"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?"
A short time ago a neighbor four houses away dropped dead suddenly. He was only 45 and no history of illness. The ambulance came but he was gone before they arrived. He left a high school son and a wife. Why do things like this happen? In Columbine High School a young girl by the name of Cassie was shot to death by a classmate because she affirmed her belief in God. World War II saw the killing of around 100 million people, 6 million of them being Jews. One can go on with a litany of these events. The whole history of mankind has been filled with terrible things, people killing people, people being killed by earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.
A short time ago in January, I received an email from one of my former students about a pastor in Tanzania. He wrote, "This morning when I arrived at church I was greeted with the news that our pastor at our Church home in Tanzania, Sinza Baptist Church was killed last night. 6 men broke into the home of Pastor Gaiton Zimulinda. They started beating him with cement blocks and asked for money. At some point they stabbed him in the side. When his wife gave them everything they had it was not enough. She asked them to take anything of value they had like TV or VCR or Video Camera and leave. They had Gaiton's wife and children lay on the floor then they shot him in the head. When they came into the house the leader told the others "there he is pastor Zimulinda grab him". After they killed him they drew a cross on the wall with his blood. They left without taking anything but a camera. The leader told the others "we have killed the man we should go now" The bizarre situation has brought a lot of speculation as to why he was killed. At first appearance it would seem robbery. The fact they called him by name and did not take anything much and left so much of value has caused questions. Gaiton was pastor of a fairly new church built a few years ago. It was constructed amidst strong opposition from the largely Muslim population of that area of Dar es Salaam. The killing looks very much like a religious type of execution."
Where is God in all of this? Where is God when it hurts? Our world is filled with evil and we wonder why doesn't God do something.
The questions of why? are there whether we verbalize them or not. They won't go away. Because this is such a hard question people have developed cliché answers that do not answer anything. A) God has a reason, (which we don't know), B) It was their time to go (this doesn't help for a child run down by a drunk driver), C) God needed the person in heaven to be an angel. I went to the home of a man who took his life and the mother had explained to her son that God needed the father to sing in his heavenly choir. The little boy's response was, "I hate God.": God does not need anyone in heaven, and we are not going to become angels. Sometimes our attempts to answer this problem of evil in our lives actually blames God in an irrational way.
This is one of the most difficult questions of the human mind. I don't have all the answers. What I am going to propose to you is the best I know. There are times when rational answers don't deal with our emotions. There are times when all we can do is take a grieving person in our arms and love them like a parent trying to answer a question of a child and the parent knows the answer is far beyond their understanding.
Let's start out with the question, What kind of being is God? Let us contrast philosophy and the Bible. In early philosophic thinking someone framed the issue with these alternatives: "If God is good and all-powerful, there should be no evil. Since there is evil, either God is not all-good, or all-powerful." This concept has influenced people through the ages.
But let's look at the real question,
what kind of being is God? Take the first phrase, "If God is good
and all-powerful, there should be no evil," What does this mean
a concept of God?
This requires us to think of God as divine detective and executioner. Since God is all good he would detect when we do wrong and since he is all-powerful he should carry out judgment on all who do wrong. Who would be alive? The human race would be wiped out from the very beginning. God is not a Divine policeman!
In contrast to philosophy, the God of the Bible, the god of revelation, is not a divine policeman. God is described in very warm personal terms of being patience, slow to anger, merciful and forgiving. He is the giver of life. None of this would fit in the philosophic view.
Then we need to ask the question, what kind of being is man? Let's look again at the beginning story of the human race. In Genesis 2 we have a story in which God gave directions for life in the Garden of Eden. They were given everything needed for their life in the Garden, but were commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In that one act of disobedience their lives were forever changed. In the use of their freedom to disobey, the whole sense of harmony between themselves and God was broken. In that act the sense of harmony between man and woman was broken, and all of society to come.
The gift of freedom is terribly important for our thinking. God did not make robots to obey him without any thought. He did not force them to obey. This is one of the ignored lessons of all religious traditions. You cannot force people to worship your god. Christians did this in the middle ages, Muslims are doing it now, and the growth of religious intolerance around the world is based on force, not freewill. Freedom is important for understanding human beings, family relationships, and responsibility. Freedom gives meaning to experiences like my granddaughter coming to me and saying, "Grandpa, I love you." When my wife looks deep into my eyes and says, "Dallas, I love you," I see the joy of freedom and its meaning.
