10 Questions about Evil Answered by the Bible

We have been discussing over the past few weeks the documentary hosted by Morgan Freeman titled The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. On Sunday, May 1st, 2016, Freeman presented the fifth episode of the series. This episode dealt with the problem of evil. I originally thought that the episode would deal with the issue that is popularly known as theodicy: that is, how can a loving and all-powerful God co-exist with a world full of evil? Rather, the episode dealt more with evil in the human sphere. How do we understand evil? Where does evil originate? This article will present 10 questions that were raised over the course of the episode. The answers to these questions are found in the pages of the Bible.

  1. Is a person wired to do evil?

We will discuss the concept of original sin and its influence on our lives (see question 2). However, we must ask, “Are some people wired to do evil?” Morgan Freeman interviewed a psychopath at a federal imprisonment facility. The psychopath had raped several women killing many of them. Let me pause and say that I have to give serious props to Freeman and the show for not publicizing the prisoner’s name and for refusing to show his face. They did not want to glorify the man or his actions.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, claimed that the prisoner lacked emotions and the ability to control his impulses, something that the prisoner confessed as true. However, it is interesting that the prisoner admitted that what he did was wrong. He said that if he were released that he would probably do the same, admitting the evil of his deeds. While I admit that there are psychopathic tendencies in individuals which may stem from physical abnormalities, one still has the choice to act on one’s impulses. Later, a theologian named Kutter Calloway admitted that each of us have a little of that psychopath in us. Each of us holds the ability to do great good or great evil. The Bible gives a great point on this issue. Joshua tells the people of Israel, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).[1] Each day, we also have that decision.

  1. What is original sin?

Charles Hodge defines original sin as “The effects of Adam’s sin upon his posterity are declared in our standards to be, (1.) The guilt of his first sin. (2.) The loss of original righteousness. (3.) The corruption of our whole nature, which (i.e., which corruption), is commonly called original sin.”[2] Paul notes that “if by the transgression of the one (meaning Adam, mine), death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Paul notes in verse 18 that all are condemned as guilty because of the sin of Adam. A sin nature is passed from one generation unto the next.

  1. Are humans inherently good or inherently evil?

Freeman interviewed Kutter Calloway, a Baptist minister and theologian. Calloway said quite accurately that there is “something in us that bends itself towards death and evil.”[3] This is true. The Bible illustrates the dichotomy that exists in each human being. Humans are made in the image of God, or imagio dei (Genesis 1:27). Thus, humans have the potential to do good because of bearing the imprint of God’s image. However, humans have been incapacitated to do complete good due to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Goodness comes from God. So it stands to reason that ultimate good can be brought from those who have been regenerated by the grace of God. To answer the question, humans were made to do good, however bearing a sin nature, humans are swayed to do great evil.

  1. Is the devil real?

Calloway noted that the devil is a real being, but yet the devil is a metaphor for the inner demonic influences of a person’s life. So, to answer the question, the devil is a real entity. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat the apple in the garden (Genesis 3:4-5). The devil tested God in the instance of Job’s life (Job 1:13-22). The devil also tempted Jesus on three occasions at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is also shown to be defeated at the end of days (Revelation 20:1-15). So yes, the devil is real.

  1. Can our ancestors influence evil behavior?

Some cultures believe that a person’s ancestors can influence a person’s behavior. In a manner of speaking, this could be true to a degree. For instance, Moses understood that a person’s sin could influence several generations in the future (i.e., Numbers 15:18). In many ways, the sins of today can lead to the problems of tomorrow. Therefore, in some degree, we are influenced by the evil of previous generations, but maybe not in the way that it was presented on the show.

  1. Can evil be purified?

Yes! Evil is purified by the Messiah. See question 8.

  1. Should we blame spiritual entities for our behavior?

While we have all heard people use the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” In reality, each person must answer for their own actions. Spiritual entities can tempt and try to persuade a person to do a particular thing. However, no one can blame the entities for their decisions. For instance, the devil tempted Adam and Eve. Yet, Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their actions.

  1. Does the purging of evil require a Messiah?

Yes! Sin stains a person thoroughly and completely. The writer of Hebrews notes that “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Thus, a perfect sacrifice was required to rid the world of evil. That perfect sacrifice was found in Christ. As Jesus himself noted, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

  1. Can faith lead us to redemption?

Absolutely! A person is made into a new creation because of the work of Christ. The old ways, attitudes, and behaviors are transformed. A person can be forgiven, learning how to forgive, and can be molded into a much better person due to the work of Christ. The resounding truth that rings through the ages is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  1. Can people change?

