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Monday, December 17, 2012

Why So Much Evil?

Last week, of all weeks, I made a presentation to an apologetics class on the Problem of Evil. If God is so good and so powerful, then why is there so much evil? It would be just two days later that the horrific school shooting in Connecticut would occur.

So, while these thoughts were not collected as an answer to the school shooting, they might give us some perspective on evil in general and where God stands in all of this. I'm offering this, not as a response to the tragedy in Newtown, but as some helpful ideas to wrestle with what see going on around us.

William Hasker has said, "For at least a century and a half, the existence and prevalence of evil in the world has been generally recognized as the single most formidable obstacle to theistic belief." In other words, more people might believe in a good and just God if not for all the evil they see going on around them. I give these 5 potential answers for the problem of evil as a way in which we might reconcile the presence of evil with the reality of a loving God.

1. The Experiential Factor
One important question to ask it, "How do I define evil?" We live in a day and age where whatever I experience or believe is the most true thing that exists. This is true also of what we would call evil. We consider evil anything that is bad, harmful, or damaging to others. Yet, what one culture considers evil may be considered normal in another culture a hundred years later. The point is, sometimes, in complaining about evil, we are merely saying that God isn't running the world the way we think He should from our perspective.

Scripture defines evil not as something that is bad or wrong, but as anything that is contrary to the will and nature of God. Take for example Adam and Eve in the garden- eating an apple wasn't bad, hurtful, or damaging, BUT it was contrary to the voice of God.

So, the first possible answer to the problem of evil is to make sure that we define evil appropriately, based on something higher than our own personal experience.  

2.  The Evidence of Creation
 The problem of evil is based on the idea that a good and loving God would make a perfect world. But consider the marks of God’s creation before Adam and Eve sinned. (From Douglas Hall)
-Loneliness- “it is not good for man to be alone.”
-Limits- we are limited in existence, power and intelligence.
-Temptation- an unholy desire to exceed limits and become gods
-Anxiety- in Eve, a fear that she didn’t have everything she needed for life

Couched in every one of these is the prospect for suffering. Suffering which God allowed for.

But we would all agree that these “evils” exist for our own benefit- loneliness that we might draw near to others, limits that we might stay safe and value life, temptation in that we are free to exercise free will, and anxiety which teaches dependence on God.

An all loving and all good God created this way! Struggle is part of creating life- how we learn to become fully human! And in this struggle, there will pain, and perhaps even things we would describe as evil.

The second possible answer to the problem of evil is seeing the evidence of creation.

3. The Existence of Good
 Ho w do you know something is good? No one argues that we should do away with good. No one suggests we should stop being kind, or loving or gracious. But how would we recognize any of these things without the potential for evil?

You have heard how scientifically, “Dark” and “Cold” do not exist.
-        Darkness is only the measure of the absence of light
-        Coldness is only the measure of the absence of heat
-        We know dark and cold experientially but only through these do we also experience the goodness of light and heat.

A third possible answer to the problem of evil is recognizing at as the absence of good. We experience evil, but only because we also know what is good.

4. The Elevation of Free Will
Most of the arguments of evil I hear relate to gratuitous acts of violence or unjust suffering.
“Why did God allow Hitler to live?”
“Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver before he drank?”
“Why didn’t God stop _________________.”
So, in other words, we want God to step in and disrupt human free will when we think its obvious that He should do so. We see certain times and decisions that God should make, and the fact that He doesn’t causes us to doubt his existence.

Have you ever hurt someone? Maybe you shouldn’t have been born! Maybe God should have stopped you.
"But I’ve done lots of good!" we say. "I deserve to live."
So now again, WE are the standard of what God should do.

But God has prized and valued our free will- our ability to choose Him or reject Him, to choose love or to choose hate, to choose peace or to choose evil- so much that He treats us all the same. He soveriegnly chooses to keep his hands off.
I heard a speaker telling his story, and he was crying out to God, “God, why didn’t you keep me from this abusive person?” And he heard God say, “You can’t see how much I kept off you.” We only see what God does allow. Does that mean it’s good? No necessarily. 

