Monday, May 26, 2014

P4 - Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory - A Christian understanding of evil and suffering

Habakkuk 3:2 "Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy."

Introduction and Review:
These past few posts have been dedicated to offering a Christian understanding of evil and suffering in the world.  We have proposed four key Biblical themes to aid in our exploration:

1. Providence
2. Evil
3. The Cross
4. Glory

Thus far we have explored the first three, with "the cross" shedding light on how there is no conflict between the understanding of a world governed by the Sovereign God of Providence and the presence and persistence of evil in this world.  Today's post is going to conclude this series by showing the purpose for which evil and suffering are included in God's Sovereign purposes: God's glory.  As we consider this theme of God's glory, we will once more consider the prophet who faced the problem of evil head-on - Habakkuk.

God's ultimate will is to demonstrate His glory
So what is the highest good? How one answers that question determines how one will approach the problem of evil and suffering in this world. According to Habakkuk, and so many other Biblical authors, the highest good, and thus the chief purpose as to why God would will to permit evil in the world is His glory.  Habakkuk's book is about a discouraged and disgruntled prophet complaining to God about the sinfulness of his nation. God's answer surprises, initially confounds and even a times causes great fear in the prophet.  However we see Habakkuk not holding bitterness against God. Why? Because He sees that though we may not understand all of God's ways, the character of God and the purposes for which He does thing are never in conflict.  God's glory is found thoughout Habakkuk's book:

1. Habakkuk 1:12 "Are You not from everlasting,O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct."

2. Habakkuk 2:14 “For the earth will be filledWith the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea."

3. Habakkuk 3:18-19 "Yet I will exult in the Lord,I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places."

God's glory, through the cross, is the greatest way we can get through pain and suffering
Just as we saw how the cross enables us to make sense as to why God in His Providence would will to allow evil and suffering in this world, the cross also enables us to find great comfort in the glory of God.  Chuck Swindoll notes: "The Sovereignty of God may not answer all of my questions, but it does relieve me of all my fears."  Saints of God in the pages of holy scripture found such comfort in knowing that all of the suffering we go through and the injustice that pervades our world will ultimately be dealt with and that God as a purpose. 

Perhaps no book outside the Bible has made the strong case for God's glory being the grand purpose for creation, salvation and thus answering the question: "why evil" as Jonathan Edwards' book: "A dissertation concerning the end for which God created the world." Note this excerpt from what he writes: "The glory of God is spoken of in Holy Scripture as the last end for which those parts of the moral world that are good were made."1

Whenever you consider the fact that there is no greater good than God's glory, then you realize how it could be God would choose to use evil and suffering to somehow accomplish such a purpose.  Again the glory of His love shown through the cross is the clearest evidence for this hard to understand truth.  Habakkuk was able to cope and navigate through his struggle over God's usage of the Babylonians to punish Judah and Jerusalem. 

Again consider what he writes in Habakkuk 3:16-19 "I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble.  Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us.  17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments."

Closing thoughts and summary
Habakkuk saw the Providence of God at work in the life of his nation, and God's choice to use the ruthless Babylonian empire certain caused Habakkuk to struggle.  Yet he saw what we would know to be a prophetic glimpse of the cross, as seen in Habakkuk 2:4.  In understanding through God's redemptive purposes could bring about a better understanding of how God's providence and evil could be at work in the same world without cancelling out God's existence or evil's reality, what was needed was the purpose for it all.  Habakkuk concludes by rejoicing over the glory of God. 

Thus in Isa. 43. 6,7. “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from afar; and my daughters from the ends of the earth, even every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him, yea I have made him.” Again, Isa. 60. 21. “Thy people also shall be all righteous. They shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting hand, that I may be glorified.” Later he adds: "In these places we see, that the glory of God is spoken of as the end of God’s saints, the end or which he makes them, i. e. either gives them being, or gives them a being as saints, or both. It is said, that God has made and formed them to be his sons and daughters, for his own glory: That they are trees of his planting, the work of his hands, as trees of righteousness, that he might be glorified."

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