So, God has given
freedom to make decisions. He has given us the freedom to rebel
Him. He has given us freedom to make ourselves little gods.
He has given us the freedom to exploit others. He has given us
to do things that will destroy our lives. He has given us the
to engage in activities that will destroy our families, our
friends, and our lives.
He has given us the freedom to reject him forever in total isolation from him, which is Hell.
It is man's Freedom that is the basis of most human evils in the world.
C.S.Lewis noted that when people become wicked, in their act of rebellion against God, they will certainly use this freedom to hurt one another, and "this accounts for four-fifths of the suffering of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty, and overwork." Our national media ignores the harsh news that Christians are suffering around the world. Last year nearly 300,000 Christians lost their lives because of their faith in Jesus. There are people around the world who are suffering for their faith. I don't want to go into the gory stories that could be detailed here, but you would not imagine the things that are happening to Christians as well as non-Christians because of man's inhumanity to man. You cannot imagine the things done against women in many cultures.
Who is doing this? People! People in their freedom to hurt, maim, and kill. There are all kinds of situations that could be described if we had time. There are over 60 million people in slavery today.
In our freedom we do things
against ourselves. We make decisions that hurt us.
We make decisions that hurt our families. Freedom is indeed an awesome gift. We can praise God, love him with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves, or we can reject God and reject our neighbors as well. It is our own freedom that may be responsible for bad things in our lives. It is not only what others can do to it, but what we can do to ourselves that will destroy our lives, our relationships, and those around us.
There is a story in Jeremiah that illustrates the issue of freedom. In 586 BC when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians there was general chaos. There were a group of people led by a man named Johanan who came to Jeremiah the prophet and asked that Jeremiah pray to God to find out what they should do, whether they should stay there in Israel or flee to Egypt. They said, (Jer.42:5-) "May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not obey all the commands that the Lord our God gives you for us. Whether it pleases us or not we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are asking you to pray. All will go well with us if we obey him."
Ten days later the Lord answered Jeremiah and told him that they should stay in Israel, they should not be afraid of the Babylonians and God would rescue them from the Babylonians, "Because I am merciful, I will make him have mercy on you."
In response, the very people who said they would obey, charged Jeremiah with lying. They said, "The Lord did not tell us not to go to Egypt." They rebelled against the Lord's commands and gathered up all the people they could, including Jeremiah, who did not want to go to Egypt, and forced them to travel to Egypt. They all died in a foreign land because of their rejecting the good word from the Lord.
There is a wonderful proverb from the Old Testament which states, "Some people ruin themselves by their own stupid actions, and then blame the Lord." (Prov. 19:3)
Does this not sound like our experience? We say we really want to know what the Lord has for us. What is his will concerning my life, my sexuality, my job, my career, my integrity? But when I know what God wills for me....am I willing to obey? Do I go ahead and do my own will and purpose instead of God's?
Freedom may be seen as the basis of natural evils.
Man is not the only cause of suffering in the world. God has placed laws of regularity in nature, but he does not micro manage the world. The world is not a perfect machine nor a full blown state of chaos. He has limited his intervention not only in human affairs but in nature as well. We can see this in three areas:
l. earthquakes. Not too long ago you saw the harsh realities of an earthquake in Kobe, Japan. The son of a friend of ours was sleeping in the second story of the house. The people, not his family, sleeping on the first floor lost their lives. He was able to get out of the building, dazed, but finally managed to walk a couple of blocks up the mountain to his family. Nearly 7000 people lost their lives. Earthquakes are a result of movement of the plates of the earth. We don't know when they will move, nor how they will move. There is no built in order for them. They are free in their movements. The Kanto Plains area around Tokyo has been expecting an earthquake for years, because the conditions seem right for it, and no one know when or if there will be one.
