Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Problem of Evil

Why does evil exist? If God is all-powerful and infinitely good, why doesn’t he get rid of the devil? If God is all-knowing, why did he create Lucifer, knowing that he would fall into sin and become the devil? Why doesn’t God do away with suffering? These are questions that have perplexed people in all generations.

The Purpose of God
The key to understanding the solution to the problem of evil is by understanding the purpose of God. God is not caught in a problem. He has never been surprised. God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11b), which means that all things happen because God willed it; ordained it to happen. God does or allows all things that happen, for an infinitely good and wise purpose. And the Bible informs us what this grand purpose is.
God’s purpose is God’s glory. This is the revelation that makes the whole Bible make sense. God is all about showing off the wonders of his glory, the beauty of his excellencies, to all the universe. God is absolutely and totally devoted to the honor of his glorious name. This is not arrogant. It is true, and it is good and right. If God were devoted to anything else he would be an idolater (by setting his affection on something other than the one true God) and he would be a liar (by saying that there is something else worthy of all glory, when there is not). Since God IS the summation of all good qualities, it is righteous for God to show himself off to all. And it is also loving for him to reveal his awesomeness, because all who see him and delight in his attributes are blessed and happy and satisfied.
Everything exists for God’s ultimate glory. Colossians 1 teaches us that all things were made by Jesus, for Jesus (v. 16): “all things…in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” Colossians 2:15 and Ephesians 6:12 inform us that these “thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities” refer to demonic powers; agents of evil led by Satan! So the Bible is teaching that these evil monsters were actually created by Jesus, FOR Jesus; to show God’s glory to the universe. (This is brought out wonderfully in John Piper’s Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.
We must point out that God did not create them evil. Everything he created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God did not create anything evil, but he created what he knew would become evil by its own choice. Therefore the creation is responsible for its evil; God is not.
So we see that evil exists ultimately for God’s glory. “The LORD made all for himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom” (Proverbs 16:4 NKJV). God made what would choose to be evil, and God knew what this choice would be before he made it. He was not surprised. He allowed it to happen: evil, with all its horrors and pains and sufferings and terrors in the earth. And all of this somehow ultimately glorifies God. So our question is now, “HOW does evil ultimately glorify God?”

#1. Evil a Reference Point
The first way evil ultimately glorifies God is by providing a reference point , or point of comparison, to highlight God’s excellencies. Evil exists to show what God is not. This way we appreciate more fully what God IS. When we see evil, we can know what God is not like. God’s gloriousness is more fully known because we have something to compare him to.
For example, a tree is big. Until you compare it with Texas. Texas is big until you compare it with the Earth. And the earth becomes small when compared to the Milky Way Galaxy. If evil did not exist, God would still be good (He was good before evil existed!). But because evil exists, the universe understands that God is not like evil. His greatness seems greater by those who see evil!

#2. The Existence of Evil Justifies God’s Judgment
God has allowed evil to continue to show to the universe the exceeding sinfulness of sin. This, in a manner of speaking, vindicates (or justifies) God. He has declared to the universe that evil is horrible and completely unlike himself. God has claimed that evil is worthy to be hated (“O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” Psalm 97:10; “Abhor what is evil.” Romans 12:9). To remove any possible doubt, and justify his judgment against evil, God has allowed evil both to exist and to increase, thereby showing himself right and good in declaring it most abominable. Let me explain.
God created Lucifer, knowing that he would choose sin. God could have judged Lucifer immediately when he rebelled. But he had previously purposed to allow evil to continue and increase, for a time, to expose it for what it truly is. Lucifer’s evil spread when he convinced 1/3 of the angels to join him in his rebellion. Next, evil infected mankind when he tempted Adam and Eve in the garden and they, too, joined his sin. All along God was proving that he was completely true when calling sin hideous. Lucifer, all along, was questioning God’s declaration and raising a seed of doubt in the universe (“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”…"You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1b, 4-5).
God allowed man to fall into evil (as he had purposed). Then he allowed evil to continue in man and show itself to be putrid and vile. Because of sin in mankind the universe looked on as every hideous thing imaginable was done. Through evil came suffering, sickness, violence, oppression, and every abominable thing under the sun. It continues to this day; Evil is shown as putrid, deserving of God’s judgment; and God has shown what he is not. God has justified his claim of glorious goodness and righteousness by allowing evil to exist (“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” Psalm 51:4).

#3. God’s Attributes More Clearly Seen Because Evil Exists
The third way evil ultimately glorifies God, which is really another way of looking at the first reason, is that the existence of evil becomes a way for God to show his attributes to the universe.
For example, many concede that Michael Jordan in his prime was the greatest basketball player of all time. But if no less-talented basketball players existed to play against Jordan, his talents would not be appreciated. What if everyone could play basketball like Mike? Then he would not be thought of as good.

*The existence of sin serves to show God as the Savior of sinners.
*The existence of addictions and bondages serves to show God as the Deliverer who sets people free.
*The existence of sickness and pain serves to show God as the Healer.
*The existence of suffering serves to show God as the Comforter for the downcast.
*The existence of evil serves to show God as the final and ultimate GOOD.

Even hell glorifies God! The existence of hell (and the sinners who will be punished there forever with the devil and his angels) will eternally show the attribute of God’s wrath; his extreme and just hatred of sin. God’s justice and wrath will be glorified at his judgment of the wicked: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22). Every atheist who denied God’s existence will one day glorify him forever by showing to the universe that God is just. Every sinner who delighted in his lusts and lived for his own glory instead of God’s, will one day be a picture to the universe that God hates wickedness. Hell exists because God wills it. It exists for a good purpose – to glorify God for his wrath against evil and his mighty power!
God’s glory and grace was most magnified at the darkest and most evil moment in human history: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In this event man was unleashing his evil by murdering the innocent Son of God. God had ordained this before the creation of the world, and he used it (just as he planned) to show the greatness of his glorious grace! Because Jesus died on the cross, sinful man can now be forgiven, restored, reconciled to God. Evil was used by God to destroy evil and show forth God’s glorious love and grace! (For more on this see Piper’s Spectacular Sins…)

The final question remains: If evil serves God’s purpose and even ultimately glorifies God, how can God judge people for being and doing evil? The fact that God USES evil for his own glorious purposes does not nullify the fact that those who do evil did it for THEIR OWN purposes. They were certainly not sinning to give God glory. There is no love of God or respect for his honor in the sin of man. In fact, sinners are going AGAINST God’s clear commands. So they are completely responsible for their sin. The evil committed by angels and man is completely unrighteous, and they are worthy of God’s wrath, justice and condemnation. God will judge them. But he will use the evil they committed to fit into his glorious purpose!

A Day is Coming…
One day God WILL cast Satan into the lake of fire, along with all of the angels and mankind who joined in his rebellion against God. Justice will come. Evil will be punished forever and ever in those who delighted in sin and did not honor God. The punishment will be eternal because every individual sin was against an infinitely holy and eternal God. But the day IS coming when evil will no more be allowed to exist outside of God’s holy judgment. For those who bow the knee to Christ, there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more consequences of evil! But until that day God is allowing these things to exist for a good and wise purpose. We must trust God, whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
All will praise him forever and ever! Our God will be seen and known, and his glory savored, praised, appreciated and worshiped forever! What an awesome God, who has made all things for the glory of his name!

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