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?

What Does Redemption Mean?

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Hebrews‬ ‭9:11-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When one speaks about redemption or being redeemed, what is meant is the action of God taking place inside the core of the person. The point of why people will speak of being redeemed is to show people what a relationship with God through Jesus Christ looks like and how their life is changed after encountering the risen Jesus Christ. “Evangelical Christians are so deeply concerned for those who do not know God…people are converted…because they experience the transforming grace of God through an encounter with the risen and ascended Christ.” (Smith, 219-220)

The Hebrew word for “to redeem” is ga’al (Richter). What does this mean? We can see many places in scripture that communicate the idea of redemption (i.e., Abraham saving his nephew Lot, Boaz and Ruth, Hosea and Gomer, and then when Jesus Christ’s resurrection is taught). The idea of redemption is “the state of having been bought back from fallenness…redemption is the effect of God’s saving actions.” (Oden, 685) Redemption has To understand redemption, it is necessary to know what we have been bought back from and how redemption through Jesus Christ has come about.

In the book of Genesis, chapters 3-11, we learn how the perfect relationship between humanity and God was broken and the effects that are still being lived out worldwide because of sin now controlling the intentions of humanity. The story of Adam and Eve listening to the talking serpent and believing it, Cain killing his brother Abel, the flood, Tower of Babel all tell of the state of humanity. The concept that is brought forth from these stories is the reality of Sin in our world and how we have been enslaved to living in sin and living a life of sin. “Sin is an overarching term for human resistance to or turning away from God.” (McFarland, 140) Sin has entered into humanity through the Fall, as described in Genesis 3-11. “Sin and the fall refer respectively to the character and origin of human resistance to God.” (McFarland, 155) What humanity deals with is found deep within. It is something humanity is unable to fix or get rid of on our own. “Sin is always a matter of attitudes towards God and others, so it cannot be detached abstractly from the person of sinners themselves.” (Fiddles, 188)

When a person begins to understand the concept and reality of sin, then the reason for God and the grace given becomes necessary to take humanity out of the grip of sin. “Theologically informed sin-talk…incites believers to claim God’s grace as a power that enables the naming and vanquishing of sin both in themselves and in the world around them.” (McFarland) Sin and the fall have corrupted the heart and will of humanity. We can try to, but we cannot deny there is something fundamentally wrong with the world humans inhabit. “By affirming that humanity is one in its fallenness…original sin means that no one is innocent.” (McFarland, 154)

There is a plan that has been set in place from the beginning to bring people, “to buy,” back into the perfect relationship with God, and that plan is through the person of Jesus Christ, God in flesh. Humanity seems to be preoccupied with the notion of wrath/anger between other people, and the idea of God being wrathful, vengeful, and judging. However, the “judgment and wrath of God is never a punishment imposed from the outside, but it is God’s active and personal consent to the inner working out of sin into its inevitable consequences.” (Fiddles, 187) All of this is happening in God’s perfect time, Kairos time. In this perfect time, God “‘ issues a challenge to decisive action’. ..announces ‘the salvation that we are hoping for’.” (McFarland, I, 260) God is working in people to take away the sin that keeps people from living the full, joyful, and peaceful life that God has had in mind from the beginning. “Christians cannot imagine…that redemption was a divine afterthought. The Biblical story is one in which creation and redemption are inexorably related, since redemption in all its dimensions takes place within a world, indeed a universe, that was brought into being through God’s grace.” (Ayer, 235)

Redemption is not just about making the individual a better person and able to live in the presence of God. Through the redemption Jesus Christ has brought in his life, death, and resurrection, the person is placed in relationship with God along with others becoming a “transformed human community…a new people being formed for a new creation.” (Fiddles, 177) Oden describes redemption as “the effect of God’s saving action…an overarching way of describing, in a single word, the liberation of a captive, release from slavery or death by payment of a ransom.” (685) “The goal of redemption is not a marbled mansion, but reincorporation into the [family] of our Heavenly Father.” (Richter) Ayre writes, “Thus creation and redemption are both expressions of the one essential reality, which is God’s desire for a meaningful relationship with the whole creation, and not least with the human community.” (235) This is simply called salvation by many people.

Now, it is important to be careful not to think that salvation and redemption are for the individual solely. It is vitally important to understand the plan of redemption is for the entire world, all of creation. “Any consideration of the Christian concept of salvation must take place in the context of what is an increasingly obvious global environmental crisis.” (Ayre, 233) When you see Jesus, as a gardener, one can see Jesus is working to tend the earth, working to help make all of creation, which also includes humanity, back into the state of perfection God designed the world to be. (John 20:1-18) This work is not something that can be done instantaneously. The process of full redemption in a person will take time.

