytheist. The polytheist is the one who you find often in the Scripture, often called a dualist, or people who believe there are many gods. The Greeks were famous for this, that there were gods who meant good for those around them and gods who meant evil. You had to make sure that you serve the gods who were good and didn't offend too greatly the gods who were evil.
There was this great force that worked against that which was good that was sometimes greater than the good gods' ability to restrain it, and so we live in a world where there is a cosmic war going on. Sometimes good wins, and sometimes evil wins. That's their story. You have to have a household god, or a local god, who is powerful enough to protect you from the gods who seek to bring harm to you. That's what a dualist would believe, or people who are polytheists: many gods with competing plans, who are coextensive, coeternal, and don't all have your best interests in mind.
Then there's the pantheist, pan being the word for all, also called monists. Monists believe that all is God, all is one, God is good, and since matter and the world we live in is not good, this world is simply an illusion. This is what most Eastern religions will tell you. They will tell you that in order to escape the reality of the evil that you live in, you need to understand that the world you live in is not real.
They will say things like, "God is mind. When you realize that you are God, and you actualize yourself to this higher plane, this nirvanic state where you step outside of the world you live in and move to a higher plane where God is, no material thing can affect you. God is mind. Nothing that is material even exists." They have a little statement that says, "What is mind? Never matter. What is matter? Never mind." That's kind of the way they work it.
While this seems fine in a philosophy discussion on some college campus or on some mountaintop at the foot of some guru, it is a wholly untenable way to live. We know that Jimmy exists, and he sits on you sometimes on a bunch of dead leaves, and you are forced to cry in front of your friends and experience horror, loneliness, and shame.
Mark Twain says that he came across a person like this and he wrote them an imaginary check for the debt that he had. They sued him for substantial dollars, showing that even they don't live in the reality they preach you should live in in order to deal with evil. That's the way the pantheists, or the monists, want you to believe, that evil is an illusion. It's maya; it's not real. Ascend above it.
Then there's the finite goddess, or as I said, maybe the fatalist. This is what Harold Kushner. Harold Kushner is the guy who wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner, who has Jewish origins, did not want to completely surrender the idea that God exists. He said something to the effect of, "I believe that God is good, but bad things still happen to me in a way that make no sense to me. Therefore, I must conclude that my God, though he is good, really isn't God."
In other words, he would say it this way: "If God is good, then he would not allow evil to happen. If God was God, then he could prevent evil from happening. Evil happens; therefore either God is not God or God is not good." He didn't want to say that God was not good, so he just simply said, "God is finite, limited in his power, and though he loves me, there are certain back alleys where he cannot protect me, and the reason bad things happen to good people is because our God doesn't have a big enough bicep or far enough reach."
That just doesn't quite scratch my itch. Why worship a God who is not sovereign? You need to know the Scriptures make it very clear that God is sovereign over all creation, that nothing came into being or existence that did not come into being or existence through him. Nothing is sustained that is not sustained without his permission.
Not everything that passes through in front of God pleases him, but nothing perplexes him. This history we are living in, the Scriptures make very clear, is God's history, and he is Lord and Sovereign over it. So it begs the question: if God is good, and he doesn't love evil, like evil, or support evil in any way, and God is God and he could stop evil, why has he not stopped it yet?
The Scriptures simply say this. In Deuteronomy 29:29, God is taking the book, and he's telling us the story that gives us the truth that will allow us to make sense of the life we are in. In says in Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." In other words, God has given us certain truths. He has come crashing into our world because he loves us, and he's going to speak to us and help us frame our reality based on the author's telling of reality.
In Isaiah 55, he says, "Don't you, a character in this story I'm creating, try and put yourself in a place where you can understand the mind of the author. You are not the author; you are the created." "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."
God says, "You are not going to be able to get your arms around the truth I know. You will not be able to understand all things. You certainly can't control all things. I'm going to ask you to, by faith, look at my record in history and trust the one who understands and controls all things." You have a story, and you frame your reality from it. The story that I'm going to share with you over these weeks is the story that God, the author, introduces, and he says he knows the story.
In Jeremiah 29:11, he says, "For I know the story, I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare, not for calamity. A story that will give you a future and a story that will give you a hope, even in the midst of crooked men, even in the midst of evil…" What is God's explanation for this?
