Apr 24, 2007

A Christian response to evil

by Matthew Berman, Contributing Writer
It’s the question that’s been asked by mankind throughout the ages, regardless of age, ethnicity and religious belief, because it strikes at the very core of what it means to be human. It’s a conundrum, an implausibility that people have yet to fully be able to reconcile in their minds. It’s the question we ask in the wake of horrific tragedies like Columbine and September 11. And as of Monday morning, Virginia Tech.

It’s a fair and honest question to ask—and an even tougher one to answer.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The church is no stranger to this question either. Even men and women of God have had to ask this question and evaluate its implications on their lives and beliefs. Throughout the Bible, those who claim to believe in God—the One who, by definition, is the essence of goodness—are often found in the midst of tragedy.

Perhaps the most well-known example is that of Job, a “blameless and upright [man] who fear[ed] God and shun[ed] evil” (Job 1:8). A man who, by God’s allowance, was made destitute when, in a matter of moments, everything dear to him in this life—save his wife—was stripped from him.

Consider Jeremiah, God’s faithful prophet to the people of Judah. Despite warning of God’s coming judgment and urging the people to repent, he could only weep as he watched the nation reject his message and as he witnessed Jerusalem, his beloved city, being burned to the ground.

Or how about the apostle Paul, arguably one of the most influential leaders of the early Church? A man who could honestly lay claim to every title of prominence in his day who instead chose to suffer imprisonment, beating, disease, stoning and ridicule for the sake of sharing the Gospel with the world.

How is it that men so devoted to right could be allowed to suffer such tremendous tragedy? Doesn’t it seem wrong that good people hurt and ache and experience loss while evil triumphs and prevails? Where is the goodness of God in all of this, we ask?

All three of those men were faced with questions like these as tragedy surrounded them. But notice their responses.

In the midst of such great loss, Job’s first reaction was worship. Job 1:20-21 says that “Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:  ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’” Worship prepared Job’s heart for the lesson God wanted to demonstrate in his life.

In Lamentations 3:21-23, we stand beside Jeremiah as he watches the ash smoldering in the distance—all that remains of his once beautiful city:  “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Even at one of the lowest points in Judah’s history, Jeremiah could boldly say this because he had already seen God’s goodness and compassion extended to His people, and Jeremiah took comfort in knowing that God would remain true to His character.

And what about Paul? The man who experienced so much hardship that he “[bore] on his body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17) had this to say of his trials:  “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things,” (Philippians 3:8).
    
So I suppose the real question then, at least for the Christian, isn’t so much “Why do bad things happen to good people?” as much as it is “How will I respond when bad things occur?”

To have the right perspective in the face of tragedy—the kind of perspective Job, Jeremiah and Paul exhibited—we must first have a proper understanding of two key concepts:  the character of God and the fact that evil exists in the world as a result of man’s ability to make choices.

No, that doesn’t make a tragedy any less difficult to endure. But it helps us look beyond our grief to remind us that we trust a God who is in control and has a purpose for good despite the evil intentions of wicked men.
    
But notice that tragedy never ends in tears. Instead it bears a much greater victory than we could have ever at first perceived. Job was blessed two-fold his original prosperity and clung to the promise that he would one day see his children again in Heaven. The temple at Jerusalem and the city wall was eventually rebuilt, and the people of God were allowed to return home from captivity. Paul led countless men and women to salvation in Jesus Christ, and when he finally went home to stand before his King, he received the crown of life for which he had faithfully served the Lord during his earthly ministry.

It is all right to mourn, and we as people have a need to do so. But in the midst of our mourning, we must remember that those tragedies aren’t a surprise to God. In spite of man’s capacity for evil, God is still sovereign. He is still on the throne of Heaven. And He hurts with us.
    
Contact Matthew Berman at mlberman@liberty.edu.
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