Some people hold the assumption that people cannot change. Such beliefs stem from an ultra-determinist ideology that would lend the ideas of law and morality as invalid. It makes little sense to have laws and ethics if people cannot choose to do good rather than evil. In the end, one must note that there are certain things that a person cannot change. Personality traits and tendencies may follow a person for a lifetime. However, behaviors and attitudes can change! Christianity is built upon the idea that people can change. That was the purpose for which Jesus came. Jesus came to set people free. Jesus came to bring forth change! As Paul notes, a person can choose not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good an acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). People cannot change themselves necessarily, but God can change people.

Error Alert:   Did the idea of the devil originate with Zoroastrianism?

The fifth episode presented what I believe to be an error. The show seemed to picture Zoroastrianism as the father of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief in the devil and the fight between good and evil. Zoroastrianism is pinpointed to be around 3,500 years old stemming from the teacher Zoroaster. However, it does not appear that the monotheistic religions may have adopted the concept from Zoroastrianism. Rather, Zoroastrianism may have adopted said concepts from Judaism. The book of Job may be the oldest book of the Bible. Elwell and Beitzel note that “The language of the book may also point to an early date. Certain linguistic elements indicate more archaic forms of Hebrew, as preserved in the epic material from Ugarit. It may be that Job himself lived in the 2nd millennium b.c.”[4] If it is true that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah, or Pentateuch, (and remember Genesis mentions the devil), then the latest that the earliest form of these writings would have appeared would been the 13th century BC. Many scholars, and rightly so, argue for an older date for the Exodus. If so, Genesis would have appeared in the 15th century BC. This would have been much earlier than Zoroaster.

In addition, studies indicate that the writings of the Bible may be much older than previously thought. The Associated Press reports,

“Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than what some scholars think. Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works…The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts. Instead, they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort’s deputy quartermaster were able to write. The tone of the inscriptions, which suggest they were not written by professional scribes, combined with the fortress’ remote location, indicate a wide spread of literacy at the time, according to the study. A high level of literacy would support the idea that some biblical texts had already been authored by this time. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known collection of certain biblical texts, are believed to date several centuries later.”[5]

With this in mind, it is safe to assume that Zoroastrianism was probably influenced by ancient Judaism rather than the other. This is not to say that Zoroastrianism could not have influenced Judaism during the Babylonian captivity especially with the influence of apocalyptic literature. However, I do not think that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam adopted as much from Zoroastrianism as was presented in the documentary.
 

© May 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 227.

[3] Kent Calloway, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Why Does Evil Exist?, The Story of God: The Story of Us, aired on the National Geographic Channel, Revelations Entertainment (May 1, 2016), retrieved May 1, 2016.

[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1169.

[5] Associated Press, “Handwriting Study Finds Clues On When Biblical Texts Written,” DailyMail (April 12, 2016), retrieved May 2, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3535745/Handwriting-study-finds-clues-biblical-texts-written.html.

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Wrestling for Jesus: The Truth about the Christian and Suffering

My family and I joined countless others in a new phenomenon changing the entertainment business: we subscribed to Netflix. Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Wrestling for Jesus: The Story of T-Money. The movie was based on the life of a wrestler/wrestling promoter who goes by the name T-Money. T-Money had organized a wrestling company that shared the gospel message during the events. The wrestling company was named, as the title suggests, WFJ “Wrestling for Jesus.”

The documentary takes a fascinating twist towards the end of the movie. T-Money and his wife seemed to have the perfect marriage. They were in church bragging about their relationship. T-Money seemed to have everything together bound together in his relationship with God. However, T-Money continuously struggled with the loss of his father who had died by suicide. This was an issue that resonated with me since I also had a grandfather who committed suicide. I understood fully the struggles and questions that he possessed. This agony along with other issues led T-Money and his wife to divorce.

Now with a broken marriage and a broken heart along with his best friend and fellow wrestler suffering a severe injury, T-Money began questioning everything he had ever believed and everything that he had ever heard. With his life in chaos, T-Money decided to fold the company.

