Craig Smith - The Problem of God and Evil
Hey, welcome to Mission Hills on all of our campuses. I’m so glad you are here. I realize this is a weekend where it would be really easy not to come to church, but I’m so glad you are here. I know we are between Christmas Eve and New Year’s weirdness and the chaos of that, so it would be really easy to stay home, but I’m glad you are here because we are launching a new series. I’m really excited about this series. It’s something God laid on my heart a couple of — well, early last year, actually. I’m really excited to see what He does with it. It’s a little bit of a different series for us. I want to explain why it is that we are doing it. I think everybody listening probably falls into one of two categories, okay, and the question for you is, which one am I?
The first category is people that have faith and questions. People who have faith, they believe in God. They have faith in Jesus, but they also have questions. There is this myth out there that somehow people of faith don’t have questions, but having faith doesn’t get rid of the questions. What it does sometimes is scares us into not asking them anymore. You get to this place where — I have told everybody I have faith, so I can’t admit that I have any questions, so we don’t want to admit it. The problem is, if we don’t ask the questions we have, we are never going to get the answers we need. The answers actually can drive us deeper into a much more profound and life-giving faith if we are willing to ask the questions and get the answers.
That’s one category of people, people who have faith and questions. That’s the biggest one. I certainly fit into that category. There is another category of people that have no faith because they have questions. I think there are a lot of people listening that say, well, I don’t have faith. I don’t necessarily believe in God. I’m not really a committed atheist. I haven’t settled into unbelief, but I haven’t been able to settle on belief yet because I have some significant questions, and I haven’t gotten satisfying answers to those. That might be you as well.
What I want everyone to understand is that we are all on a similar page here. Faith is not really a black or white, yes or no, either or kind of thing. Faith really is kind of a spectrum, and you can think of the spectrum from zero — I have no faith, and I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to examine any evidence. I’m happy where I am, all the way up to maybe ten where people go; I have all of the faith and none of the questions. Got complete confidence. I have all of the answers I need. The question I want to ask you today is where are you? Where am I on a scale of 0 to 10? Take a quick minute to think about it. Zero again is no faith, no questions. I don’t need to look at the evidence. I have everything answered to my satisfaction, no God, no nothing. Ten would be all faith no questions. Like, I got God figured out. He makes perfect sense to me. Everything He does, yep. Got it.
Where are you? Then let me ask you this — any tens? I’m not seeing a lot of tens. Okay. You know what? Here’s what I want you to do then. I want you to look at the person to your right and say, it’s okay. I have questions too. Now look at the person on your left and say, I have questions too. I don’t want anyone to be left out because what we are realizing is, we are all kind of on the same page. You see, faith is a spectrum. If you think about that scale, five is the tipping point from unbelief to belief, but there is still process in either side of those things, and questions that can actually be what helps us to make progress in faith, and so we are all kind of in the same place. You are among friends no matter where you find yourself on the scale today.
That’s really what this series is all about. Today what we are going to do is tackle the problem of God and evil. We are going to ask the question, if God is so good, why is there evil, right? Let’s make sure we frame the question properly. Here’s the way it works. Christians teach a number of things that become difficult when it comes to evil. One of the things that Christians teach is God is good and great. Christians teach that God is good and great, right? So we teach that God is good meaning God is kind. He’s benevolent. He’s gracious. That God wants good things for His creation. We also believe that He’s great, meaning that He’s powerful. In fact, He’s all-powerful. God can do absolutely anything that He wants to do. Nothing that God wants to do is going to be blocked by something that’s out of His ability to control.
This is where the problem comes in. We go, if God is good, He should want to eliminate evil. If God is great, He should be able to eliminate evil, but evil exists. That’s the problem we are dealing with today. Christians say God is good and great but evil exists. And that’s the question we are going to tackle today. It’s a really important question. It’s probably a question you have wrestled with, if you are a believer or not, it’s probably a question you have wrestled with.
It’s a question a lot of people have wrestled with. A study a couple of years ago found, they asked thousands of people around the United States, hey, if you could ask God one question and you knew you would get an answer back, what question would you ask Him? The number one answer was, I would ask God why there’s so much evil, why He allows evil, so obviously, it’s a widespread question. Interestingly enough, they asked the same question of a bunch of Christians, and they found that question was the number one question that we are most afraid our nonbelieving friends are going to ask.
