Is God really Good? (How does Jesus explain the problem of evil?)

The problem of evil is a challenging subject to tackle. The question is often put this way: If God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-wise, why does He allow so much suffering and evil?

For the last five years I have read and graded position papers of first-year seminary students seeking to biblically answer this question for the ages. (In theology we call it “theodicy” as in Theos = God, and dika = to judge or justify. In this question we are seeking to judge, defend, or justify God. And that’s part of the problem, if we’re honest; who are we to judge God?) In Just 7-10 pages these first-year theology students are often over-matched. It’s difficult to give a comprehensive and compelling answer.

Let’s make no mistake: it’s not just a philosophical question begging for an abstract answer.We suffer; personally, painfully, and relationally. Where is God in the midst of tragedy, especially when suffering hits our lives?

A related question usually follows:

  • Why can’t (or won’t) God just remove all the evil from the world, just leaving the good behind?

That assumes that we who ask the question are on the “good” side, and there are others who are on the “bad” side. Why can’t God just rid the world of evil and pain in one moment? Can’t He do whatever He wants? (See Psalm 115:3.)

In grading each student’s paper I seek to counter the students argument with the question: How does Jesus answer this question? (Not just with His words, but also with His life and death. Certainly the God-Man has much to say about the problem of good and evil, right?) In looking at His life, His words, will, ways, and worth, does Jesus answer the problem of evil?

In teaching His disciples, perhaps Jesus simplifies the issues at play. Read on: Continue reading

Healthy people grow.

  1. healthy people grow
  2. growing people change
  3. change challenges us
  4. challenges drive us to trust Jesus
  5. Jesus calls us to obedience
  6. obedience makes us healthy
  7. healthy people grow!

Growing healthy and whole is a never-ending cycle. We never grow beyond our need to change and grow.

Only Jesus can change us, and we can only grow as we trust in Him, continually.

—adapted from James Ryle, “Healthy Things Grow.”

[HT: Jon Furman in real-time.]

Influence. What are you telling yourself?

Relationship drives influence. In every sphere of life. How are you influencing yourself?

Another question: Do you talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself?

“No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. You’re in an unending conversation with yourself. You’re thanking to yourself all the time, interpreting, organizing, and analyzing what’s going on inside you and around you.”
—Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

And by “talking to yourself,” we cannot mean just telling yourself positive thoughts or psych yourself up with messages to “stay positive!” That could be part of it, but no amount of positivism can overcome reality. What are you telling yourself that is true?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
—Philippians 4:8-9

Our lives are a pursuit of pleasure. How are your deepest desires met?

“For many people, Christianity is a tedious and ultimately unsatisfying aversion to temptations they would much prefer to indulge. Nothing depresses me more than to think of expending my one life on earth merely suppressing my deepest desires, always acting contrary to what my soul continues to crave. But there is little hope of it being otherwise so long as I seek satisfaction in something other than God.”
—Sam Storms, One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God, 127.

Thankfully, that is not what Christianity is all about, because God is not a killjoy. He offers far better pleasures than any alternative available to us. His promises are not empty, which when when you think about it, that cannot be said of much else. We spend our lives in the pursuit of pleasure. What kinds of pleasures are we pursuing?

Consider these lyrics:

You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
—Psalm 16:11

Because God is good, we do not have to look for a satisfying life anywhere else.

Sam Storms describes in his book, One Thing: Developing a Passion For the Beauty of God, a significant story from Greek mythology. Perhaps you already know the story of Jason and Ulysses, as they encountered the Sirens. In Greek mythology, the Sirens are creatures with the head of a female and the body of a bird. They lived on an island (Sirenum Scopuli; three small rocky islands) and with the irresistible charm of their song they lured mariners to their destruction on the rocks surrounding their island.

The Sirens sang when they approached, their words even more enticing than the melody. They would give knowledge to every man who came to them, they said, ripe wisdom and a quickening of the spirit. Countless unwitting sailors had been lured to their death by their outward beauty and the irresistible song of the sirens. They would unwittingly follow the song, crash their ships on the rocks surrounding the island where the sirens would devour them. Any crew passing by needed a fool-proof plan to steer clear of disaster.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Ulysses had been repeatedly warned about the song of the sirens so he had his crew put wax in their ears to block out the seductive song. He commanded his men neither to look to the left nor to the right, but to row for their lives. But Ulysses had other plans for himself. He commanded that he be strapped to the mast of the ship, leaving his ears unplugged. He wanted to hear the song and he instructed the men that he was not to be removed until a safe distance way.

