The Problem of Evil
By Dane Aaker and George Paul Carter
“How can there be a good God when there is so
much evil and suffering in the world?”
Joni Eareckson Tada tells a story (When God Weeps, p. 22ff) about a friend of hers named John. John has a degenerative nerve disease. This six foot three inch man can no longer move or speak out. As he lies in bed one night “an ant finds him. The scout sends for others and they come. First hundreds, then thousands. A noiseless legion inches its way down the chimney, across the floor, secretly crawling up his urine tube, up, over and onto his bed. They fan out over the hills and valleys of John’s blanket, tunneling under and onto his body. He is covered by a black, wriggling invasion.”
Joni goes on to explain that in the morning when John’s wife and a nurse discover him he still has ants in his hair, mouth and eyes. His skin was badly burned and bitten. John is understandably depressed.
How could a good God let this happen? If there is a god and if he is good why doesn’t he stop stuff like this? Doesn’t the very existence of suffering and evil prove there isn’t a god?
Charles Templeton, a close friend and associate of Billy Graham’s, lost his faith over this very question. Templeton was on his way to becoming an even more world renowned evangelist than Billy Graham and then the problem of evil caught up with him.
Ted Turner in 1990 said, “Christianity is a religion for losers.” Turns out Turner grew up in a Christian home and once planned to be a missionary. He later changed because he ‘couldn’t reconcile the concept of an all-powerful God with so much suffering on earth’ (Parade 1/5/92, p. 2).
Tim Allen (Readers Dig. Oct. 2001) had a father who died when he was eleven years old. Allen says, “My dad was dead. Now what was I supposed to do? No one really had time to explain to an 11 year old kid what you do with that information. So I woke up early wondering, ‘Who in the hell are you, God, and why did you do this?’”
The problem of evil is one of the hardest questions a Christian must face. Why does God let bad things happen to people? This is a question that must be approached with humility. “There are things we simply do not know and cannot understand. Evil defies definition. It is rightly called a mystery and at some points is literally unspeakable. Evil can torture human minds just as it tortures human bodies because there are questions about evil to which none of us have the answer because there is no human answer” (Os Guinness, Unspeakable). In this paper you are not going to find a hard and fast case for the problem of evil. But we will offer up several reasons. Not one of these reasons is the answer to the whole problem of pain. And God probably allows pain into our lives for different reasons depending on the person. But considering these reasons will give you some insight into the problem of pain and why God allows pain in our lives.
1st – The very fact that we consider evil a problem is evidence for the existence of God.
It is interesting that people cite the existence of evil as an argument against the existence of God because the problem of pain could not exist in a godless universe. If there was no God we wouldn’t have any concept of evil because evil assumes there is a standard of righteousness that has been broken.
Ravi Zacharias explains it this way:
“People say things like this, how can there be a god when there is so much evil in this world? And I say something like this: when you say there is evil you are assuming there is such a thing as good. When you assume there is such a thing as good, you are assuming there is such a thing as a moral law, on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. And when you assume there is such a thing as a moral law you must posit a moral law giver. But that’s whom they are trying to disprove and not prove. If there is no moral law giver, there’s no moral law. If there is no moral law, there’s no good. If there is no good, there’s no evil. What becomes of the critic’s question?”
“Now when that question is stated, the audience tracks you a fair degree of the way until you come to the moral law giver part. And they say, ‘why do I need a moral law giver in this paradigm?’ ‘Why can’t I just say there is an intuitive compulsion in my heart or my mind for goodness?’ But notice, anytime the problem of evil is raised; it is either raised by a person or about persons. It is a person that raises the question of evil or they’ll say you know ten people were meaninglessly killed in this slaughter. So they are bringing personhood into the question of evil. In other words evil does not hang free, it is not an abstraction. It is rooted in personal questioning about persons which means evil is inseparable from personhood.”
“Now how can naturalism give that connection validity? Personhood is either implicitly valuable or only an attributed value given by society or by state. Which state? Which society? So unless there is intrinsic worth in the person the question self-destructs. And it is obviously not in finite persons because we disagree with each other on the notion of goodness so for the question to remain transcendently true you would have to have a transcendent infinite being who is inseparable from goodness and that being is God.” (RaviZacharias, from Angles for Acceptance: An Interview with Ravi Zacharias.)
