by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“So good!!” —Rich Wilkerson, Senior Pastor, Trinity Church, Miami, FL
How could a loving God, with sovereign authority and control, with the final say concerning all that exists and all that happens, allow bad things to go on in the world, to the point that evil often dominates the world stage? Why are there natural disasters? Why is there disease and famine? Why are there starving children? Why is there violence? Why do the innocent suffer? Why so much hardship? Why no accountability for evil dictators that starve and murder their own people? Why is there death… so much death? How could the Almighty be so careless and irresponsible about the goings on in the world against the people living in it that He is said to love? What is God doing about all of the insanity in today’s world?
I have been discussing with some folks this notion about ‘who, when, and where God is’ as it pertains to the persistence of evil in the world. I work with men who have been neglected, abused, and abandoned as children; men who have seen the death of loved ones to drugs and disease and street violence. Some refuse to acknowledge a God who would permit the kind of evil they have seen first hand. Others believe that there must be a God but He must not care if He doesn’t rid the world of its evil before so many are harmed by it. Still others are so angry with God and so full of resentment that they cannot help but to blame God.
“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Most of those I share this message with (the message in this article) are receptive to it because it is reasonable and makes the most sense to them wherever they’re at on the “resisting/rejecting God” spectrum. Even the unbeliever has to pause and consider the spiritual possibilities presented here as he ponders them in his deepest sensibilities. I believe this to be a word from God for the believer and the unbeliever alike that tend to struggle with the matter of a loving God allowing evil and suffering in the world. Open your mind and your heart as you read through this chapter.
I could offer you the standard scriptures pointing to free will and sin and how not measuring up to God’s standards of holiness takes us on the path to imminent death. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; and the wages of sin is death…” It is rather easy to go there (and eventually I do; but not with my clients in that secular setting) to somehow describe the presence of evil in the world. But here we will go deeper into it on a level that doesn’t sound overtly religious but disseminates within its message the fuller scope of reasonable truth.
Some reject the very existence of God since the existence of a supreme being would be intolerant of evil and would not even allow it into existence. Whether or not that is a rational premise, it for me is harder to believe in an evolutionary process without God since it all had to begin somewhere. Something had to always exist, whether it be the eternal existence of God or that of some single-cell micro-organism. Which makes the most sense, even scientifically?
So let’s assume that in the beginning was God. The eternal existence of God is easier for me to wrap my mind around than the eternal existence of something smaller than a dust particle to set everything that ever was and is into motion. Once I can accept the premise of God as creator I can move forward with sensible assumptions and presumptions laid out here.
When it comes to living creatures, I think it is fair to suggest that one of two conclusions can be drawn. Either living creatures with cognitive function are either made with free will or made to be what would be essentially puppets at the involuntary service and pleasure of the creator. Should I build something, I have done so to serve a necessary function, ultimately for my satisfaction. If I were to draw or paint something, I have done so for my gratification. I do my best to secure control of the thing I have made. I believe the same to be true about what God has created; that there are things that God made for His pleasure, His amusement, things that do not have free will that serve some general or specific function in the universe. Even living things such as plants do not appear to possess an independent soul or free will.
There are living creatures, including animals, with enough cognitive function that they are free to make choices, whether drawing on instinct or from intellectual and emotional sensibilities. Even animals utilize cognitive function to nurture their young and get creative about what they need to do to survive and thrive in their ecological systems for living. And before any human being fell to poor foolish choices, we read in the Bible that angels also made choices to reject the sovereign will of their creator and go their own way. But for the sake of our discussion here, I will keep the emphasis on human beings and our issue with free will, free to choose and act in alignment with the will and plan of God or choose and act contrary to it.
If human beings were born into this world without free will, there would be no wrong-doing or evil in the world, since God would have chosen to be in direct and complete control over everything that moves and breathes. But since it is obvious that we do have free will, we can see the outcomes borne out of errant choices and behavior contrary to God’s plan and purpose.
