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?

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

I am excited to announce this NEW daily devotional:

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world.
As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great kopportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.
This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

Confidence in the Calling

Click here to read Acts 14:1-7.

It’s the same things that have happened to Paul and Barnabas before. People are undermining the truths they are speaking and are doing everything they can to discredit and remove the “threat” other leaders consider Paul to be. Have you experienced this kind of situation in your life?

Being a leader is difficult. It is a calling. It is a lifestyle. It is who God created the leader to be. Leadership is difficult and not for the faint hearted. Please don’t let this discourage you. Being a leader is also very rewarding. People in leadership, who exercise their gifts effectively, motivate and encourage others to reach toward a higher standard of living. When a leader answers the call of God in their lives, guiding people to see the work of the Living God all around is an incredible experience.

The thing I see, in this passage today, is how Paul and Barnabas kept growing in their confidence of being God’s servants because they paid more attention to the results than to the hardships that were going on around them and to them. Did you notice that people kept responding to the grace of God? Even in the midst of hardship, the midst of tragedy, chaos, God’s shining light came through and people’s lives are changed because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Look around you, what do you see? Do you see more of the good or the bad around you? When you wake up each morning, what do you look forward to each day? I would encourage you to find ways to start each day with praising God for all the ways He is working in the world.

Now, this does not mean all we need to do is change our attitudes. This means we do change our minds, we change our hearts. Change happens with the work of the Holy Spirit is your life. It is not something we can do on our own. This change, this renewing of our hearts and minds happens when we are open to the Spirit working in us and allowing our eyes to see the incredible things that are really going on around us.

As you pay attention to the work of Jesus Christ, you have many chances to remember Who called you, and Who continues to work in and through you. I pray you grow in your confidence in Christ. Remember it is through Christ we get the power, direction, grace, and confidence to do the work He calls people to do.

Stay confident with Christ’s work in you and around you. As you stay confident in Christ’s work, I hope you can remain confident in the work Christ called you to do.

More Than Words

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.

Natural disasters

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.

Our Lives Look Different

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for many and a tragic, depressing or sad time of year for many. This time of year for others is…frustrating.

Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of the Christ child into the world, and into our hearts once again. How we live demonstrates our devotion for Christ. This does not mean that we earn our way into God’s favor or we have to work to get grace. What this does mean is that our lives should reflect the outpouring of God’s grace upon our lives. Our lives should be different from those who do not believe (either never believed, or have fallen from belief).

Our scripture for this week is Jesus speaking of the end of time and about the Son of Man’s (His) return in glory. You can read the scripture for this week here.

What stand out to you today? One thing I would like to bring into the conversation is, how we react to this passage, about the end of time, shows how we’ll act toward God and others here and now. We do not know when the end will come and when Christ will return. Jesus says to “be on guard so your hearts will not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life…” We are to live as people of faith with hope in all God has done, is doing and will do in the future.

We do not have to be worried or be part of anything that will take our minds and hearts off of Christ. We trust that Christ is with us and will continue to be with us during difficult times. So, what we watch on media, what we read, what we write should all be different from those who do not have faith.

Our love of and for God and people should set us apart. It is through our actions and our lives that may people will see and experience Emmanuel (God with us). God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is working in and through us to show the world He is here and is working for restoration and reconciliation.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

“Becoming Great”

Mark 10:41-43  Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.

There have been may times that something I have said has made another person, or even a group of people, angry or upset. I have gotten upset over words from another person (hearing a voice or via written message). We can easily allow what people say to upset us and let our emotions determine how we act.

This is how I imagine the disciples mindset at this point in time. I cannot blame them for feeling the way do at this point. It is easy to understand what might be going through their minds at this point. If they would have taken time to talk with James and John, would they have gotten angry? Would they be able to understand the brothers’ background and meet them where they were? Did the other ten disciples want to have the same position of greatness and were angry because they did not ask first?

I wonder if James and John understood why the other disciples were angry.

Jesus teaches his disciples about true greatness. He tells them that earthly position and authority are fragile. We should not strive to gain earthly recognition, but to strive for the glory of God.

To live for the glory of God means we live our life for something bigger than we are. When we do this, we become more humble. Becoming more humble means we begin to be a servant rather than a master. It seems backwards. Becoming a servant to become great. I think this makes good sense when we think about it. We cannot just jump to becoming an owner, we have to work for it. We have to be able to do the lowliest tasks in order to become ready for the bigger tasks.

“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.”