So obviously, this is an important question to have an answer to, and I believe there is an answer to it. I would to ask you to go ahead and grab a Bible from the seat around you, or one you might have brought, or pull one up on your phone. We don’t really care how you get there, but I would love for you to follow along. I’m going to be in Mark 10 today, starting up in verse 17. While you are turning there, let me just say something. I really appreciate the way Christianity deals with the problem of evil, because not all religions deal with it in the same straightforward way that Christianity does. Christianity goes right for the throat. It says there is evil. It’s a real problem, and they deal with it from that perspective. There are religions that try to take kind of a sneaky, round about way of dealing with evil.
One of the things that some religions say is, what evil? What are you talking about? There’s no evil. Doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion. It’s a myth. It’s a misperception. It’s a misunderstanding. It doesn’t exist. There are eastern religions that do that. There are even western religions that do that. Christian Science does that, which by the way is neither Christian nor science, but it does say that there is no evil, okay? So there are religions that say, no, evil is not a problem for belief in God because evil doesn’t exist. Christianity doesn’t do that. Christianity says, no, no, no. Evil is very real, and it needs a solution. What I have come to understand over this last — I don’t know, 25 years or so wrestling with this in my own life as well as with other people, what I have come to understand is this, Christianity offers the only complete explanation for three things, for the existence of evil, for our reaction to it, and for the solution for it.
I have really come to believe, that’s what I’m trying to show you today, that Christianity offers the only explanation for the existence of evil, our reaction to it, like why do we respond to the things we perceive as evil, as well as the solution for it. Mark 10:17 shares a conversation with a young guy and Jesus. It’s a conversation that got way too deep, way too fast. I feel bad for this guy. He had no idea what he was in for. Verse 17 says, As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and he fell on his knees before him. Good teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life? So we got a guy, he’s probably a fan of Jesus, not necessarily a follower, but he’s intrigued by him. He’s interested in him. He’s got a big question, so he runs up and falls down and he says, good teacher. And understand, when he called him “good teacher,” he’s not saying hey, you’re good at teaching. What he’s saying is you’re good. I see goodness in you.
He’s kind of buttering him up a little bit. He’s going, hey, hey, got a big question, but first let me acknowledge something about you. I see that you’re good. But it’s interesting, that word is what Jesus jumped on. He says, good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Verse 18 Jesus said, why do you call me good? And I feel a little bad for the guy, okay? Because that’s not even the question he was there to ask, right? He wasn’t there to talk about what is good. Why I call Jesus good? He’s there to talk about eternal life, but Jesus hears literally the first word out of his mouth, let’s talk about that. I was watching “fails” the other day, all time favorite fail — a guy hopping from puddle to puddle, making them splash. He gets to the third puddle, and he disappears. It wasn’t a puddle. It was a pit. He had no idea he was getting himself into that. That’s kind of what’s happened to this guy.
He’s come to ask a spiritual question. He’s like, good teacher — Jesus is like, let’s talk about “good.” What do you mean by that? Why do you call me good? What Jesus is doing, he’s asking him a really deep question that the guy didn’t realize he was raising, which is what is your basis for saying it? What do you mean by that? When you say that I am good, what does that mean? How do you know that I’m good, and how do you know that something else is not good? What Jesus is doing, he’s challenging his sort of casual usage of a term like that. He’s going, man, don’t use words like that without some thought behind what you mean by them, which is interesting because we do it all the time, right? We use words like that all the time and we don’t think much about what they mean, but think about it. Good and evil, those are relative terms, and I don’t mean that they — just what you happen to think. I don’t mean everybody gets to decide.
I mean that they are relative to some kind of an objective standard. I mean think about it, I’m in front of this backdrop right now. If I go around behind it, I’ll be behind the backdrop. But the words “in front of and behind” they only mean anything because of where the backdrop is. Does that make sense? Good and evil are similar kinds of words. Good and evil require some kind of a standard so you can tell what side of it you’re on, and that’s really what Jesus is asking. He’s saying, what’s the standard here? You’re calling me good, okay. What’s the standard here? What do you mean by that word? And that’s really important for dealing with the problem of God and evil because the first step — listen to me, the first step in answering the question of evil is defining evil, okay? The first step in answering the question of evil is defining evil.
