The problem of evil and the hope of God

This is a sermon I gave a couple of years ago.  With the bombings in Boston, it was a reminder that we will never escape the problem of evil and that we need to face it honestly and accurately.

  • This is a time when Christians are posed with the question: why?  Why would God allow such a thing?  Or, “How could a God of love cause this?”
  • That question has been posed to me this week more than once.  Maybe it has been posed to you.
  • If someone asked, how would you respond?  It is important for a Christian to have an answer for such a time as this.
  • But many of us are struggling with the same questions.  Why would God allow such things?
  • You can’t look at the damage, the grief, and the pain of people and not be moved.  It’s not just others, we want to know.
  • What’s God up to?  He could have stopped it.  If you believe along the lines of the historic Baptists, you’d even say that God is the first cause of these things.  So what’s the answer?  It lies in the beginning.

I want to offer three conclusions about the problem of evil and three reasons why God allows it.

Conclusion #1 – evil was not in the original creation – Gen. 1

  • In the beginning, God created everything.  Before day one, there was nothing; by day six, all manner of life existed, and He said it was very good.
  • Created matter was good.  There was no evil within.
  • But one of His created beings fell (along with one-third of the angels) because of pride and was removed.  He in turn tempted Adam and Eve and they fell.
  • In falling, they brought evil into the world.  Adam was to be the protector of the land, and he gave up his calling from God in order to be like God.
  • When he forsook his calling, the earth’s God-appointed protector was gone and the land was opened to evil.
  • Death came, and with it came exile from God’s presence.  Ever since then we’ve had death, pain, disasters, and grief.
  • Adam and Eve lost their second-born son through Cain’s evil actions.
  • The flood came and destroyed the wicked.
  • Because we violate God’s commands, we deserve more trials than we will receive.  But this is not particularly about our own sin, rather it’s about why bad things happen.
  • The answer: evil comes because sin is in the world.

Conclusion #2 – We can’t eradicate evil – Amos 3:4-6.

  • It is impossible to prevent bad things from happening.
  • We have the best equipment for tracking tornadoes in history, but people still died.
  • Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, they all come.
  • This isn’t to say that we don’t act as God’s caretakers of the earth.  We must work toward our calling in this area, but death will not be destroyed until the final resurrection (I Corinthians 15:24-26).

Conclusion #3 – Because God is sovereign, He ordains that evil things happen.

  • He could prevent them from happening if He wanted, but He doesn’t.
  • This is a hard saying, and because it’s hard people feel the need to get God off the hook when accused by others that He isn’t really good.
  • But we are biblically required to say that He ordains all things (Prov. 16:33, Job 2:10).
  • The only other alternative is to have a semi-divine god who watches things unfold just like we do.
  • He doesn’t know the future, but he is just powerful enough to squeeze something good out of the bad that transpires.
  • That god is no god at all, but more like an ever-present super-hero.
  • When I was a Southern Baptist, we were taught (at every church I attended) that God is sovereign over all events that transpire, but not over salvation.
  • Then I became a Primitive Baptist where God’s sovereignty over salvation is emphasized, but in some churches, His sovereignty over the rest of life is denied.  Thankfully our church doesn’t deny His sovereignty over all things.
  • There shouldn’t be that divergence.  Either He is sovereign or He isn’t.
  • If He is sovereign, He ordains that evil comes to pass.  But there is a reason for that.

Why is there evil in the world:

