If God is completely loving and all powerful, why is the world filled with sorrow?

One of the most often repeated questions about God concerns the existence of evil. Why does evil exist if the God described in the Bible is real? The Greek philosopher Epicurus raised this issue two-thousand years ago. His argument has been summarized in this way: “If God is unable to prevent evil, then He is not all-powerful. If God is not willing to prevent evil, then He is not all good. If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?”

The Bible clearly says that God is all-powerful and is perfectly good. Jeremiah 32:17 says of God, “There is nothing too hard for Thee.” Job 42 says that God can do everything. The goodness of God is proclaimed throughout the Bible, especially in the Psalms. “Good and upright is the Lord.” (Psalm 25:8) “The Lord is good to all.” (Psalm 145:9) The goodness of God must be understood in light of His holiness. All He does is righteous. He hates evil. God has no part in evil and does not promote it in any way. Since God hates all evil and He is able to destroy evil at any time He chooses, why is the world filled with so much sin and sorrow?

What is the Biblical explanation for evil? Sin and suffering do not originate with God. They originate with His creatures. God created beings with a capacity to obey or disobey Him. When God’s creatures rebelled against Him they did evil. The inevitable result of rebellion is punishment and suffering. The world is filled with sin because made refused to obey His creator.

This question goes deeper than the origin of suffering. This question wants to know why God let it happen. God could have prevented Satan from sinning, but He didn’t. God could have prevented Adam and Eve from sinning, but He didn’t. Why would God allow sin when He knew the terrible consequences that would come from it?

Many philosophical and logical answers have been offered to this question, but the Bible does not provide a single, simple answer. No verse or passage concisely explains God’s purposes in allowing evil. However, the Biblical record of the actions of man and God give some insight into the purposes and plan of God regarding evil.

The book of Job teaches that “why?” is the wrong question. God never explained to Job why he suffered. God simply told Job who was in charge. Romans 9 and Isaiah both challenge the person who would question God’s works. What right has the creation to demand the Creator explain His actions? Can a clay pot demand the potter justify his work? The Creator has every right to do as He wills with His creation. Creation has the obligation to submit to His will and to trust His good plan. This is not an emotionally satisfying answer, but it is the right one. God’s wisdom and understanding are far beyond our understanding. He rules all things. We do not have the right to question His work.

God does not reveal why He allowed evil, but the Biblical narrative gives some insight into what those reasons might be. God is working to exalt His name. Everything God did and is doing in the world is for His glory. From the calling of Abraham, to punishment of Israel, to the death of Jesus, to the salvation of Christians, to the judgment of the whole world, all of God’s actions are for His glory. The inevitable conclusion is that the entrance of sin brings God the greatest glory. This claim is hard to swallow, but it aligns perfectly with all the Bible teaches about God.

Because sin exists men understand better the grace of God. The angels who never sinned struggle to comprehend the grace of God in saving sinners. (1 Peter 1:12) Because God allowed men to sin all who have been forgiven of their sin understand God’s grace. The saved worship God in a way the angels cannot. The angels proclaim God’s praise, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty.” (Revelation 4:8) The saved in heaven sing a different song. “Thou art worthy . . . for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” (Revelation 5:9). The entrance of sin into the world added another verse into the eternal hymn of praise to God.

God’s seeking His glory should cause any one to conclude God is selfish. His glory is the greatest good for the entire universe. The rejection of God buried the universe in agony. The exaltation of God’s glory will deliver the universe from its misery. (Revelation 21:3-4) To accomplish the extermination of evil on earth God Himself entered into our suffering. God the Son took humanity’s sin and all its anguish on Himself. None dare accuse God of selfishness or disinterest. He is not unconcerned. He is not malicious. He is involved. He suffered under sin to set men free from sin. One day He will bring all evil to an end.

Why has Jesus not Returned to Judge Evil?

In a recent conversation the assertion was made that if the Bible is true then Jesus should have already returned to put a stop to the evils that are happening in this world. Recent headlines include multiple mass shootings and the kidnaping of missionaries and their families in Haiti. If God is real and if Jesus is really God then why doesn’t He come back like He promised and put an end to all these terrible wrongs?

