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?
This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.
The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.
Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”
The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.
So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.
But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.
Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.
When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.
Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.
Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?
There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.
God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.
Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.
This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?
The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?
NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”
Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 5
I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.
In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.
This is the final post in our series on the Apostle’s Creed. We have explored how this ancient creed still has great meaning to our lives even today. The topics we have covered include: believing in God, the Messiah, the victory of God, God’s presence in our lives, and today we look at believing all of this involves me and you.
Read the final sentence of this incredible creed:
I believe…the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen
Since our faith has been built upon the people before us, we have the opportunity and privilege of joining Jesus Christ, along with the saints of the past to live in the presence of God here and now AND in life everlasting. We are part of something much bigger than anything we can see or imagine right now.
We belong to a catholic (universal) church that is the body of Christ on this earth. If we take time to think about this, the body is in constant motion. We get to be part of making disciples, being on mission whether at work, in your community, or somewhere else in the world. This is not something we do on our own. It’s a good thing Christianity is not an individual faith because we could and do easily slip up or even become so disappointed we can’t fix everything. By the grace of God, we are all connected. We learn from each other, grow in our faith together, reach out into our communities, work, country, world together because we all have a part to play.
We are part of the saints. Saints in this sense are not the people cannonized to pray to; but rather people of the faith. The Apostle Paul writes his letters to the “saints” of the churches. These people were still alive on earth when he wrote. Every Christian is part of the sainthood. Jesus Christ comes into our lives and changes the core of who we are. No longer are we defined as a worthless sinner; but we are now saints, saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Living our lives in a manner we should involves accepting the forgiveness Jesus has offered to all people on the cross. Because Jesus Christ has defeated death and rose from the dead, we too will be able to experience resurrection and life beyond this life and live in life everlasting with him. This is a great hope we have because of our faith.
What a wonderful hope for us, to be part of the redemption story of God through Jesus Christ to bring healing and wholeness, reconciliation and redemption to a hurting and broken world that will one day be restored to God’s perfection. Heaven on earth will not just be a hope; but a physical reality. The Kingdom of God is here and now; but there will be a time when everyone will see it and believe it without question.
You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com
Have you ever been told, “just pray about it?” I have told people this for years, especially when there is something of importance going on whether it be with vocation, relationships, new projects, etc. Prayer is one of the things that we know is important; but a great deal of us don’t really put too much thought into what we’re praying for or words that we’re saying.
Luke 11:1-13 shows Jesus’ disciples asking Him, “teach us to pray.” Yesterday, I asked the congregation, “have you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?” This is a very valuable question to ask; especially because this was a convicting question for me as well. If we can humbly go to Jesus Christ to teach us how to pray and listen for His answer, we can realize more and more the reality is we are communicating with God each and every time we pray.
To prepare for this message this past week, I read several commentaries and one thing stood out. One of the commentators for the United Methodist Church had this to say, “According to a Pew Research report, 55% of American Christians say they pray every day. These persons rely on prayer when making personal decisions, and consider prayer and essential part of their identity.” Isn’t this interesting. What I read in this is that 45% of American Christians do not feel they need to pray daily. My question is, how can someone have a real relationship with God if there is not constant communication. Before we get judgemental, I do believe there are people who do not pray because they do not believe God will answer their prayers.
The first thing to look at when we talk about prayer is Jesus gives us assurance that God not only cares about us, but He hears our prayers and does answer them. Luke 11:11-13 says, “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
We all need assurance that God will answer our prayers, that our words do not stop at the ceiling. My guess is that we have all heard about three answers that God gives: Yes, No, Not Yet. These answers we can deal with; but there is a fourth answer we don’t seem to mention very much. That answer is “I have already given you an answer and am waiting for you to act.”
I remember, when I was a child and I would do everything I could do to find a favorable answer to a question. For many of us, it may be the case that we don’t like the answer God has given and we keep trying to get Him to change His mind or at least give us an alternative answer.
No matter what our response to the answers God gives us, we should still be assured that He does answer us. Because we can trust that God will answer our prayers, we should be open to the various ways He answers, oftentimes using other people around us.
The Gospel of Luke passage shows the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. A couple of things stand out when I read what has been called the “Lord’s Prayer.” One is that the normal things we end up focusing on some things and leaving out others. For example we’ll focus on the physical health or a person instead of the spiritual health. This is what I have called “organ prayers.” It is easier to pray for physical healing of body organs than for spiritual or emotional healing to bring a person to completeness and wholeness.
Jesus, on the other hand gives us, not just a script of what to pray, but for us to watch how we are praying and what we pray for. He is showing the disciples, which includes us today, that we should pray with the will of God in mind. Many of us have not taken the time to really think about these words. These are not “magic words” to get God to do our bidding. Instead, when we pray we’ll seek God and His direction.
Father, hallowed be your name: This is important so we remember who we are speaking with and to not use God’s name as something that is common or ordinary.
Your kingdom come: ushering in the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Does our world look like, right now, how heaven will be? Not yet. There are many things that are still happening. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is here; but there is still the culmination of heaven being on earth full time that will eventually take place.
Devaluing of human life
Distractions from our relationships
More concerned about the individual than the health of the community
not everyone knows Jesus Christ on a personal level
Give us this day our daily bread: completely dependent on God for all we need each day (goes against our individualistic do it by yourself mottos)
Think about Israelites wandering around in the desert and the manna from heaven who did not know where the food was coming from; but they trusted that God would provide each day.
Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to get the next thing that we want
Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted (sinned against) to us: As a commentator notes, “Jewish teachings had already linked the necessity of forgiving others to one’s ability to receive forgiveness…the ability to forgive and be forgiven are part of the same gift.”
And do not bring us to the time of trial: “normal trials” for us may include traffic, rude people, sicknesses, anything like this.
- also think about things that would hinder or harm your relationship with other people (family members included)
- Consider to seek protection against things that will come between yours and God’s relationship
We pray for healing, for provision, for protection, for our relationships with other people AND with God
As we can see, it really is more than words when we speak to the Living God through prayer who can and will answer our prayers. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is basically praying this way:
“God, we honor you on earth more than we honor our own flesh and blood parents. Please come to rule our lives every day that we l have on this earth. Help us to not worry about the future. We ask only for enough bread to get through this day. Don’t forgive us our sins until we have found a way to forgive every person who has done us wrong. And please God, do not test our faith too much because we know that we are weak and that we will surely fail.”
May we all continue to develop our prayer life and seek the face and Kingdom of God daily.
As I read the verses for today, I think of the Johnny Carson show where Ed McMahon announced, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!!” The expectation of the audience was raised when those words were spoken with excitement. I remember watching the Johnny Carson Show and loving hearing him announced.
I think a similar response happened with the crowd around John the Baptist when he was telling the crowd about the Messiah who is coming.
John has just finished telling the crowd what a changed heart and changed life (repentance) looks like and many were wondering if he was the Messiah promised or not.
It can be easy to read these verses in a monotone, unenthusiastic tone; but I do not believe this was John’s tone at all. I believe he would have been excited about telling the people of the coming Messiah. He would have been convicting, yet excited about telling the crowd of repentance and baptizing. This excitement must have transferred to the crowd.
The crowd gets rev’d up when something amazing is happening or about to happen. John is telling the people about the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ) and some of how He will live out His life. John proclaimed Christ to all who came and would listen!
How excited are we when we read the story of Jesus’ birth? How does our tone, our inflection, or volume change when we speak about Jesus Christ to others?
The Savior of the world is here. This is exciting news of great joy for all people! Our challenge is to have our attitudes of excitement become contagious so others will see there is something great and amazing about the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Max Lucado says, “think what you think about.” One of the things I appreciate about this is that is forces us to think about why we do the things that we do. Our life is supposed to show our love of God and love of people. Jesus said in John 13, “everyone will know you are my disciples when you love each other.” Love begins with a thought and permeates every part of our being. So, we should think about our motives and how we live our life.
If you were in this crowd, how would you respond to John the Baptist? Click here to read Luke 3:7-14.
The other gospel accounts have John calling the religious leaders “brood of vipers” or “children of snakes.” But in Luke, something else happens. John is calling the crowd, “you brood of vipers” or in this translation, “you children of snakes.”
I’m not sure about you, but this would catch my attention being called that. The next few words out of his mouth would determine whether or not I would stay to listen.
John Wesley also warned people to “escape the wrath to come.” We have a choice: to live a life focused on angry judgement, or the grace of God. John the Baptist simply says, “produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.”
What does this looks like? This is not about “earning” God’s grace or “earning” salvation. This is about allowing Jesus Christ coming into our life to change how we live. John the Baptist gives examples to people how this life looks when we change our hearts and lives (repent).
Christmas is a great time to remember that God came down in human form, Jesus Christ. His real presence in the world changes everything!
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season will bring even the best of us to out wits end. We hear the story of Christ being born; yet we go about our busy lives as if nothing has changed. There are so many things to worry about. The media doesn’t help. God is with us and yet we still get frustrated, angry, sad, depressed, irritated, etc.
The letter to the Philippians is a great book to read, especially in this time of year. The Apostle Paul wrote this short letter. In it, he proclaims the simple message of finding joy and peace in God through Jesus Christ.
There are many things we worry about; but do we really have to? Lifting up our concerns, our anxiousness, our worry, etc. doesn’t change our circumstances; but it does change our perspective. This is so much more than just changing our attitude. This is about complete trust in God through Jesus Christ.
When we share our burdens with Him, is it He who makes our load light. We do not have to carry it, because He carries our burdens for us and with us.
God coming down to earth as Jesus Christ tangibly shows God is with us and understands our lives. This year, allow peace to enter fully in our hearts, a peace beyond understanding, to make Christmas really come alive.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
What are some of your favorite songs to sing this time of year? Mine are “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night.” In fact, these are two songs I would like to be sung at my memorial service after I pass away. The reason is because, even in death, there still can be joy. We do not pass over the grieving period; but JOY has been brought into my life through Jesus Christ and is here in the world too.
“O Holy Night” is a song that I used to sing and listen to with my great grandmother when I was a child; so I have great memories with this song. Besides, it is a song that helps me focus my mind and heart focused on the beautiful night that Christ was born, bringing God to earth in human form.
There are lots of passages in Isaiah that talk about destruction and bringing the exalted low; but this is one of the many passages which bring hope and God’s grace and joy into the the picture.
Though this passage has several Psalms re-written, this is a great reminder that God is where we draw our strength from. Our salvation from. Our life from because He has done great things!
This Christmas, we are invited to keep our hearts calm and focused on the Christ child who lived, died, was resurrected, and will come again. Sing to the Lord. What song will you sing today?
O come, O come, Emmanuel.