Earlier this week I started blogging on topics from a recent sermon on sin and evil that I preached in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings last week. This is part 2.
Many people ask the question, “Why doesn’t God stop evil and sin?” There are a couple of points that I’d like to make about this. There are two distinct perspectives on this that often surface among believers. I find them both to be polarizing, and also incompatible with the sum total of the biblical data. The first is the basic free-will argument, which is common among many believers from differing camps. But this argument basically says that God will not overrule the free will of men. I’ve heard it said this way – “God is a gentleman and will not force his way on people.” Basically, this argument (often) assumes the validity of the primary questions mentioned (Why doesn’t God stop evil and sin?) and basically suggests that if God stopped evil and sin it would be an assault on our wills.
The other side of this is the sovereignty crowd. Their argument usually comes across sounding like God forces people to do evil in order to bring about his will. God forces individuals to sin in order to wake people up or forces them to sin in order to bring his judgment. In fact, some of the comments I made in my last post could sound a bit like this. Basically, this group also assumes the validity of the primary question above and says that God wants this evil to happen to further his purposes.
I suggest that the biblical evidence forces us to evaluate the question more seriously. According to the Bible, God does stop evil and sin…but not all of it. The failure of the first response is that it does not take into account all the times that God does thwart the evil that men and women intend to accomplish. 2 Thessalonians 2.7, when discussing the man of lawlessness, says that God will limit his expression of evil from our current day until his eventual removal. What this indicates is that God enforces a limit on how much evil an individual can perpetrate. God limited the sin of those building a tower in Babel by confusing their language. God limited the sin of Israel’s foes by confounding the minds of the soldiers. God limited the sin of Satan in the book of Job by setting limits on what Satan could do to Job. Go limited the sin of Balaam by stopping his donkey in its tracks and preventing Balaam from cursing Israel. God limited the sin of nations by overthrowing them with foreign powers. The point is, God limits sin all the time. He limits your sin and mine by causing us to get caught by others or limiting our access to the resources we need to sin.
This limiting of sin is so pervasive that we could just as easily ask why there is so much good in the world, or why there isn’t more evil in the world, instead of asking why there is so much evil. A friend of mine once said that she couldn’t understand how people could fail to believe in God when they saw how much good there was in the world. What she understood is what God understands, namely that the hearts of men are “all evil, all the time”, as suggested by Genesis 6.5. The presence of good is just as strong of an argument for God as some people claim the presence of evil is an argument against him (not to mention that without God there is no basis for calling anything evil anyway, but that is for another day).
God reserves the right to oppose the will of men at any turn. But this is different from saying that God forces people to sin. This argument could obviously be very long and drawn out, but let me simply suggest this idea to you. People are plenty willing to sin without being forced by God to do so. But God can and does use the evil people perpetrate for his own purposes. God can take the evil inclinations of a person’s heart and weave them into his overall plan. Judas is the example used in the last post. Throw in the Pharisees and the people of Jerusalem as a whole, and you’ve got the greatest example of an evil tragedy being used to bring about the greatest gift of grace in the history of creation. God didn’t need to force people to commit this evil. But he may have actively handed them over to it in order to fulfill his purposes. Or maybe not. That’s the point of all of this. God can do what he wants.
So why doesn’t God always stop evil? Or, more pointedly, why doesn’t he stop certain evil events in my life? The answer to that is simple. No one knows.
The major point of the book of Job is that God does things and allows things for his purposes and we do not always get to know what those are. Job was a righteous man. Job did everything he was supposed to do. Yet, calamity fell on him and his household, which included the deaths of his children. Job is accused of having hidden sin, but he repeatedly denies it. In the end, Job finally is allowed to address God directly. In God’s response to why this evil befell Job, God doesn’t correct Job. He doesn’t say, “you are not perfect, so you did deserve this evil.” He also doesn’t say, “Job, there was nothing I could do about this. Remember free will.” Instead, God asks Job a question. The gist of it is, “Who are you, Job?” In other words, what place does a human being have asking God to answer for his actions? God, in his wisdom, knows better than we do how to handle every given situation and circumstance. God knows better than we what the ramifications are for each choice he makes. God knows how evil will affect us and how we will respond better than we do. We can ask why, but only God gets to fully know the answer to why specific evil actions happen.
God knew that two brothers, and perhaps others, were making bombs and planning to detonate them. And because God knows how to make bombs, he knew these bombs were going to work. God knew that the police, FBI, and other officials had no idea they were going to commit this specific atrocity. And because God understands law enforcement, he knew that they were not going to find out. And yet, God did not intervene. He could have given the brothers the flu last week, preventing their ability to go out. He could have tampered with the bombs to prevent them from exploding properly. He could have had the backpacks break and the bombs fall into view of members of crowd and the police. He could have done any of those things and a million more to prevent the bombs. But God chose not to do anything.
At least, that was the phrase that slipped my mouth. I was corrected. God wasn’t doing nothing that day. He was engaged in every moment of May 15th at the Boston Marathon. He prevented more people from dying. He positioned doctors and helpers and first responders where he wanted them. God allowed these men to be stopped before they could kill more than the 4 who died by placing other bombs around the city or (as they apparently planned to do) in other cities. God was limiting, but not wholly preventing evil. Why did he allow the part that he did allow? I don’t know. But God doesn’t have to answer to me. He knows better than I how to manage his creation.
So the answer, in my mind, to the primary questions is this – asking “Why doesn’t God stop evil and sin?” fails to understand that God does stop a great deal of it. And the evil he chooses not to stop, well only he knows for sure why. But he will use it for his greater, good purposes. And this means that the evil, though it is illogical and senseless, does not remain senseless. God takes the senseless event and endows it with purpose and meaning. This purpose and meaning will result in our good (Gen 50.20 and Romans 8.28). God knows best when to intervene the way we want him to and when to intervene in other ways. This intervention is always for good.