Last week, you met the author of the story, and you found out that this author has eternally existed, completely satisfied as he eternally existed in three persons who are one in essence and related to each other in a mutually submissive, mutually loving, mutually completing, mutually exalting way.
C.S. Lewis wisely said, "If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love." The Scriptures make it clear that God is love. Love is not God because God is more than just love, but God is the perfect revelation of love. If God existed as a single person before he made the world or any other being, then he was not love before that, because love necessarily needs others to experience itself.
God reveals himself to us as three in one. The author of our story has eternally existed as a satisfied, loving, caring person. Companionship, completion, and love are not the highest metaphysical ideas of humankind; they are eternally existent in the character of God. Every now and then, somebody tries to tell me that God created humankind because he was lonely.
If you didn't learn anything last week, you need to understand this. No, the author of the story that is revealed in the Scriptures has forever lived in relationship with himself. He was never lonely. We are not essentially needed; we are essentially and perfectly loved. Why did God create the angelic realm? Why did God create us? The answer is because God is love.
Because he is love, he is not selfish or self-centered. Because he is love, he is others-centered, and necessarily, he wants to share his goodness that he eternally lives in with other people. Anytime you love somebody, you want to bring them into your world, where there is joy, satisfaction, and fullness, and so it is with God. God, completely satisfied, because he is love, creates others to enjoy who he is.
This story that we're living in is a story not of his unfolding, but it's a story of his revealing his greatness and calling those who he created to live in the context of the joy that he is with him. You're going to find out that into this story God creates, and into this story that exists around God, a villain will appear. There is a coup. There is a rebellion in the heavens, and then there is a war.
Before we are ever created, there exists a war, not between two equal entities, but between God and those who he created to experience his glory and love with him. I'm going to explain to you today why the very first time evil showed itself in the presence of God, God didn't ultimately snuff it out. I'm going to tell you why evil came into this world, I'm going to tell you how God is not ultimately responsible for evil but is culpable for it today, and I will tell you why God has not destroyed ultimately yet.
Let me walk you through some simple logic, some logic that you'll face anytime you want to talk about this problem of evil. You might start with saying this: "We know if you are God that you are the creator and author of everything." God is the author of everything; we believe that. If your God is not big enough to be the author of everything, then your God, your author, is too small and you need another God.
That is why, ultimately, abandoning God and putting yourself as the author of your own story will never satisfy you, because you know intuitively and innately that you cannot control this world you live in, that you cannot dictate what will happen on the next page of the story. It is outside of your control, so you will always try and create smaller and smaller stories, smaller kingdoms you can rule over that you think you can control in a way that will bring you enough joy and satisfaction, but you will always be found wanting.
The God of the Scriptures, the God of history, the God of the Book, the biblios, the Bible, tells you that he is the author of everything, but this creates a problem, doesn't it? Why? Because, secondly, we know that evil is something. What do we mean by that? We know that evil is something because we don't want to say that evil is nothing.
If we say that evil is nothing, we are guilty of the error of the pantheist, the monist, who believes that all is God, God is all, and all is one; therefore, if we acknowledge that evil is there, since all is God, God must be evil. But we don't want God to be evil because God is good; therefore, what we see isn't real, so what's real is not something.
We can't say that evil is not something. But if evil is something and God is the author of everything, then he is the author of evil, right? No, because we know that God is good, and God can't create evil. Let me tell you how to handle this one, by the way. We don't want to say that evil is nothing; we want to say that evil is a "no [space] thing." What do I mean by that?
In the fourth century BC, a guy by the name of Augustine said that evil is an ontological parasite. You go, "Oh my gosh. There's a reason I don't read fourth-century authors. What in the world does ontological parasite mean?" Ontology is the study of being, the study of something's existence. What Augustine was saying is that if God existed in his personage, and God was good, then necessarily, the possibility of evil must exist.
What he meant by that was, "If you have something that is large, you necessarily must have something that is small, because if you don't small, then there is no large; everything just is. If you have something that is heavy, you must have something that is light. If you have something that is light, you must, therefore, have the possibility of darkness. Otherwise, there is no light, there just is. When God existed, the possibility that evil existed must necessarily be there. Otherwise, God is not good; God just is."
What moved evil from a philosophical possibility to a physical reality? This Book answers that story. It takes great pains in explaining to you why there's a villain in your world. Let me say it to you this way: every great story that you've ever loved has a villain. Why does every great story have a villain? Every great story has a villain because your story has a villain.