I have had dozens and dozens of these conversations where people will say, hey, it’s great that you are a person of faith. I just don’t have faith because — I don’t know how you can have a good and great God and still have all of the evil in the world. The way we need to respond to that question — or the way you need to deal with that question if it’s your own question is to actually step back a little bit and go, what do you mean by evil? Let’s define that word. I think we need to respectfully go, I agree. That is a difficult question. This is a hard subject, and I would love to talk about that with you, but before we do, we need to make sure that we are using our words in the same way. That’s always important. You are saying your problem with God is evil, would you just tell me — and again, very respectfully. We are not looking for a gotcha moment here. Very respectfully, would you tell me what you mean by evil?
What’s your standard? How do you know if something is evil or not? What I have discovered over the years is that most people are taken back by the question, honestly. They go, I don’t know that I really ever thought about it. You go, well, I don’t know that I have spent all that much time thinking about it, but let’s think about it together. What you are normally going to find is that people begin to try to answer the question. They try to define evil. There’s four different answers that they give, okay? These are a little oversimplified, but I think almost every answer I have ever heard fits into one category or the other. First category is this. People go, evil is the opposite of good, right? Which makes a lot of sense. Doesn’t it. Evil is the opposite of good, and we need to say, I totally agree. I think that’s absolutely right. The problem is, now we are back to the same question Jesus is asking, right?
Why do you call me good? What is your standard? How do you know that I am good? What is your basis for that decision? If we just say evil is the opposite of good, but we don’t define good, we are kind of circling the question. So that doesn’t really work. The second category of answer that people will give is that evil is whatever’s unpleasant. That’s not necessarily the word that they are going to use. They are going to use words that are a little bit deeper, more emotional. They go, there are some things like you just look at it. It’s awful. It feels — like I can’t believe that people are trafficking women around the world. That’s clearly evil because it — clearly, it makes me sick inside, okay?
Or bully, or child neglect. There are all kinds of things. It’s – it feels; it’s clearly unpleasant. Whether that’s the word or not, that’s really what it ultimately comes down to. I think that’s better than the circular thing of saying good is the opposite of evil and vice versa, but the unpleasant thing kind of falls apart too, for a couple of different reasons. First, different people have different standards of unpleasant, don’t they? Like my brother-in-law — he runs Ironman triathlons — and he likes them. Like he clearly has a different standard for what is pleasant than I do, okay?
Then there’s the issue that a lot of things that are unpleasant actually turn out to be good, right? Let’s talk about kale for just a second. Like I know that kale is really good for you. I get it. You can stop with the kale propaganda. It tastes like the devil’s vomit. I’m sorry. I know it’s good for you, but it’s super unpleasant, right? And there’s so many things that are unpleasant but turn out to be good. Medicine. My dad’s taking chemotherapy pills every single day, and it’s not pleasant, but it’s prolonging his life, and it’s actually giving him some more energy back as hit white cell count gets to where it should be. It’s unpleasant, but it’s good, right?
I’m sorry, I’m going to mess a bunch of New Year’s resolutions up here. How many of you have New Year’s resolutions to exercise more? I have bad news for you. At first, it’s not going to be pleasant. People that have been doing it a long time, they are like, no, I love exercise. It makes me feel great. Yeah, you have been doing it a long time. When you first start it, it’s not pleasant — but it is good. It is good for you. Stick with those resolutions. I’m rooting for you. You see what I’m saying? Just because something is unpleasant doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s evil, or that it’s not good, so that doesn’t really work.
Another option people go, the third option is that evil is whatever society agrees it is. It’s the social consensus. Like I don’t know how else we do it, so whatever a group of people says is good or bad, that’s what’s good or bad, so evil is just whatever society agrees is evil for whatever reason. That might be one of the only options people have without God, but it’s really an unsatisfying answer if you think about it. Because what does that mean? If it’s a group of people deciding what’s good or evil, then what happens if another group has a different definition? Is that all we have is a difference of opinion? Is that all we can do about it? Was the holocaust just a difference of opinion between the Jews and the Nazis? Anyone ready to go, yeah, yeah. Just personal preference. Was American slavery a difference of opinion between blacks and whites? Or was it evil? You see what I’m saying? If it’s just social preference, which group gets to decide?
Is it a simple majority, and does it matter if another group — you see what I’m saying? It doesn’t work, and we find ourselves going, no, no, no. Some of those things, I don’t care what anybody thinks, or what anybody decides to do, that’s just wrong. That’s just evil. Why do we feel like that? Then the fourth category of possible answers to what people mean by evil is. Evil is whatever is counterproductive. That’s not really the word that they use, but practically, that’s what it boils down to. Evil is whatever keeps society from moving forward, or evil is whatever keeps our genetics from surviving. There is a lot of evolution tied up in this particular approach.
