But it is very striking that in the New Testament the terms for calling, when used specifically with reference to salvation, are most uniformly applied, not to the universal call of the gospel, but to the call that ushers men into a state of salvation and is therefore effectual. – John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:9
Jill and Eustace didn’t know how to get Narnia. But they figured calling out to Aslan – whom Jill had not yet met – couldn’t hurt.
Sure enough, it worked.
And that’s when Jill first met Aslan…
Just on this side of the stream lay the lion.
It lay with its head raised and its two forepaws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away – as if it knew her quite well and didn’t think much of her.
“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
They were the first words she had hears since Scrubb (Eustace) had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyways, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step closer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, not as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all. She got up and stood there with her lips still wet from drinking.
“Come here,” said the Lion. And she had to. She was almost between its front paws now, looking straight into its face. But she couldn’t stand that for long; she dropped her eyes.
“…the Boy is safe. I have blown him to Narnia. But your task will be the harder because of what you have done.”
“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.
“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”
This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.
“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.
“I was wondering – I mean – could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
The weight of this topic requires a lengthy blog post. I recognize that this is much longer than most people care to read on a blog site, so for convenience I have provided 5 break points in the article that you can click on and come back and read at any time:
It is likely that since the beginning of time, every civilization has dealt with the same issue. Certainly since the beginning of written history, each succeeding generation resurrects one big question: Why is there pain and evil in the world? The question can take many forms; these variations almost always add God into the mix, something to the effect of “If God is all-good, and God is all-powerful, why does evil exist?”
In a post-modern era of no absolutes, attempts to respond to the “big questions” are now nothing but over-clichéd attempts to make people feel better about themselves. The Church should be a beacon of truth and light that provides a unique and Christian answer to the question.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
We have lost our way. The Church has blended worldly desires for cheap and quick solutions with a slight spiritual blend to offer nothing more than a sugar-coated shell that is hollow on the inside. We have fallen so far that we now answer the “Problem of Pain” with answers such as:
- “God just needed another angel in heaven” (Christianity does not teach that we become angels after death, so I have no idea why we allow this idea to fester).
- “Evil is just the absence of God” (so God is no longer big enough to be all-present?)
- “This [insert natural disaster, economic collapse, war] is God’s punishment on [insert people group] for doing [insert sin]” (OK, but seriously, when did everyone become a prophet? And show me a Biblical precedent for natural disasters being a routine punishment from God).
- “You didn’t have enough faith for good things to happen” (Riiiiight).
- “It is only pain and suffering in our eyes. You just need to change your perspective” (So is there no such thing as absolute evil or absolute good?)
- “God isn’t really ‘sovereign’, that is why we have free will to do what we want” (If you don’t believe in a god who can usurp man’s free will, you don’t believe in a god at all).
These are trite answers and only serve to undermine the riches of Christian faith.
So What Is the Problem?
The real issue being discussed is the existence of pain, evil and suffering in the world. We like the idea of a good and loving god, but often it is hard to reconcile that idea with everything we see in the world around us. What about all of the wars, people dying of starvation and natural disasters, sex trafficking, cancer, murder, disease? Why do bad things happen to good people? What about death?
The philosopher first credited with ‘debunking’ God because of the existence of evil, pain and suffering was a man named Epicurus (341-270 BC). A Greek philosopher by trade, Epicurus narrowed down the problem of reconciling evil with God in a simple argument, called the Epicurean Paradox:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
The Epicurean Paradox could also be narrowed down into three easy steps, which I will refer to for the remainder of this article:
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent).
- God is all-good.
- Evil exists.
Because of point three, Epicurus would say, God is either not all-powerful or he is not all-good. This shouldn’t be an unfamiliar concept to anyone. Surely everyone has experienced some sort of pain, suffering, or evil that causes them to say “How could a good God exist?”
We Are Asking the Wrong Question
I am going to make the argument that the above questions are invalid, and here’s why:
There’s no such thing as a good person.