You know that there's a Jimmy, a crooked man, something that is out there that does not have your best interests at heart. You know that you are at war against it, and you try and protect your heart from being pierced by its presence. You wonder where to go for comfort and for shelter, but you think about all of the great stories…
Gaston was the villain to the Beast with Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Queen Ursula was the villain to Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Lex Luthor to Superman. The Minstrel, the Riddler, the Joker, Catwoman, the Penguin: the great villains to Batman. Bob Stoops, the great villain to the University of Texas. To have a great story, you must have a great villain.
You don't like a story unless there is a villain that is present because you know in your story there's a villain. The villain of disease, the villain of loss, the villain of a barren womb, the villain of a lonely heart, the villain of a corrupt spouse, the villain of hunger, the villain of hopelessness, despair, the villain of brokenheartedness, darkness, and death.
When you hear of a story that a hero comes and quashes, kills, eliminates, and overcomes the villain, it resonates with you. You hope that in your story there's a hero that will come and deliver you from the villain. God wants you to know that he is the hero, and that villain is the absence of who he is.
The Scriptures say that the villain in this Book, in this story, is a liar. He's not creative in and of himself, and all he does is if God says one thing, he'll say another. Evil is not something. Evil, if you will, is the hole in the wool sweater that the moth ate. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. Evil is simply the absence of good.
The villain in your story is somebody who will constantly be wooing your heart away from the good that is God. He will tell you that not only is God not trustworthy, but he is downright oppressive toward you, and you cannot trust him, that he is not leading you to life, he is protecting you from the life you always wanted. But we will say, "No." God is not the author of evil, but God is the creator of everything.
Now this begs the next question. Every creature, we would say, God made as perfect, right? Perfect creatures, though, we would say, cannot do what is imperfect, or so we would think. Therefore, we would say this last thing. Therefore, every creature must only act perfectly. If God made only perfect things, then we would think perfect things cannot do what is imperfect, but that is wrong. Let me explain to you why.
Let me walk you through this next thing. God did make everything perfect, but one perfect thing God made is free creatures. In order to be perfect, you have to have the capacity to love. If you don't love, whatever you are, you are not the fullness of the glory of that which is good. You are not complete and holy in what is right. If you can't love, then you are not a perfect creature. "Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these," the Scripture says, "is love."
If God wanted to make us a bunch of robots, he could have ruled over rocks and trees. He could have ruled over a bunch of dandelions that he made do whatever he wanted. But he knew to make something perfect, something in his image, he had to give them the ability to choose. Let me tell you, my oldest daughter, when she was 5 or 6 years old, she understood this innately.
We were in a conversation, and she asked me one day, basically, why there was pain, why there was evil. She didn't use those words, but she was trying to understand. "Daddy, this God who you've told me is out there, who loves us, why do sometimes mommies cry, or daddies cry, or people get sick and folks who we love die? Why is there horror around us?"
I put it to her this way. I said, "Ally, let me ask you a question. The rest of your life, you're going to make a decision about who you are going to share your life with. What if I told you I could put you in a room where you would always have what you needed in terms of shelter, food, and clothing, but I was going to surround you with a bunch of dolls.
You could control those dolls, and you could make those dolls only say sweet things to you, only say loving things to you, only praise you, only enjoy your presence, only laugh at your games, and enjoy who you are. But you're really the author and the puppet master of those dolls, and they won't ever be real. They won't ever really love you, but you can make them love you because you are their creator. Therefore, they won't do anything you don't want them to do that you call good.
Or, Ally, you can grow up and choose to have friends, friends who will laugh with you, who will love you for who you are, who will delight in you, who will share joys with you and make memories with you. But, Ally, I'm going to tell you something about friends. Friends hurt you sometimes. Friends cause you pain. Friends will let you down.
Friends will make you lonely. Friends will sometimes trip you, cause you to skin your knee, and even as you get older, wound your heart. But when they do love you, Ally, it will be one of the sweetest things you've experienced, when somebody chooses to give themselves to you and to care for you simply because they deem you worthy and valuable. Which of those two do you want?" She said, "Oh, Daddy, I want to have friends." I said, "Ally, even if they're going to hurt you?"
She knew right away that there was no reality in living with dolls, with creatures who weren't real at all. To have perfect love, you have to have free creatures who can choose to love you. When God made something perfect, one of the things perfect creatures have is free will, the ability to choose.