This question gets back to the old problem of evil, that never goes away. The Bible gives several clear answers to this question. The most important is that Jesus has not come yet so that others might be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) Because God does not delight in the death of the wicked, He waits. He gives the innocent opportunity to repent, lest they should be destroyed with the wicked. (Jonah 4:11) Because God desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) He gives them room to repent. (Revelation 2:21) When Jesus returns, the chance for salvation will be gone. The lost will be forever condemned. Jesus’ delay is salvation for those who will believe. (2 Peter 3:15)

Many skeptics who raise this question are not demanding a righting of wrongs, they are demanding Jesus prove Himself. Jesus has already given all the proof needed. When John the Baptist’s disciples brought a message to Jesus asking if He was really the Messiah, Jesus pointed them to the miracles He had done. They were proof enough that He is who claimed to be. (Matthew 11:2-6) God has given us even more proof that Jesus is God- the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Bible gives ample evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be. He has no need to prove Himself further to those who reject the proof already given.

The original question also betrays an expectation that Jesus is like a super hero who swoops in to save the day from the worst of villains, but allows the rest of humanity to go on with their lives. This is a complete misunderstanding of Jesus, His judgment and His righteousness. When Jesus returns to judge wickedness, He will not just judge the worst of evils, He will judge all the wicked. (Matthew 25:31-33) Jesus will not judge according to man’s standards of who is a good person, He will judge according to His perfect standard. (Matthew 5:48) All those who have not received Him for salvation will be condemned (Revelation 20:15). When Jesus returns those who do not believe will lose their opportunity for salvation and will be cast into eternal judgment.

A better question to ask is why does Jesus continue to give good things to sinners? (Matthew 5:45) Psalm 36 describes the skeptic who doubts God’s goodness. Despite the abundance of wickedness in this world, the mercy and faithfulness of God abound. God’s compassion is seen in the sky, the mountains and the oceans. God’s goodness is seen in all of creation. Since humanity has rebelled against God, the question that should be asked is, why does God give good things to humanity? Why are we not all destroyed? “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22)

Jesus has not yet returned that you might be saved. Do not doubt His goodness, but trust Him.

Is Social Justice Biblical?

Social justice is defined as “the redistribution of resources and advantages to the disadvantaged to achieve social and economic equality.” The aim of social justice is to tear down all distinctions between social classes and income disparities so that all are financially and positionally equal. Another has defined social justice as “the ability of people to reach their full potential within the societies in which they reside.” Notice, that definition says “ability” not “opportunity.” Some versions of social justice seek to redistribute resources, but not equally. Those in the lower classes would be given more to help them reach the level of the upper classes. The redistribution of resources by taking more from the wealthy and giving more to the poor is a key component of social justice.

God is deeply concerned with justice. God is described “a just God” (Isaiah 45:21) who requires His people to “do justice.” (Psalm 82:2-3; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Micah 6:8). However, Biblical justice is far different from social justice. In short, the Bible is not concerned with equal outcomes, or even equal opportunities. Income inequities are a non-issue in Scripture. Biblical justice is concerned with protecting individuals, especially the weak, from abuse (Leviticus 19:11-14), fairness in business (Proverbs 20:10, 23) and punishment of evil doers (Proverbs 18:15; Leviticus 5:17).

The Bible holds every person responsible for their own decisions. Social justice treats people as a group. It assigns group guilt and looks for group solutions. Personal liberation is achieved through group liberation. The Bible teaches that each person will stand before God and be judged according to his own works. (Revelation 20:12) Condemnation and salvation is individual. “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The salvation God offers is not the salvation of a system or a group. Salvation is personal. Romans 9 denies that any person is condemned for being a member of a particular group or is saved by being part of a particular group. Instead, God puts no difference between any people group. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

The Bible does not teach forced equality of outcomes. Instead, Scripture teaches charity and generosity, but not financial or positional equality. In Israel God provided compassionate means to care for the poor. He gave the Jews certain laws that required charitable actions. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor could come in and harvest food for themselves. This practice should be significant in the discussion about social justice. The landowners were not required to evenly distribute their profits to the poor. The government did not confiscate the land’s produce to distribute it equally to all citizens. The poor did not receive a gift of grain. A small portion of the fields were left for the poor to labor in so they could earn their food through their own efforts. Those who did not labor were not given food. God commands His people to be compassionate (Deuteronomy 15:7) and He shows special care for the poor (Proverbs 14:31), but the Bible does not teach that inequalities in condition or income are wrong.

Biblical justice does not insist upon equal outcome but upon equal treatment of all under the law. Israel was to have the same laws for foreigners as for those born in Israel. In other words, immigrants and citizens were under the same law. This same law put equal responsibility on the immigrant and the citizen. Immigrants were not exempted from obedience to the requirements of Israel because of their immigrant status. (Numbers 15:30) They also were not denied justice because of their status. (Exodus 12:49) Immigrants were protected from harassment and oppression. (Exodus 22:21) Everyone in Israel was to be treated the same in punishment and protection, regardless of their national origin.