Evolution says, well your human existence is a result of random chance, but survival of the fittest kicks in, and it does whatever’s necessary to preserve the genes being passed on from generation to generation, so the evolutionary teaching is that well, evolution — blind chance and survival of the fittest has led us to the point where we feel good about things that continue our genetic line, that keep our DNA in play, and we feel bad about things that don’t. For instance, we feel like it’s good — protecting children is good, because it keeps our genes going, and we feel like killing small children is bad because it doesn’t keep our genes in play. Make sense? From an evolutionary perspective, I think that’s a pretty solid attempt to explain why we feel like things or good or evil.
The problem is, again, it doesn’t work its way out when you carry it to its conclusion, because we also feel that it’s good to do thing that is don’t help our kids and help other people’s kids, even if those other people ultimately have kids that end up competing with ours. Why would evolution teach us to do that? I mean, how many of you sponsor children through Compassion International? That’s awesome. Compassion International is closing in on their 2 millionth child sponsored. How cool is that?
Yeah, that’s worth applauding. That’s fantastic. We love Compassion here at Mission Hills. Compassion’s goal is to eliminate child poverty. Not to impact it. It’s to eliminate it. A whole bunch of us have said, that’s a good thing to do. So check out what we do — we take money away from our kids, and we send it to the kids of other tribes and nations and other places that we’ll never see, and here’s the thing — I mean, think about this. It’s going to be brutal for a second, but let’s just follow it through to its conclusion. We are helping them escape poverty, which means they are going to grow up and industrialize and modernize their nations which means they are going to start driving SUVs and things like that, which means they need more of the resources we need, and you understand that those resources are going to run out, right? Natural gas and coal and oil — they are all running out, so we are helping people to get to the point that they are going to consume more of the resources that our kids are going to need someday, and — what are we, idiots? Like why are we helping when it’s going to hurt us down the line — going to hurt our genetic off bring further down the line.
And on a logical basis you are like, yeah, yeah, yeah, but — helping kids in poverty in other nations, it’s just good. It’s the right thing to do. Not helping kids out of poverty when we have the ability to do that, that’s just wrong. We feel that deeply, don’t we? Why? Why? And here’s what happens. I have been wrestling with this question for years with all different kinds of people. What I have come to understand is that our belief in the existence of evil — our belief in the existence of evil is very difficult to explain without the existence of God, do you hear me? Those four options, and almost every answer I have ever heard that doesn’t involve God, fits into one of those four categories, but when you follow them through to their conclusion, they are all very unsatisfying because they just boil down to, I guess I just don’t like it.
And that’s not enough, is it? To look at genocide or human trafficking and go, yeah, that’s just not my preference. That’s not enough, is it? That stuff is wrong. That stuff is evil. Even more — you know, everyday at home evil like bullying, or child neglect. To look at something like that and go, yeah, that’s just not my cup of tea. That’s not good enough, is it? Those things are evil. We have this deep seeded belief that things are just evil, and all of the major answers for explaining it just don’t work. See our belief in the existence of evil — and we do believe that deeply, profoundly, our belief in the existence of evil is very difficult to explain without God, because without that standard, why do we feel like people are either in front of it or behind it? Why do we feel like people are in alignment with it or out of alignment with it?
Why do we feel like that if there is no standard? Our belief in the existence of evil really very difficult to explain without the existence of God, which, interestingly enough exactly what Jesus says in answer to his own question. This poor guy jumped into way deeper a conversation than he thought. He said, good teacher — and Jesus said, let’s talk about that. Why do you call me good, he answered? He said this, No one is good except God alone. Understand, he’s not saying God is better at being good than we are. He’s not saying God is gooder. This is not a comparison. What he’s saying is God is the standard by which you decide whether or not something is good or bad.
He’s saying, you see goodness in me because I’m like God, and you may be using the word casually, but understand, every time you use the word good or evil, you are saying something about the nature of God Himself. This is the Christian answer to what evil is.
Christianity says evil is whatever is not like God. Christianity says evil is whatever is not like God. It’s not lined up with His nature, His character. And Christianity teaches a couple of things. Christianity teaches that God exists, right? That’s not news to anybody, right? That’s basic. Christianity teaches that God exists. Christianity also teaches, as we see here, that God is the standard by which we decide something is good or evil. If it’s in alignment with his nature and character, it’s good. If it’s out of alignment with his nature and character, it’s evil.
