Friday, May 23, 2014

P1 - Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory - A Christian understanding of evil & suffering

Habakkuk 1:1-4 "The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. 3 Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.
4 Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted."

Though the book of Habakkuk may not be the most read book in our Bibles, yet it's message ought to be read more frequently. Too often today we hear of more and more people citing their reasons for denying the reality of the God of the Bible.  Among those reasons is the presence of evil and suffering in the world. 

If there is any book of the Bible that takes on the problem of evil and suffering - it is Habakkuk.  The prophet asks a question I am sure we have all ask: "Why Lord?" At the time of Habakkuk's prophecy, the city of Jerusalem, capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, had experienced a mighty revival and series of reforms under King Josiah.  2 Kings 22-23 gives the background for all that took place. Following what was the final revival and glimmer of hope for a nation steeped in sin, Josiah dies and his son takes over the throne in Jerusalem. Whatever reforms and revival had taken place under Godly Josiah was wiped clean by his son Jehoahaz's brief and reckless regime. Egypt invaded the land and the Pharaoh of that day imprisoned the wicked new king, replacing him with his even more wicked brother Jehoiakim.

If would not be long until Jerusalem and its surrounding inhabitants would be taken away into exile to Babylon, with the temple being burned and the flame of hope in Jerusalem being extinguished. 

It is in the midst of these circumstances that The Holy Spirit prompts Habakkuk to write his prophecy.  Stirred up by the hypocrisy, failure and wickedness of his fellow Jews and the sheer shock of the actions performed by Jerusalem's wicked kings, Habakkuk vents his anger. In the opening of his prophecy he begins with a question: "how long, O Lord, will I call for help?"  

What follows is God's conversation with Habakkuk of not only how He is going to deal with the injustice in the nation, but also how through the usage of the even more wicked empire of Babylon, God is somehow going to bring about redemption and restoration. 

When dealing with the problem of evil and suffering, we often find answers we don't want to  questions we don't know how to ask.  Through it all God finds us, which in turn leads us to find Him in the darkness of our night and the pain of our heart.  Such situations are how He brings about healing and redemption. 

In today's post I want to briefly lay out four themes we see in this prophecy that can aid us in grappling with the problem of evil and suffering: Providence, Evil, Redemption & Glory.  We will deal with the first one: Providence.

Providence and the presence of evil in our world
What is providence? Providence is how God guide and directs history, circumstances and human beings to His intended ends.  The Baptist Confession of 1689 gives this definition of God's Providence: "God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created."

So in accords to this definition, God has ends or purposes and uses means or instruments to accomplish those ends.  By His own character of wisdom and unending power, God directs the course of every affair.  The 1689 Baptist confession continues by noting two implications of this statement:

1. God governs according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchanging counsel of His own will;

2. for the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, boundless goodness, and mercy.

So we see how God exercises His providence - by way of His unending knowledge of all things.  Then we see the chief purpose for which He exercises His will - His glory. 

It is with a high view of God in His providence we see statements such as Habakkuk 1:12 of God being "from everlasting".  Certainly the purpose of God's Providence to accomplish His glory is spelled out in Habakkuk 2:14 “For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea."

Without a doubt Habakkuk retains this high view of God reigning in Providence.  Yet the issue of the presence of evil and suffering in history is raised by the prophet as well.  How can it be that an all-powerful, all knowing God could allow evil to not merely exist, but flourish in Jerusalem, in the world and in the lives of individuals?

Again the Baptist Confession of 1689 aids us in verbalizing a response: "The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that His determinate counsel extends even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions of both angels and men."  So did the fall occur as an accident in history? Did Adam and Eve's rebellion in the garden of Eden surprise God? No.  God's purposes included His willing to permit the fall and even the entry of sin into the creation by Satan's pride and deception - all the while not being the Author nor coercer of their evil choices. 

The Baptist Confession of 1689 lays out the following  explanation:

1. This is not merely by a bare permission, but by a form of permission in which He included the most wise and powerful limitations, and other means of restricting and controlling sin. These various limitations have been designed by God to bring about his most holy purposes.

2. Yet, in all these affairs, the sinfulness of both angels and men comes only from them and not from God, Who is altogether holy and righteous, and can never be the author or approver of sin.

Thus as a good and wise Cardiologist needs to medically break a person's rib cage to access a diseased heart, so then does God, to some reasons revealed in scripture but in most cases not told to us, choose to use the presence of evil to accomplish His most excellent ends. In other words - God has morally sufficient reasons for willing to allow evil in the creation. 

Habakkuk is told by God that the Babylonians will be the tool to solve the injustice in the nation.  Habakkuk is shocked and raises complaints but then says in Habakkuk 2:1-2 "I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved." We could truly classify Habakkuk as the "Job" of the writing prophets.  Tomorrow we will continue this series of posts by more specifically consider the problem of evil itself.  For now, let us keep before this first theme that anchors our faith in the midst of life's storms - God's Providence.