God is all-powerful, we know that, but Philip Yancey wrote a great little piece where he talks about how there are certain things power cannot do. Listen to this. "Power can do everything but the most important thing: it cannot control love. […] We do not need the ancient Israelites to teach us this fact. We can see it in today's society 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—the kind we may secretly long for—do nothing to foster 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.'"
For God to make perfect creatures, he has to give them the freedom to love. Free will allows for the choice of evil. Because free will allows for the choice of evil, we know that imperfection can rise out of perfection. Do you see that? Understanding that is understanding the genius, the logical consistency, the intellectual integrity of the story that I'm going to unfold for you, that has been unfolded for you in these books that God calls perfect.
Believing in the Scriptures will never ask you to commit intellectual suicide. It is the only intellectually honest solution to the great questions that are in every one of our lives. What is the explanation, then, for where evil comes from? You might think I'm going to take you to Genesis 3, if you're a student of the Scriptures.
You think I might take you to the place where we chose to abandon God. But no, what I'm going to show you next week is when we enter into the story. Before we entered into the story, you need to realize this: There was something waiting for us when God placed us in this world. There was already a villain who existed. There was already a war that was going on.
We were created into a world that was at war with God. The villain that is there to wait for us is trying to woo our hearts and trying to move our hearts away from God and to steal joy from us, to kill the life that God intended us to experience, and to bring us to the darkness that he has chosen to live in.
Who is this creature? Who is this villain? I told you that if you were going to start at the beginning of this story, you would have to go to John 1, not Genesis 1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." If you were going to understand what happened next in the story, you still wouldn't go to Genesis 1. You would understand that God speaks to us about another created order that he brought into existence in order to share his glory with them.
When we think of this group of beings, we are forced to, all too often, envision the reality that was created for us by medieval Renaissance artists. I speak of the angelic realm. The Scriptures speak volumes about this entity of beings which are called angels. Angels have intellect, emotion, and will. Angels are not corporeal beings. They are not omniscient, meaning all-knowing, and they are not omnipresent; they come and go. They have great power, power greater than any human ever has had, and yet, they are not all-powerful but are subject to God.
When God gives them a task, they always completely fulfill it, but they are not what we imagine them to be. When I think of what fourteenth-, fifteenth-, sixteenth-, seventeenth-century artists represent to me about what an angel is, I think of a Gerber baby, a very well-fed Gerber baby with delicate wings and a little gold circle above its head. When it comes near me, I think, "Oh, look how cute this is. Should I step on it and squash it, or should I capture it and keep it as a pet?" That's what I think of when I think of that kind of angel.
You need to know that is wholly unrealistic and totally inconsistent with how the Scriptures deal with angels. We have Angels in the Outfield. We have "Angels Among Us." We have angels on TV, but they are nothing like the angels in Scripture. The angels in Scripture, every time they come in contact with a mortal being, what is the response of that mortal being? Flat on their face… What are the first words those angels speak to that mortal being? "It's okay. I'm not going to beat the crud out of you." They say it this way: "Fear not."
Angels are incredibly powerful beings. One guy said, "They are the universal equivalent of the Navy SEALs." They are creatures which are created to defend God's glory, to delight in God, and they are made to minister. They are made to conquer. They are called sons of God, sons of the mighty, hosts of the Lord, his servants, burning ones, ministering spirits, and they are great and to be feared. Angels shut the mouths of lions. Angels deliver men from burning furnaces. At the end of God's story, he unleashes four angels to kill 33 percent of the earth.
These guys are Jackie Chan on steroids. They take out billions, and they are not to be trifled with. When angels were created, we are told that there are two classes of angels. There is the cherub, the plural of which is cherubim, and there is the seraph, the plural of which is seraphim. Immediately when I say that, when you think of a cherub, you think of what's on the cover of cards you give people who have a newborn baby. That is nothing like the image of the scriptural beings that are angels. They are great and glorious creatures.
The Scriptures talk specifically about the fact that God names every one of the angels. We are told the names of only two angels in the Scriptures; they are Michael and Gabriel. Yet there is a third that we are told was a rebel against God. If you have a Bible, turn with me to Ezekiel 28, and I will show you the history after the existence that eternally was in the author, who did not exist as a person alone, but existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally together in glory and love, coexistent forever in power, in greatness, in goodness, love, and perfection.