That’s right. None of us, no one, not one, is good. Jesus himself said, “…No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19b).
The Bible teaches that we are all inherently born with a sin nature. We all have a bend towards sin from the day we are come out of the womb. It is because of this sin nature that we are tainted and corrupt. The book of Romans has a lot to say about the existence of evil. Look at what its author Paul has to say:
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
You might be reading this while saying to yourself, “This guy is off his rocker! He’s assuming I’m going to believe what the Bible says.” I’m not, because you already know in your heart that what this passage says is true.
Still fighting it? Then ask yourself the following questions: Who taught you how to lie? Who taught you how to covet something that wasn’t yours? Who taught you how to get angry and throw temper tantrums as a child? No one did. Those desires and sinful bends were in you since you were born.
All of this is to say that when we ask the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” we are asking the wrong question. It is a man-centered question which doesn’t put God first. This question must be asked in a theocentric (God-centered) manner, not an anthropocentric (man-centered) manner. Author and philosopher CS Lewis said it best when he said:
The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for they pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’.
So why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? He doesn’t, because there are no good people. Let’s take a look at the second question to get a better understanding of why evil, pain and death exists in the first place.
Why is There Pain and Evil in the World?
As for the latter question, why does God allow evil to exist? Simply put, because we do not exist in a vacuum. Were God to simply eradicate evil, we would not exist. Evil cannot go unpunished, and as Scripture puts it, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This isn’t just a physical death. This is the death of all things that are good and right. The world is no longer the way it was supposed to be. Why does evil continue to exist? Because we have chosen it. As contributors in the human race we have all chosen to go our own way, to turn from God, and to give in to our own desires. Our anger, lust and pride mixes and stirs into one giant blue and green sphere of hostility, hatred and death floating in space.
Here’s the kicker: we’re all guilty. Every single one of us has contributed to the evil, pain and suffering that exists in the world. We have at one time wounded, ignored, and hurt others in ways they’ll never forget. We all lust after and covet things that we shouldn’t have, which causes us to chase after all of the wrong things. No one is exempt from the curse of sin and death – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All. Not some. All. Me, you, everyone.
So How Should Christians Respond?
With the above foundations fueling our understanding of the questions at hand, I further suggest that in reality there is no “Problem of Evil” at all. The Epicurean Paradox is a paradox itself, because there is no paradox. Properly understood, a good, loving and all-powerful God is perfectly reconcilable with the existence of pain and evil.
And this is why I have a problem, a bone to pick if you will. So many Church members today are completely misinformed, to the point that we don’t even understand that the answer is sitting right in front of us.
The Christian faith does not teach that you need to believe good things can happen in order for them to happen, that we become angels after death, or that God is unable to prevent evil. The Christian faith does not teach that God is malevolent, likes to watch us suffer, or is generally uninvolved with our lives.
On the contrary, the Christian faith teaches that God is SO good, SO loving, that he can bring the best good from the worst evil. As the early church thinker St. Augustine said,
Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.
There are examples of this all over the Bible. God is a redemptive God, and we consistently see him turning evil into good in the lives of people like Joseph, David and Paul. But what better place to see this take place than on the work of Christ on the cross! It is with the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ that we see the ultimate example of good coming out of evil. What the world intended to use to destroy God, God intended to use to purchase salvation for all of those who would believe in him for life. How can one conceive of a higher good than that!? As condemned sinners, who brought evil and death upon ourselves, God still looked upon us and said “This will not do!”
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8
Properly understood, there is no “Problem of Evil.” The questions we often use to asses this so-called problem are the wrong questions because they focused on men rather than God. We presuppose that we deserve good things to happen to us, when really we all deserve death.
We began by looking at the Epicurean Paradox, which we summarized as follows:
- God is all-powerful (omnipotent).
- God is all-good.
- Evil exists.