Reason #1 – To remind us of His plan

  • When we see evil, we’re reminded that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  Even most non-believers know that.
  • It’s hard to describe, but when we see a tornado destroy a small town, we know that’s not the way things ought to be.
  • Yes they deserve death like all of us do, but just because we believe in the depravity of man doesn’t mean we have no compassion or sympathy.
  • God created us with the desire to sympathize with those who are hurting.
  • Just because you’re a rock-ribbed Calvinist doesn’t mean you can’t weep with those who weep.
  • And we’re not sad just because there’s a loss; we know it could be better.
  • In an unfallen world, tornadoes don’t kill people; tsunamis don’t wash people out to sea; earthquakes don’t arrive and cripple nuclear reactors.
  • How do we know this?  Because God has told us His plan: Isa. 11:4-7.
  • He promised that the serpent’s head would be bruised (Gen. 3), that the body would be redeemed (Rom. 8).
  • Peter gave hope of a new heaven and a new earth, and Paul in Eph. 1 speaks of this heaven and earth being united in Christ.
  • This is what we’re longing for: the display of God’s kingdom plan.
  • But what gives us hope that He will accomplish this?  The example of Jesus Himself.
  • He was the victim of evil at the choice of God the Father (Acts 2:23), but he was resurrected.
  • Because God resurrected Him, we can be assured that all the promises of God will come about.
  • God allows evil to remind us that things aren’t where they should be, but we should expect something more.

Reason #2 – To hold us back from idolatry

  • This goes along with the first reason.  Many times we become content with life as it is.  We’re satisfied with the way things are, but then something terrible happens.
  • It’s not because of our sin, but still we either lose something or someone precious to us.
  • If we didn’t see evil, we would be tempted to remain where we are now with little regard to the need for improvement.
  • “You can’t improve on perfection, so why try?”  one might say.
  • But this too is sin, as Paul says in Romans 1:21-24.
  • We have a desire to turn our worship from God onto creatures.
  • This could be a person, a place, an idea, or an object.  Our worship knows no boundaries.
  • Just as evil and pain reminds us of God’s plan, it also keeps us from becoming content in this world.
  • Our capacity for delight and joy in God is quite small.  Pain and suffering reveal that small capacity for Christian delight.
  • Over time the Holy Spirit uses pain and suffering to expand our capacity for joy.
  • He gives us more depth and consequently we have more capability to enjoy Him.
  • It’s part of the process of becoming truly human, which is what we are to be as new creation.
  • Evil is His tool to keep us from becoming stagnant.

Reason #3 – To motivate us to fulfill our calling as His servants in the earth

  • Growing up, I’ve heard many Easter morning sermons on the resurrection.
  • The application was usually the same: because Jesus is resurrected, you go tell others, and hope to be resurrected yourself some day, neither of which are bad applications.
  • But they are truncated.  The resurrection doesn’t just change our message; it the first-fruit evidence that God’s plan to restore heaven and earth has begun, again echoing Isa. 11, 54, and 55.
  • Because He fulfilled His promise to rise again, we are assured He is fulfilling His promise to renew the earth.
  • This truth reinforces our calling as God’s image bearers in the earth.
  • Through Christ we’ve been given the task that Adam forsook – act as the steward of God’s earth.
  • This isn’t code talk for environmentalism, rather it’s a call to serve our fellow image bearers in the earth.
  • What does this have to do with evil?
  • Seeing evil sounds the trumpet for us to fulfill our calling.
  • When we see something like what just happened, God’s people should be the first ones to spring into action.
  • It’s our responsibility as ambassadors of Christ to serve the world.
  • This is the essence of taking dominion: responsibility goes to those who serve.
  • We can get lax, especially as small as we are.  We think, “There’s nothing we can do.”  But that’s where we’re wrong.
  • For sixteen-hundred years, the leaders in society were churchmen.  They led through service: Galileo, Neils Bohr, Kepler, Copernicus, Pascal, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Bach, Dostoyevsky, Columbus, these men acted as God’s image bearers in the earth.
  • Observing evil in the form of disease is what caused Pasteur to discover germs, and he was able to find ways of preventing it.
  • Whenever we read of what God will do, we see the admonition to work in the meantime – II Peter 3:8-13.
  • Notice that Peter is talking like these things happen altogether, which is why some say this must be the final resurrection.
  • But he earlier said that it isn’t all at once – (a day with the Lord is as a thousand years).  It is a process.
  • Living in the New Heavens and New Earth doesn’t mean everything is where it should be.
  • It means we work in hope because He has told us what it will be.

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