So God exists. God is the standard for good, but Christianity also teaches — this is so important, Christianity teaches that you and I were made in the image of God, and that means a lot. We find all the way back in the very first page of the Bible when God announces the creation of human beings, He says let’s create mankind, human beings in our image. We can talk a lot about what that means, but one thing that it means for our purposes today, it means human beings were made with an instinctive awareness of what God is like. We have an instinctive, hard-wired awareness of what God is like, and it’s that instinctive, hard-wired awareness that causes us to look at some things and go, that’s just wrong. That’s evil, and we look at other things and go, that’s just good, because there’s something in us that lives in the constant awareness of who God is and what He’s like.
So here’s an interesting thing that happens. I want you to follow me on this. If you don’t believe in God, if you believe that God doesn’t exist, you really can’t use words like good or evil. You kinda understand why I’m saying that? Because good and evil are terms that require an objective standard. If you don’t believe in God, you can’t say, that is pure evil. That’s an atrocity. That is awful. That is just bad by every– you can’t just say that if you don’t believe in God. Which means, only people who believe in the existence of God can actually talk about the existence of evil without hypocrisy. Only people who believe in the existence of God can actually talk about things that are evil without being hypocritical.
A hypocrite is somebody who says, I believe this, but they act in a way that’s different from that, right? Please understand, I’m not mocking anybody at this point. If we have to talk about hypocrisy, we have to talk about hypocrisy in the church, and there is an awful lot of hypocrisy going on in the church. A lot of people who say, I believe this, but I live in a very different way. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not casting stones or any of that kind of stuff. We are going to talk about the problem of God and hypocrisy in a later part of this series, but what I’m saying, if you don’t believe in God, but you insist on using words like good and evil, there is some hypocrisy — there is some inconsistency going on there.
I remember a few years ago I read a book by one of the most famous atheists of our era, Christopher Hitchens. He died a couple of years ago, but he wrote a book called “God Is Not Great,” and in the book, there was a section that really caught my attention. He spent quite a bit of time about what he called religious atrocities, evil done in the name of religion. And I remember thinking, you can’t talk about evil done in the name of religion, because you have said there is no standard. There is no objective thing to say one thing is evil. It’s really kind of just about what a society agrees, or personal preference is or what you think moves us along, but you keep using words like atrocity and evil.
I never had a conversation with Dr. Hitchens, but I thought, if I did, one of the things I would say is, hey, you know what? I agree with you. Some awful stuff has been done in the name of religion. The Crusades were an atrocity. The Spanish Inquisition was an atrocity. The Salem Witchcraft Trials, they were an atrocity. Those were evil things. I completely agree with you. It’s just that I’m the only one who gets to say it. You — you can’t actually say that because you are borrowing capital. You are borrowing my worldview to make a point that you feel, but you can’t actually say that it’s evil. There’s hypocrisy there.
And I need to pause for just a second here. I want to say this, if you are not a follower of Jesus, feel free to tune out for a couple of minutes. I just want to talk to the followers of Jesus right now wherever you might be listening, because I know that if you followed that, if you follow what I shared, and you have this idea that when an atheist talks about something being evil, like religious evil especially, you are like, they are being hypocrites, and part of you is going, yes. Like yeah — I cannot wait to meet an atheist. I cannot wait to use that. I cannot wait to get them to that point where they say something’s evil, and I’m going to be able to slap ’em with this. I can’t wait. Got a weapon.
If that’s how you are feeling, can I beg you to stop — heading down that road? Please, stop, and listen to me really closely. What I’m doing today and throughout this series, I’m giving you something that you can use in conversation, but please understand, these arguments are not weapons. They are medicine. Do you hear me? Do you understand the difference? Atheists are not our enemies. Our job is not to inflict wounds of retaliation. Our job is to bring healing and hope. These arguments are not weapons. They are intended to be medicine. Listen, the Bible says those people that are far from God because they don’t believe in him, and they struggle with issues of faith, Ephesians 4:18 says this, They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
Now understand, some of the hardening of the heart comes from sin, as it does for all of us. Sin calluses us. It makes it harder for us to be sensitive to truth and to light and goodness and those kinds of things, so some of their hardened hearts come from their own sin, but some of the hardening of their hearts comes from lies they have been fed and taught day in and day out in our public schools and in this world. People who don’t believe in God are not our enemies, and we are not out to inflict wounds. We are out to bring medicine, and that’s the goal of this. These are not weapons. It’s medicine. Do you hear what I’m saying? Could I get an Amen? That’s not enough. This is really, really important. These are not weapons. They are medicine. Can I get an Amen?