The documentary demonstrates the problems associated with the so-called “health and wellness Gospel.” That is, the belief that Christianity promises an existence full of financial blessings and the absence of suffering. T-Money even said, “I’ve heard about God not giving you more than you can bear and about how he will see you through. It seems like none of that is working.”

I suspect that T-Money had bought into the idea that many American churches are promoting; the idea that Christianity means the absence of suffering. It may surprise T-Money and you the reader to know that the Bible NEVER says such a thing. In fact, it may be that the Christian is called to suffer. So, what does the Bible say about God’s support in a time of suffering?

God may call the Christian to suffer (Matt. 10:38).

Being a Christian may mean that one is called to suffer. What??? Yes! Jesus brought a message that falls on deaf ears in many of an American congregation. Jesus said, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).[1] Understand, the cross that Jesus is referencing is not a gold-laced cross found on a piece of jewelry worn around the neck. It was an instrument of torture and death.

This certainly does not mean that the Christian should seek suffering and martyrdom. However, it does not mean that one is surprised when it happens either. The reference may not necessarily point towards even physical brutality. It may also point towards the hardships that are endured by the Christian. Many feel that God will remove any and all suffering when in fact the opposite is often true.

God will provide strength during times of suffering (Hebrews 2:18).

Many misuse the phrase “God will not put more on you than you can bear.” This does not mean that you will not be sometimes called to endure great times of stress. Folks who believe that are often perplexed when they are met with an array of troubles. The phrase would be better understood as God will provide you strength to bear many things. The writer of Hebrews notes that “because he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NLT).[2] I am also reminded of the words of Jesus when he says, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).

God uses suffering to strengthen our character (Romans 5:3-5).

God has a purpose behind the Christian’s suffering. Paul writes that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering has a purpose. It is through suffering that one is strengthened and is given character which leads to a fervent hope found in God.

God uses suffering to share the message of hope (Philippians 1:12-14).

God may use the Christian’s suffering to bring others to salvation. Paul, writing to the church of Philippi, notes that his suffering had a purpose. As he was enduring imprisonment, he was able to reach individuals with the gospel message that he otherwise would have been able to reach. Paul notes that “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it is known through the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:12-13). Through your commitment to Christ during times of suffering, you may have a greater impact on others than one who is healthy and vibrant.

God will reward us for the sufferings that we endure (Matthew 5:12).

Jesus indicates that the suffering Christian who endures in their faith will be given a reward in heaven. Jesus says that “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). So, the eternal rewards in heaven will far exceed any suffering endured on earth.

Conclusion

Where in these passages do we find the teaching that the Christian is excused from suffering? Where in these passages do we find a “get rich quick with as little work possible” mentality? Where in these passages do we find the theology that holds that faith will eliminate any and all ailments? Keep looking, because you won’t find such teachings. T-Money had the expectation, at least as it was presented in the documentary, that Christianity excused a person from suffering and hardships. This is certainly not the case. All people are people. The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is that God turns the Christian’s suffering into integrity and will use their suffering for good, ultimately resulting in an eternal reward. Remember, our Savior died a brutal death on a Roman cross.

Suffering is not something from which the Christian is excused. Suffering, from the beginning, has been ingrained in the Christian experience…but only momentarily. For “What 9).no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Heaven will be worth it all.

timothy-portrait          Note: If T-Money were to read this post, I would want him to understand that the promises that God has made (in that he will never leave you nor forsake  still stand. We must seek his guidance. We must seek his strength. We cannot handle these situations alone. Brother, God is not through with you yet. Blessings.

© February 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

Finding Comfort and Order in the Midst of Chaos

At times, life seems chaotic. It appears that the harder one tries to make sense of the world, the more bizarre it becomes. I recently told my dad, “Just when I think that things cannot get any worse, something happens to demonstrate how much worse it can become.” However, the more I have studied God, the more I realize that chaos is an illusion. If God is what the Bible purports Him to be, then God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present in all places), a se (unchangeable), immortal (eternal and timeless), holy (the perfect good) and indestructible (incapable of being destroyed). If this is true, then nothing takes God by surprise. In addition, this means that the chaos of the world is fitting within the sovereign plan of God. But wait, isn’t there a lot of evil things taking place in the world? What comfort can we find in these attributes of God?

