Tag Archives: judgment

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

 

Judgment and the Love of God

I like to do daily devotions; for example, last year I did A Year with C. S. Lewis. If for no other reason than to make sure that, in addition to my daily Bible reading, I’m receiving daily instruction and teaching. This year I’m going through My Utmost for His Highest and a few days ago I read a passage that I found really inspiring (I’ve underline parts that really resonated with me):
The Christian servant must never forget that salvation is God’s idea, not man’s; therefore, it has an unfathomable depth. Salvation is the great thought of God, not an experience. Experience is simply the door through which salvation comes into the conscious level of our life so that we are aware of what has taken place on a much deeper level. Never preach the experience— preach the great thought of God behind the experience. When we preach, we are not simply proclaiming how people can be saved from hell and be made moral and pure; we are conveying good news about God.
In the teachings of Jesus Christ the element of judgment is always brought out— it is the sign of the love of God. Never sympathize with someone who finds it difficult to get to God; God is not to blame. It is not for us to figure out the reason for the difficulty, but only to present the truth of God so that the Spirit of God will reveal what is wrong. The greatest test of the quality of our preaching is whether or not it brings everyone to judgment. When the truth is preached, the Spirit of God brings each person face to face with God Himself.
If Jesus ever commanded us to do something that He was unable to equip us to accomplish, He would be a liar. And if we make our own inability a stumbling block or an excuse not to be obedient, it means that we are telling God that there is something which He has not yet taken into account. Every element of our own self-reliance must be put to death by the power of God. The moment we recognize our complete weakness and our dependence upon Him will be the very moment that the Spirit of God will exhibit His power.
I can’t help but see three distinct takeaways from this passage:
  1. The beautiful reality that salvation is God’s idea; not ours. For me, this liberates me from any type of works-based salvation. Salvation is God’s idea and, therefore, God’s gift.
  2. Authentic appreciation of the gift of salvation grows out of an understanding of God’s judgment. I truly believe that we don’t understand the value of God’s gift unless we understand the cost of God’s gift.
  3. Because this gift is something we did nothing to earn (in fact, it’s impossible for us to earn) we must realize that self-reliance is foolishness. It is in our weakness that God shows His strength most clearly.

Why such harsh discipline?

I’ve heard it asked many times and in many different ways: “Why is God so harsh in the Old Testament?” Or perhaps it’s phrased like this:  “How could a loving God command His people to kill ‘innocent’ women and children?” One buddy of mine even suggests that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God as the one of the New Testament.
Does the punishment fit the crime?

For example, consider the story of Achan:  In Joshua 6:18 the people of Israel (Achan included) were told to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction, otherwise they would bring trouble upon Israel. Then in Joshua 7:1, Achan decides that rule doesn’t really apply to him, so he took some of the devoted things. Next in Joshua 7:11-12, God is pronouncing Israel guilty of breaking the covenant and declares that they will be unable to defend themselves in any military engagement. For a group of desert nomads who just entered enemy territory, this is a death sentence!
Stoning of Achan
Joshua 7:24-25:  “The Stoning of Achan”
In order to satisfy God’s wrath, everyone in Israel stoned Achan and his entire family (Josh 7:24-25). All this because he took some silver, a cloak, and a bar of gold (Josh 7:25). Does the punishment fit the crime? Many skeptics use stories like this to claim that God is not good, but I think they fail to take everything into account.
However, before answering this question, I would like to point out what I believe to be a fatal flaw in its logic. In order to even ask this question, you have to assume that you have the authority to question the will and actions of God. You have to assume that you somehow have the authority to demand an explanation of God. I know this statement won’t be popular, but I believe that reveals an arrogant heart. So if you’re a believer, consider whether or not you have any authority to question God. If you’re a non-believer, then consider that, if there is a Creator-God, then why wouldn’t he have the authority to make these demands? Also, whether you’re a believer or a non-believer, ask yourself who gets to define what is and is not “loving.” People will often phrase this question “How could a loving God…” as though they understand what love is and God needs to correct His behavior to match our definition. The Bible says that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Do we define what “love” is and then demand that God conforms to our definition, or do read the Scriptures in order to better understand God and, when necessary, make adjustments to our definition of love?
Before answering the questions posed at the beginning of this post, it’s important that you examine your heart to determine why you think this is unjust in the first place. And one last thing before we get into our answers:  it’s easy to take one small instance like this out of context and try to use it as “ammo” against God. In order to do this though, you have to ignore the 40 years that God was patient with a stiff-necked, faithless, disobedient people. You have to ignore the parts where God patiently and repeatedly spares the nation of Israel. You have to ignore the parts where God miraculously parts the Red Sea, saves His people, and within a week they’re already complaining about how much better it was in Egypt. You have to ignore the parts where God faithfully provided daily bread for His people. In order to find these nuggets of “ammo” you literally have to sift through a mountain of evidence for the grace of God. This is intellectually dishonest. So, with those two digressions out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the story.