When we stop at point 3, our first inclination is to think that point 3 would contradict point 1 or 2. However, point 3 is not the end of the story. As author and apologist Dr. Greg Bahnsen points out, we must continue on to a point 4:
4. God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.
Christianity teaches that God is so immensely good, so far beyond our comprehension, that He can produce good from even the worst and most tragic of evils. Now, let me be clear; this isn’t to say that we are always going to know the exact reason for individual circumstances of pain and evil. We can’t always know why someone has cancer, or why our friends would be killed, or why terrorists would kill hundreds of people. We can’t always know why we’d lose our job, or someone would choose to cause us immense pain and hurt.
But we can be sure of two things.
The first is that the consequence of our sin is death and suffering. All of us have sinned, and we have all contributed to the pain and hurt we see in the world. What is the meaning of all of this death and suffering in the world? The consequences of sin are outrageous.
Second, we have an amazing, sacrificial and loving Savior. We have a God who does not desire us to eternally face the consequence of our sin, but wants to reconcile us and redeem us, allowing us to experience the grace and mercy that only the perfect Creator can give. We can have confidence that even though we have trouble in this life, Jesus has overcome the world.
I know there will be plenty of non-Christians who read this. And I know every one of you have gone or are currently going through some kind of hurt and some kind of pain that causes you to be angry and bitter with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. Come, taste and see. The Lord is good. I invite you to send me a message. Let’s talk about it. There is hope, there are answers, and they’re found in Jesus.
Christians, we have a better answer than what the world can provide. It just is. When you feel hurt or pain, when you see evil in the world, cling to the cross. Rejoice in our Savior. And then go help someone else who can’t reconcile pain and evil with the idea of a loving God. We have the answer for reconciling pain and evil, for bringing hope to a dark world, and for restoring hurting people with a loving God. Don’t give in to cheap, worldly answers.
The gospel changes everything.
This is the fifth part in a series:
- Gospel-Centered Bible Study
- Awe-Inspired Bible Study
- Self-Surrendering Bible Study
- God-Glorifying Bible Study
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:8–10 (ESV).
Rounding out this five-part series that has taken much longer to finish than originally intended is the subject of God’s love as a motivation for our Bible study. This aspect of the Christian faith is the nuts and bolts, the glue that holds everything together. None of the other pieces would fit together as they do if one thing wasn’t for sure: God is love.
The question is, what kind of love is manifested in God? I think there are two extremes that we can gravitate towards, neither of which is Biblical. The first of these is the view I think most nominal or secular folks would take these days, that is the position that certainly God is loving; by loving they mean he is completely affirming of all of their wants and desires, their lusts and there passions. God essentially becomes the great beach-bum, surfer-dude grandfather in the sky who looks down on his children and says, “As long as everyone is having a good time, I’m happy.” This is destructive and poisonous milk that can destroy growth of faith, and is something I am seeking to address.
The other extreme is for those of us who tend to “intellectualize” the faith. We enjoy reading books and sermons written by 300-year-old dead guys and talking about in-depth topics over a pint. I am certainly guilty of this. What we then tend to gravitate towards is a God who we would say is loving, but we forget to what extreme he is loving, we forget what our response is supposed to be towards that love, and we tend to think of him as more hands off.
My goal is to address a Biblical perspective of God’s love, and how our response to that can fuel our study of God’s Word.
1) God Cares for the Details in Our Lives
When we study theology and read our Bibles often, we tend to magnify the love of God less. I’m not sure exactly why this is. One would think that as we came to study and know God more, our affection would grow for him more and more. Time and time again in my own life and the lives of others, I find it to be the exact opposite. Our knowledge and pursuit of God stops in our heads, and never makes its way into the deep crevices of our soul.
Pastor Paul Tripp calls this the “Danger of Familiarity.” As the months and years go on and we get into a “routine” with our faith, we forget the small things. We forget, as my good friend reminded me of this simple truth a few weeks ago, that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Two things occur when we get into this mode with our Bible study, we forget that God cares for our needs, and we forget how our love for God is meant to fuel our life and actions.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith (Matthew 6:26, 30)? What a simple and glorious truth are these words of Jesus! Our God is kind, he is loving, and he cares for our most basic needs. He is intimately and deeply involved in our lives. Scripture says he has the hair on our heads numbered. Incredible! Such a foundational truth this is, and yet we often squander this affection from God in vain intellectual pursuits.
