The Problem of Evil has been classed as ‘The Achilles Heel’ of Christianity. Theologians and philosophers have been discussing and debating this ‘problem’ for centuries. There is a new book out on this: ‘Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)’ by Greg Welty and I hope to write a brief review of this in due time. But for now, as I started that book my mind turned to two completely different responses to evil.
This present world (and its evil)
No one lives in this world for long without realising that something is wrong. And if you’ve lived long enough, and sometimes even if you haven’t lived so long, you’ll realise there’s something really really seriously wrong. Christians don’t get a free pass on suffering either. We live in the same world as everyone else. The difference is we know what it is that’s gone wrong. The ingenuity of man is remarkable and works tirelessly to make the world a better place. And that’s a good thing. But some things just can’t be fixed.
Two responses to suffering and evil
Vehemently protest against it if you will but here are two views, or two responses the Bible offers on the evil in the world. We might protest against it but the plain fact of the matter is that God quite purposefully sends some of the evils in the world. No, I don’t know which ones are sent to you and I don’t make a direct correlation between your behaviour or your circumstances and your suffering. Sometimes, maybe most times, there is no outside observable direct correlation. Not one I could confidently make anyway.
The response of the Godly
None of us always respond in an appropriate manner, nevertheless, there are, broadly speaking, two responses that are quite different. Suffering is grievous. It’s unpleasant. It’s painful. It can be long or short. We don’t like it. It’s real and comes in a multitude of ways. The vicissitudes of life are visited on all of us. The Apostle Paul describes the present suffering of believers in this way:
Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2Co 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
It was originally a caricature of a Salvation Army song, but in actuality, it really is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. And what right-thinking person wouldn’t want a slice of that particular pie! You might well mock, as the original composer, that it’s ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Nevertheless, it’s a true hope and expectation. Mock on, for your mocking doesn’t make it any less real. Paul compares the glory that is to come to our present sufferings. He does the calculation. There is no comparison between it and our present situation – whatever that may be. So it also has a present power as well. I have witnessed this power first hand. I am not speaking of hearsay.
Our response to suffering ought to bring us closer to God. Sadly it isn’t always the case, but often it is. It makes us realise our fragility and the need for help. We don’t have the resources but God does provide. This is my testimony and is the testimony of Christians for centuries. But as the people of God even in our darkest times, God is still keeping, guiding, and preparing us for that time when we shall see Him face to face and ‘cast our crowns before Him and fall on our faces at His throne ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.
The response to the suffering of the believer is that it points them to the suffering of Christ and to the evil of their own hearts. ‘Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12:3).
That is the right response, to consider Him, to consider the redeeming costly work of Christ.
The response of the ungodly
There’s another response. And as everything leads to Brexit these days, you’ll have to forgive me for briefly considering it. What if Brexit is the complete and utter disaster many are predicting? And it may be a disaster. I think we should consider it as a serious possibility that this is the will of God being played out before us. I don’t say it is. I don’t know. I say let’s consider it as a possibility. The Bible tells us in Revelation that God sent terrible judgments on the world. What is the response?
Rev 9:18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.
Rev 9:19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
Rev 9:20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk,
Rev 9:21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
And again in Chapter 16:
Rev 16:9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.
Rev 16:10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish
Rev 16:11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
They did not repent but instead, their response was to curse God. I don’t see a humble crying out to God in repentance as a response to Brexit – or to President Trump for that matter. I don’t see a National mourning for sin over Trump or Brexit. If it’s as serious as we are led to believe shouldn’t we be calling on God for help and forgiveness? I don’t see it. No, the response is to curse the providence of God. Even though it’s going to be an absolute disaster! There’s an outcry. For a second referendum, for a change of government and blame. But instead of humility or sorrow, it’s anger and resentment.
Your circumstances might be such that all this talk of the EU and Brexit has completely passed you by and is nothing more than an annoying distraction. I went to a funeral last week. There was rejoicing. The deceased was a believer. But there was much sadness too as friends and family keenly felt the departure. Pain and suffering have been described as God’s megaphone. He uses it to get our attention. Has he got yours?
Suffering for the unrepentant, the scoffer, and Christ rejecter is but a foretaste of the judgment to come. To the Christian, suffering is but a light affliction compared to glory. But suffering for the ungodly is but a light judgment compared to the awful weight of the final judgment. Their suffering confirms their end.
Thr best response
That all sounds extremely gloomy. It is if your faith is not in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is still calling people to repentance and faith towards His Son The Lord Jesus Christ. Job was tempted by his wife to ‘curse God and die’. Job replied by saying:
“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10).
Many speak foolishly. In the end, Job said this to God:
… I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).”
God graciously brought Job to see that Job wasn’t God. Job was no more in control of his destiny than we are. We can hardly prevent ourselves from getting a cold. Let alone our eternal destiny!
The Good News is that God is still calling sinners, the ungodly, to Himself that they might know the love of Christ that passes all understanding. As the hymn writer says, ‘Love to loveless shown, that they might lovely be’. Christians, like everyone else, suffer in this life but their ‘song is love unknown’.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).
1. My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?
2. He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But oh, my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.
3. Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.
4. They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.
5. In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.
6. Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.
Samuel Crossman, 1624 – 83.