Then, in order to share, which is consistent with what love must do because love must be others-centered, not out of loneliness and need but out of goodness, God spoke into existence the angelic realm. What you have in Ezekiel 28, let me explain this to you. Ezekiel is a prophet, one who spoke to God's people about the person of God and about the history of God unfolding specifically to a group of folks who you are going to hear more about in the weeks ahead, a nation that God chose to reveal himself to so he could reveal himself through them to a world that he longed to love, to rescue from the villain that was holding them all in bondage.
The people who God called out and wooed, you will find out, chose to have their hearts taken captive by the villain instead of guarding their hearts with all diligence and letting the wellsprings of life continue to flow in a relationship with God. There was one who did not like the fact that he was not the author of the story. There was one who did not want to step into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity and enjoy the glory and love that was there. There was one, we'll find out, that wanted the story to be about him, and just like all of us do who abandon God, created his own story and made himself the center of it. You're going to find God's response.
Ezekiel is the story of how this nation had allowed its heart to be seduced by the god of this world and how God was going to bring them, in the first 24 chapters, to a place of discipline, that they might understand that turning away from God was always going to bring about consequence they did not like so they would return to him.
Chapters 25-32 of Ezekiel is when God expresses to Israel that they're not the only ones who will be disciplined, but all of the nations of the earth that rebel against God will be brought to judgment. Chapters 33 through the end of the book of Ezekiel remind these people that God loves, that he will woo them back, and that the great romancer, the great warrior, the great rescuer will ultimately destroy the villain, will ultimately win back his princess, and will allow his people to be in his fold and to gloriously dwell together in the presence that is his greatness.
In Ezekiel 28, we get the one group of folks, they are the Phoenicians, whose major port city was Tyre. There is a gentleman in Ezekiel 28:1-18 who is referred to… Historically, this man was Ethbaal III. This was a guy who was governor over one of the most prosperous cities that ever existed. Because they were a major port city to the Mediterranean coast and much of the known world, all of the power of the world centered right on them. They were New York and Tokyo and Hong Kong combined.
The governor and the ruler of that city was a guy by the name of Ethbaal, and he thought that he was so grand. He though that he was so fantastic that he was he not satisfied with being governor, but he wanted to exalt himself over the entire world and oppressed people to pay homage to him around the world.
Ezekiel 28:1-18 speaks of this man, who was, as you see right there, the leader of Tyre. It talks about him and it says, "You say that you are a god, that you sit in the seats of gods in the heart of the seas." When you scroll over, it says, "Yet you are a man and not a god." Then it goes through and says that God's going to humble him.
Look what happens in verse 12 of Ezekiel 28. In Ezekiel 28, it says, "Now I don't want you to address the leader of Tyre, but I want you to address the one who has become the king of this particular group of people. In Ezekiel 28:12, it says this: "Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "You had the seal of perfection…"'"
Now watch this. We're not talking about a leader, but the story is being told again, and what you're going to find here is this is a story that God uses to say that what the leader of Tyre is doing is, if you will, a type or a symbol of the rebellion that happened in heaven. In Ezekiel 28, 11 and following, you'll have the story of the initial coup. Watch this. Verse 13 says,
"You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire [a place of great honor] . You were blameless…"
Notice this: it doesn't say you were a man; it says you were perfect. It doesn't say that you were a man; it says you were blameless. It doesn't say that you were a man; it says that you were a cherub. A cherub is an angel that, every time you see them in Scripture, is charged with the duty of protecting the glory of God.
It says here that this particular angel, this cherub, was adorned with many rubies. What do we know that rubies do? When you see a girl with a beautiful stone, you'll know that it refracts and gives brilliance to light like nothing else on her body. We know from the Scriptures that God says that he's so glorious and so great that even creatures that he created to be in his presence cannot look upon him, lest they be consumed by his glory and die.
Angels who were created to serve him were often given extra wings to cover their faces. Don't think babies; think brilliant, powerful spirit beings to be greatly dreaded. They were given wings to cover their eyes as a form of protection, wings to cover their feet as a form of submission, and wings that they might use to minister and serve God.
It says that cherubs, specifically, were individuals who were set up to protect people from coming into the garden of Eden in Genesis 3. They were set later to protect the Tree of Life from those who would come and to protect the glory of God that was. There was one cherub, apparently, who was covered in brilliant images, brilliant stones.