Social justice believes the social status of the individual should be taken into account and benefits given to members of the lower classes. The laws of Israel make a specific point of teaching that wealth and status must never be a factor in dispensing justice. Judges can not take bribes. They must not rule in favor of the rich because of their influence. Judges must not show favoritism toward the poor. The difficulties of a person’s situation never justify their breaking the law or gain them advantage in the eyes of the law. The poor ought not be awarded a judgment because they are poor. To give preference to one because of their financial condition is injustice. (Leviticus 19:15)

The laws of Israel are an excellent case study on God’s views regarding justice in a society. Since all the laws given to Israel were given by God for the governance of His chosen nation, then the reasonable conclusion is that Israel’s law is God’s definition of social justice. God’s justice does not match modern conceptions of justice. This does not mean God is unjust. God is perfectly just. His instructions on justice ought to be considered justice, not the definitions of critical theorists. We need to correct our definitions of justice to bring them in line with God’s justice. “Shall mortal man be more just than God?” (Job 4:17)

The Bible is generally unconcerned with income and class distinctions because the wages of sin is death. The reality is that every person has a brief life on this earth. What matters most is not that poverty be eliminated. What matters most is that God has provided everyone the same opportunity for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The greater need is salvation. That has been provided. Jesus gave up the vast riches of His glory to become a man and suffer the penalty of sin for humanity. His gift of forgiveness is available freely to all who believe Him. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The redistribution of sin and righteousness is the redistribution we should be most concerned about.

For more on social justice tune in to 92.7 FM on Sunday, September 26 at 9:30 AM to hear Everlasting Truths Radio.

Are Ghosts Real?

Ghost stories are for many people a cherished part of childhood. Ghosts still attract a lot of attention today through reality shows which follow the investigations of ghost hunters and paranormal experts. Some surveys have suggested that as many as half of all Americans believe in ghosts.

Ghosts stories become serious when people speak of beloved family members who have returned to offer comfort or guidance. This kind of ghost story is found all around the world. Many cultures have stories of ancestors whose spirits remain in contact with the living. Several of the major Oriental religions and nearly every tribal religion believes their ancestors are still present and interact with the living. Since belief in ghosts is so widespread, is that not proof ghosts are real? Does the Bible say anything about ghosts to help understand this topic?

The Bible teaches that every person has an eternal spirit. Genesis 2 tells how God breathed into man to make him a “living spirit.” From that point onward the Bible treats man as a physical creature with a spirit which continues to exist after the death of the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Bible teaches that the spirit departs at death (James 2:6), but it never indicates that the spirit of the dead remains on the earth. Instead, the Biblical picture consistently teaches that when this life is over so is the person’s interaction with the earth and the living. At death the body goes into the grave and the spirit goes directly into heaven or hell (Luke 16:22-23; Phil 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Consequently, whatever strange things the living may see or feel, they are not the spirits of people consigned to remain on the earth.

If ghosts are not the souls of the dearly departed then what is the explanation for the unearthly phenomena seen by people? Many ghost stories can be attributed to emotional agitation. Grieving family members often see everyday events, like a bird perching nearby or a gentle breeze through the garden, as the actions of the spirit of a loved one who recently died. Such events need have no ghostly origin. Birds perch, breezes blow and butterflies flutter on a regular basis. These everyday events only gain significance when a grieving person associates them with the memory of a with a departed loved one. Such attributions prove nothing about the reality of ghosts. Many of the other experiences of ghosts are nothing more than strong emotions. Feelings of fear, nervousness, agitation or excitement are just feelings. They prove nothing about the existence of ghosts. The cause of those feelings may be nothing more than overworked imaginations.

Stories of moved items, damaged property or manifestations of a dead person present a more difficult challenge to explain. No certain answer can be given. Two plausible explanations can be suggested which do not require the existence of ghosts. First, unknown physical forces may be the cause of many mysterious movements. A shelf that suddenly falls over may be the result of nothing more than a weak leg that gave way, or an unnoticed vibration in the house which caused an already precarious shelf to topple. Second, though people do not become ghosts when they die, spiritual creatures do exist. These spiritual creatures are able to interact with the physical world. The Bible speaks of angels and demons involving themselves with the affairs of this world. Demons are described as inhabiting people and causing them great harm. (Matthew 17:15-18) Possibly demonic influences are the cause of some of the phenomena attributed to ghosts. Possibly certain demons afflict a location for the purpose of terrorizing or deceiving people.

In the end, no matter what strange experiences a person may have had, the Bible teaches that death ends a person’s involvement with this world. All explanations for unfamiliar phenomena have to be filtered through the Biblical teachings about life, death and the afterlife because the Bible is the only reliable source of information for what happens to a person after death.