Okay, let’s remember that, okay? Okay, everybody else can tune back in now. What we are saying is this, people often go, I have trouble believing in God because I see evil. What we are trying to help them understand, no, no, no your belief in evil actually points to the existence of God. Does that make sense? See our belief in evil is actually evidence for the existence of God because without God, we can’t really explain why we have this deep seeded, universal, cross language, cross culture, cross history belief that evil is a real thing, and it’s not a matter of personal preference. But that requires an objective standard, a transcendent standard, and that transcendent standard; I think the best answer is God.
So our belief in evil is actually evidence for the existence of God. But that doesn’t solve all of the questions, right? That doesn’t solve all of the problems. Because the question that we want to ask at that point, okay, I understand the existence of evil doesn’t disprove God, it actually requires God to explain why we even believe that, but why? Why would a good, great God allow evil? Why would he do that? Kind of along those lines, we want to ask the question like, where did it come from, right? If God is good and great and he created all things, does that mean he created evil? That’s a big question, right? Where did evil come from? Did God create it? And the answer to that question is — no — but — God didn’t create evil. I mean, really, you can’t create evil directly. It’s like dark. Dark isn’t a thing. It’s an absence of light. Cold isn’t a thing. It’s the absence of heat or molecular motion.
Well, evil isn’t so much a thing, like you can’t carry around evil. It’s the absence of good. It’s the absence of God likeness. Right? And God didn’t create the opposite of Him. What He did was He created creatures, human beings and angels that He allowed to make a choice. They could either choose to live in alignment with Him, or they could live out of alignment with Him. Instead of following the beat of the drum of His heart, they could set their own rhythm and it’s off center. It’s out of control, and it leads to chaos, but He allowed us to make that decision. Then we go, wait a minute. Didn’t He know that was going to happen? I mean, if He knows all things, didn’t He know that Adam and Eve were going to choose that? Then why on Earth did He make them with that ability if He knew what it was going to lead to?
That’s really the big question. If God is good and great, why did He choose to create us with the ability to choose evil, right? Anybody ever wonder that? Anybody know somebody who’s asked you that? If God is good and great, why did He create us with the ability to choose evil? There is an answer to that question. I’m not going to give it to you today. I’m totally kidding. I’m going to give you an answer to that question. I believe it’s right. I believe it’s 100% true, and I think it’s easy to understand. But before I give it to you, I want you to understand that there is a difference between something that works in the head and something that works in the heart.
We need to deal with both of those. I’m going to give you the head answer, but then we need to unpack how we deal with it at the heart level because something that works in the head doesn’t necessarily give us courage and comfort and whatever else we need the midst of things that are difficult. When we are facing evil, when we are facing pain and suffering, going, I know this thing philosophically doesn’t necessarily help. So we are going to deal with the head, but we also need to commandeer with the heart, but let’s start with the head. If God is good and great, why did He create us with the ability to choose evil because our ability to choose leads to great good.
Our ability to choose leads to great good. I mean, if you think about it, it’s pretty logical progression. If God is good and great, then whatever He does leads to what? Great good. Say it with me. If God is good and great, whatever He does leads to — great good. I have talked about this with philosophers. I have talked about this with scientists. I have talked about this with all kinds of people, and we have all kind of agreed that on the head level, yeah, I think that’s true. That’s the answer. Anything God does — if God is good and great, anything He does leads to great good. He wouldn’t do it if it didn’t lead to great good. That’s the head answer.
But then the heart jumps in and goes, okay, but how? Like help me understand how because life’s hard. Evil is real, and pain and suffering that are caused by our choice of evil, I deal with these everyday in my body, in my family, in my work, all around us I see the consequences of God. Help me understand how on Earth does you letting us choose evil lead to great good? Help me understand that. You know, when my kids were little, they were fascinated by the burners on the stove. They glow bright red, you know? And of course, they really wanted to touch them and we are like, we are not going to let you do that. Then one day, I was — I had just kind of kept my daughter from doing that.
