Are You Sure You Want God to Completely Eradicate Evil?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006), 31.

One of the reasons I’m a Christian is because it is the best, most coherent explanation of life on this world. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best. When I look at modern atheistic beliefs I notice some contradictions that make it, as a worldview, illogical and in this post I’d like to look at one: the problem of evil. On one hand, atheists will point to evil in the world around us as proof that God does not exist (or if He does, then He is clearly ‘malevolent’ for allowing such evil). On the other hand, they’ll point to instances in the Old Testament, such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, where God actively opposed evil and say that God is not a loving god, but clearly a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. This means that atheists believe that God is bad for not stopping evil yet God is bad when He does stop evil. Or, to break it down a little differently:

  • Evil exists unstopped, therefore God is bad.
  • God stops evil, therefore God is bad.

Or, to phrase it yet another way:

  • “God is evil for allowing sin.”
  • “God is evil for stopping sin.”

This is clearly a contradiction. You cannot bemoan both the fact that God has not rid the world of evil and the fact that God killed evil people at any time in human history. This is a logical inconsistency.

So which is it? Would you rather God restrains His power to stop evil, or God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil?

Now, before you answer that anyone would obviously want God to stop evil, give it some thought. The way I phrased that—God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil—means that ridding the world of evil would not be pretty.

Evil is much like a cancer; it contaminates and perverts everything it touches. Our entire world is fallen, corrupted, and tarnished: every person, family, community, city, state, country, culture, and continent. No one and nothing has escaped the cosmic consequences of The Fall. Like sand in the desert, evil is everywhere and, try as we might and no matter how much we want to hide it, we cannot cleanse evil from this world. Only God could rid the desert of sand. Only God has the power to rid the planet of evil.

So, the obvious question becomes: what would it take for God to stop evil? Well, to continue the cancer analogy, how do we get rid of cancer? We cut it out and destroy it. How could God get rid of evil? Could He flick a switch and rid the world of evil? Not likely. You see, evil is so rampant in our world that the only way for God to forever rid the world of evil is by cleansing it with the utter destruction of every man, woman, and child on the surface of the planet. Consider how God stopped evil during the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23) or in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25). Are you sure you want God to stop evil? Then perhaps you are evil.

Perhaps some will still ask “then whence cometh evil?” The problem is, in light of the reality that God does oppose evil and that He will stop evil, this is an ironically self-condemning question. Anyone who asks “then whence cometh evil” needs to look in the mirror and realize that evil isn’t ‘out there.’ Instead, evil comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:21-23). We are the source of evil, not God. God tolerates our rebellion for now out of love and patience for us because He has a plan.

Instead of instantly purging the world of evil, God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself through Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). God is on a rescue mission to save those who are His enemies by calling them to repentance and salvation. It is a gradual cleansing process that takes time and requires that evil be allowed to exist for now. So, could God stop evil? Yes, but there wouldn’t be anyone around to see what was left.

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:3-5, emphasis added

 

Suspicious circumstances

I remember working in the fields in Tennessee. The entire summer was filled with back-breaking labor, especially during harvest season. One year, there was a new girl from out of town who was helping in the fields. News travels fast in a small town, so I had heard about her; it turns out she had moved to care for one of the widows in town. It was obvious that she had a kind heart. After all, it’s not every day you hear of someone moving to a totally new area to care for someone else. I saw her from time to time and, if I’m honest, I thought she was pretty. She was also an incredibly hard worker, which I couldn’t help but respect.

Fast forward a few months: the harvest is over and I’m having a celebratory camp out with the guys. It’s a bit of a tradition for us to cook over the fire and have a couple beers (nothing too crazy because we still have to load all the bales into the barn, but enough to make you feel good). As the night began to wind down, we all headed to our separate tents to get some rest before the harvest was moved off the field. I drifted off to sleep, happy that the harvest season had been a success.

Then in the middle of the night, I was startled awake by someone in my sleeping bag! The first thing I noticed was the alluring smell of a woman’s perfume. I asked the obvious question “Who are you?” Then she responded, and I knew it was the woman from the fields, the one who had moved to town to care for a widow, the pretty one. There I was, after having a few drinks, and this young, beautiful woman crawled into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Oh wait…

That’s not my story…

This story belongs to Boaz!

You see, there’s a very highly debated portion of the story of Boaz and Ruth. Earlier in the story, Naomi gives the following instructions to Ruth: 3 “Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do. (Ruth 3:3-4)” Ruth obeys and, after Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry (Ruth 3:7), Ruth wakes him up (Ruth 3:8).

