The Question of Evil

As far as you are able, imagine that you are God.  I will wait while you get in character.  Tic, tic, tic… Are you there yet?  No?… Tic, tic, tic… How about now?  The robe doesn’t fit, does it?  Or the shoes?  Not easy, is it?  That will have to do.  You’re as close as you’re gonna get.

So, as God, how would you save us from ourselves?

I suppose one could say, “If I were God, the people wouldn’t need saving because everything would be perfect already.  There would be no suffering because I wouldn’t allow it in the perfect world I created.  The people I created would have pure hearts, so they would not be inclined to evil. There wouldn’t even be a word for evil because it would not exist.  No murders, assaults, or even anger.  No rape or even lust.  No theft or even the thought of it because the people would never be jealous of what someone else had.  There would never be a reason for theft because everyone would have everything they could ever need or want.”  And that is right, because you are God. Your game, your universe, your rules.

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Let me ask you this though: Do the people have free will?  If there is no evil, they could not have made the choice to do good.  It was their only option.  So, you deserve credit, but do they?  Aren’t they a bit robotic?  And isn’t it hard to love a robot?

Do the people love you?  Maybe they love their perfect life, and you gave it to them so they appreciate you to a degree but they didn’t choose you over something or someone else.  They had no choice.  Is that love?

My meandering imagination has taken me up and down paths like this one and many others.  If I were God, could I have done it better?  If I did it this way or that way, what would the end result be?

I hate the fact that there is evil in this world, and, though I don’t believe God created the evil, I do believe he created the beings that created the evil.  Unspeakable things are being done to people by other people.  That is messed up.  Obviously, mankind is to blame for what mankind does.  We messed up this world.  We are the ones who are stealing, raping and killing.  But can we blame God for allowing it?

He could have created a world with no possibility of evil as in the above scenario, or he can snuff out all evil with a thought right now.  But God has chosen to let mankind as a whole choose its own way and suffer the consequences of our choices.  He is treating us like grownups, and mankind as a whole is acting like the civilized children in “Lord of the Flies” who quickly turn into savages when they find themselves on a deserted island.

It seems to me that the only reason God would allow evil or wouldn’t wipe out evil right now is free-will.  Why would God want robots or puppets as children or friends? Why would he not want authentic relationships with those he created?  Can any relationship be authentic without free-will?

So, the question now is, could he have created us with free-will but without the possibility of evil?  I don’t know, but what good is free will if there is no choice to make with it?  Having free-will implies that there will be reason to use it, choices.  If there is no alternative other than goodness, then we didn’t choose it.  If there is no alternative other than God, then we didn’t choose him.

I trust God.  I trust him because I have an inkling of the enormous difference between his knowledge and mine, between his wisdom and mine.  I trust that despite the heinous things WE are doing to our fellow man and ourselves, God will work it out, and His Kingdom WILL come for those that choose Him.

It has always been our choice.  God has put enough knowledge in each one of us to reason that he exists and to understand his absolute right to judge what we did with the life of free-will He gave us.  We all fell immeasurably short: that’s no secret.  Nevertheless, he still allows it to be our choice.  Will we trust him to save us?  Do we choose Him?  What will we do with our free-will?

I am light years from being a perfect follower, but my choice is made.  If I am to be insulted and ostracized, shunned and persecuted, tortured and murdered;  Let it come.  I choose Him.  I choose Jesus.

A.J.

 

 

 

 

The Lie of Wealth

Suppose for a minute that you have a billion dollars…

Being the thoughtful and generous Christian that you are, you give a lot–100 million–to help the poor around the world, but afterwards you still have 900 million dollars left.

So, since you care about your friends and family, you decide to take away their financial burdens by giving them each five million dollars.  They are not rich like you and five million will go a long way for them.

They are all ecstatic and very grateful and you feel good, thinking that hard-working Uncle Archie and Aunt Ellen will have what they need to finally get the family farm fixed up, the one that has been in the family for almost 200 years.  Your friends Bob and Roberta can afford to see that doctor about their fertility problems, or at least they will look good to adoption agencies.  Henry can start that business he always dreamed about.  And that niece of yours who doesn’t believe in God… she is sure to see this as a gift from Him.

