Sunday, October 18, 2015

Evil

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3.1

With those words the happy story of creation takes a dreadful turn for the worse. Temptation is followed by unbelief which is followed by doing what God had forbidden. And then, everything falls apart. Everything. And the reason for all of this is that there is evil in the Garden. The serpent. And that leads to a simple question, one with profound consequences in its answer. Why? Why was there evil in the Garden? That’s what we’re going to look at this morning. And we’re going to look at it because you need an answer for that question. You cannot ignore it. You need an answer to that question, an answer that will help you when you are confronted by evil. And that’s what I hope to give you.

Now, the beginning of an answer is given in the first sentence that I read to you. Here is this creature, this crafty creature, who will fool humanity. Why is there such a creature? What does it say?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
There is such a creature because the Lord God made it. So, does that mean that God is responsible for the evil that confronts us all?

There are many who answer that with a very clear ‘No’. These folk say that while He did create this creature God made him with a free will. So, whatever choices he makes, like choosing to tempt Adam and Eve away from God, well, that’s on him and not on his Creator. God has taken a hands-off approach, they tell us. He is not responsible. Evil has shown up because of the free choices of His creatures.

Does that work? Not really. Listen to this from Isaiah.
I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
That’s from the old King James translation. It does a good job here. Newer translations soften it a bit. So, instead of using the word ‘evil’ you’ll find ‘troubles’ or ‘calamity’ or ‘disaster’. What are they but different ways of talking about evil? And the Hebrew word actually is ‘evil’. God created evil.

This isn’t the only place that talks about God bringing about evil. Listen to this from the end of Job.
And [his family] showed [Job] sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.
And just to make it clear, whose idea was the evil of the crucifixion of Jesus? According to what Peter said on Pentecost,
Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan … of God.
So, we have an answer to our question. Why is there evil? There is evil because God wants it. He created it. It’s part of His plan for His creation. That’s why it shows up in the Garden, in Job, at the Cross and in your life.

Now, that raises all sorts of questions. I’m going to deal with just one. Why would God want there to be evil? Isaiah again helps us.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. ​For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
We find here a major theme of Scripture. Whatever God does, He does, first of all, for His own sake. He does what He does to reveal who He really is, to reveal what kind of God He is, to reveal His glory.

And that gives us an answer to our question. Why would God want there to be evil? He wants it because it’s a way for Him to reveal more of who He is.

So, we suffer evil so that God can look good? Is that what’s going on? And the answer is a clear, ‘Yes’. But lots of people react against this. Do you know why? It doesn’t fit the basic assumption of their lives. ‘God is there for my sake. He is there to make sure that I am happy and that I cruise through life relatively carefree. It’s all about God loving me.’ That’s a basic assumption of our culture, one that greatly affects the Church. But the Scriptures disagree. This is a God-centered creation. We are here for His sake. The creature serves the Creator. Get this wrong and so much of life just doesn’t make sense. And that’s why so many get angry at God when evil touches their lives.

Now, listen carefully to what I say next. Nothing that I’ve just told you lessens the enormity of God’s love for you. I know that that might not make sense. God wants evil in your life and at the same time He loves you. Yes, it sounds odd, but it’s true. God created evil. He brings that evil into your lives for the sake of making Himself look good. But at the same time, He loves you oh so much so that He always does you good. Even in sending evil, He does you good. As you see this more and more clearly, you also begin to see that God’s love is much greater than what most understand it to be. Yes, we are here for His sake and not the other way around. That is why we suffer evil. But at the same time, He does so much for our sake. We are why He has suffered evil. Think here of the Cross. He endured that evil because He loves us. And as all of this sinks deeper into your soul, there follows a growing sense of wonder at who God is.

So, why is there evil? God wants it this way, at least for now. And why would He want it this way? More of His beauty and glory is revealed, something that makes Him look really good. And all of this evil He sends our way is also an expression of His love for us. The evil He sends us is designed to do us good.

And now for a question. This is where you get to use what I’ve just talked about. What do you do when you are confronted by evil? The evil that I’m thinking about can take many, many different forms. It can be physical pain, emotional struggle, the loss of someone you love, dreams that are crushed, failing at something, severe disappointment, serious illness. And that’s only a partial list. So, what do you do when evil hits you?

The first thing is actually something that you should not do. Don’t minimize the evil. Don’t say that it’s not that bad when it actually is. We are not stoics. We are Christians. Jesus didn’t minimize the evil He was to experience. Right before He was arrested, Jesus was repulsed by the prospect of evil. He cried out to the Father to be spared. He didn’t minimize it. And neither should you. So, when evil comes your way, don’t say, ‘Well, it wasn’t that bad. After all, it could have been worse.’ Why compare it with the worst? Shouldn’t you compare it with what the best could have been? Right now, we could be living in a perfectly beautiful Garden that never experienced evil, but we’re not. Don’t minimize evil. Be honest and call it what it is.

Here’s the second thing. Trust the Father. Remember, the evil you experience is ultimately His idea. He’s the one who has sent that evil your way. This is where you need to believe that whatever He sends your way is, in some way, an expression of His love for you. Trust the Father.

And what might that look like? Remember we’re not to minimize the evil. So, what might that look like? Here’s one possibility from the Psalms.
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
There is a refreshing honesty in the Psalms. Maybe a better word would be ‘bluntness’. David doesn’t hold back. He cries out. ‘Father, what are You doing?!?’ We need to do better at this. It’s part of not minimizing the evil.

But remember how David ends this Psalm.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love.
David trusted God. But that didn’t mean that he became a stoic. When it hurts, say so. When you are confused by what the Father is doing, tell Him exactly what you’re thinking. Cry out to your loving Father when He sends evil your way. Let that be an expression of how you trust Him.

So, don’t minimize evil. Trust the Father. And then, here’s the third thing to do. Be content with His plan. Be content with how He has decided to love you - evil and all. And do that because of what you know. And what do you know?
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Get to the point of being able to say what Job said.
​Though he slay me, I will hope in him.
Your Father knows what He is doing. Parts of His plan for your life hurt, a lot. But be content with that plan. He knows what He’s doing. He loves you.

None of what I’ve just described – not minimizing the evil, trusting the Father, being content with His plan – is possible if you try to do it on your own. Left to your own resources you will not understand God’s use of evil. And you will not respond well when He sends that evil your way. He must give you the wisdom to understand. He must give you the ability to trust Him. He must give you contentment when it comes to what He is doing. On your own, you will not be able to do any of that. You need the grace of God. And this He gives to you. He gives His grace abundantly. He gives this grace by His Word and by His sacraments. He gives it when you cry out to Him in your prayers. It is as you give yourselves to these tools of His that He gives you what you need to live well in the midst of evil.

Earlier I said, ‘So, why is there evil? God wants it this way, at least for now.’ Those last words, ‘at least for now’, are so important. We submit ourselves to the Father’s plan out of love for Him even though it means enduring the pain of evil. But the day will come when there will be no evil to endure. That will be the ultimate solution. And that is something to hold on to.

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