The Problem of Evil

A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.

God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.

Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.

Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.

Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.

Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.

Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.

This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.

Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”

There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.

To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?

Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.

The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?

Unjoining Union

Mark 10:2-8 “Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.” Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Today, we look at a passage that can be a place of argument and division among people. There may be things I say people may not agree with, and that’s okay.

What is happening in this passage? The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by getting him to say anything contrary to the Law that was passed down by Moses. In one way, I think, they were trying to show their own superiority based upon their knowledge and were trying to show how “ignorant” or “uninformed” Jesus was. As we already know, Jesus proves the contrary.

The Pharisees were asking about a Law that was given by Moses. Right away, we can see they were elevating Moses to the position of God by saying his law had more authority. Jesus listened to their question, and answered their question directly. Not really going into further details or explanation except what had been written down in the Scriptures. The Pharisees were looking at this life from the point of view of man. Jesus was looking at life from the point of view of God the Father.

So, where does this leave us? I believe there is something in Jesus’ words that we can take out and help guide us today. What was He talking about? Division. Separation. Consequences of doing our own things.

The line that strikes me more than any of the others is “Because of your hardness of hearts…” The people were given what they wanted, a chance to break union “because of their hard hearts;” because of the human rebellious spirit. Now, to be clear on something, I don’t see Jesus here saying that every divorce is because of a person’s rebellious spirit, just wanting to get what ever they want. Commentators point out that Jesus was simply answering the question of the Pharisees. He wasn’t, here, giving regulations or stipulations that are acceptable for divorce.

I do think that Jesus is bringing the human condition to light. We simply want things our way, and will try in whatever manner to get it. Instead of leaving this statement alone and walking away, Jesus points all the way back to the beginning…God. He stressed the basis and purpose of God’s creation of humans, to be in relationship with one another. Then He talks about the two becoming one.

Glue is fun to use. I like to glue objects together to try and fix the brokenness. What happens when I try to take apart something that has been joined together by glue? A mess, the two piece are never the same. There has been an unjoining of the union. The two are no longer part of the one, they are separated. If this were done on people, we would feel a lot of pain.

I believe one of our purposes is to be in relationship with other people. Our relationship with people should be based upon our relationship with God. But our hard, rebellious hearts cause us to not look to God. But, we can go back and see God’s original purpose. At points like this, we can see grace because God has not left us.

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Prayer of the Righteous

James 5:15-16 “Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”

Do you believe in the power to be healed by faith? I do. Before someone tries to counter this, let me explain. First of all, we have to consider what “sick” means. I believe this can affect so many aspects of our life (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual).

Physical healing can be done by God, and there are cases this has happened. Most of the time, I believe God works through doctors and medical professionals. It is amazing the work they do and I believe it is a gift of God they have the wisdom, giftedness and the calling to do that work. I say calling because I think it is a calling that someone answers whether or not they know it is God. Through the prayers of the community, it is amazing what God can and does in and through people who are physically sick.

Now, physical healing can take place instantly; but it can take time too. Sometimes complete healing comes after this life. But there is a kind of healing that can take place instantaneously. These verses can and should take us back to the healings Jesus did. Most of the time when Jesus healed a person physically, he also forgave their sins.

A question we should ask is, “does sickness come from sin?” The answer is yes and no. Not all sickness or diseases come from sin. We live in a fallen world, so diseases are prevalent among us. There are sins that do cause diseases. If we knowingly do something that is bad for our health, then we live with the consequences.

When Jesus forgave sins, he was doing something that happens instantaneously. The condition of the soul can manifest itself physically. For Jesus to forgive sins, he was healing the person from the inside out, not just the outside appearance. This kind of healing can and does happen instantaneously.

When we are forgiven of our sins, we no longer are bound by the sin that held us down. We have been given the chance to leave a way of life that was not healthy for us and move into a new way of life, one that is filled with joy (even though life is tough at times), filled with peace (even among the turmoil around us), filled with love (even though we don’t see people acting out of love).

This is why it is important to confess our sins to one another. A simple reminder that we are not in this life alone and that our actions do have consequences that affect more than just us. Confessing our sins puts us back on the path that God intends for us. Not only that, we have people to walk alongside us!

This can happen all at once and it is amazing the power of God at work in and through a community of faith.

Suffering & Singing

James 5:13 “If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing.”

This week we are entering into the final week of our series on James. We’ll be focusing this week on prayer and it’s power.

“Are any of you suffering?” This is the first thing we come to is the idea of suffering. I find that we tend to over think suffering and try to make this as something really bad. This is one of the reasons, I believe, many people avoid praying because our “problems” or “issues” may not seem big enough to “bother” God with our “little lives.”

Suffering is defined as, “pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain sufferings : feelings of pain.” So, with this definition, we all suffer on some level.

One thing I would like to take care of first is reminding us that, no matter how small or insignificant we think our problems or issues are, God loves when we communicate our “sufferings.”

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.” Anything we go through or have on our minds or hearts, we can bring up to God and express our thoughts and our feelings. We don’t not have to be in a place where we think our problems are big enough for God. We have a God who wants us to bring to Him any and every part of our life.

Praying is a sense of release of the burdens we carry on our hearts. This means that we have a chance to experience joy. Through joy, we can sing our praises. Singing expresses joy in our hearts. This joy is then expressed throughout our actions and our relationships.

What is it you need to pray about today (big or small) to release it off your heart and allow God to fill your spirit with joy and happiness?

The best part is that it doesn’t require any special words or phrases. Simply talk with God as you would another person.

: pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain

sufferings : feelings of pain

Control

James 3:2-3 CEB “We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies.”

I love the illustration James uses here about horses being controlled with a small bit. Isn’t it amazing how just a small instrument can control the direction of a large animal like a horse. It seems as if something larger might be needed; but a bit in the mouth of a horse is enough to control the animal.

James is comparing the way horses are controlled with a bit to humans who control their tongue (what they say). He even says that those who can control their words have reached full maturity, perfection. Is this possible to attain? It is easy to think that all we have to do is watch what we say. But there is more.

When we bridle a horse, the way the horse thinks has drastically changed. The animal doesn’t need to fight instincts to do what the person wants. Instead it grows to trust the person and know direction will be examined. I believe the same is true for people. It is not as much as what we say, or what we don’t say. It is about how our faith guides us and directs our actions, words and thoughts. Our thoughts are what come out of our mouth.

Jesus said it is not what goes into a person that defiles him; but rather what comes out. So, the bridle we should allow God to use in our lives in not necessarily on our mouths, but in our minds. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Our direction is driven by our minds on so many levels. If we can control our thoughts, then our words will not be an issue. If we can control our words, then we can live up to the high standard we speak about. If we control our actions, then people will see our faith and the grace of God at work and alive in us.

Is it possible to attain perfection? With the grace of God, anything is possible. Today, we have the challenge to control what we say by allowing God to “bit” our minds so our thoughts comes from a new and higher direction. What we say shows what we think. What we think is a product of how we are allowing the grace of God to move in and through our lives.

Lord, Guide me today. Help me think about what you think about. Help me love others and say what needs to be said out of love. Amen.