Paul Copan (Everyone an Answer: A Moral Argument) says it this way:
“The reason theism makes more sense here is that personhood and morality are necessarily connected. That is, moral values are rooted in personhood. Without God, a personal being—no persons – thus no moral values – would exist at all. The moral argument points to a personal, good being to whom we’re responsible. Only if God exists can moral properties be realized or instantiated.”
The truth is that Theism and morality have an intrinsic connection. Jeffery Dahmer was an example of a person who did not believe in God and came to the conclusion that morality is subjective. He followed the logical outworking of his worldview.
Jeffery Dahmer was exposed to naturalistic evolution. The result was devastating. This sexual predator and cannibal ‘placed the blame for [his] murders on his atheistic beliefs and the theory of evolution.’ Given naturalism, he found no basis for affirming intrinsic human dignity. His father Lionel Dahmer, expressed Jeffrey’s rationale: ‘If it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for God? Can’t I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself.” (This is from Everyone an Answer, Paul Copan’s article: A Moral Argument. These quotations are documented in Jeffery Dahmer: The Monster, A&E Biography, 1996.)
Dahmer had no sense of good and evil because, at that time, in his viewpoint there was no god. If there was no god then no one owned him. That means there is no ultimate accountability and no good or evil. If it feels good do it. Dahmer’s conclusion is a logical one for those who don’t believe in a god. It’s all about the survival of the fittest.
2nd – God gave people real freedom to choose to love and follow Him or to choose to reject Him.
God either gives us real freedom or he does not. We cannot expect God to say he gives us real freedom but then he limits our freedom in a way that we can only do intrinsically good things. Humans have a real choice to choose good or evil.
Ephesians 5:15-17 reminds us “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (ESV). There are verses like this all over the Bible that remind us that as humans we have the ability to make real choices with real consequences.
God is just and is going to honor each person’s choices on earth. There will be no eternal bailout when all is said and done. Each person will reap what he has sowed. The freedom is ours to choose to follow God or to do evil.
3rd – The moment God gave people freedom there was room for evil.
Freewill meant God gave humans the ability to choose good or to choose evil. God has placed us in an environment where we have real choices to choose to obey or to disobey him. We have a real choice to choose good or to choose evil.
So God did not create evil. God created the possibility of evil existing as soon as he gave us freedom.
In Genesis 2:16-17 God told Adam and Eve, “ . . . you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Up until the time Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned, mankind had no experience with evil. As soon as they sinned Adam and Eve not only became aware of evil but they invited it into their lives. And they invited the consequences of evil into their lives . . . death.
C.S. Lewis describes the origin of evil when he writes there are “two sub-Christian theories of the origin of evil–Monism, according to which God Himself, being ‘above good and evil’, produces impartially the effects to which we give those two names, and Dualism according to which God produces good, while some equal and independent Power produces evil. Against both these views Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 63).
Evil exists because it is our choice. God never chooses evil and God did not create evil. So evil is not a problem with God’s character. Evil is a problem with our character.
God could have made it so mankind never experienced evil. But evil cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom.
For example you could make sure your child never ever did anything wrong. You could make sure he/she never did anything wrong by taking away all his/her freedom. Lock your child in a closet. Handcuff your child to a post. Your child would never do anything wrong. But your child would have no freedom. Freedom gave us the opportunity to do the wrong thing.
And no good parent would take away freedom from a child. But sometimes your child is hurt by the freedom of others. You send your child to school and a bully is mean. Why? That child is free also. The only way for God to insure that you never get hurt by an evil person is to take away everyone’s freedom to make the wrong choice.
4th – God gave us freewill because He wanted people to love Him freely.
I (Dane) met my wife at seminary. There were 1,000 guys in that school and 70 women. I always take a little pleasure in realizing that my wife freely picked me to be her husband out of all those guys.
In contrast there would be no pleasure in just having a big doll that I could control. Every time I pull the string the doll says “I love you.” Or “You look handsome.” What pleasure is there in a doll I literally pull the strings on? In fact if I filled my home with dolls that said I love you . . . you’d think I was kind of weird.
