Back on June 22, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, “The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited.” It opened with the following paragraph:
Where is God in the midst of injustice, suffering, and evil? That question has echoed down through the ages and is still being asked today by both skeptics and believers alike. The skeptics point to it as some sort of proof that God doesn’t really exist, and the believers ask it because they don’t understand where God is in the midst of great tragedy, injustice, and evil.
We don’t have to look very far to see that evil is exploding all over our world today, especially in the Middle East right now. However, God did not create nor does He sanction evil. In fact, He cannot look on evil nor can He be a part of it. However, it is clear that evil exists. So let’s start off by defining evil. GotQuestions?org defines evil in contrast to good as follows:
Goodness has existed as an attribute of God from all eternity. While God is perfectly holy and just, He is also perfectly good. Just as God has always existed, so too has goodness as it is a facet of God’s holy character. The same cannot be said for evil. Evil came into being with the rebellion of Satan and subsequently entered the physical universe with the fall of Adam. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl has said, “Human freedom was used in such a way as to diminish goodness in the world, and that diminution, that lack of goodness, that is what we call evil.” When God created Adam, He created him good, and He also created him free.
However, in creating Adam free, God indirectly created the possibility of evil, while not creating evil itself. When Adam chose to disobey God, he made this possibility a reality. The same scenario had previously played out when Satan fell by failing to serve and obey God. So it turns out that evil is not a direct creation of God; rather, evil is the result of persons (both angelic and human) exercising their freedom wrongly.
While evil is certainly real, it is important to recognize that evil does not have existence in and of itself. Rather, it only exists as a privation (or a parasite) on the good. It exists in the same way that a wound exists on an arm or as rust exists on a car. The rust cannot exist on its own any more than cold can exist without the existence of heat or darkness can exist without the existence of light.
Despite the horrible effects of evil on our world, the Christian believer can take comfort in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded for us in the Gospel of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). More importantly, we look forward with great anticipation to our home in heaven where the ultimate evil, death, will finally be destroyed along with the “mourning, crying and pain” which it inevitably produces (Revelation 21:4). (Quote source and complete explanation available here.)
Dictionary.com defines evil as:
1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.
2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.
3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.
4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character: an evil reputation.
5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.: He is known for his evil disposition.
Since God created us with a free will, because of our human nature, we are all capable of doing or being evil to others. While we were created to obey, enjoy and worship God, in our free will we chose not to do so, and it has been handed down to every single generation since Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3). Our adversary before us (whom Eve met and succumbed to–as well as Adam did through Eve–in the Garden of Eden) had the same option to obey or disobey God (see “How, why, and when did Satan fall from Heaven?” at GotQuestions?org, and for the skeptics among us who laugh as the mention of the mere existence of such a being as Satan, see “Does Satan Exist?” also at GotQuestions?org). However, it is not a topic I’ll be addressing on my blog since much has already been written about our adversary and his existence in our world by many others including scholars. The same goes for the topic of “free will” (see answer to the question, “Is God sovereign or do we have free will?” at GotQuestions?org).
Suffice to ask this question: “Do we have the option between doing right (e.g., good) and doing wrong (e.g., evil) in thought, word or deed at any give moment in time?”
Answer: Of course we do, and we choose to do one or the other all the time. Evil lurks in all of us.