Let’s go a little deeper with this. Every errant, poor, wrong, bad, foolish decision I have ever made and acted upon has rendered some kind of outcome in the world from something barely harmful to something catastrophic. The evil in the world is the collective unrighteousness of everything that has ever lived throughout history.
To attempt to illustrate this point let’s use money to represent each and every aspect of wrong, inappropriate, unhealthy, misguided element of behavior. The pot the money goes into will be known as evil. This person over here only put a dollar into the pot, while that person over there put ten dollars into it. Someone else put a hundred dollars into the pot while another person put a million dollars into it.
Mother Teresa was not perfect and put some “money” into the pot, contributing to the jackpot of collective evil in the world. Popes throughout history have not been perfect (only Jesus was perfect) and have put some evil into the pot. So has Billy Graham. Hitler, far from perfect, contributed lots and lots of evil into the pot. I have contributed my share into the collective evil and so have you.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24 (NIV)
Every dollar put into the pot is a lottery ticket, whether you bought one lottery ticket for a dollar or a thousand lottery tickets for a thousand dollars worth of unrighteous behavior tossed into the pot. Each lottery ticket has a series of numbers, and every minute of everyday someone somewhere in the world wins the lottery when the numbers match. JACKPOT!! The problem with winning this jackpot is that it represents every bit of the collective evil in the world since the fall of man.
What isn’t fair is that someone who purchased ten thousand dollars worth of lottery tickets by way of their unrighteous actions might win back a couple of hundred dollars worth of evil consequences, while those who purchased ten dollars worth of lottery tickets hits the jackpot when ten million dollars of evil is inflicted against them in the form of some tragedy in their life.
I suppose this is all merely an allegorical way of saying that when it comes to being victimized by evil, often times we are in the wrong place or situation at the wrong time. Other times, it is reaping what one has sowed directly affecting consequences. Either way, we’ve all contributed to the collective evil that reaps consequences. We are reaping what we have sowed to one extent or another as the consequence for the collective sin as a result of choices and behavior contrary to divine standard.
I talked to a man this week who, while he believes in God, struggles mightily with something that struck his family growing up. His brother was diagnosed with cancer at a very young age. Growing up in the church, he and so many of his family prayed and prayed and prayed for the healing of his brother. For several years, his brother suffered in his illness before cancer took his life. How could God let this happen? If God was going to take him anyway, why did his brother have to suffer for so long? It is cruel what God allowed, or permitted, to happen in the body of this innocent little boy. And afterwards, an entire family gives up on God and finds comfort in the arms of alcohol and drugs.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” John 11:21, 37
You can clearly see why this man, a drug addict who still doesn’t see having a life without drugs despite having children of his own, is angry and holds deep resentment toward God. As he shared his story with me I was deeply troubled by it, desperately searching within the resources of my mind for a response. Thank God for the resource of divine knowledge and wisdom as the Spirit of God responded to this man using my voice. From that response comes this chapter that I am now sharing with you.
You see, evil has no conscience; no respect, no pity for anyone, picking its numbers indiscriminately. Evil doesn’t care whose number is up! Evil doesn’t care if generally you are a decent person or not. Evil doesn’t care if you are five years old or fifty-five. Bottom line is that you and I have made choices and actions contrary to the will of God. Whether I have strayed a little from the plan or strayed a great distance from the will of God, I have strayed and contributed into the jackpot that contains all of the evil ever invoked upon the universe.
But why the young children who are innocent? While the young children and babies may be innocent in the eyes of man, and even in the eyes of God for that matter, they live in the same world that is altogether evil because of free will gone bad and subject to evil’s wrath. Evil is the enemy.
This is the reality of God giving you and I free will. Does it mean we were created flawed; created to sin? I don’t believe that to be the case, but God knew that because we were created to make up our own mind and act on it accordingly, and because we are not God, we will inevitably do wrong; what the Bible calls sin.
This resulted in a problem for God; a problem that God anticipated from the beginning. Scripture tells us in Revelation 13:8 that God knew from the beginning that there would have to be a sacrifice to atone for the problem of sin. Jesus would leave the refuge of His divine standing to come to us as a human person and live with us, living like us. He would understand our human weakness on every front and as an innocent man experience the full weight of evil on a level that we will never fully comprehend.