Joseph was a man who was met with severe forms of evil. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers and was eventually sold as a slave. The people who were supposed to have loved Joseph the most performed one of the highest acts of treachery and evil. Yet, the tables turned for Joseph. Joseph would eventually score a high-ranking position in Egypt under the Pharaoh. His brothers sought help from Egypt. It was then that Joseph was able to forgive and say to his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:21).[1] How could Joseph say such a thing? There are three things that must be kept in mind.

chaos_to_order

Human actions are free, but planned by God.

There are two seemingly opposing viewpoints offered in the Bible: humans have freedom of the will and God is sovereign (in complete control). How does one reconcile these two truths? Hardline Calvinists (or hyper-determinists)[2] will say that people have no choice in any matter. Hyper-Arminians, especially of the Open Theist variety, will claim that God does not know what will happen. Yet, I feel that the more moderate Thomistic (and even Molinist) compatibilist interpretations fit the realm of Scripture. For instance, the writer of Proverbs notes that “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). That means that man plans his/her steps, but God foreknows and has already established such a free act. Proverbs also states that “The lot is casts into the lap, but its decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). I like how the New Living Translation translates this verse. The NLT reads, “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[3] This may not be good news for the one who goes to Vegas. But free human actions fall into the sovereign plan of God.

God will bring forth an ultimate good despite the seeming chaos of human actions.

Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This does not mean that all things will work in the end for all people. It will work for the good to those who love God and have submitted to his will. God is good and God is powerful. This means that God will bring an ultimate good despite the great evil in the world. Joseph was met with great evil, but he knew that God would use that evil to bring about an ultimate good.

Thus, chaos is an illusion as God is sovereign.

Two classic theologians note that chaos is seemingly an illusion due to the great attributes of God. Norman Geisler writes,

“God is a simple Being, all of whose attributes are one with His indivisible essence. He has no parts; He is one in essence. If He had different parts, He could come apart, but He is immortal and indestructible…But if God is simple (absolutely one), then both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in Him. That is, whatever God knows, He determines. And whatever He determines, He knows. More properly, we should speak of God as ‘knowing determining’ and ‘determinately knowing’ from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts. If God is an eternal and simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified” (Geisler 2010, 145).

Thus, God’s knowledge and actions do not negate free will. Nevertheless, God knows absolutely what free beings will choose. Therefore, God is able to place people in certain times and places, knowing what those beings will choose. Therefore, even with human freedom and the seeming chaos that ensues from bad human decisions, God still is moving to bring things to a greater good. Thomas Aquinas writes,

“It should be noted, however, that with natural things the specification of the act is from form and the exercise is from the agent that causes the motion. But the mover moves for the sake of an end. Thus the first principle of motion with respect to the exercise of the act is from the end…It should be said that man’s will is discordant with the will of God insofar as it wills something God does not want it to will, as when it wills to sin” (Aquinas 1998, 557, 561).

In other words, God does not order evil. God does not will evil to exist, yet evil is the natural outgrowth of the human freedom to will. God is moving upon all of creation with his grace. However, human beings misuse the grace of God afforded to them. God knows that they would. Thus, God is able to use human free decisions to bring about the ultimate good.

All of this is to say, chaos is an illusion. God is working to bring about the greater good which will be actualized in eternity.

Conclusion—the Roller Coaster

I am not a fan of roller coasters. I don’t like the drops and turns as it makes my stomach very queasy. When I dated my wife, I tried to act like a macho man and ride roller coasters with her…I eventually became sick. Roller coasters give the illusion of chaos. However, coasters are designed to provide that experience while they bring the person back to a common end. Life seems to be much like this. Things may appear to be chaotic, but a good, loving, Almighty God has an order and a plan.

Joseph realized that what man meant as evil, God used for the greater good. When we keep this perspective, we will realize that God has an order despite the seeming chaos of the times. Understand, God is still in control. Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope. God will bring an ultimate good out of the midst of great chaos.

© November 2, 2015. Brian Chilton

 

Sources Cited:

Aquinas, Thomas. “On Human Choice. Disputed Question of Evil, 6 (1266-72). In Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. Edited and Translated by Ralph McInery. London, UK; New York: Penguin Classics, 1998.

Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Hyper-Calvinism does not represent the general Calvinist viewpoint. Some sects of Calvinism do hold to a hardline, or hyper-Calvinistic, interpretation. The hyper view is what is being discussed here.

[3] Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).