Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Something to Ponder About Our Good God

What of the problem of evil in our world? How can a Christian affirm the providence of a loving God in the face of such pain and turmoil in the world around us? The answer lies not in our hearts, but rather in the truths of God’s word and is further illustrated in Christian writings and confessions throughout history. 1 John affirms repeatedly that God is love, and in chapter 1 verse 5 the apostle affirms that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” And yet, scripture also affirms that God is a just and even angry God. The message of Deuteronomy 4:24 is that “God is a consuming fire.” How then do we reconcile the love of God with the righteous anger and fury of God, or the goodness of God with the evil happenings in our world? Is it indeed possible that a good God can be in total control of all that happens in our sinful and fallen world?

The answer to the last question is an affirmative YES! God is absolutely in control and it is in His total control that Christians can find solace. If God were not in total control, how pitiable would the state of our world be, for in such a situation, the Christian can find no hope, save in the ability of him or herself. The problem with evil is not the problem that most people perceive it to be. The problem of evil is really the problem of coming to grips with man’s completely fallen condition.

The “problem of evil” as it is commonly called is the natural outgrowth of Christians and non-Christians who have come to believe that humanity is not as fallen and sinful as Scripture testifies to. “We deserve good things” is the common misconception, when the truth of the matter is that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath (Romans 3:23, 6:23). The evil that befalls us in our society is nothing more than the working of sinful creatures in rebellion to Holy God; and as sinful and fallen humankind, we deserve nothing less or more than the evil of which are a part.

The greatest conundrum is not “Why does evil occur in our world,” but rather, “Why would God allow us good things?” The answer lies only in an understanding of his infinite grace. We are undeserving of God’s love, yet he freely gives it anyway. Humans tend to define evil in the sense of how it affects humans at the personal level. Evil people are evil because of what they do or how they think in relation to the world in which we live. However, is a parent evil who disciplines his child? Is God, then, evil who might use means in this world to discipline His creatures? He is absolutely not the author of evil, but if I am in need of discipline and God uses an evil man to bash me over the head and get my attention, is God sinful? Absolutely not, I got what I needed; I was disciplined by God, and yet the perpetrator is still guilty of causing me harm. God’s purposes are lived out while the free-will of humanity is in no way hampered.

The man in the illustration above was sinful, but God’s goodness was shown in that he disciplined me. God drew me closer to him through the sinful actions of another independent human agent. This is not an easy truth to grasp for we tend to believe that we are in some way deserving of God’s greatest love and we often define love in a sentimental way rather than in a loving parent kind of way. Some would say, “If you love someone, you will never hurt them.” However, discipline is painful to the person being disciplined, and if you truly love a person at the deepest level, you will be willing to perform discipline so as to train that person to be better.

But what of the evil that is not personal or not so easily reconciled? What of cancer or what of greater evils such as the holocaust? What of a child who is raped or murdered? Where is God in these situations? What has a child done to deserve such an evil act? The answer is of course nothing, but God is still present and in control. We may never understand why these things occur, but God is in control and uses these situations, as wrong as they may be, to bring about his good purposes in His world. God’s presence is seen when the death of a young person brings about revival in an area. God’s love is shown when physical, spiritual, and emotional healing can occur in the life of a child who has been affected by a violent crime. God’s mercy is evident when death brings to an end the suffering of a terminally ill person. God’s grace was shown in the Holocaust as Christians throughout Germany worked to save Jews and to end the evil rule of Hitler. It is in times of greatest pain and evil that the good and the godly of this world stand for the things of God. It is in these times of greatest need that God’s love manifests itself in the greatest of ways. It is often necessary for God’s people to go through the valley of the Shadow of death before they can ever truly know God’s love.

God’s love goes beyond the common understandings of love that we develop. In the Greek language, there are four kinds of love, but only one is worthy of being used to define God’s love. The Greek word storge (storge) is used in reference to a kind of familial or affectionate love. The word philia (filia) refers to love shared between friends. Eros (eros), is the word used in reference to erotic love. However, only agape (agape) is worthy of describing the kind of love that God has for His creation. Agape love is an unconditional kind of love that moves beyond affection, or friendship, or even erotic love. It encompasses all three of those areas, but then goes beyond each one to exemplify a kind of love that will stop at nothing to redeem mankind. God’s love is practically beyond our comprehension. Our only logical response is: “Amen, we stand in awe of your goodness!”