I was sitting in the living room. I was thinking about it. I don’t know if any of you parents do that. I was like, what would happen if they touch it? If my back was turned and they touched it? Oh my gosh, the searing pain? That would be awful. The burned flesh, and — and I’m getting really upset. Like tears are starting to form in my eyes. It hasn’t even happened. I’m just imagined this. Does anyone else do that? Maybe I’m just broken. I don’t know. I was like sitting there really upset about this thing that had never even happened, and all of a sudden into that — and I don’t know if it was God speaking, I really don’t know what I was thinking, but I suddenly thought of two questions I thought were really interesting.
The first question is this, let’s imagine that ever happened. Do you think that they would ever touch the burner again? Most people are shaking their head. I’m thinking, no. They wouldn’t do that again. As long as they remembered what happened last time, they would never touch the burner again. But then I thought the second question, which I actually think is the more interesting one. The second question is this, would they be able to touch it again? I mean, would they still have the ability? Would they still have the free will to choose to touch it? I thought, well, yeah. It’s not like touching the stove got rid of their ability to choose. It just got rid of their interest in touching it, right? Not their ability. It got rid of their interest. I had at that moment a sudden thought that I wonder if, I wonder if that’s what God was doing.
You see the Bible is very clear that God made us for a purpose. Part of that purpose is that God made us to have a relationship with Him– to actually have a relationship with Him — with you. God wants to have a relationship with you. Not with you as a group, but with you as an individual. God made you with the goal of having a relationship with you, but the thing is, relationship requires choice, right? It doesn’t mean anything to say yes to somebody if you couldn’t say no. Guys, I mean, if your wife or if your fiancée– your girlfriend became your fiancée became your wife, if she said yes when you asked her to marry you because there was like a sniper rifle pointed right here, and she could see the glow, and she was like, I’m definitely going to say yes. You wouldn’t have rejoiced at that, right? Saying yes doesn’t mean anything if you can’t say no.
Like I have a Roomba at my house. Like one of those little round robots that goes and cleans up stuff. I love my Roomba, but I’m not in love with my Roomba, okay? I don’t have a relationship with my Roomba, and here’s the thing. Roomba has never said no to me. Every time I tell it to do something, it’s like, yes. It goes and does it. It’s awesome, but it doesn’t mean anything because it can’t say no, right? Saying yes doesn’t mean anything if you can’t say no. Relationship requires that choice, and so God wants to have a relationship with us, which means, He had to give us the ability to say no. Then the Bible says an interesting thing. The Bible says that one day God’s going to fix it. God’s going to make all things new again. He’s going to fix everything that we broke because of our sin; every bit of it, and then the Bible says that we are going to live with God in relationship with God in a loving relationship with God — forever.
That those of us that say yes to God now will live with God forever, and we are going to say yes to Him over and over and over again because we want to, and the Bible says there will be no more sin. The Bible says that nobody who says yes to God now will ever say no to Him for the rest of forever. You go, how is that possible? How is it possible to go forever and never sin, never say no to God? Does He take away our free will in heaven? I don’t think so. If He takes away our free will, then it doesn’t mean anything that we say yes, plus it makes this world a cruel joke, doesn’t it? If God could get what He wanted without giving us the ability to say no, then why do it now?
No, I think in heaven we have the ability to say no, but I don’t think we have the desire. We have no interest in saying no to God. Why? Because we touched the stove. Because we remember what life was like when we said, I’ll do this on my own. I’ll set the course. I’ll set the beat. I’ll do it on my own. And again, I realize in the midst of hardship, that doesn’t necessarily help as much as it should. It works in the head. I think it’s absolutely true. But we may struggle sometimes to grab a hold of it with our hearts, but let me help you do it. Maybe this is the way to do it. You realize that great struggle often leads to greater good, right? Great struggle often leads to greater good.
We see it around us all the time. How many of you learned to ride a bike? How many of you learned to ride a bike without ever tumbling off, without ever scraping a knee or any kind of — no? You had terrible parents. They didn’t love you, clearly. Why would they put you in a situation where you could scuff — you know, your toes or skin your knees, or bang your elbows or your head off of an embankment? Why would they do that if they loved you? Well, because apparently riding a bike — I mean, Lance Armstrong. You understand Lance Armstrong fell off his bike a couple of times. Great struggle often leads to greater good.
Or butterflies, right? You are like, that was a big shift, right? What just happened? You know, caterpillars, they go in and they build that hard cocoon around them, and then while they are in there, they metamorphosis into this beautiful butterfly with these wings, and then they try to escape, but the cocoon is hard, and it’s hard for them to get out, and what we have discovered is, if you go in and cut the cocoon open to help them out so they don’t have to struggle out, they come out, and they look really good, but they can’t fly. Because the process of struggling to break out of that cocoon is actually what allows them to get their wings strong enough to take to the air.