The Bible uses the analogy of a bride and groom for our relationship with Christ. For example John writes in Revelation 19:7 “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
Why would God give us freedom when he knew we would make the wrong choice? It was worth it to Him! That’s how important the relationship is. Those of you who are dating . . . why do you go out? Why do you establish relationships? You know you might get hurt. In fact you will get hurt! But it is worth the risk.
God desires a multitude of people in heaven who have freely chosen to worship Him for all eternity. God knew when He created us that we would use our freedom to sin. But God also gave us the freedom to choose to receive the gift of forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. John 1:12-13 reminds us “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
5th – If God kept good Christians from experiencing evil it would take away everyone’s choice.
Imagine if God gave Christians pain free lives . . . riches, health, beauty and talent. What if Christians lived in this little bubble where evil could not touch them. Then what if God allowed non-Christians to have everything bad happen to them . . . sickness, poverty, ugliness and unskilled.
The end result would be that no one would really be free to reject Christ. It would be like a gun held to the head. If you are a Christian life will be perfect. If you are not a Christian then you are going to have a life of pain and suffering.
This is really what the story of Job is about. Job was the most righteous man in all the earth. Satan came before God one day and said “Does Job fear God for nothing?” . . . “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11). Satan is telling God Job is only following you because you’ve protected him from anything bad. Basically Satan is saying “You’ve put him in a bubble.”
So God allows Satan to put Job to the test. Job loses his money. Job’s kids die. Job’s servants die. Job’s body is afflicted and racked with pain. Why did God allow Satan to do evil to Job? The same reason we are allowed to hurt each other. God gave Satan a free will and Satan chose to do evil.
Finally the Bible tells us that Job’s wife said to him “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10). Job knew both the good times and bad times come from God and he would not curse God.
If you have to do everything your spouse wants, give her everything, never let your guard down, be perfect, never disagree, never get mad, never look bad or your spouse will leave, that’s not real love. Love is staying in the good and bad times. And following God just so he will make life perfect and pain free is not real love!
Max Lucado, in the book God Came Near, tells how his oldest daughter fell into a swimming pool when she was two years old. A friend saw her and pulled her to safety. In his book The Grip of Grace he says that the next morning he told God how wonderful he was for saving her. Then, as though God were speaking to him, this question came to mind, “Would I be less wonderful had I let her drown? Would I be any less a good God for calling her home? Would I still be receiving your praise this morning had I not saved her? What is Lucado’s point? God is good even when he allows us to suffer.
6th – Evil and suffering remind us that living here is a temporary assignment.
C.S. Lewis describes the importance of this point by saying “Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one” (The Problem of Pain, p. 148). The pain of life on this earth has to be viewed against the backdrop of Heaven. If we suffered on earth and died into extinction then pain would be a waste. But pain reminds us that we are living on this side of Heaven. Pain reminds us there is a better life to come. Pain causes us to more eagerly anticipate Heaven.
Peter reminds people who were just about to go through major pain and suffering (many of them would die at the hands of Nero) that “. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6-7). Peter’s point is that when you have to suffer, even to the point of death, that suffering is building a faith that will glorify God someday in heaven.
As Mother Teresa said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
Calvin Reid, a British church leader, tells about a young man who had fallen down some stairs when he was one year old and had shattered his back. The boy had been in and out of hospitals his whole life. But the boy had claimed that God is fair. Reid asked him one day, “How old are you?” “Seventeen!” “How many years have you spent in hospitals?” “13 years!” Reid said, “And you think that’s fair?” “Well,” they boy replied, “God has all eternity to make it up to me.”
There is a lot that is hard to understand when it comes to how God allows evil to touch some of His people. For example why did God close the mouth of the lions for Daniel but in the first century church many Christians were torn apart by lions? Why did God allow John the Baptist to be beheaded but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace not a hair on their heads was touched? Why do my kids grow up in relative safety but a kid inSudanthat follows Christ will easily be killed? Why is one person healed and another suffers or dies? Pain and suffering are hard to understand . . . but I do know this God has got a bigger plan than what we see in this life.