2. weather.. Freedom of movement can also be seen in the weather patterns. How many times have you been disappointed in not getting rain that was forecast. Weather people can only talk in generalities, not specifics. They talk about percentages of possibilities. They really don't know for sure. We see the weather channel predicting 12 majors storms off the Atlantic, and out of this three or four will be major hurricanes, but they don't know which will come, nor when, and even when it is forming they don't know where it will strike until it is almost there.
The same holds true for other weather problems like tornadoes, monsoons, and cyclones. Many years ago a tornado ripped thru Emporia. No one knew it was coming. It formed right over Emporia. It hit and was gone before anyone knew much about it. So there are lots of things that happen in nature that we can only predict in generalities. There seems to be a certain amount of freedom in the world even though we talk about regularity in nature. The sunrise and sunset are predictable, but we don't know for sure much about the day. We know that Dec. 20 will be the shortest day of the year, but we don't know whether it will be snowing, raining, or sunny..
3. Diseases. There is another dimension to the matter of freedom. and that is in the area of disease. Everyone has an experience of the flu, or colds, or infection. What happens? In some cases we have something invading our bodies that does not belong there. We have some serious problems with some parasites that invade our bodies and live there bringing slow deterioration of the body and even bring death.
We have in our mouths, our large intestines, and on our skin both good and bad bacteria. Microorganisms are everywhere. The good is important for health, the bad must be fought against by our bodies for survival. We can describe health as a state of harmony in the body, every organ doing its work, and a happy balance between them.
My life may be threatened in two ways:
some outside germ, bacteria, virus, may enter by body and cause my
or my own body may fall in a state of disharmony and cause my
"Many medical and scientific researchers have become increasingly concerned that the presence of
uncontrolled free radicals in the body is the direct cause of a number of health problems so notably on the increase. The startling fact that almost no one has understood until now is that along with the health building processes we have going on within our bodies, we also have millions of potentially deadly weapons within the cells and fluids inside our bodies. These" weapons " are "loose cannon" molecules which have come to be known as free radicals and which are making us sick, cause us to age, and eventually promote the formation of tumors/cancers that may kill us." The disharmony in our bodies can lead to all kinds of problems and diseases.
Freedom in the beginning brought not only rebellion against God, but the seeds of death that would spring up and eventually claim every physical body.. The only difference is when it will happen.
How do we deal with evil in our lives?
We have to live with hope in Christ. There are some events in life that come our way, but are not really evil in nature, but for the moment we may regard them as such. A friend is downsized in his company, and as a result has to seek another job. He found a job he always wanted and he is much happier than before. but for the moment, the downsizing was bad news.
We cannot keep people from trying to do evil to us. We can determine how we are going to react to it. A person is thrown into a divorce situation that they did not want. When one walks away from a marriage it devastates the other person. Anger, bitterness, even hatred raise their ugly heads to control our lives. Losing control is the loss of your own freedom. Since the Garden of Eden we have been losing control. In the Christian era, Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for righteousness sake, we would be hated by people because of our association with him, we are being sent forth as sheep among wolves, if the world hates Jesus it would hate us, and we can see examples of all this in the book of Acts and the early church in its sufferings as well as today.
But for the Christ follower something new is possible. We are commanded to love our enemies and forgive them. Think about what happens when you do that. When you forgive another person, they no longer have control over you. When you give up your anger to Christ, that person no longer controls you. A young woman whose father had abused her lived with this for many years. Even after he died there was the bitterness and hatred for what he had done. She eventually came to learn that she must forgive him, even though he never asked for it while living, nor could after dying, but for her own healing she had to learn to forgive. If she did not forgive, he would still be controlling her life while he was long gone. One of the unique things about faith in Jesus is that we forgive as we have been forgiven. Even at the point of death Jesus said, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
We can choose to grow. One of the profound verses on this is Romans 5:3 "We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God's approval and his approval creates hope. This hope does not disappoint us for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit who is God's gift to us." There was a second century Christian by the name of Iraeneus who wrote about this problem and he used the phrase "soul building." Perhaps we might say "character building," or "spirit building", but his point was that life's problems will do one of two things for us: (1) we mature to be persons who endure, who grow, who sympathize, who become persons of depth and character, or (2) we become people who blame everyone else for what happens to us. We become sour, cynical, and bitter and in so doing become isolated and isolating. How we respond is up to us, but the consequences are enormous for our outlook on life and how to deal with it. Many of the "great souls" of Christian history suffered much in their lives, but we do not remember this. We remember them for their greatness of mind, greatness of dedication and the accomplishments coming from their lives.
