Monday, November 23, 2015

P2 - Aiming to better understand the existence of God in a world of evil and suffering - What is evil?

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."

Introduction & Review
Yesterday we began a series on developing a Christian understanding of the problem of evil and suffering.  The basis for this study is the Book of Habakkuk.  The reason for choosing this book of the Bible is because Habakkuk deals head-on with this very difficult issue of evil and suffering.  In yesterday's post we proposed four terms to aid us in this study: Providence, Evil, The Cross and Glory.  So far we have explored God's Providence and how it is He can will to allow evil to exist without being the Author of it.  It is worth citing some scriptures that emphasize God not being the Author of evil and suffering before moving on, as well as seeing how He is in Providential control of all things.

1. God is Good and is not the source of Evil.
1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."

James 1:13 "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone."

2. God wills to permit evil and uses the moral evil of creatures to accomplish His purposes
Amos 3:6 If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?  

Isaiah 45:7 "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity, I am the Lord who does all these.

Acts 2:23-24 "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power."

3. God is Sovereign, exercising Providential control over all things - good and evil
Genesis 50:20 "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."

Deuteronomy 8:3 "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord."

Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

With those passages capturing more of what we looked at yesterday, we will now head into the proverbial lion's den and consider what exactly is evil.

What is meant by "evil"
When we consider the Bible's presentation of the subject of evil and suffering, we are introduced to its beginnings in the hearts of two key figures.  The first is Lucifer, an archangel who would rebel in Heaven to become Satan. (Ezekiel 28). Lucifer's rebellion seduced 1/3 of the angelic realm to rebel against God, with some losing their places, some being chained in reserve for judgment and still others being allowed to roam freely on the earth. (2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:7) Satan appears in the garden in Genesis 3 to wreck havoc upon the second key figure: Adam. 

Romans 5:19 states "For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." By the original Adam's rebellion, all were consigned to the curse of sin. 

Did God know that such treachery would occur? Yes.  Did God in His providence include the fall? Scripture indicates that He did, being that the cross (which will be the focus of tomorrow's post) was ordained in eternity before creation. (Acts 2:23-24; Revelation 13:8).  Did God cause Satan or Adam to fall? No. Any fault, choice to do evil or failure to grasp the grace of God lies in the bosom of the creature.   Lucifer was in a perfect heaven and failed. Adam was in a perfect garden and rebelled.  Every grace was available to them.  How could they had done it? Scripture does not say - except to say that they chose to do it. 

Evil has been described as being likened to "rot" in wood or those spoilages that occur in fruit or vegetables.  In doing words studies on "evil" and "sin", such meanings emerge like "falling short", "trespassing", "stumbling" and "law-breaking".

The best response to evil and suffering is not to attain full understanding of why it happens, but to trust in the Goodness and Providence of God
As you turn to Habakkuk's prophecy once again in Habakkuk 1:5-6  “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told. 6 “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
That fierce and impetuous people
Who march throughout the earth
To seize dwelling places which are not theirs." Habakkuk's response in 1:13 tells us something very important about evil and God's providence: "
Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?"

What we discover in this chapter of Habakkuk is God's plan to use a more wicked people than those whom Habakkuk complained about (his own people).  Habakkuk wanted a solution - God tells him what He is going to do - and now Habakkuk expresses bewilderment.  But then we see him settle down and respond by faith in Habakkuk 2:1 "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."  Habakkuk teaches us that it is not comprehension of the "why" question that is going to sustain us through evil and suffering, but rather faith in trusting that God in His Providence knows exactly what He is doing.  Habakkuk 2:4 says it all - “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith."

Coping with the problem of evil and suffering in a world ruled by God's providence
In Tim Keller's book: "Walking with God through Pain and Suffering" pages 109-110, he recounts the testimony of a woman named Mary who endured much suffering and hardship in her life.  Her statement is worth quoting in bringing understanding on evil's reality in a world ruled by providence: 

"What I discovered about heartaches and problems, especially the ones that are way beyond what we can handle, is that maybe those are the problems He does permit precisely because we cannot handle them or the pain and anxiety they cause. But He can. I think He wants us to realize that trusting Him to handle situations is actually a gift. His gift of peace to us in the midst of the craziness. Problems don't disappear and life continues, but He replaces the sting of those heartaches with hope, which has been an amazing realization."

In scriptures such as Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28, we learn a principle that many times is difficult to accept but is nonetheless true: God permits what He hates in order to accomplish the good He intends.  To understand that evil is included in God's providential plan is crucial, since the only other alternative is to believe evil and suffering are random.  Furthermore, God's providential control not only speaks of a purposeful universe, but one that is also moral. Habakkuk's consolation was found in trusting in God's purposes, even if he did not fully understand them.  The revelation of God's words soothed Habakkuk's soul.

We have thus far considered God's providence and the reality of evil. There is yet another theme which will be the focus of tomorrow's post that if not considered in the whole scheme of things, will render any hope of developing a Christian understanding of evil and suffering impossible. That theme is "the cross".

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