If anything, gratuitous and unjust displays evil ought to cause us to redouble our efforts to preach the Kingdom and spread the Love of Christ, so that more and more people will freely choose to follow Him and surrender to his rule. Which by the way, how significant is it when we choose to love Him? In light of the freedom God allows for each one of us to choose evil, how awesome is it that we can actually find Him?

The fourth possible answer to the problem of evil is seeing how highly God values our freedom- our freedom to choose Him. God refused to create obedient little robots.

5. The Example of the Cross
 In John 1:18 we read, "No one has ever seen God, but the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”

Never has God been more clearly revealed than on the cross. If we want to know how God feels about evil, the cross of Jesus is the clearest answer.  He permitted this evil to happen, but He gave his very life to overcome the evil that was at work. Honestly, for me faith falls apart without the cross. But in the cross, I see God's answer to the problem of evil. 

The fifth possible answer to the problem of evil is to point to the cross of Jesus Christ and say, “That’s how God feels about evil.”

May these potential answers help you to process the evil that you encounter on your journey.
And may you know His peace-


Thursday, December 06, 2012

What to Make of Endings

A few weeks ago, a very good friend of mine came to me and told me that he was leaving the church.  He said that God was stirring new things in his heart, and his season of ministry in Kelso had come to a close. This news, while not completely unexpected, came as a real blow. Over the next few days, I found myself really wrestling with this news, mostly focused on what I had done wrong or could have done differently.

It was during this time that I noticed a book on my shelf; one another friend had passed on to me several months earlier called, Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Out of curiousity, I picked up the book and began to read. Never has a book been more perfectly suited to a time of need.

As our whole church family processes this news, I offer some gleanings from this reading, particularly as it has spoken to my own soul about endings in general. Even if you are from beyond the EHA circle, which many of you are, I think these insights will help you face the unexpected shifts and changes that come into every life.

Change is a necessary part of life. Accept it. One of the mistakes we make is to perceive every change, every ending, as negative. In this mindset, we have no choice but to fear transitions and fight them when they happen. But look at the world around you- cycles and season of change dominate every aspect of life. Life is filled with necessary endings. Endings are the reason most of us are not married to our prom date (and I am very glad for that.) Learn to recognize change as a natural, normal part of life.

Figure out why you are opposed endings. Deeper motivations are usually lurking underneath the fears that surface in our life. When a change or an ending causes us to clench up in anxiety or worry, this is a prime opportunity to assess what is really driving us. Often times, motivations like comfort, safety, and a need for control are more at play than we realize. Good-byes are certainly hard, but the  other emotions we feel, in addition to the sorrow, are worth our attention. Figuring out what really going on can be extremely helpful.

The pain of pruning produces the joy of new life. Each year in the late fall, I pull out a big set of brush clippers and make my way around the yard. I chop back the apple trees, lop off rose bush branches, and ready the blueberries for winter. It seems like such a shame to discard so many good, healthy branches. But I know from experience this brings greater life to the plants. While endings are hard, they are very often the catalyst for new growth and change. Though I will greatly miss this friend, I am excited and confident about what God wants to do next. I can't totally see it yet, but I know it will be good.

Enjoy the season you are in. I had the privilege of enjoying seven years of ministry with this friend. It was an enjoyable season. Now, we find ourselves in a season of transition. Transitions, while more uncertain, can also be rich seasons of learning, growing and change. Several months from now, we’ll find ourselves as a church in another season as ministry moves forward. The point is, all of life occurs in season. Sometimes we can be so in love with a season that was, or so anxious for a season that is yet to be, that we forget the call we have to live fully alive in this present season. So while I may not be looking forward to every change, I am looking forward to how this new season will develop my soul, enrich my faith, strengthen old relationships and bring new friendships onto the scene.

What changes, or necessary endings, are you encountering? What are you learning from them about God and about yourself?

May your journey be all the better because of what God teaches you through change-