Thinking your loved ones are well taken care of, you go on an extended mission trip helping feed kids in one of the poorest places on Earth.  Six months later you return feeling good about yourself and your giving.

Then you find out your aunt and uncle decided to retire early, sold the family farm, bought a cookie cutter condo, a time-share on the beach, and Uncle Archie has fallen off the wagon.

Bob and Roberta separated after quitting their jobs and jet-setting at the clubs looking for better relational options.  Rumor has it that Roberta is pregnant now–by some other man.

Henry, instead of starting his business, bought the most powerful and expensive motorcycle money can buy, took it up in the mountains to see how it handled the curves, and died after hitting a patch of gravel and sliding in front of an F-150.

Your niece was the only one who did what you had hoped for all of them.  She bought a modest home, made a couple wise investments, and thinks she may be set for life. She couldn’t be farther from God, though, and now believes she has everything she will ever need.

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At one time or another most of us have dreamed about being rich.  What we don’t realize is that we may have been hoping for own misery.  Wealth is far from a guarantee of lasting happiness or peace, in fact in might just guarantee the opposite.  Many of the richest people around are some of the most miserable people on Earth.  Great wealth is a great liar.  It tells people they have everything they need, and most believe it, even though their hearts tell them otherwise.

There are exceptions, of course, but I believe there are very few of us, Christian or not, who can handle much wealth because that wealth drives a wedge between us and God.  When we have everything we believe we need, mankind tends to forget we are totally dependent on God.  When a problem arises we tend to look to our checkbook for answers, rather than the God who blessed us with that checkbook.

I understand, some of us are in a bad way, financially speaking, and a bundle of money could help us keep our homes or feed our kids.  But, I’ll bet we are on our knees a whole lot more than the folks who think they have it made.  We are more thankful for much less, understanding that the God who loves us will provide what we need.  That is true wealth.

A.J.

You are not alone.  There aren’t too many people whose lives haven’t been a wreck at one time or another.  You aren’t the only one lost in the desert.  But, if you meet up with all the others who are lost out there, does that make you found?

There is a way out, no matter what you have done, no matter how long you’ve done it.

Knock.  It is not too late.  The door will be opened.redcharlie-672182-unsplash.jpg

The church down the street might not accept the heartless jerks, or the sexual deviants, or the selfish, or the drunks, or the thieves, but God’s church will.  If you are searching, you don’t have to enter a building with a cross on it to say; God, I need help.  Are you there?  Are you real?  Jesus said knock and the door will be opened to you.  That means if you are honestly searching, God will show you That He Is, and he will show you Who He Is.

A.J.

 

Brothers

I would rather be the ungrateful, blatantly sinful younger brother than the hypocritical, self-righteous older brother.  Yes, the little brother was a selfish heathen–but he knew it.  He wasn’t trying to pull the wool over the Father’s eyes, or his own.

That younger brother ended up broken, starving, and full of regrets. He was humbled–very much the type who ended up at Jesus’ feet knowing full well they needed mercy.  He turned his back on the Father choosing a life of sin–not good at all–but it is more honest than the older brother who believed he was good enough to deserve to be honored by the Father.

Neither way is a good way to live.  Both brothers had it wrong but only one of them knew he had it wrong.  Which is closer to forgiveness?

Who frustrated Jesus more: the broken sinner in the gutter, or the Pharisee pointing out the gutter man’s sins?  If we see Him today, walking the streets of our town, do we imagine it would be any different?  Would he have more to say to the man on his knees who says “I am a sinner,” or the pointing man who says “HE is a sinner.”?

The star of the parable is the Father, of course.  Heartsick love, hair-trigger mercy, a bottomless cup of grace.  Good thing for me… cause I am both brothers.

A.J.

 

 

 

Market Day

I have known darkness so long it seems like my friend, although I realize that I cannot have a clear understanding of the word.  What is darkness to someone who has never known light?  It is nothing.  Just a word people use to describe my condition.

Through the din of the market crowd I hear the Roman garrison coming long before anyone else and move from my spot near the fragrant apple cart.  They will go out of their way to trample me if I give them half a chance.  “Soldiers coming.”  I yell towards Mary, the girl who is kind enough to give me an apple every morning despite her parents’ orders.