I often think that a part of that plan is that there will be a special place for those who were touched by evil in this world. For example, we know that the martyrs in heaven will have a special white robe they wear, and while we look at people who are killed for the faith from earth’s perspective and wonder how God could let that happen, from heaven’s perspective we will admire those martyrs and probably wish we could return to be a martyr for Christ. What could be a bigger privilege than dying for the Savior who laid down His life for us?
7th – Spiritual warfare (at least in part) accounts for the problem of evil.
When God created the angels he gave freedom to at least part of the angelic host. Fallen angels are referred to as demons and Satan is one of those angels.
Most people believe that the following Old Testament prophecies, from Isaiah and Ezekiel, serve double duty by both describing a fallen kingdom on earth but also describing the fall of Satan. In Isaiah it tells us “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:12-15). Morning Star is one of the names given to Satan. It describes the beauty and splendor that God assigned him. But Satan became proud and tried to raise his throne above God’s throne. Therefore God has brought Satan down through the resurrection and eventually will assign him to a place in the lake of fire (Revelation20:10).
Then in Ezekiel there is another passage that describes the origins and fall of Satan like this “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were inEden, thegardenofGod; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more” (Ezekiel 28:12-19).
Although Isaiah was giving a prophecy to the king ofTyremost scholars believe this was also a description of Satan. The words used here go beyond that of a mere human king. For example Ezekiel describes him as a “garden Cherub” and talks about him being “inEden” and walking on the “mount of God.” The Bible describes this entity as being thrown out of the mount of God. Once again we see that Satan is trying to ascend to the throne of God. But once again his ultimate fate is defeat.
It would appear that about one-third of the angels chose align themselves with Satan to rebel against God (Revelation12:40-9). Led by Satan they wage war on this planet. Adam and Eve handed control of this planet over to Satan the day they choose to believe the lies of the serpent. Of course this power that Satan exercises operates under the sovereign control of the Almighty God. But God has chosen to allow Satan a certain level of freedom to act.
This spiritual warfare is real. There is a spiritual struggle that cannot be dismissed lightly. For example when Daniel prayed for an answer to his prayer he records that an angel eventually showed up with this message, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king ofPersia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (Daniel 10:12-14).
The prince of the Persian kingdom was evidently a demon, or perhaps Satan himself, who fought against the answer to Daniel’s prayer. There was a twenty-one day struggle that was only broken when the angel Michael was called into the battle.
Evil is attributed to Satan and his demons in many places. For example, speaking of Jesus, Acts 10:38 tells us “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”
In Job1:19 Satan even stirred up a wind that killed Job’s children. This of course was still done under the sovereign permission of God. So that raises the question why would God allow Satan to kill Job’s children? What kind of God would do that? What about these events that we often call “Acts of God?”
What about “Acts of God?”
What about earthquakes, floods, tornados. Experts estimate that 95% of suffering results from human action (Lee Strobel, Case for Faith, Student Edition). But what about the other 5%? Did God just put the world in motion and now He keeps His hands off? No! Psalm 135:6-7 reminds us that “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” God is actively involved in the events that happen on earth. And even when Satan is at the root of a disaster Satan was given the freedom to cause it by our sovereign God.
So why does God allow “natural disasters?”
8th – God could not allow sinful people to live in a perfect paradise.
That’s why Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. There were no natural disasters inEden. . . there will be none in Heaven. But as soon as Adam and Eve sinned they were removed from the perfect world God had made for them and placed in a world where Satan had authority.
The Bible is clear about Satan’s authority over this planet. John tells us that “. . . the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (I John5:19). Satan is called “the god of this age” (II Corinthians 4:4). Paul also describes this time as the “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). When man sinned God cursed the earth. Genesis 3:17 explains that “To Adam (God) said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” There is a curse on this earth and that curse means that our planet is reaping the consequences of choosing sin.
Jesus gives two current examples from the 1st century about the implications of living on a cursed earth. Pilate, given to temper outbursts, had killed some Jews and mixed their blood in sacrifices. Jesus said, “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” (Luke 13:2-3). This is an example of human evil that was inflicted against Galileans. And Jesus makes it clear this isn’t because they were worse sinners than anyone else. The reasons they suffered is because they are sinners like all of us and the result of sin is going to be even worse than that of being killed by Pilate unless we repent.
