Monday, August 16, 2010

Q&A: the problem of evil

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: In reference to today's sermon: It seems to me that the unanswered question of the message was where does evil fit in? How do we reconcile that Jesus is the creator and hold all things together and yet evil still get a foot hold? --Matt Benton

A: Matt, I appreciate your question and so will a numkber of others who have talked with me in the last 24 hours, all wondering the same thing. Reconciling the sovereignty of God and the presence of evil isn't a new discussion (as you know) and is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to belief for many.
The problem is a simple one, actually: Either God isn't Creator of all things and/or lacks soveriegnty over all creation, conveniently taking the problem of evil out of His hands...or...God is Creator and is soveriegn and appears to be the author of things like floods in Pakistan and African genocide. The answer, isn't so simple.
As I've modeled in other posts, let's begin with what we know for certain. First, I know that God is "first cause." That is, He is the starting placeof all creation. Our Bible opens with the words, "In the beginning, God." He is the creative genesis behind everything. As we heard in yesterday's sermon, Jesus Christ brought "all things" into being [John 1:1-2, Colossians 1:16].
Second, I know God created Satan. That's right. Satan  isn't self-existant; he is a created being [Ezekiel 28:13]. He was created perfect and beautiful as a high-ranking angel in the order of the Cherubim [angels that guarded the holiness of God; Ezekiel 28:14]. God not only created Satan, but appointed him to serve God.
Third, I know that Satan brought evil into the world. His heart was filled with greed and pride and said "I will" have God's place [notice the number of times the phrase "I will" is mentioned in Isaiah 14:12-15]. In his effort to overthrow God's rightful place of rulership, Satan violated God's commands and led the world into evil.
Fourth, I know that love permits freedom. Someone may ask, why did God allow Satan to bring such violence into His perfect creation? The answer is "love." God could have created a world that had no choice but to love and serve Him. In that condition, we would be nothing more than automatons, pre-engineered to live only one way. However, we would not be able to express true love any more than if I forced my children to love me. True love gives another the freedom to love. This means that it necessarily gives another the freedom to hate. This is what Satan did, and the world after him.
Fifth, I know that sin set the world off-course. Sin isn't just a moral disruption in the hearts of people. Sin had creation-wide implications. All of God's creative order was set on tilt and longs to be redeemed [Romans 8:19-23]. This principle of sin in the world is what causes monsoons and cancer. Someone might ask, "Then why doesn't God simply eradicate sin?" The answer is that sin begins in the hearts of people--those deeply loved by God--and to destroy sin is to destroy people [see "on suffering" post below]. Strange as it may seem, God's grace allows evil to exist because of God's saving purposes to rescue people.
So far, we have determined that God was not the original author of sin. He did, however, create Satan who, in turn, because of divine freedom, asserted his will and led the world astray. The whole of creation is perverted by Satan's fall. As such, God is not the immediate cause of natural disasters and human sickness. The principle of evil, launched by Satan, is the cause.
But, this doesn't answer the whole question. Someone may wonder, "If God has the power to prevent a tornado, and nothing comes into being apart from His decision, then isn't God ultimately responsible for the tornado." Surprisingly, the answer is "yes." While sin is the immediate cause, God is the ultimate cause. Tornadoes can't form without Him.
The difference between immediate and ultimate cause might best be understood in the following illustration. Suppose a teenager finds a handgun, loads it and robs a corner store. Who is responsible for the robbery? The police will charge the boy. Moreover, the police will definitely not charge Smith and Wesson, the maker of the gun. But, of course, had Smith and Wesson never manufactured the gun, the robbery could not have taken place as it did. The gun maker is the ultimate cause; but the teen is the immediate cause of the robbery. Only one of them is responsible for the act.
This limited illustration breaks down in several places, of course. The main point is to help us appreciate the sovereignty of God who is behind all things and the culpability of Satan and sinful people who propagate the principle of sin in the world.
I can only hope this answer begins to help...


MikeB said...

Hindsight into tragedies such as the holocaust can help explain evil. God was not too weak or too indifferent to stop it, but it fit into His plan, as it follows the OT theme of God using the heathen to discipline His people.
One of Jesus' "I am" statements is in Rev. 22:16, "I am the Bright and Morning Star". In the Nearly Inspiried Version, Isaiah 14:12 refer's to Lucifer as "the morning star". More direct translations leave out "star", and say "son of morning". I take this to mean all beings are son's of God, but some must be eventually cast from his presence. I'd like to hear Pastor David's take on those verses.

P.S. Thanks for listening to my Aggie joke Sunday. Feel free to use it in a sermon. I'll be the one whooping when you mention A&M.

David Daniels said...

Mike, actually, the Hebrew word "heylel" means "shining one" or "light bearing object in the sky." Literally, Isaiah 14:12 reads, "shining one, Son of dawn." So, the NIV is accurate.

MikeB said...

Thanks for the explanation. I went through BSF with the NIV study bible. Over the years, I have read through my NKJ version, and it seems more specific in it's teachings. I am considering getting a different version to use in my scrolls. Which other version would you recommend?

David Daniels said...

I would recommend the English Standard Version [ESV]

MikeB said...

Thanks, I'll check that out. I was taught the NIV was not actually a translation, but between a translation and a paraphrase like the Living Bible. Since words are more objective, and thoughts are more subjective, I feel the "word for word" translations tend to be more accurate than the "thought for thought" translations of the NIV. My roomate has a book called "The King James Only" controversy that I'm looking to read soon.

David Daniels said...

Respectfully, it's a little unfair to not call the NIV a reputable translation. It is known as a "dynamic equivalent" which means that translators smooth out the "wooden" difficulties of syntax from literal translations. Everyone might say they love "literal" translations, but no one wants to read, "My dog I removed on a walk circumventing the community" instead of "I took my dog for a walk around the neighborhood."

Check out my previous post for more information:

The Farmer's Wife said...

How does this translate into a sinless Heaven and 1,000 year reign?