…nine, ten, eleven, twelve… I count steps towards the reliable breeze blowing through the Eastern Gate and find my way to the edge of the small olive grove.  Others are here resting in the shade, I know, maybe a dozen or so –all silent– or so they think.  They are all at least twenty feet away from me but even with the noise of the crowded market, I can still hear breathing, a slight swish of clothing, the faintest clearing of a throat, grass against bare feet.  I sense no danger, though, and lean against the shady side of an olive tree.

The crowd quiets and the street quickly clears as less attentive ears finally pick up the rhythmic march of the Roman soldiers.  The garrison moves quickly through the square, its commander scowling at the crowd. They pass through without incident this time, apparently in a hurry to accuse and scourge some poor soul from a different area of the city.

The Romans always get the wrong guy.  I don’t know where they get their information, but they are usually wrong and they scourge or crucify innocent men.  They should pay blind men to inform for them, not that any of us would betray our own people.  Well… that’s probably not true, some would.

People always talk too loud around us, either not understanding how acute our hearing usually becomes or because they often think we are dim-witted.   I still don’t get it.  Why would you assume someone who cannot see must be unintelligent?  In a way, though, they are right.  Blindness does affect our understanding of things–but we are more aware of the world around us, not less.

I linger in the shade awhile longer, enjoying the break from the heat, closing my useless eyes and imagining for the ten thousandth time what kind of man I could have been if I had not been born blind.

My reverie is broken by a feeling, no, a certainty that one of the men in the grove is watching me, sizing me up.  Don’t ask me how I know.  You couldn’t understand any more than I can understand the concept of light.  I hear the man rise and move in my direction.  “Hello, friend.”  I say, trying to divine the man’s intentions, though I still sense no danger.  In fact, there is a sense of something else, something I can’t describe.

The man does not speak as he approaches on tired legs, though I sense the strength of a man in his prime.  “Peace be with you,” he sighs as he finds a horizontal branch to lean on a few feet from me.

Several feelings go through me at the sound of the man’s kind greeting.  Foremost is an immediate feeling of peace, like the man saying “peace be with you” makes it so.  “And with you,” I stammer, aware of a wish or need to hear more.  “May I have your name?”

The man appears not to hear the question, though.  He takes a deep breath and sighs again.  “The air is fresh today, don’t you think?”  Another deep breath.  “The smell of fresh fruit and spring flowers.”

I breathe deeply.  “Yes,” is all I can manage to say as I hear and sense the man’s companions joining us.

“Yes, this is a beautiful day the Father has made.  The blue of today’s sky is unsurpassed in all of history because this is a special day.”

Somehow I know the man means no offense but the pain from the longing to see this unsurpassed sky overwhelms me.  Through sudden tears I cry out, “I cannot see it!  I have no concept of color, or of lightness, or darkness. The only thing these eyes can do is shed tears, and many have they shed.”

“Take heart, Simon,” the man says, “for the next tears that fall from your eyes will be tears of joy.”  And as I wonder how this man knows my name he grabs me by my shoulders and steadies me, puts one hand over each of my eyes and says, “Simon, receive your sight.”  Then, the man takes his hands away, my eyelids flutter open–and I finally understand.  I understand light, and I understand darkness, I understand color, and I understand beauty…

I twirl around, looking in every direction.  Unthinking, I start to run and jump and skip.  My mind is overloading, trying to process everything in sight. “Sight! I have been given sight!  Praise the Lord Most High!”  I yell.  “For I can see!”  I get my bearings and sprint to the apple cart grinning from ear to ear where a girl is smiling back at me.  “Mary, I can see you!  I can see!  You are beautiful!”  I hug her and swing her around.  “Everything is beautiful!  Praise God Almighty!  I can see!”  I look over the Eastern wall of the city and soak in the incredible color of the sky.  Blue, they call it.  “Wait, the man!”  I cry out.  “Mary, the man, he put his hands on my eyes… in the grove… he made me see, Mary!”

