The past couple of posts have been focused on the problem of evil and suffering in the world and we have attempted to explore the issue from three different perspectives. We have given a philosophical accounting for evil; we have explored the existential perspective, or what it looks like within the context of our daily lives; and we have discussed the theological perspective, but tonight I want to ask another very pertinent question: So what?
Maybe we understand the problem of evil better, maybe we can articulate the issue better in conversations with the people we come into contact with, and I think there is some value in that from an apologetic and evangelistic standpoint. But beyond that, lies a larger question: what are we to do about it? So I thought perhaps the best way to approach this would be to start at the end and work our way back to the present.
God’s final victory over evil – the not yet
The Bible talks about a new creation (a new heavens and new earth) as being our final destination. Revelation 21 and 22 explain what this new creation will look like, but it is interesting to note that before God undertakes this final renovation of earth, he first purges evil altogether. “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:7 ff.).
So we see that God’s victory over evil will be complete and final as Death, Hades, and Satan himself are all thrown into the lake of fire. This final destruction of evil falls under what theologians call the “not yet” aspect of the kingdom of God. It is promised, but it has not yet come to fruition, at present it remains an unfulfilled prophecy.
The battle is won – the already
For all that, however, the New Testament is very consistent in the proclamation that the battle against evil has already been won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, 1Jn 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” So, the end is in sight and has in fact already begun because the resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the end. Consequently, we find ourselves living in the tension between the already and the not yet aspects of the kingdom of God.
How should we then live?
So, since we live in this overlapping period between the already and the not yet of the victory over evil, what do we do about it? Do we just wait around for the end, for God’s final victory? I think not; that seems rather defeatist to me. Do you think that perhaps God has a purpose in placing us in this location at this particular point in history? Could it be that instead of waiting around to be raptured out of this place, we should actually be actively and purposefully engaged in the battle against evil? And if so, what would that look like?
2Co 10:3-4 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” So I want to take a look at three of those weapons and discuss how we might use them in the battle against evil.
When I launched this series of articles I said that this topic really started to take shape in my mind last year when I went to the Ft. Wayne Museum of Art to see an exhibit of photographs from WW II. It was a very touching and amazingly powerful experience. Images of bombs being dropped by the score as plains flew over metropolitan areas, photos of Japanese and American bodies spread across the sand of some beach in the south Pacific, pictures of the mass graves of the holocaust holding the piles of corpses of people who had been slain for no other reason than their ethnicity.
When I got home that evening and had an opportunity to reflect on the whole thing, I made and entry in my journal that I entitled The Virulent Nature of Evil. I would like to share that entry with you. “Why is philosophy an important field of study for the Christian? Because the battle against evil is played out in the mind of the individual. Beyond that, however, is the the fact that the battle against evil on the larger social scale is also a battle of ideology, a battle of ideas. This concept can be clearly seen in the history of the German people. It is amazing to think that people who had been so profoundly influenced during the Reformation by the ideas of men like Luther and Melanchthon would later fall prey to the influence of ideas from men like Nietzsche, Marx, and Hitler – Ideas that would infect German society in epidemic proportions. It should give us pause to consider the gravity of the potential for destruction that the wrong ideas can yield when they take hold in a social organism or body politic. Once the ideas, those bearing evil payload, are allowed to take root in the individual, they then may propagate as they spread to each new person, much like a virus moves from host to host. This is the dark side of philosophy. How can it be prevented if it cannot be recognized? How can it be recognized if it is not studied? It must be seen for what it is, for evil is virulent in nature. Yet some, through the embrace of theology have risen to counter its spread; have stared in its face and not blinked. May we never forget that in Hitler’s rush to propagate evil ideology he persecuted the true church of Jesus Christ and in so doing, that persecution caused the likes of Bonhoeffer to spawn ideas which would touch the lives and souls of countless men for the good, for God. The Holy Spirit used the crucible of persecution to yield those luminary works.”