Now this is an example of human evil inflicted by Pilate . . . but then Jesus gives and example of an “Act of God.” In Luke 13:4-5 Jesus says, “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 inJerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The falling of this tower was probably a natural disaster. In both examples Jesus ends with the same statement . . . Repent.
I think that the point Jesus is making is that as a result of the fall we are all going to die. People that appear to have lived good lives and people who appear to have lived bad lives will die as a result of the fall and the curse. Jesus’ point is that all these disasters serve as a reminder to get ready for the day that we too will meet God. IT’S LIKE GOD SAYING “PAY ATTENTION!”
One of the most famous quotes of C.S. Lewis is “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Suffering, tragic events wake our world up to God. “Acts of God” cause us not to take life for granted. “Acts of God” remind us that life will end and we will all give an accounting to the creator of the universe. “Acts of God” remind us of His power over life and death.
9th – God uses pain to shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency.
Probably the most famous Quote on pain is when C.S. Lewis said “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” The Scriptures put it this way “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5). I, Dane, have asked people this question over and over again, “Do you find it easier to seek God when everything is going well or when you have a problem?” Inevitably the answer is almost always “When I have a problem.” There is something about pain that drives us to God.
C.S. Lewis writes “If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 94). Lewis’ point is that it is easy to find God a bother when we are living under the illusion that our life is fine without him.
Lewis goes on to say “What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness” (Lewis, p. 94)? This can seem cruel at first. But Lewis reminds us that God knows that “modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed; that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him (God) they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover” (Lewis, p. 95). This is why the Bible never promises people a pain free life. This is a fallen world. We have not arrived in Heaven yet. This world cannot, in and of itself, provide all we need for happiness. And God lets us taste of the consequences of sin in order to wean us from the idea that somehow we can find perfect happiness and peace in this world without him.
Lewis uses the following illustration of how pain drives us to God. “I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends . . . when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease . . . sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happiness looks like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by God’s grace I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 106-107). The point is that God uses pain to remind us that we usually go through life thinking that we have control over our lives.
When a little pain crosses into our path we are reminded to say “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil” (James4:13-16).
The ultimate solution for our pain is heaven. That is why Paul said “we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (II Corinthians 5:2-5). There is a day coming when we will be delivered from this painful existence. And every time pain crosses into our path we are reminded once again to anticipate that day with eagerness.
Specific ways to respond to Evil
Far from having a fatalistic or passive attitude toward evil the Bible says that we should become active opponents of evil. And the Bible gives us several ways to fight evil.
Christians are called to participate in a battle to fight evil and to establish God’s righteousness on earth. Although God has battled Satan since the fall, it was in Jesus Christ that God began His most significant assault on the kingdomof Satan. George Eldon Ladd states “God’s kingdom was active in the Old Testament. In such events as the Exodus and the captivity in Babylon, God was acting in his kingly power to deliver or judge His people. However, in some real sense God’s kingdom came into history in the person and mission of Jesus” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p. 69). Jesus’ ministry was, in fact, a direct attack on the works of Satan. John summarized Jesus’ ministry succinctly when he stated: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). Satan’s destructive work is found in sickness (II Corinthians 12:7), poverty, war, demon activity and sin. It is the will of God that these works be destroyed. Every time Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed a leper or cast out a demon, the work of Satan was broken and the kingdom of God advanced (Matthew 10:7-8).
It was in the death and resurrection of Jesus that the death blow was dealt to Satan. The author of Hebrews describes this awesome turning point in history, stating that Jesus “through death . . . (rendered) powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews2:14). Satan has been therefore, fatally wounded. Even with a fatal wound, Satan still staggers about, seeking to maintain his rule on this world. But it is only a matter of time until all the work of Satan is eliminated, and he will finally be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). It is then we will say, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation11:15). It is then that we know evil will finally touch mankind no more.