Quickly I run towards the olive grove, then I slow as the full truth hits me.  He is there with His companions, smiling, and I fall at His feet.  “Lord,” I cry.  “I do not understand.  Why would you, Lord,  stoop so low to touch the eyes of a sinner and make him see?”

“It is for sinners that I came.  Did I not tell you, Simon?  This is a special day.  The day your eyes were opened.”

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I made a bad mistake…
I read the news section of my paper today.  Now I am depressed.
290 people were murdered and 500 injured in Sri Lanka–most of them in church–on Easter.  Yesterday, I spoke about the constant, though mostly ignored, persecution of Christians around the globe but still managed to land us on a high note.  Minutes later I heard about Sri Lanka and today I read about it.  Can I pull a rabbit out of my hat and find the high note again?
I also read about a recent study showing that a thirty year genocide in Turkey between 1894 and 1924 likely killed in the neighborhood of two and a half million Christians.  It had been previously accepted that the genocide did not start until 1914 and had only

killed “several hundred thousand”.  It is now being argued that the extermination began many years before.  Two and a half million!  Even if the researchers are off by a million, we are talking about one of the worst genocides in the history of the world–and how many of us had even heard of it?

This isn’t a doom and gloom post.  I am not whining, “Woe is us!”  I can’t do doom and gloom for long because I know my future is secure whether Christians are being slaughtered or not, whether I myself am slaughtered or not.  Jesus said we would be persecuted and we are.  None of this takes him by surprise and none of it can affect the eternity of those who love Him.
I heard a story one time (I forget where) about a guy who went to a third-world country with one of his friends to help in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.  When they got to ground zero, the man noticed his friend was beaming from ear to ear, so he asked him, “How can you possibly smile at the sight of this devastation?”
His friend answered, “I am just so happy to have a God who can shake the world.”
I admit, I can fall into despair when I hear of all the mass shootings or terrorist bombings whether it is Christians who are targeted or not, when I see the obvious degradation of society, when I see sin not only tolerated but encouraged and idolized, when I see The One True God mocked or ignored.  Some might think, on the surface, that a little despair is justified and that is true; a lot of despair is justified… but not for a Christian.
You see, every piece of bad news we ever hear is supposed to be filtered through the Good News.  Jesus Lives.  That good news should always be at the forefront of our minds.  That is easier said than done, I know, when we face the worst this life has to offer.   But, during the best of times, or the very worst, nothing will ever change His plan for us.  The bad news will never change the good.

 

Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God you reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King –Hillsong United

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Uncle Ralph

 

This is my Uncle Ralph.

 

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People say I look like him but I don’t see a resemblance.

This photo was taken years ago.  He is older and grayer now and he has put on a few pounds.  His double chin has doubled making it a quadruple, I guess.

I am afraid we have not been very respectful of Uncle Ralph these last few years.  We make fun of him cause he falls asleep with his Bible at every family gathering.  He has chronic bad breath, his body makes weird noises, and the smells–oh man, don’t get me started.  Worst of all, he will drone on and on about his glory days, how he once did 784 pull-ups, how he used to swing from tree to tree and all the girls couldn’t take their eyes off him.  Probably true.  Just look at that picture; The guy had movie-star good looks.

Uncle Ralph was pretty smart in his day; ran his own banana sales business and it prospered for years.  Nowadays, though, his mind is not so sharp and his memory is not good at all.  Half the time he calls me by my sister’s name, Average Josephine.  We tend not to expect much from Uncle Ralph, we overlook him and marginalize him.

When all of us are sitting around, though, trying to ignore the smells coming from Uncle Ralph’s chair, talking about the recent events in our lives and what they might mean and how we should deal with them, Uncle Ralph will invariably have the wisest and most relevant and helpful advice.

He does it all the time and every time it surprises us because we think we are the smart ones.  We don’t believe that someone so old, someone who can’t remember our names could possibly help us deal with any modern-day problem.

We might be right.  Maybe we are smarter than Uncle Ralph is now… but we aren’t wiser.  He may forget our names but God’s Word is part of him which makes him wiser than all of us who look down on him.

Do you have an Uncle Ralph?  I’ll bet he is not as handsome as mine.

A.J.