God had clearly demonstrated His power to His people for His glory.
Read what happens earlier in the story, consider who these people were, and let’s look at just three miracles they had witnessed:  the bread, the sea, and the fall of Jericho.
Achan and his generation of Israelites were a group that had grown up subsisting primarily off of God’s manna. If anyone should have known to trust and obey God, it would have been a generation that had lived their entire life wandering in the desert, with God in their midst, living off his daily bread. At this point in Achan’s life, God should have earned at least the benefit of the doubt. Instead, Achan decided that God wasn’t really trustworthy and that he could make his own decisions for himself.
This group had also crossed the Jordan River; in fact, it had stopped much like the Red Sea (Josh 3:16-17). What I find most amazing about this account is that—as far as I can tell—it looks like the priests literally had to step out into the water and as their feet were coming down the water stopped and dry ground appeared. There was an element of “stepping out” that they were responsible for. Achan would have been one of the people who walked across the dry ground where a river had just been. Achan would have witnessed undeniable evidence of God’s power over nature and authority over all creation. What excuse would Achan have for denying such power and authority?
Next this group witnessed the walls of Jericho fall as the result of them shouting and playing some musical instruments; clearly the work of the Lord (Josh 7:20). There’s no way they could explain this except that the hand of God had been working for them. It’s likely they expected some brilliant military strategy to be revealed to them from God once they entered the Promised Land. But God wanted Jericho to fall in a way that would make it clear that He was responsible for the victory. God says as much in Joshua 6:2 when He tells Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.” God had clearly demonstrated His power to His people for His glory.
Suicide.

Which brings me to a question:  After God had so clearly revealed Himself to His people, shouldn’t Achan have known better?
Wouldn’t it be foolish to disobey God after He had provided so many undeniable revelations of Himself? Who could deny both God’s power and His authority after literally subsisting off His daily bread, witnessing His supreme authority over creation, and witnessing His unstoppable power in war? It would be suicide to rebel against such authority—indeed, it proves to be just that. Achan, once he’s revealed as the traitor (by God, no less) readily admitted his guilt (Josh 7:20). Achan knew he was doing wrong and he knew Who he was disobeying. It’s honestly quite foolish, isn’t it? It’s suicide, isn’t it? Ravi Zacharias put it this way when he came to Alaska:  “Where there is a dramatic display of his power in the miraculous, there is an equal dramatic judgment when that miracle is disregarded and violated. To whom much is given, much is required.”
While doing a little background research for this post I ran across another good explanation for a similar account in Numbers 15 where a man is stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The argument basically goes that it’s not our place to determine which commands from God are important to follow and which are optional. Imagine if God’s people saw this man breaking the Sabbath so they decided they could also disregard many of the sanitary and dietary laws. In the long run, it’s not hard to imagine that thousands of people would have died as a result of infections, epidemics, food poisoning, and the like. Thus, it was far more merciful to kill one law breaker as an example to emphasize the necessity of following God than to be “merciful” and let thousands of people kill themselves through disobedience.
Another perspective is found in Daniel 4:34-35: 
For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
   and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
   and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
   and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
   or say to him, “What have you done?”
Of course, we don’t like that explanation, do we? “How dare God assume any authority over His creation. How dare God assume that He can command us. We have rights! Doesn’t God know we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Duh, God; get with the times. It’s the 21st century! That authority thing is so out-dated.”
Just reading it like that should make you realize how ridiculous that mentality is. The truth is that the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and God does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”  (Pastor Matt Chandler did an amazing series about authority that I would highly recommend.)
So here are—in my opinion—three good answers to why God was so “harsh” with Achan:
  1. Achan had seen God’s power in undeniable ways and knowingly signed his own death warrant when he denied God’s authority.
  2. Achan’s selfish trespass could have easily led to the deaths of thousands of others had they witnessed his disobedience go unpunished and decided to imitate his rebellion.
  3. Achan lacked any power or authority to question God or to stop Him.
The good news is that God is merciful and patient with us, but it’s certainly not because we deserve it.

He shall come again to judge the living and the dead

(This is part twelve of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

Now we get to a line that many of us choose to ignore:“He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”

This line tells us something about Jesus that we seem to forget:  Jesus will return. To some, this line is good news; to others it is bad news. Philippians 2:10-11 says that EVERY knee shall bow and that EVERY tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

For some this will be a moment of great joy; for others a moment of great terror.

For some, a moment of welcome; for others a moment of judgement.

Some will bow before Jesus as friend; others will bow before Jesus as foe.

At this moment some will accept grace; others will accept wrath.

The truth is, we all get a chance to either choose to bow down and worship Jesus as Lord now or resist and still wind up bowing down before Christ. In the end, those who resist will still bow down because Jesus will break them. For some, these words are not comforting but they actually shouldn’t be comforting for anyone, not even the believer.

The truth is, Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. For the non-believer, this should give you great pause. I beg you to stop and consider who Jesus is. Jesus is God and He gives you the chance right now to bow down and and confess Him as Lord. If you find this idea disturbing or if it troubles you then that is the Holy Spirit doing His job! Worship Jesus now! You will spend eternity with Jesus…will He be your friend or your foe?

For the Christian, this line should not comfort you. This line should trouble you deeply. This line should cause you to lose sleep at night. This line should give your entire life a sense of urgent purpose:  To spread the Gospel as far and as fast as possible. If you truly believe that your neighbor, co-worker, or friend has an eternal destiny, why aren’t you doing everything in your power to make sure they spend eternity knowing Jesus as friend? “Therefore go!” The Great Commission isn’t “Therefore do nothing…” It’s an urgent mission that has eternal ramifications.

Do you believe that? Then live like you do.