...a weekly devotional

Monday, December 31, 2012

How Can a Good God Allow Evil?

"This One will be our peace." -Micah 5:2

This December was the first time I have had to turn off the news because it was too depressing. Terrible events happened that changed the lives of so many. Christmas should be a season of celebration, but, even though the dust had settled, it was still marked with a cloud of sadness.

When evil events occur, the question that is undoubtedly asked is, "Where is God in all this? How can a good God allow this evil?" This is the question that is always posed at Christians in an attempt to 'stump the chump.' It is my belief that as Christians we are the only ones that actually have an answer to this question. The fact is, tragedies like the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, do not cause me to lose faith in God, but in humanity.

Consider this, in a world that embraces Postmodern thinking truth becomes subjective for each individual. This lack of a solid foundation of truth leads to moral relativity, meaning that the lines of good and evil are blurred. Of course, everyone in their right mind would admit that the killing of children is pure evil. However, the blame of this evil is still shifted away from the individual and excused with things like poor parenting, mental illness, or lack of gun restrictions. According to the Bible, the problem of evil does not reside with God, but with each individual man. "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually...and He was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:5,6b). Evil is man's rejection of God's way, choosing, instead, to go his own way. Romans 3:10-12 "As it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seek after God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." This is a quotation from both Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3 "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God," They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; there is no one who does good. God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good not even one." So, contrary to popular belief, man is NOT 'basically good' and evil resides on both the corporate and individual level.

Another destructive worldview stems from an evolutionary perspective. Evolution embraces the idea of survival of the fittest, thus, bringing about improvement over time. Death becomes progress, and, when this view is taken to its extreme, there is no difference between the death of a child and the death of an insect because death is an advancement toward a stronger more purified species. However, the Bible speaks of death as the result of man's choosing evil. Romans 5:12, 19a "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned...through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners." Death is man's separation from God as a result of his rejection of God. 

But God, being good, did not abandon us in our sinful state. He sent His child, Jesus Christ, to be born on earth, live a sinless life, then die (suffering the consequences of sin) on our behalf. Romans 5 continues, 
"For as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous...so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (verses 19 and 21).

When we take God out of the picture we are left to destruction, despair, and hopelessness. The only peace is Christ Himself. Micah 5, the passage that speaks of the promised Messiah being born in Bethlehem, which is a direct prophecy of Jesus' birth, concludes the prophecy with the words in verse 5, 
"This One will be our peace." This is why He is called the Prince of Peace and heralded at His birth was the message of "peace on earth!" But notice what the angels proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14). God is not to be blamed for the evil, He receives the honor and glory for giving the gift of hope and peace. Also, this peace is not the sudden end of war, world hunger, and sadness, it is the gift of peace through Jesus Christ. It is peace with God to those who receive His gift. It is hope so man is no longer left in His sin, but made righteous through the blood of Christ. It is a glorious future so that death is no longer despair and separation from God, but entrance into eternal life with God. 

So I leave you with the words of the Christmas carol I have found particularly meaningful this season:1

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play, 
And wild and sweet their words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head

"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will toward men." 

1 "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" words by Henry W. Longfellow, 1864 (On an historical note, this hymn was written during the American Civil War).
2 For one of the most beautiful renditions of this song I recommend Casting Crowns
3 Image taken from sharedhope.org

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worship the King

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem saying, "Where is He who has been born Kind of the Jews? For we saw His star in the East, and have come to worship Him." And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him...And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him." And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the East, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly, with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh."
-Matthew 2:1-3, 8-11

The other day I was in the store doing some Christmas shopping. Nearby there were some women examining the nativity sets. One of the women said to the other, "My nativity scene is a big mix and match and I have two different sets of wise men!" To which the other woman remarked, "What! More than three wise men? What kind of church do you go to?"

In my opinion the wise men are the most misunderstood characters from the nativity. First of all, they were probably not kings. While they may have been royalty, and certainly were wealthy, they were actually religious scholars who specialized in astrology, medicine, and natural sciences. They came from Saudi Arabia, particularly, the areas of Persia and Babylon. This means they likely had copies of the Jewish Scriptures which would have been circulated through this area during the exile. Because of this, they were probably familiar with the Jewish Scripture that says, "A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Num. 24:17). 

The star they saw may have been a comet, meteor, supernova, or a cluster of planets. While, at first, it could have been a natural phenomenon they saw that caused them to journey from the East, the way the star reappears, moves, and settles over a certain house, as it was leading them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, suggest that it was a miraculous star-like manifestation that could have been similar to the Shekinah glory in the wilderness. Whatever the star was is not as important as what it represented- the birth of the King of kings. 

Also, while there were three gifts presented, there was likely a whole caravan of Magi, servants, camels, and other animals. I like to imagine it was something like the caravan from Aladin when prince "Ali Ababua" enters the city, although, that may be a bit overboard. Whatever the extravagance of the caravan, their entrance into Jerusalem was no small thing and it allowed an immediate audience with king Herod. 

The sad thing is that when Jerusalem heard all this news it says they were "troubled." It is understandable that Herod was troubled because he was a foreign king, set up by an outside nation, who was consistently paranoid about someone rising up to take his throne, so much so that he killed members of his own family when he thought they were undermining him. Herod had absolutely no intention of worshipping the Child (Matt. 2:8). Herod does seek out the priests and scribes to find out what is going on, and they rightly quote Micah 5:2 which speaks of a Ruler being born in Bethlehem. However, here were the scholars of Old Testament Scripture and the "wise men" for the Jews. They, of all people, should have understood what was happening and been running to Bethlehem to worship the Christ-child. They should have even recognized the presence of the Magi as a prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 60- "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you...And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising...The wealth of nations will come to you. A multitude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah [Sinai and Saudi Arabia area]; all those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord." (Isa. 60:1,3,5b, 6).

Instead of the Jewish priests and scribes going to worship Christ, it was foreign, Gentile astrologers traveling from afar to worship and give gifts. I'm inclined to think that the Jewish religious leaders knew exactly what was going on because of the nature of the gifts the Magi presented to Jesus. Gold symbolizes value, nobility, and royalty. They knew Jesus was a distinguished King. Frankincense was an expensive, sweet-smelling incense used for the most special occasions. It was the traditional incense of deity and in the Old Testament times, Jews stored it in a special chamber in front of the temple and used for sprinkling on offerings as a way to worship God. The Magi were worshipping Jesus as deity. Lastly, Myrrh was a valuable perfume that represented mortality and humanity. It was later used with spices to prepare Christ's body for burial after His death (John 19:39-40). With these three gifts they highlighted significant characteristics of Christ. 

Christmas is an easy time to be distracted by all the festivities, complacent at the same old story and traditions, or it is the chance to be reminded of the birth of the Savior. We should be like the Magi and worship in awe the King of kings, fully God, fully man, who was born to die.

1 Reference material: "God in a Manger" by John MacArthur, "Matthew: MacArthur New Testament Commentary", and NASB marginal notes.
2 One other misunderstanding that should be cleared up is that the wise men are not present at the stable after Christ's birth. By the time the Magi arrived Jesus was likely a year or two old and Joseph and Mary were now living in a house in Bethlehem. 
3 Image taken from en.wikipedia.org