Many scholars believe it was because his specific duty was to protect the glory of God from consuming those he created to enjoy him. Other angels would look at this cherub in order to get an image of who God was. When they would approach God, they would approach through this specific cherub, who was seated at the right hand of God. But after a period of time, this particular cherub was no longer satisfied that he was just somebody who projected the image of God, that the image was only his role in the created order, that he served God in order to allow others to enjoy God.
He started to believe that the reason people came and bowed before him was because he himself was worthy of being worshiped. This particular angel, we find out, decided to exalt himself and decided to say, "You know why people worship me? Not because I reflect the glory that is God, but because I am glorious in and of myself. I want to be the author and the center of the story and not play a supporting role."
Let me show you something in Isaiah 14 because this same character shows up again, this time pictured as the king of Babylon. The same thing happens in the first part of the text. In Isaiah, you have the story where God is confronting this gentleman who is going to serve over a land and oppress people in his visions of self-grandeur and greatness that God would ultimately hold him in account for. But in Isaiah 14, you'll find out that God is going to say, "There's something else going on here that you picture."
This is what it says in Isaiah 14:11: "Your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol [to the resting place of the dead] ; maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering. 'How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning…'"
That is a proper name. The name is Lucifer. It's the name in Latin for the planet Venus. Venus is called the morning star; it's the last and brightest of the planets that we see in the sky. It's only eclipsed, and the star of the morning only goes away, when the sun and the glory that is the center of our solar system comes and eclipses it. The brightest, if you will, of those creatures which orbit around God decided to exalt itself over the sun.
This is what it says: "You [as a result] have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart…" Notice this. Five times this angel decided to say, "I will not accept my role in the story, I will not play a supporting role, I will be the center of the story." Watch. "I will ascend to heaven…""I want to go to a higher place. I want to be equal to God." "…I will raise my throne above the stars of God…""I will be above all other angels. I will be superior to others in creation. I will," it says, "…sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north."
Whether that's an allusion to the Parthenon, where the gods of this world were so esteemed to dwell (and he said, "I'll be the greatest of gods."), or whether it's an allusion to Mount Zion, which is the center of God's kingdom, his point there is, "I will be above all deities. I will be the deity that is worshiped." Verse 14: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds…""I will be beyond anything in creation. I will get glory." "…I will make myself like the Most High."
What happened in this story is that there was a villain who said, "I want to play God's part. I don't want to enjoy the fellowship of the Trinity. I don't want to enjoy the experience of living in relationship with God. I want to be God." He highly exalted himself, only to find himself thrown down by the God who was sovereign over all of creation.
This begs the question, "Why when this evil, in this perfect creature who had the capability to make a free choice…?" We know that angels have intellect because it says they long to look into and understand our salvation. They long to know more about the workings of God in history. We know angels have emotion because they are moved to sing at the birth of Jesus. We know that angels have a will because they are perfect creatures who are free to choose to love or not.
The very first entrance of evil is when one who was exalted by God, perfect in unity and dwelling with God decided that God wasn't enough and that he wanted to be the center of the story. God said, "That pride, that absence of enjoying what is truly good, the entrance of what is less than good is evil." God says that he cast him from that most high place. Next week, you will pick up in the story how you and I are created into it when there is already a villain in place, waiting for us, lurking, the Scriptures tell us, like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour.
Jesus is going to tell us, God is going to tell us, that he longs to deliver us from the jaws of this lion, and that Jesus has come and longs to give us life and give it abundantly. We love that verse, but what we don't remember often enough about that verse is just before he said that, in the same sentence, not even separated by a comma, he says this: "The thief is there, the villain is there, and he comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I come as a warrior king."
In the Scriptures, Jesus is called the captain of the Lord's host. He is the leader of an army, and he is a lover. He will come, and he will conquer that villain. He will rescue you from the bondage you are in and deliver you from the death that he has destroyed you with and give you life, though you have been killed by disobedience, and give you purpose, though Satan has destroyed your purpose by taking you out of the larger story, which is living with God, and creating your own.
This is the worldview that the Scriptures tell you, and you need to know something. It is the grandest story ever told. Every story you've ever seen in movies or read in a book that resonates in your heart is stealing components and elements from this story, and that's why it resonates so deeply with you. You need to know that the God who is wants you to do more than just respond to intellectual fact. He wants you to be swept off your feet by his radical pursuit and redemption of you and his daring rescue of you in the context of this world that is at war.
