Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
When tragedy strikes, when chaos reins, when calamity turns lives upside down, people ask questions. In their anger and their grief some of the most common questions are about God, even from people who otherwise ignore or even claim to disbelieve in Him.
“Why does God let bad things happen?” “If God is loving and fair, why does He allow hateful and unfair things happen to good people?” In some cases they’re even blaming God for the tragedy.
Now as a Christian it is easy to become upset with people who ask these kinds of questions and call God’s character into doubt with their insinuations and their faithlessness.
But then we have to remind ourselves that they are asking in ignorance, and it is we, as believers in Christ, who are supposed to have some sort of answer for them. Not that we always have the answers ourselves, but the fact is, if they are asking they deserve some kind of response.
With that in mind we must be careful that we give them a proper and helpful response, and in order to be in position to do that we must think things through for ourselves first.
But in the wake of the events of the past week in our own country, and with the memories of the collapsed bridge in Baghdad, the multiple suicides by out teens, and the terror being advocated by North Korea, and the tsunami in Indonesia being so fresh in all of our minds, I felt that I should address this issue to some degree at least.
I know there will be a lot of good sermons out there in these upcoming weeks about grief and tragedy and how to deal with horrible times and I know many of them will give comfort.
Here, I want to come in a slightly different door and hopefully give the reader some food for thought, and perhaps a word or two to share with inquiring minds.
When Adam sinned in the garden, and by saying Adam I mean both he and Eve, they died spiritually, they began to die physically, and if they rejected God’s promise of a Redeemer they died eternally. I personally believe there is ample evidence that they did believe in that promise, but that’s another discussion.
The point is, since all of mankind was in Adam’s loins when he sinned, therefore all of mankind inherited a sin nature (or a ‘fallen nature’) from Adam. (Romans 5:12-15)
That fallen nature in us is diametrically opposed to anything Godly, since it is the nature of the flesh and contrary to God.
This is not meant to be a sermon on basic Bible doctrine, but this point must be understood so that the reader will know what I mean when I say that our natural thinking is backwards in relation to God and everything about Him.
It is only when we are given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit and He begins to lead us into truth that we begin to think rightly at all about spiritual truth; it is only then that we begin to any degree to think like God.
Therefore, when people, sometimes even Christians, ask questions like what purpose does evil serve? The first thing we need to realize is that the question itself is backwards.
Instead of rambling all over the intellectual countryside trying to formulate an acceptable response to these questions, we could save ourselves a great deal of stress and discomfort and more than a little looking foolish, if we recognize that the whole ‘who’s to blame’ approach is backwards, as it comes from the fallen nature which is fundamentally ignorant of the truth of God.
I believe the only proper response to faithless questions, whether they be from someone else or floating around in our own mind, is to go to the Bible, see what the Bible says about God, and evaluate the circumstances in light of what the Bible says He is like, rather than evaluating God in light of the visible and temporal circumstances.
The next thing we must do then, is to determine what our own response and reaction is going to be to the circumstances in light of what we have learned about God.
So I want to take a brief look at two people in the Bible and their reactions to adversity, and the outcome of their reactions. Then I want us to go to just a couple of places that talk about the nature of God and what our response should be to that information, and then I’ll be done.
Here is Daniel 1:1-8
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego. 8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.
Judea, the southern Kingdom, had finally filled up her cup of iniquity with her idolatry and ungodly living, so God gave her into the hands of her enemy for a time of discipline and cleansing. Even then He promised His nation would once more be restored.
In the meantime however, here was Daniel, a young man at the time, forcibly taken into captivity and removed from his homeland. In all of it though, Daniel was faithful to his God, and obedient and prayerful.
Why? Because Daniel was prepared for adversity by his faithfulness and obedience to God in times of relative peace and comfort.
Daniel was blessed and protected by God and to make a long story short, the Bible does not record one fault of Daniel. It does not record one instance in which Daniel wavered in his faith and God used him greatly.
Next let’s go to Genesis 19:1, 2
1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.”
Peter, in his second letter, called Lot ‘righteous’. In a seeming contrast we see Lot here, sitting in the gates of Sodom. Now that means he was doing business with the inhabitants of the city, perhaps exchanging philosophies with them, maybe politicking a little. The city gate was where these things took place.
So Lot might have been righteous in that he was religious and did all the right religious stuff, but he was living in tandem with an evil society and being affected by its evil thinking and its evil world view.
Verse 29 of Genesis 19 tells us that it was because God remembered Abraham’s request that He saved Lot and his family out of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But what we see of Lot is that he had become so embedded in the lifestyle of Sodom that the angels preferred to sleep in the city square than to come into his house.
In addition, His thinking was so tainted that when the men of the city came banging at the door wanting to have sexual relations with Lot’s visitors, he thought that giving them his two virgin daughters would be the solution to the problem.
As if that is not bad enough, when he escapes to the mountains with his daughters he gets drunk and commits incest with them, generating the Moabites and the Ammonites.
Why? Because Lot wasn’t prepared to face adversity and handle it properly and in a Godly way, because instead of staying near to God and pursuing holiness he pitched his tents toward Sodom, (first step) and eventually found himself in the city gates (second step) and even living amongst them in the city (third step).
What about God destroying the cities with fire? Well, He was willing, at Abraham’s request, to spare them all if He could only find 5 righteous men there. That I think is where our focus should be.
Instead of blaming God for the evil that men do, and then blaming Him when He acts against evil, we need to take note that He is patient and loving and not willing that any should perish.
Read Matthew 5:43-48 and remember this is Jesus speaking:
Matthew 5:43-48 (NASB95)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Two things to note from this portion. One, God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. He shows no favoritism; He is fair and just in all He does.
Second, and backing up a step in the passage, note that Jesus said, “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven” The point being, that is what God is like. Loving, interceding, even for His enemies. We are to be like Him in that respect.
One final passage:
1 John 4:15-19
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.
God is love, says John, and then he says that as God is so are we in this world. Read this passage several times. Let it sink in.
Then, having the truth about God freshly in mind, go back and look at the circumstances of Katrina, or the Baghdad bridge, or the Indonesian tsunami, or 9/11 or the Columbine shooting and all the other ‘Columbines’, or just the adverse circumstances of your own life, and assess them in the light of what the Bible says about who God is.
If you can do this honestly, if the people you talk to who have these questions can do this honestly, perhaps you can begin to see the times of trouble with a different perspective, knowing that everything about God’s plan for the ages has as its result the end of evil, and the conforming of men to the image of His Son Jesus if only they will come to His cross for forgiveness and to His empty tomb for life eternal.
Instead of trying to second-guess God and instead of trying to answer questions that come from a faithless heart, we should all be more concerned with whether we are close enough to Him, and desiring holiness and justice and righteousness so that when adversity comes we will respond with Godliness and Christ-likeness instead of faithlessness and failure.
The Winds of Fate
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow;
’Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tells them the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate
As we voyage along through life;
’Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife.
— Ella Wheeler Wilcox