Tag Archives: repentance

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

 

Selfish Ambition and Vain Conceit

It was the second half of 2005. I was 19, had just arrived at my first duty-station of Alaska, and had some big plans. First of all, I was going to sign up to go to the Air Force Academy. I had made this decision because, after listening to multiple general officers tell their stories, I realized that the Academy was my best shot at making general. I figured I would give the Air Force 30 or so years before retiring and figuring out what I wanted to conquer next. If I had to pick one word to describe myself, it would have been ambitious. I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I was successful in my military career.

It was about then that I first read Philippians 2:3, which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Uh oh. I had the sudden and horrifying realization that all my plans were nothing more than “selfish ambition.” Truly, at that point the only thing that motivated me was “vain conceit.” I was selfish and conceited; and I knew it. But, truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what else to do or how else to be.

But then it got worse! I made the mistake of joining a Bible study group that happened to be working through 1 John and I ran across this: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).” Not only had I realized that all I cared about was myself, but now I realized that all my goals and plans were ultimately pointless because they were unlikely to outlive even my short life. I would never leave a legacy because I would never actually devote myself to a lasting cause. So what did I have to live for? What could be my purpose?

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, God delivered the death-blow to my pride when I decided to start reading through the Gospels for myself and was pierced by this arrow: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).” I realized that I had a choice: either build up God’s eternal Kingdom, or pour my life into building a castle of sand that would quickly be washed away by the waves of time.

My motives: selfish and conceited.
My plans: pointless and ephemeral.
My ‘kingdom’: short-lived and pitiful.

It all came to a head one night. It was a Saturday night in the Fall of 2005 and I was just a little drunk. I was looking at the second half of my strongly made Jack & Coke—mostly Jack with a dash of Coke, really—and I was trying to calculate how much of it I could drink and still be sober for choir practice the next morning (yup, you read that right). If I finished the drink, they’d probably be able to smell the alcohol on my breath and either way I would definitely feel terrible. So there I sat, 19 years old—which meant I was drinking underage, by the way—trying to figure out how drunk I should get when the Holy Spirit whispered three words in my ears. They were three words I’d ignored for at least 3-4 years up until that point but deep down inside I knew them to be true. In fact, those three words had bothered me ever since I started going to church in high school and claiming to be a Christian while still smoking pot, popping pills, drinking alcohol, cussing like a sailor, and messing around with girls. Those three words: “you’re a hypocrite.” Somehow I had managed to ignore those words while I pursued idol after idol: an Air Force career, impure dating relationships, worldly success. But at last, the Holy Spirit convicted me; I was “cut to the heart” as Luke said in Acts 2:37. I realized that I was on a path that would never lead me to an intimate relationship with God; I was on a path that would never make me the man I always wanted to be. I was pursuing idols, not God. It was time to try something else.

And so I did. And I haven’t looked back since. So what’s holding you back? Are you building your own short-lived kingdom or are you devoting your life to an eternal Kingdom? Are your plans eternal or vaporous? Are your motives selfish or selfless? I can’t answer those questions for you, but I promise you one thing: Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

He’ll forgive me…

In an article called Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About Sin?, Scot McKnight shares a rather disturbing story. I say disturbing because it sounds far too familiar…

One day after I spoke at a church, a college student approached me and began telling me about her roommate, and I’m guessing you know someone like both of these young women. First, she told me her roommate had slept with more than one guy that semester; that her roommate got drunk most Saturday nights; that her roommate was very active in a Bible study; and that she was also in a worship band.

I asked, “Does your roommate consider herself a Christian?” The young woman responded: “Of course she’s a Christian.”

I was perhaps more bothered by that last response than by the actions of the roommate. For this person talking to me, the issue wasn’t Christian-or-not, but why I would even ask such a question.

Her final words to me were, “God forgives, you know.” Her tone wasn’t a tone of gratitude for God’s grace but presumption of God’s grace. I was troubled as much by her attitude as I am by what I see as a trend among our culture: Sin is falling into grace and disappearing from our concerns.

There you have it: When we don’t see the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and holiness won’t be our aim in life. So, let’s look at what sin is, where sin wants to take us and what sin does to us.

I have a good friend whose wife divorced him a few years ago. I’ll never forget the story of her telling him she wanted the divorce. After she broke the news to him, he asked her what she thought God would think of her actions. Her response: “I think he’ll forgive me.”

The college student’s tone was a presumption of God’s grace, my friend’s ex-wife presumed on God’s grace, and in Romans we read a harsh correction against such a presumptuous, ungrateful attitude.

Or do you presume onthe riches of his kindness andforbearance andpatience,not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:4

Wow, talk about painful! Here’s how the Message phrases it…

Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. – Romans 2:4, Message

But before we cast the first stone, let’s face it, we’ve all—at one time or another—sinned with the assumption that God was going to forgive us. Maybe it wasn’t a divorce, but I think we’re all guilty here. I’ve done it. I knew that my actions were sinful and yet I just assumed God would forgive me for my actions. I look back at these actions with deep regret and embarrassment, but they are on my long list of failures.

That verse in Romans serves as a good reminder that God’s mercy isn’t meant to give me a license to sin against Him. It would be like me cheating on Connie and then, if she forgave me, viewing that as a free pass to keep on cheating on her. “She’ll forgive me.” In the Old Testament, God often compares His relationship with Israel to a marriage. In Ephesians 5, we’re told that Christ is the Groom and the Church is the bride. Thus, willfully sinning against God is no worse than repeatedly cheating on a spouse; in fact I’d say it’s actually far worse. God’s grace is not a free pass for rebellion.

No, God’s kindness is meant to lead me to repentance. Instead of literally destroying us for our rebellion, God gives us yet another chance; not to keep on sinning, but to repent! Repentance is about turning away from one thing, and moving towards something else. God lavishes his rich, undeserved grace on us so that we may turn away from our sins and run to Him.