“Christ’s work does not bring human beings immediately to the state of perfection…but recovers for them the capacity to grow into it.” (Vogel, 455) The work Jesus did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension shows that there is much more to being made perfect than a single act. It is a continual process by which God works in and through us to make us into the image we were created originally to reflect. Vogel also writes, “It is not merely the Son’s act of becoming incarnate that is redemptive…it was fitting that Christ should accomplish salvation through his own waiting and openness to the Father’s will.” (444) Humanity has been given the gift to learn to wait on God and learn how to do the Father’s will in this life.

As we learn to do the will of God, we see the world is transformed. Redemption would not be possible if it were not for the work of Jesus Christ. “Redemption is what happens to restored humanity as a result of the atonement.” (Oden, 685) The purpose of redemption is to restore humanity. This restoration happens because of the work of Jesus Christ. This has been God’s plan from the very beginning.

Through Christ, we learn that Jesus is “fully revealing to us the secret purpose and will of God concerning our redemption; to be our only High Priest, having redeemed us by the one sacrifice of his body.” (Oden, 359) Jesus did become our final sacrifice for our sins. According to Arminian teaching, people are free to choose to live into the saving acts of God to be fully redeemed. “A fundamental conviction of the Arminian perspective is that while salvation comes to humans by God’s sovereign grace alone, this grace allows human beings freely to accept or reject God’s offer of eternal life.” (Boyd, 147)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, humanity and all of creation has been and is in the process of being redeemed. As the Israelites have the Passover meal to remember and celebrate their deliverance, by God, from their slavery in the land of Egypt, Christians have communion. “[Communion] is an external reminder of Christ’s act of redemption.” (Boyd, 231) The reminder of communion is vital so people can remember what God has done for them, for the world, and freely choose to follow God’s will so all people, and creation, will see and live into the redemption plan. Remembering through communion, the act of Jesus on the cross, and being in fellowship with God and others, humanity can see and experience God’s sanctifying (making holy) grace within themselves. This will help people remember and live into the truth and reality they have been, and are, redeemed and being made new.

Works Cited

Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2002). Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical

Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.

Clive W. Ayre. (2010). Eco-Salvation: The Redemption of All Creation. Worldviews, 14(2/3),

232. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.asburyseminary.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.43803551&site=eds-live

Fiddes, P. (2007-09-27). Salvation. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. :

Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199245765.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199245765-e-11.

McFarland, I. (2007-09-27). The Fall and Sin. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Systematic

Theology. : Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199245765.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199245765-e-9.

McFarland, I., Fergusson, D., Kilby, K., & Torrance, I. (2011). N. In I. McFarland, D.

Fergusson, K. Kilby, & I. Torrance (Eds.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (pp. 260-268). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511781285.015

Oden, T. C., & Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity : a systematic theology. New York :

HarperOne, [2009].

Richter, S. L. (2008). The epic of Eden : a Christian entry into the Old Testament. Downers

Grove, Ill. : IVP Academic, 2008.

Smith, G. (2010-12-07). Conversion and Redemption. In (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of

Evangelical Theology. : Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 25 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195369441.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195369441-e-14.

Vogel, J. (2007). The haste of sin, the slowness of salvation: an interpretation of Irenaeus on the

fall and redemption. Anglican Theological Review, 89(3), 443–459. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.asburyseminary.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001665679&site=eds-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.

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

Filled With Expectation

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.

Click here to read Luke 3:15-18.

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.

Life Lived for Christ

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.

Peace of God

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.

Click here to read Philippians 4:4-7.

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.

God’s Invading

Last week, a New York newspaper ran a headline that said, “God is not fixing this,” in response to the shootings that happened in San Bernardino, CA. The article was saying that something has to be done and people can’t “hide” behind meaningless phrases – more specifically, “my thoughts and prayers with with…”

When we read the story of Christ’s birth, we also look at the ministry of John the Baptist. He showed the people, and us today, what God is up to.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

“God is not fixing the problem; God is invading it!” I love this thought, this truth. As I was preparing to preach, I read an article from the pastor of a church that made that statement. There is a lot of truth, and hope in this concept.

I hear people all the time asking why God isn’t fixing the situation. Why didn’t God stop that terrible thing to happen? Why didn’t God intervene in the sickness? There are many other questions we ask.

An answer came almost 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist pointed to the answer when he was baptizing in the wilderness, calling people to repent. He was pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

The situation in John’s time was dangerous and people were waiting on God to fix the problem. This is not what God had planned. His plan was to come down in the form of a person (Jesus Christ) to walk around with His creations, show them the Kingdom of Heaven, then die and be resurrected so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God and receive new life.

God’s answer was, and is, to “invade.” I believe this is His answer today as well. I believe that we can allow God into our lives so we can be changed from the inside out. This is where real change happens – from our heart. If we all Christ to change our hearts, our lives will change and we’ll have more compassion and more God-given direction to make a change in this world by bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.