Why didn't God ultimately destroy evil the first time it came into being? Because at that moment, it would have been firmly established that he was God, that he carried the biggest stick on the block, but there would have been murmurings in the created order, "Is he really the most good? Could there really have been one? Could Lucifer have ruled better than him? Could we have been more satisfied with this author's story unfolding? Could we have been more loved if this was the one who we worshiped?"
God said, "Let me take the most glorious of all created beings, the one who was covered in brilliance, and let me give him his domain. Let's see where his world leads. In the midst of that, I will put someone who I love. I will woo him with my love. I will rescue him from the death that will come as he follows the villain who will lead him to darkness. You will see that this world moves further and further away from that which is good. Yet in the midst of that, I will rescue some who will learn to love me, not because of my power but because of my goodness."
God says at the end of the story that he will deal ultimately and finally with evil. We know, looking back, that God has destroyed evil's ultimate power at the cross of Jesus Christ, that God has satisfied the justice he requires when sin, evil, and pride are present, but for awhile, he lets sin continue in its reign and its presence as he continues to glorify himself.
Why has God not destroyed evil ultimately now? The Scriptures answer that question: Because God is patient. Because God is slow, not as some count slowness, but is patient toward all of us, that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. The reason the story keeps unfolding is because God continues to pursue those of us who live in this story.
In the midst of that, he gives us the hope of his comfort and shelter, that these momentary, light afflictions will pass away in light of the brilliance and the glory which await us as we move toward him in the culmination of his story. Why is there evil? Because perfect creatures chose to leave the perfect one.
Why is there suffering in this world? Because God is revealing his glory, and the more we see that which is not God, the more we love he who is. Next week, you can come and see where we chose to give our hearts not to the God who wooed us, loves us, and called us into life but to the small god who told us to not believe that God has our best interests in mind and to create our own story.
Father, I thank you for this morning. I thank you for how we see that believing in you does not require us to create some state where we deny what we know is real. We see that believing your story is consistent with logic and consistent with our mind, that we don't have to be mindless in our belief of you.
And yet, Father, it still hurts us at times when, in our imperfection, we choose to give our hearts to one who wants to steal our joy and kill our life. We thank you that your forgiveness woos us back to you. But even when we're walking with you, others who have given themselves over to darkness bring pain into our lives, and we wonder when you're going to move, finally, into our story and rescue us.
Lord, I guess what we say is, we thank you that you didn't rescue everybody before we came to understand that you are the author who is to be loved, that we could come to know you, that we come to you for forgiveness, that we could come and accept your offer of redemption and forgiveness for our giving our hearts to a betrayer, to a villain. You've called us into this war, and you tell us to suffer hardship with you as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, not entangling ourselves in the affairs of everyday life, so we might please this one who has enlisted us as a soldier.
Lord, this week, while we are at war with the god of this world, this villain who we know seeks to hurt and destroy us and the world around us, let us fearlessly proclaim the story of your love, your power, your redemption, your sovereignty over it, so that others might come to know the author, that they might come to know life and escape the talons of the one who has come to steal, kill, and destroy.
May we not complain too loudly. We thank you that you can identify with our suffering. You know what it's like to be here and to have to trust the grand author in the midst of pages that are dark and difficult. You don't bemoan the fact that we come to you weeping at times, but you plead with us to have faith and to trust in you as the author who is worthy of our reckless abandon and service.
Lord, may we never leave you. May we never believe that creating our own reality, our own story, is better than trusting you. May we know by faith and by practice that you have plans for us for welfare and not for calamity, plans to give us a future and a hope, that you are a God who is great. Until that day you reveal your greatness, may we be found marveling at your love, waiting for that day, and calling others to come to you.
Lord, we lift up your name in song and pray that our lives would be a song to others this week who are seeking to make sense of the story they live in, the story that you created, that you are the author and perfecter of. We pray that you would come and close the story, but until you do, while you tarry, may our faithfulness increase. In Christ's name, amen.
We all love a great story...one filled with rescue, romance, and unrelenting love...one filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Stories like this resonate with something deep inside all of us. Why? Because there is a greater story that we are all a part of. A story so embedded in our beings that we find even a shadow of it irresistible. It is a story that makes the most audacious claims in history, and a story which uniquely and powerfully provides hope, meaning and answers to all of life's great questions.