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46 (NLT)
“He lived in the shadow of the cross from the moment He entered our world.” —Greg Laurie, Harvest Christian Fellowship
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
Altogether contributing to and responsible for the collective evil in the world, we have a tendency as a people to hold God responsible for the consequence of the evil in the world and the pain and suffering produced by it. The question is so often asked is, “How can a God who is supposed to be loving, gracious, fair, and divinely sovereign, allow evil to cause harm to people, particularly innocent people, and especially helpless children? Had God initiated the eradication of evil in the world, people wouldn’t get hurt, and He would not have had to sacrifice His son to save His creation.”
Is that right?
There was a time when God actually did eradicate evil, for the most part. Noah and his family were the only people that lived to talk about it; even though they would also start the process of collective evil all over again. God did, though, eradicate the eternal relevance of evil when He executed the plan to sacrifice His Son to pay the debt for your unrighteousness and mine once and for all; declaring that we who believe are altogether innocent of the contribution we have made to the collective evil in the world. It is this truth that has indeed set us free, finally, from such an arduous burden. Jesus is God’s gift to mankind for all time both backward and forward. Jesus is God’s response to evil.
Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live… I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Galatians 1:4, 6-7 (NLT)
There are victims of evil all around us throughout the world struggling to understand why. “Why me?” And there are those around them adding fuel to the fire about why God wasn’t there to protect them, or at least deliver them from evil. The counterfeit message is that God is to blame for man’s suffering. This is the different message that deliberately twists and alters the truth concerning Christ. Jesus suffered and died so that in the end you and I would experience the collective goodness and joy that is found in relationship with Him.
Afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 (NLT)
Even worse is the message that makes God out to be some kind of adversarial force against the sensibilities of reason. Don’t do that or God’s going to punish you. Jesus had just healed a man that had been paralyzed for almost forty years. Did God afflict the man to be miserable most of his life just to heal him some thirty-eight years later so Jesus could get some attention? The man was struck down by the active presence of evil in the world. God is not the enemy. Evil is the enemy and when Jesus healed the man evil was defeated. When Jesus saw him again later on adding to the collective strength of the enemy, he warned the man to stop giving evil even more power or next time he’ll be hit even harder than paralysis; something that will hit him so hard so as to cost him his life, perhaps for all of eternity.
Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (NLT)
It is in the suffering that I need Jesus. But so long as I foolishly buy into the lies of twisted “truth”, I will lose out on the gift of new life standing at the door of my heart knocking, wanting to come in and fellowship with me. When I come to appreciate who Jesus is, my friend and advocate, wanting to live with me from within me, even while I am in the jaws of evil, He is offering me comfort and strength; sufficient grace when I am weak.
The truth is that God loves you and will never forsake you. Let the teeth of this truth sink in.
I want to encourage you to dwell in this truth for a while and marinate in it, allowing it to resonate from within. Do not turn from God, blaming Him for the calamity and suffering in your life. Blame the collective evil in the world and hate evil. For me, I must do more to abstain from contributing into evil if I claim to hate it and its effect on me and on all those that I love.
Turn to Jesus. Answer the door. Invite Him to come in and stay with you for awhile. Do not be fooled into believing that Jesus is allowing bad things to happen to you and allow Him to express His love to you. He loves you so much. Jesus said to pray for deliverance from evil. Pray that. In praying that, we are praying not only for deliverance from evil consequences but we are praying for deliverance from contributing into the collective evil that seeks to destroy lives. Pray to hate and despise evil of any sort.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 (NIV)
It is within each one of us to avoid and distance ourselves from that which we hate. That is the contradiction and hypocrisy of hating what evil has its hand in while I continue having a hand in the mission of evil against me (and you) and those I love. Sincere love for myself (and you) and those I claim to love should mean that I hate evil enough to be committed—and surrendered—to all that is good for me and all who are affected by me.
Let me leave you with some truth from the Bible since it’s what this is all about.
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this… The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)