It is true that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). But we have been called by God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist the devil (I Peter 5:9). We have been called to put up a fight and to see Satan and His evil forces “fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke10:18). How do we battle evil?
1st – Put on the armor of God.
Paul challenges believers “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians Eph6:10-18).
We could write a whole paper on the armor of God. But in brief the armor of God consists of taking an aggressive spiritual stance against the work of the Devil through really having a committed biblical walk with God.
2nd – Do what is right and good.
In Romans12:21Paul instructs us “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Instead of passively giving in to evil or behaving in evil ways we are called to overcome evil with good.
As Jesus told us “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew5:14-16). In other words we are called to live out the light of Christ in a dark and evil world. And the darker evil gets the brighter the light of God’s goodness will stand out.
Accordingly, the greatest need you and I have – the greatest need of collective humanity – is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.
The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul. External, social arrangements may be useful to this end, but they are not the end, nor are they a fundamental part of the means.
On the other hand, from those divinely renovated depths of the person, social structures will naturally be transformed so that ‘justice roll[s] down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos5:24). Such streams cannot flow through corrupted souls. Conversely, a renovated “within” will not cooperate with public streams of unrighteousness. It will block them – or die trying. It is the only thing that can do so (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, pp.14-15).
Indeed, we must become people whose hearts are well kept, whose souls are well ordered so that if evil comes into the world it will not be through us, the people of God. It is God who can provide the grace that can help us transform who we are through and through. But a concerted effort of spiritual growth is required to accomplish this and it can be through continual submission to the Holy Spirit and his direction in our life.
Dallas Willard continues by adding, “THOSE WITH A WELL-KEPT heart are persons who are prepared for and capable of responding to the situation of life in ways that are good and right. Their will functions as it should, to choose what is good and avoid what is evil, and the other components of their nature cooperate to that end” (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 29). The defeat of evil begins with defeating it in our own lives by maintaining a heart that longs for the goodness of God.
3rd – Build the local church.
The local church is a powerful force against evil. Jesus told Peter “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). A strong local church is a powerful force against evil in a community. A local church ministers to the poor, helps families establish a Christian home, preaches and teaches the Bible and serves each other. If you are not committed to a local church then you are missing out on experiencing what Jesus promised “the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Jesus taught us to pray “. . . your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew6:10). I (Dane) often ask myself when praying for something, “Is this the way it is going to be in Heaven?” In other words will people be sick in heaven? Will relationships be fragmented in heaven? Will people suffer in heaven? If what I’m experiencing here on earth doesn’t look like Heaven then I’ve been called to pray for things to be different here on earth.
Jack Hayford comments in his book, Prayer: Invading the Impossible:
“Jesus says, when you pray, and after you have come before the Father with worship, begin to call His will to be worked on earth. That’s the only way it’s going to happen here—when those who want His will to be done declare that it be. It is through these redeemed men and women that God remains faithful to His self imposed limits—only to work on earth through mankind-and still is able to cast out evil in all its manifestations.”
For some reason God chooses to respond to prayer in the battle against evil. Satan is strong but God is stronger. And we have the power of God working through us to do everything we can to put an end to evil here on earth. And it is a wonderful thing to watch God use us to change our world. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).
God is good. And God is trustworthy. And you can rest in the knowledge that God is able to take any evil thing that touches our lives and to accomplish His purpose.
Joni Eareckson Tada – “He screens the trials that come to each of us – allowing only those that accomplish His good plan because He takes no joy in human agony. God permits what he hates to achieve what He loves. I say this from a wheelchair. And I say, ‘This is what I love about Him!’ God is not arbitrary about the evil He allows to touch our lives. There is a screening of the trial. And, as Paul wrote, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans8:28). The Bible does not say that everything is good. It isn’t! But God promises he can take everything (even the evil things) and use them for a good purpose in our lives.”
As John Piper comments,
“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road, switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
In the Old Testament there were three men who were going to be thrown into a fire because of their faith in God; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). The point these three godly men were making is that their God is more than able to save them from the evil the king intended. But they also knew that even if God chose to not deliver them from the furnace they were going to trust God and they would choose to do the right thing for the good and for the glory of God.