We once knew a lovely family who had spent their lives as college professors in helping young people gain a good education. After retirement they spent time in mission work in various countries, and then the wife came down with cancer. She moved thru the various reactions to the cancer. She was angry at first, but went beyond acceptance to anticipation of entering the presence of God. Maturing as a Christian is the object "soul building."
Where is God when all this is taking place. God is not the great preventor, but the great redeemer. He does not prevent us from willfully making terrible mistakes. What He will do is to help us put our lives back together when we turn to him and commit ourselves to Him. God could have stopped the whole thing by rejecting freedom for the first couple. He could have browbeaten the human race into robot submission, but that would have lost all sense of personhood. God desire a willful commitment to Him, not forced obedience. There is a big difference between forced obedience and loving obedience. Remember a time when you were in high school and your mom said, "I would like for you to clean up the dishes while I sit in the living room and visit with your dad" You responded, "Ah, mom, I've got phone calls to make and homework to do, I can't do it." But she insisted. So you clear the table noisily, bang some dishes around and generally let your rebellious obedience be known by your actions in the kitchen. Contrast this with your sitting at the table and you look at your mother and say, "Mom, you look a bit tired. Why don't you go and sit in the living room with Dad, and I will put the food away and clean up the dishes." She might have a heart attack from the shock, but the difference is one of cheerful willingness as opposed to rebellious obedience. God wants our cheerful commitment to his will and purpose.
So where is God in all this. God is down here with us going through all the problems of life we have. God was in Christ experiencing all that we endure. Have you been slandered? Jesus was too Have you been reviled by people around you? Jesus was too. Have you been laughed at? Jesus was too. Have you been threatened for your faith, your stand for goodness? Jesus was too. Have you experienced pain? Jesus did. Have you lost loved ones? Jesus did. Have they spat upon you? Jesus was. We have not experienced death yet, but Jesus did. Whatever you are facing in life you can rest assured that Jesus was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin. Because He is the great Redeemer he has come to give us life which is more abundant than we can even imagine. (John 10:10)
A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule 'braying' - and discovered the mule in the well. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery. Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back...HE SHOULD SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP! This he did, blow after blow. "Shake it off and step up...shake it off and step up ..shake it off and step up!" he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed the old mule fought "panic" and just kept right on Shaking it off and stepping up! It wasn't long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of the well. What seemed like it would bury him, actually blessed him...all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity. That's Life. If we face our problems and respond to them positively, and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity... the adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to benefit and bless us.
Sometimes people are stunned by the events of life that overwhelm them. One reaction is to turn away from God and blame him for it all. But if you turn from God where do you go? God is the source of our life, if we turn from Him, we can only turn inward to ourselves, or turn outward to a life seeking to dull all our senses. God has given us freedom and there are risks in freedom. One risk is that my child may turn away from my values and adopt a life contrary to everything I hold dear. On the other hand, freedom allows for my child to make a choice that relates to my values and I am pleased with their free response.
In the same way
God allows us to make decisions that can take us far from
or decisions that will bring us very close to Him. This is
what the Gospel is all about. You have been given the choice
giving your heart to Jesus or keeping your destiny in your own
The old song says, "Once to every tongue and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight, And the choice goes by for ever twixt that darkness and that light."
Today some of you may be at this juncture....you have a choice to make. God is calling you to Himself and today is the day you need to make that choice. Some of you have been hurting for a long time. Some of you have used your freedom to make bad decisions, others may have used your freedom to make sinful decisions that have alienated you from God.
Today is a day for recovery. God wants to begin putting your life back in order, creating harmony in your family, peace within yourself. Today is a day of choosing. Choosing is a wonderful gift of God. Be aware of the effect of your choice. If you continue to put off a choice for Jesus as Savior, it will be harder and harder for you to make that choice latter. You build up resistance to God's Spirit. If you make the choice for Jesus today it will be easier to choose God's purpose for your life.