Before I go further with this topic, let’s read what Hebrews 6:1-12 has to say regarding our ability to understand spiritual matters (which reflects on the choices that we make on a daily basis):
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
There are too many skeptics among us in the Christian world, let alone the rest of society, regarding deeper spiritual matters that clearly exist and are operating in our world. Too many people in the past several decades have said a quick and easy “Jesus prayer” in the hope of obtaining salvation without thinking anything further will be required of them beyond that point (and too many pastors and teachers nowadays don’t emphasize the need for spiritual maturity). That is not to say that salvation is gained through works (or by anything that we can do on own own). It is a free gift from God through Jesus Christ (see John 3:16-18), and we can do nothing on our own or in our own power to receive it. We must believe by faith in Jesus Christ. However, spiritual maturity and growing as a Christian is a vital part of the Christian life. Unfortunately, maturity in general has taken a hit over the past several decades in our society, not to mention in our relationship with God (for those of us who believe in Him), and it comes from our selfish desires that battle for supremacy within us, as stated in James 4:1-12:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
We have gained a rather flawed concept of what the Christian life is supposed to look like over the past several decades, and do not understand the ultimate purpose of God which has never changed since the beginning of time. He did not create us so that we can ask for and/or acquire all of the material possessions or money we can possibly get our hands on (although you wouldn’t know it by looking at our culture today). Read that passage in James 4:1-12 again (see above) if you think so or even tend to go in that direction. No . . . our selfish desires, greed, and accumulation of stuff is not God’s plan for us. That God gives us good things is one thing, but our cravings for more of them is quite another. And our greed for more of anything is truly evil at it’s very core.
God’s purpose from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is this:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).
That’s it. It’s not about what we selfishly seek after or want more of that matters. It is about God and the salvation He has provided through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead and His free gift of eternal life (see John 3:16-18) that matters. God didn’t send His Son to this earth so that we could have “bigger, better, more, more, more” of anything that we happen to crave. He is not a genie in a lamp to do our will at our whim or bidding because of our own selfish desires. We are here to do His will. And without spiritual maturity, we will never know what His will is for us, and we will keep on seeking after our own selfish desires and what we want while asking God to put His stamp of approval on it.
We often have this inane idea in America that success as a Christian is in the outward accumulation of all that looks good and acts like “success” in our society. And we erroneously think that anyone who doesn’t fit that particular model of success can’t possibly be on the right track. My guess is that John the Baptist (see John 1) wouldn’t have been welcome in many of our churches today neither by his appearance nor in his message. And what about the example of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 who were wealthy and ended up dead? They were a part of the early church, but their motives were selfish. Our image of “Christianity” today often fits the model of the Pharisees far more then it fits what real, genuine Christianity is all about.
At this juncture, I want to make clear that I am not talking about money or material possessions in and of themselves as there is nothing wrong with either. Rather, it is the greed so many of us in America have allowed to take hold of our lives in striving for the accumulation of more money and material possessions at the expense of our relationship with God and others, and never being satisfied with what we have (see Hebrews 13:5). And that attitude has become pervasive in our culture over the past several decades, and it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This life is not about us and what we can get from it at the expense of others and our relationship with God. There is an eternity out there at the end of this life and nobody seems to be paying attention to that very clear fact. We in the Christian community are often striving for the same accolades, accomplishments, money and material possessions as the rest of our society, and we are entirely missing the point.
A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) wrote the following in a devotion found in the book, “Tozer on The Almighty God,” compiled by Ron Eggert and published in 2004:
God Always Has A Purpose
God never acts without purpose—never. People act without purpose. I feel that a great deal of what we do in the church today is purposeless. But God never acts without a purpose. Intellect is an attribute of the deity. God has intellect and this means that God thinks; and so God never does anything without an intelligent purpose. Nothing in this world is without meaning.
God put the universe together with a purpose and there isn’t a single useless thing anywhere; not any spare parts; everything fits into everything else. God made it like that. . . .
. . .He created the flowers, for instance, to be beautiful; He created birds to sing; He created the trees to bear fruit and the beasts to feed and clothe mankind. And in so saying, these people affirm what the Holy Scriptures and Moses and the prophets and the apostles and saints since the world began have all said. God made man for a purpose and that purpose is given by the catechism; the answer is, “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” God made us to be worshipers. That was the purpose of God in bringing us in to the world. (Devotion for November 30).
God did not create us so that we could chase after everything that we want in this life. He created us with the same purpose He had in mind when he created our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, and that purpose is “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Read that last part again . . . “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Unfortunately, just like our first ancestors, we want what we want when we want it, and we really don’t trust God to give us what we need, and that separates us from God.
I’ll end this post with the passage from Hebrews 13:5:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
We need to start believing it, and not be filled with selfish motives like Ananias and Sapphira who ended up dead because of it. . . .
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” sung by Third Day:
Photo #1 credit here
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