Were it not for the ropes that held him, Ulysses would have succumbed. Though his body was tied, his soul said yes to the temptation. He made it through safely, but the fact that he didn’t give in was only due to the external shackles. Sadly, this is just the way many of us try to resist the appeal of sin, with our hearts chasing the passing pleasures of sin while we shackle ourselves to legalism changing only the outward behavior.

Contrast the approach of Ulysses to Jason, who had also been warned of the seductive siren song. Jason brought with him a man named Orpheus, a musician of incomparable talent. When his music filled the air it had an enchanting effect on everyone who heard it. There was not a lovelier or more beautiful sound in all the world.

When the time came, Jason declined the ear plugs, nor did he ask to be tied. He had no illusion about the strength of his will, instead, he ordered Orpheus to play his most beautiful and alluring song. The Sirens didn’t stand a chance! Jason overcame temptation with something better.

(Which is where the quote from the top comes in.) Storms, and the story of Ulysses and Jason, shows us we do not need a “tedious and ultimately unsatisfying aversion.” We need to find more joy in God, more satisfaction in His promises, than we feel in the alluring — and empty — promises of this fading world. His music needs to be louder than all others, for it’s far more beautiful. He offers us pleasure beyond our wildest dreams.

When 5-1=0.

Our son loves to make up math equations. For some reason, he likes to insist that two plus two equals five. He may end up being a genius, become a trusted expert in the field of quantum mechanics, or write, prove and publish theorems in differential geometry. But we all know that his math right now is not so good. Of course, 2 + 2 = 4, just as 5 – 1 = 4.

But what about when 5 – 1 = 0 ?

A quick lesson in divine mathematics, for all of us; or, at least for me.

First Corinthians 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul makes the same point five times:

  1. If I speak eloquently, but do not have love, then I have become a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.
  2. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but do not have love, then I am nothing.
  3. If I have great faith, but do not have love, then I am nothing.
  4. If I give all my possession to feed the poor and do not have love, then it doesn’t amount to anything.
  5. If I surrender my body to burned, but do not have love, then it profits me nothing.

Do you see that? If we have the five, but lack the One, then we have zero. In this way 5 – 1 = 0. I love math, and have always felt I’ve been apt to do well in problem solving. The issues here are not so simple, though, because without God’s Love at work in my heart I have nothing, because I am nothing.

If you’re like me, you long to have the gifts described — eloquent speech, prophetic powers, great faith, treasures to share with others, even the courage to give up your life when needed — but can be certain none of those are ends in and of themselves. Each is meant to be used in the service of others, motivated by a deeper motivation of sacrificial love. This will no doubt take determination and courage, coupled with true generosity to embody the grace given to us in Jesus. It is far easier to do that other five than the One.

Who will join me in living a love of love, no longer okay with being a zero?

A lesson from London: Who could stand?

Kari writes:

The British Museum. Four enormous statues of Buddha lined the far wall. They towered, enormous, yet frozen in place. Mere idols. Powerless. I turned the corner to head out, into another gallery, then noticed that Jeff was intrigued by something else, clicking a photo with his phone.

Two tall statues stood on either side of a walkway. Shiny with glaze, standing tall and proud with Asian faces and elaborate Chinese dress. The one on the left held a hefty book, probably 8-10 inches thick, like two or three phonebooks all put together. His face looked severe, judging.

The other statue held a slim booklet, more like a magazine, rolled up into a small cylinder in her hand. The plaque explained that in the first century AD the concept of hell was introduced into China. From where it was unknown. But from that time on it was clearly understood that after death there would be judgment. The severe statue with the thick phone-book type volume was holding the person’s evil deeds. The statue with the magazine rolled up was holding the person’s good deeds.

The statues:

Final judgment statues from the Meng Dynasty in China, housed in the British Museum. Statue on the left holds large book making note of "evil works"; statue on right holds small magazine with record of "good works."

They got that part right.

If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?
—Psalm 130:3

Where, I wonder, have we lost the reality of guilt? Today guilt is a dirty word, something we’re encouraged to shake off, leave behind, free ourselves from.

But isn’t guilt a critical component of the gospel?

Isn’t guilt the black backdrop that allows the glorious diamond of the gospel to be seen in all its glory?

If I didn’t understand guilt, how could I understand grace?