Updated: Sep 30, 2021
God is pure love.
God is all powerful.
God is all-knowing.
These are basic tenets of the Christian faith.
Why then is there so much suffering and evil in our world?
It's an age-old question, as Epicurus reminds us.
It would seem that the breadth and depth of evil in our world prove that Christianity is naïve and irrational. The pervasiveness of suffering leaves many to conclude that the Christian faith is nothing more than a fairy-tale.
Instead, the exact opposite is true. As a matter of fact, there is no other philosophy, worldview, or religion that takes evil and suffering as seriously as Christianity.
This morning we continue our summer sermon series: Why I am a Christian. Today, we get to the very heart of the Gospel. But before we get to this, we need to hear and to heed a very unsettling truth.
God answers to no one but Himself. He doesn’t need to explain or defend His ways to the likes of you or me.
Those who have gone before us had to learn this. Job and Habakkuk are two prime examples.
The Bible offers no ultimate explanation to the problem known as theodicy. If God is all good and all powerful, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
The Word of God doesn’t solve this dilemma; instead, it exposes the depth and breadth of evil, both in our world, and in our hearts and minds.
Let me show you what I mean.
In Genesis 6 we read this damning indictment of the human race at that time: Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people had corrupted their ways.
Things got so bad that God sent a world-wide flood to destroy all living creatures; all except Noah and his tiny family of eight who heeded the warning of the Lord and built an ark. But the flood did not fix what was wrong with the world. It did not fix what ails the human heart and mind. The original sin of Adam and Eve persisted in the offspring of Noah. This includes you and me.
In Genesis 8 the Lord makes a promise to Noah: Never again will I curse the ground because of the human race; even though every inclination of their heart is evil from childhood.
It’s not just the Old Testament that exposes the true condition of the human heart and mind. We do well to recall what the New Testament has to say: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
This is the verdict delivered by the Word of the Lord. Such is the state of the human race ever since the Fall into sin and unbelief in the Garden of Eden. Like a doctor telling his patient just how bad his illness really is, so does the Word of God to those who are willing to listen: Humans are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. Humans are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful. Humans invent ways of doing evil. They disobey their parents. They are foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. And although they know God’s righteous decrees that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Such is the reality we find ourselves.
Like I’ve said, the Christian faith takes evil very seriously. As a matter of fact, it takes it more seriously than any other belief system. The Word of God doesn’t explain evil. Instead, it exposes it.
Did we catch what Jesus had to say in our Gospel lesson this morning? He called us evil. Of course, that’s not all that He had to say on the subject. You are slaves to sin. He declared to his fellow Jews. The same is true for us today. Left on our own, we are hopeless and helpless. We are prisoners of the prince of darkness, so declared Paul to the Colossians.
The Word of God exposes the evil that corrupted the goodness of creation. It exposes it at the cosmic level. We see this time and time again in the Bible.
The forces of evil are not just human in nature. There are powerful, deadly, unseen forces at work behind the scenes. The New Testament reminds us of this:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So wrote Paul to the Ephesians.
Given this sad reality, is it any wonder then that Jesus taught His disciples to pray: Deliver us from evil?
DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Although we pray this petition all the time, the truth is that all too often we do this mindlessly. We do so until something happens. We do so until something evil comes are way. Then DELIVER US FROM EVIL becomes our desperate cry and our urgent plea.
Paul wrote about the agony that he experienced in his letter to the Romans: I find this law at work. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law. But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched person I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Our world needs to be delivered from its bondage to sin and the corruption that comes with it. The human race needs to be delivered from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death. We need to be delivered from evil, inside and out.
Let us make the prayers of those who have gone before us our own:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love. . . . For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. . . . Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
We must not forget: the first evil that we need to be delivered from isn't out there. It's inside of us; its in our hearts and minds. But, of course, there’s more; much more. We live in a wicked, depraved world. Almost daily, we see reminders of the cruelty and suffering that we humans inflict on one another. It has long been this way. It remains so until the Last Day.
In the mean-time, we cry to the Lord: Arise, Lord! Lift up Your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Why do the wicked revile God? Why do they say to themselves, ‘He won’t call me to account?” But You, O God, do see trouble and grief. You consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil. Call them to account for their wickedness. . . . Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.
In this mean-time in which we find ourselves these days, we must live by faith. We do so remembering the Word of the Lord: Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath. Do not fret—it only leads to evil. . . . A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He knows that their day is coming.
Evil will persist until the end of time. Evil will persist until Christ's second coming.
We must keep in mind a central aspect of the Gospel: The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil’s work. So declared the Apostle John. And Jesus will return one day to finish the good work that He began two thousand years ago.
He will, once and for all, deliver us from evil; both inside and out.
We will confess our faith in this Gospel promise in just a few minutes. The Church has long proclaimed to any and all who will listen: He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
We find ourselves living in a mean-time right now. During this mean-time, let us heed the Word of God: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all you ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.
Isn’t this what happened on Good Friday? Isn’t this what happened at Calvary? Isn’t this what Christ was doing on the cross.
We now wait for His return. In the mean-time there is much for us to do: Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
On his way to Jerusalem, and to the cross, Jesus is confronted with the question of theodicy. In Luke 13 we read:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Repent? Why is this the appropriate response to disaster and evil? The call to repent is both urgent and on-going; it is issued to make sure that we are right with God, and ready for our eternal summons.