Perhaps I’m the product of a hyper-sexual culture, but I can’t help myself: I find this situation to be a little suspicious. For example, if I told Connie that something like this happened to me last week—that a pleasant smelling woman had crawled into my sleeping bag—she would probably be a little concerned. It seems as though a lot of evangelical scholars want to say that Ruth’s intentions were completely innocent, but I just find that hard to believe. Let’s look at what we know.

  • Ruth is a widow living with a widow, which means they don’t have anyone to provide for them.
  • Ruth has been picking grains in the summer, but the harvest season is over. This means her primary means of provision is about to end.
  • Boaz is single, and from the story it sounds like he is successful. (If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably a widower, but it doesn’t say that so I’m just guessing.)
  • Ruth was previously married, so she knows how a man might respond to a washed and anointed woman laying down next to him at night.

Ruth asks him to spread his wings over her because he is a redeemer. So how does Boaz respond? He says to her “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter.” And Boaz’s response is, for me, what makes all the difference in the world. In this story, I think Boaz is the good guy. The fact that Boaz mentioned The LORD and calls Ruth “my daughter” lead me to believe that he is the only virtuous person in an otherwise shady situation. Ruth is anointed, wearing perfume, and sneaking up on Boaz in the middle of the night after he’s had a few drinks. However, if Boaz intended to take advantage of a vulnerable widow, it’s unlikely he would have called her “my daughter.” If Boaz intended on sinning against the Lord, it’s unlikely that he would have mentioned God, and even more unlikely he would have used the Tetragrammaton, which is the most sacred name the Jews have for God. In fact, it’s so sacred that modern Jews won’t even say it! Instead, they say Adonai, which means “my God.” Would Boaz have used the most sacred name possible for His God in a moment of trespass? Would Boaz have called Ruth “my daughter,” a term that highlighted their age difference and subtly highlighted Boaz’s role as potential provider in her life? To quote LL Cool J: I don’t think so.

Also, the fact that their conversation centered on the Boaz being a kinsman redeemer makes me pretty certain nothing shady happened. Ruth said, “Spread your wings over me, for you are a redeemer,” not “shut up and kiss me, you big hunk of man!” Later, Boaz tells everyone not to mention that “the woman” had been there (Ruth 3:14). The fact that he says “the woman” instead of “a woman” could mean that everyone knew Ruth had been there to talk to Boaz. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret, midnight rendezvous so much as a late-night meeting. Ruth was desperate and needed to know ASAP if Boaz intended on redeeming her, because the other guy hadn’t made a move and Ruth had been living there for months by that time. For these reasons, I think that Boaz did not take advantage of Ruth. While we’ll never know Naomi or Ruth’s motives, we can trust that Boaz responded in a way that honored God.

Understanding the Mind of God

If you really think about it, it’s absurd to think we can even come close to understanding the mind of God. For example, could an ant understand humanity? Of course not! If humans and ants, who are both finite, can have that much of a gap, how much greater is the gap between finite humans and an infinite God? That’s why we worship God, instead of giving Him advice or doing Him favors.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

She just so happened…

“…and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.”

Ruth 2:3

I absolutely love this phrase, which occurs in Ruth chapter 2. So far, if we’re honest, this story has been slightly less than delightful. Because there was a famine in Bethlehem (which literally means “house of bread”), a man named Elimelech (literally “God is my king”) brings his wife Naomi (“pleasant”) and their sons, Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“wasting away”) and travel to Moab (“nothingness”). So a man whose king is God takes his pleasant wife and their sickly, wasting away sons from the house of bread to nothingness to escape a famine. The sons marry two Moabite women: Ruth (“beauty”) and Orpah (“double-minded”). Pretty soon all the men die! Naomi, because of her bitter luck, changes her name from “pleasant” to Mara (“bitter”). She decides to head back to Bethlehem with her daughters-in-law but at the last minute Orpah changes her mind and stays in Moab. At this point, it’s just Ruth and Mara. Did I mention that all the men died? This is bad news in a society where a woman’s livelihood depended primarily on her husband or sons!

When the ladies return to Bethlehem, Ruth heads to the fields to pick up grains after the harvesters. Mara and Ruth are literally living off of crumbs at this point. But Ruth just so happens to go and pick grains in Boaz’s (“strength”) field. Boaz just so happens to be the one person who can marry her and “redeem” her from widow status. The rest is history with Boaz marrying Ruth, King David being born within a few generations, and, eventually, Jesus being born in the flesh through this very lineage. And it all took place because Ruth just so happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.

I can’t help but wonder how many things just so happen to occur in my life. How many of my coworkers do I just so happen to work with on a daily basis? How many of my neighbors do I just so happen to live within 100 yards of and see on a regular basis? The phrase “just so happened” is, of course, a literary device. It’s a subtle reminder that God is in complete control. God is in the details of our lives; orchestrating and developing our stories the same way a conductor directs a symphony.