You see, great struggle often leads to greater good. We see it around us all the time. I just saw a study that apparently 1/3 of all Nobel Prize winners have dyslexia. Wait, what? Apparently the process of overcoming that learning disability, the process of learning to read and to write, and it being so much harder, it creates a mind, and a persistence and a perseverance that leads to people that literally change the world for everybody else. Great struggle often leads to greater good. We see it around us, so why shouldn’t it also be true that God has allowed Him to say no to Him because it will lead to a group of people that will say yes to Him now and forever because we remember what saying no was like, and that is a great, great, great good.
But you know, honestly, if — if it were just that, I would still struggle to say God is good. If God just said, I’m going to let him go through this, if it was just that, I think I would still struggle to say God is good, but — and this is so, so important. God didn’t leave us to solve the problem of evil ourselves. It is so central to the Christian story, the Christian faith. God didn’t just go, I’m going to let them do what they are going to do, and they’ll learn. He didn’t leave us to do that. In fact, the essence of the Christian Gospel is that God looked at our struggle and our pain and our suffering because of our choice, and He came to us as one of us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God came to us, and His Son lived a perfect life, and he took all of the consequences of our choices on his own shoulders, and he paid the price for them.
He touched the stove for us. He drew the pain out of our little fingers. He took it upon himself. He died, and three days later, he rose from the dead to show that it was paid. It was done. He offers new life and forgiveness to everyone who will simply trust in him. For me, that is the ultimate proof that God is good. Not the philosophy of it. I think the philosophy is good. I think the arguments are helpful, but at the end of the day, it’s what God did for me in the midst of my choices to walk away from Him that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is good and He is great.
Okay, so what do we do with this? I’ll give you two possible questions. Question number one is this. If you are a follower of Jesus, especially, I would love for you to answer this question. Is God calling me to reach out to someone who is struggling? Because if you know this good and great God, then you are in a relationship with Him, and part of that goal in that relationship is to be on mission with Him, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, and to step into people’s worlds when they are struggling, and to be the hands and feet, to help them, and to point them forward and help them move from where they are to where God is beckoning them. Maybe you are listening to this today and you are going, I know somebody, or maybe you start to pray, God, would you show me somebody?
Somebody who is struggling, I can be you to them; I can step into their world and help shoulder their burden, and help them move forward. The second question, this one is more for those that would say, I’m not really a follower of Jesus yet, and that’s okay. I’m really glad that you are listening to this. But if you are not really a follower of Jesus, then my question to you would be this — am I willing to take one more step toward trusting God. Maybe you are not ready for faith, but maybe you are willing to take one more step towards it. A couple of things you might think about doing. One of them, you might decide, I’m going to come back next week. We are going to tackle another one of these big questions next week. It might be exactly the one that you need. Or you want to come back another week. Maybe that’s your next step. Maybe you heard about our Discovering God class. A tremendous opportunity to gather together with people who have questions.
A lot of people don’t have faith because they have questions. A great environment to wrestle with those questions together and move toward answers that are actually helpful, that will help you move forward. We have classes starting in January. You can sign up for them online. You can find out more information about them at the Welcome Center. Maybe that’s your next step, to join a Discovering God class. Maybe it’s to go home and pull up Amazon and order the book Jay was talking about, “The Case For Christ.” Maybe that’s your next step, but are you willing to take one more step toward trusting God? Let’s pray.
God, on behalf of all of the followers of Jesus that are listening, we want to say thank You. Thank You that You did not leave us in the darkness that we chose for ourselves. That in spite of our sin and our wrongdoing, and let’s be honest, our evil, You continued to love us. You came to us. You died for us, and You rise from the dead, Lord You have risen from the dead, and You offer new life. For those of us that have received that, Lord, we just give You thanks. Lord, would You open our eyes to the ways that we can be Your representatives in the world in the midst of places where people are struggling? Would You give us courage to step into those situations, and to be like You to those people who are struggling there. For those who are here, and they don’t have faith in You, thank You that they are here. Thank You that they have been listening. My prayer is, Lord, would You allow the conversation we have had today to stick with them? Would You allow them to continue to reflect on it, to think about it? Would You use that to help them arrive at truth, to understand the truth about who You are, and how much You love them, and how much You want to be involved in their lives both now and forever. In Jesus name. Amen.