Evil seems to function very much like a virus. But there is something that functions like an antidote or antivirus, and that something is forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful weapons in the battle against evil and it takes at least 3 different forms.
- God forgiving us – When we accept the forgiveness that God has made available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, something absolutely amazing happens. God’s Spirit comes into us and the power of His spirit gives us a very unique advantage over evil. We are no longer in bondage to sin and death.
- Forgiving ourselves – sometimes accepting God’s forgiveness is much easier than forgiving ourselves. But when we reach the point that we can truly forgive ourselves it puts an end to the downward spiral of self-inflected wounds.
- Forgiving others – when we forgive others not only do we set them free, but in the same stroke we also free ourselves from the burden of the pain and resentment we have been carrying as well as the desire for vengeance.
Another powerful weapon in the struggle against evil is prayer. In his book Evil and the Justice of God, N. T. Wright says, “The new life of the Spirit, to which Christians are called in the present age, is not a matter of sitting back and enjoying spiritual comforts in a private, relaxed, easygoing spirituality, but consists rather of the unending struggle in the mystery of prayer, the struggle to bring God’s wise, healing order into the world now, in implementation of the victory of the cross and anticipation of the final redemption.”
As we seek to implement prayer in this struggle it seems perhaps we should be more purposeful and disciplined in our approach to prayer, using it proactively rather than reactively, giving more focus to spiritual concerns.
I believe that the church is called to a very specific mission; part of that mission is spiritual and part is physical. If we are to truly be the church, then each of us individually needs to allow God to use us as His redemptive agents on earth. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here, as human beings we don’t redeem anything, but God works through us to bring redemption to everything.
- Redemption of space – Reclaiming space from the kingdom of darkness. The building where The Hill is presently located is a very good example of what the redemption of space can look like. The building has a very storied history and it was in fact a stronghold of the kingdom of darkness for many years and in many ways. It began as a stagecoach stop on the line that ran from Ft. Wayne, IN to Marshall, MI. It has served as a bus station, a dress shop, and a restaurant. But it also has a darker side to its history: during prohibition it was a speakeasy and at one point it also served as a house of prostitution. But God redeemed this space. For the past two and a half years it has been used as a house of worship where week after week people gather together to glorify God, and the small rooms upstairs that in former times were used for prostitution today are used as prayer rooms.The new site for The Hill which is presently under construction is another example of the redemption of space. One of the most evident plagues on our culture is materialism and consumerism. The new location carves out space for God in the midst of a building that is otherwise devoted to consumerism: a strip mall.Redemption of creation – If God’s plan is to redeem the earth as Romans 8 says, then we should approach the ecology of the earth in a responsible way. I have written elsewhere at greater length about this issue so it will not be discussed here.
- Redemption of time – busyness is one of the chief weapons that the enemy of our souls uses against us. Cell phones, im, e-mail, facebook, myspace, and whatever else is next on the technology horizon. Technology promises to improve our lives but in most cases is does the exact opposite.
- Redemption of lives – spiritual as well as physical help for people. When is the last time you made a concerted effort to help someone else? God brings people into our lives on a regular basis that need our help, people with addictions, people who are under-resourced, people who are hurting emotionally and just need a friend. All of this requires self-sacrifice and that is not a very popular concept in our culture. It also seems much of the intensity of our personal suffering is driven by our focus on self. Suffering is most debilitating when I am focused on me. But when I shift my focus to others something profound happens. My personal suffering is reduced in intensity as soon as I become actively engaged in advancing God’s kingdom through serving others.
- Redemption of relationships – Why are relationships so important? Because they endure into eternity. God wants to redeem marriages, friendships, etc.
In the last post I suggested that 2 Corinthians 4:17 may hold a very powerful key to dealing with suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” It seems, however, that there is a bit of paradox here in that looking to the unseen, fixing our perspective on eternal things, profoundly effects out thinking and the decisions that we make in our daily lives and this seems to yield very tangible contact with the world of the seen.