Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Problem of Evil

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This world which he created currently has much evil in it. The question is why? Most responses try to show how the evil might be permitted for the sake of some good which either results in it or from it while being unobtainable otherwise.

God created the world for the sake of his glory. Further, I believe that he governs the world sovereignly. Therefore all that occurs in the world is meant by God for his glory. Romans 8:28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." This places the problem of evil in the strongest light: evil exists, yet all that happens happens to the glory of God. How can this be?

There are two kinds of evil: natural evil, as in natural disasters, and moral evil, as in the evil actions of moral agents. The first can be explained as God's punishment for sin. Since no one is innocent, but all are sinners and therefore worthy of death, when bad happens to us we are only getting what we deserve. When we escape bad happening to us it is God's grace to us.

The latter kind of evil is harder to explain. If God is in control of all that happens, then that includes our actions. How can a good God will that we sin? First, we must note that it is possible for us to will something for evil, i.e., with evil intent, while God wills it for good, i.e., for his glory. Genesis 50:20 "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." The question is only how God gets glory from evil actions.

God gets glory from our evil actions in at least two ways. First, for those who remain apart from him, he shows his righteousness and justice on them by punishing them. Second, for those who repent, he shows how great his mercy and grace are to those whom he loves, whom he has called. This is an exhibition of his holiness greater than would be possible if there were no sin.

This explains how there can be sin, but it does not explain why there is so much sin. To answer that question, we may note, first, that by allowing the full extent of our depravity, the full extent of what we will tend to do apart from him, he shows how good and necessary he is for us to live as we were made to live. Secondly, by letting our evil be shown in diverse ways in various times he warns us of our evil and exhibits our own evil to us, in order that we might repent, and in order that we might recognize our need for his righteousness to work in our lives. Thirdly, we are punished for our rejection of God by the moral evil of those around us, as when the Israelites were punished by God sending foreign nations to conquer them.

In addition to these reasons why we might expect evil to be as great as it is, and why evil actually serves to glorify God, and so is involved in countering itself, we may note that the cross of Christ is a place where evil is directly confronted as evil. Our answer to the problem of evil is twofold: that it has been conquered in Christ's death, and that it is being turned to good. We, then, as the body of Christ, must be involved in the task of bringing the kingdom of God to earth in this way: combating sin and death by the power of Christ who defeated both sin and death once and for all.

Any answer to the problem of evil will imply a response to evil. The ultimate response to the problem of evil was Christ's death on the cross in which God's justice and grace were shown together. This is where we must go in responding to evil. God's justice is shown in it, and so is his grace, and in Christ God is reconciling all things to himself. We, because we are joined to Christ in his life and death, are joined to Christ in his defeat of sin and death. In light of that, we should live lives which redeem the evil in our lives by showing the power of God in our weakness.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Relevance of God

What do humans need? What is Scripture about? What is our message?

I believe these three question have a single answer: God.

We need God. We are dependent on him for life. He made us and sustains us. In him we live and move and have our being. We need Jesus Christ, in whom we now live, and who has conquered sin and death for us when we were enslaved to both. To live, we had to be given life in Jesus Christ. It is not about us, but God. Insofar as our lives are about us, about fulfilling our needs, we will fail to meet our single biggest, most important need: our need to be saved from our sins. For that, we need God. Christ must be our Lord, the one in charge of our lives, the central being in our lives.

Scripture is about God. It begins with God, and traces his dealings with people: first with Adam and Eve, then Cain and Abel, and forward through Noah, the people at the tower of Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel. Scripture climaxes in God's coming to earth as a human being--the incarnation--and dying for the sins of his people, those whom he has called. It continues with that people spreading the news of what he, Jesus, did, and ends with God's final conquest over all that is, all that has rebelled.

Our message is God. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. We make disciples of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We speak of the Word made Flesh, the perfect image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, who came and saved us. We speak of him. Our message is not that we have been saved, but that Jesus Christ, God's own Son, came to earth and died to set us free from sin and death. It is not about us, as if we earned it or as if God picked us because of anything about us, but rather, it is about God who did it, who accomplished it all.

Therefore, to be relevant, to be Biblical, to be Gospel oriented, we must speak of God. God must be the centerpoint of our faith, the one on whom it all rests. Otherwise, we will have missed the point.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Preaching is Dependent on the Word

The charge of the pastor is to feed the people of God. This means that he must feed them what people of God need for sustenance, and this is the word of God. Likewise, it is the word of God which is powerful, living and active. This is what God's people, the church, hungers for. Therefore, it is the pastor's responsibility to teach the word of God to the people of God.

The charge of the pastor comes from God. This means that the pastor speaks for God, and thus it is his responsibility to bring the word of God, and not his own word, to the people of God. This means that he is to be under the authority of God in all that he says. He is not to rely on his own understanding, but on the word of God.

Preaching from the Scriptures, then, requires sitting under the authority of God. No preaching is truly the preaching of God's word unless it is restrained by the bounds of Scripture. No preacher, indeed, no one at all, has authority to go beyond the word of God, and this means that no preacher has authority to go beyond what is in the Scriptures when he preaches to the people of God.

This means that the preaching must be from the word of God. It must be from the word of God because that is the only source of nourishment for the people of God, and it must be from the word of God because that is the only source of authority on which the preacher can legitimately stand when he speaks as preacher to the people of God. This means that the preaching must not be from some alien source, that is, it may not come from outside the word of God. This means that the preacher must approach the Scriptures themselves to discover what aim he is to have in each sermon. Any alien motive is denied, because any alien motive is illegitimate. Insofar as an aim or an outline or a message for a sermon does not come from the Scriptures themselves it is like dirt which muddies the living water meant for God's people.

This is not to deny that good historical, linguistic, philosophical, theological or other scholarship is useless to the preacher, but that it is subordinate to the word of God in preaching. But it is to affirm that all scripture is sufficient for life and godliness. It is to deny that what comes to us from outside of Scripture can be used to impose on Scripture a structure which is alien to Scripture. It is to deny preaching on the basis of what is not said in the Scriptures, but is merely hypothesized. We must be careful with God's word, respecting it as God's. We must not be careless, but examine the words of God carefully, to see what he has given us to say. We rely not on human reason or experience or tradition, but on divine revelation, given to us in Scripture. What we preach is not of human ingenuity, but of God's wisdom.