It is great and wonderful God loves us in this way, but there is certainly more to God’s love. God’s love is so great, and so perfect, and so much more than we can possibly imagine, that he would descend from his throne and die in the presence of beggars and thieves like you and me to redeem his people. And what is our response from this? Vain debate and thick textbooks? Quoting Spurgeon until we are blue in the face? Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:11, 20-21). Pastor Tripp also rightly says that we can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
I think that deserves some repetition: We can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
Paul (the Apostle, not the Tripp), says if I have not love, I am nothing. Or in the words of my Islam professor, if I am not motivated by the love of God in my study of His Word and service towards others than I am a charade. I have no business reaching out to others, serving them, or sharing my faith with them if I am not deeply motivated by compassion and love for them.
Man, those words cut me deep. How many times have you and I read scripture, or books by the saints, and just came away thinking “Man, thats some good knowledge! Deeeeeeep!” How weak are we? Our knowledge of God, our study of His word, is meant to move us towards compassion and empathy for one another. May this be a call for all of us who are in this trap to turn from this snare we are in and be moved into deep affection by the profound love of God.
2) Sacrificial, Committal Love
Today’s society is so bent on this concept of “love.” I’m afraid there are so many definitions floating around these days that love no longer has any weight. Love is more of a fleeting emotion, like lust and happiness, than it is a deep and committal sensation for another person.
For many people, this concept of love meshes with their ideas about the love of God. God affirms everything about us and where we are. He “meets us where we are”, but then never takes us anywhere. He has no desire over our life except for us to be happy and who we want to be.
This concept of God’s love is not only belittling to the concept of love, but it belittles the creator himself. Surely we must relent that this is a puny and small idea of a loving God!
Let us take a brief survey over Scripture to see the extent of which the Bible says God is loving:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:7–8
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. -John 15:13-14
God’s love is absolutely life-changing. You see, God’s love does not simply stop at the cross, a one time saving act that never has any impact on the rest of our lives. God’s love is meant to change every aspect of our lives, he wants to make us into a new creation, continually making us more like himself. As C.S. Lewis says,
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. -Mere Christianity
The love of God is far greater than anything we can possibly fathom. This love is meant to spur us on to good deeds, not because we have to, but because we want to. This love should spur us on to deeper intimacy with the Sovereign Commander of The Universe, not cause us to be apathetic and not pursue Him at all.
Look at how the Pslamist responds to God’s love through praise in adoration:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever; – Psalm 136:1-3
Love is not an emotion, it is not something that changes on a whim. Love, especially the love of God, is sacrificial and committal. As I detailed in another post, society’s concept of love is vile and insufficient, a meager shadow of the reality of God’s love for us. God has given us everything by giving us himself. He completely, freely, and willingly gave himself for a people who had turned his back on him and rejected him. A people who to this day still turn our backs and reject him.
There is no greater love than the sacrificial and committal love of God our savior. This love should move us towards obedience and service to him.
I don’t know where you’re at when you’re reading this. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for years, and this is a reminder to you for where your heart should be during your study of God’s Word. If you’re like me, you need a reminder like this to get your head out of the clouds and move towards deep compassion and affection.
Maybe you’re not a Christian at all. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. A good many of you might have been going to church for some time, but the church and its members has wounded you. Unfortunately, the reality is that Christians are no better off than anyone else, the only difference is we are redeemed sinners. We still mess up, and we still cause great harm to others even when we don’t intend to.
Wherever you’re at, I just hope this post was an encouragement and a challenge to you. This is a deep subject that I’ve already gone overboard on, but if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me either through comments or the “Contact Me” page.