Evil and Grace

Jesus on cross black and white

Why did God let a madman shoot up a school? Better yet, why did He let Adam sin? Better yet, why did He let Satan into the garden? Better yet, why did He let evil into Satan’s heart?

Why is there evil at all?

Sure it’s true that God Himself through Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners from evil and to redeem the world. But why should the world and the people in it need rescuing in the first place? Is God like a man who built a house, rented it out to tenants and then set it on fire so that He could later rescue them? And even if we say that, in God’s case, He did not actively set the house on fire, He just allowed it to happen, He is still the one that had the power to stop it and chose not to. Why?

Some say God did not stop evil because He could not; others say He did not stop evil because He chose not to. Among those who say He chose not to stop evil, there are those who say it is because God is evil, and then there are others who say it is because God wants to work good from the evil.  In either case, God still appears evil. Because even a God who allows the ends to justify the means appears to be a God who is simply a manipulator of creation, like someone just doing the best He can with what He has to work with.

But the God of the Bible is none of these things. So why then did YHWH allow evil into the world?

Imagine evil never existed. Imagine Adam and Eve never sinned. And not only did they never sin they never had the option to sin, because evil was nowhere in existence. What then could we know of God? We could know His power.  We could know His intelligence. But we could never know His Grace.

Grace–unmerited favor–cannot be known in a world without evil.  Grace does not exist in a perfect world because in a perfect world everything is merited.  Every reward is the natural consequence of the perfect action that preceded it. But in a world where there is evil, there are many actions that merit condemnation, judgment, and even wrath. And in that world there is now space for Grace.

In an evil world there is now an open place for favor to be poured out where it should not be. In an evil world Grace shines brightly against the just consequence of condemnation.

Grace…an unknowable quality of God in a world without evil. Could it be that the great I AM is interested in displaying all of who He IS?

In Grace we see a characteristic of God that is wholly unlike any other conceived divine being. In Grace we see the holiness of God (His otherness). In Grace we see the beauty of God. In Grace we see the love of God in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

The Cross, the great symbol of Grace, is not just about salvation from evil, nor is it just about Jesus conquering evil. It is even more: it is a glorious beacon brightly shining in the darkness of night, displaying who God IS.

Evil is necessary for Grace. Grace is an essential attribute of God. God desires to fully display His attributes. Therefore evil exists.

What are your thoughts?

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Why pursue Jesus now?

Why not enjoy life now, do whatever I want and then pursue Jesus later…after I’ve had all my fun? This was the question we discussed last night at our high school group. It’s is a good question, one I  thought about in high school and have since thought about as an adult.  For most of us if we’re honest we’d admit that there are times when we see others “enjoying” life apart from God and we can’t help but think— why can’t I do that and then ask for forgiveness later?

But the question is usually asked when we’re not thinking about three things…

1.  I am not in control of when I die.

God says in James 4:13-14

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

No one has control over their tomorrow.  We can make plans but ultimately our life is in God’s hands.  My family became painfully aware of this truth last fall when my wife’s mother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurism.  She was healthy, full of life, and we should have had many more years with her. But instead our lives were turned upside and we were forced to come to terms with a new reality.

Medical emergencies, car accidents, and even school shootings are everyday reminders that we are not in complete control of our mortality.  So when we assume that we’ll have many tomorrows in order to turn our lives around we’re making a pretty foolish assumption.

2.  God has good things for me to do now

Ephesians 2:10  says, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is one of the greatest promises of God.  If I have given my life to Jesus, then I can know that Jesus has prepared good things for me do. I can literally wake up every morning and say to God, “Would you lead me to the good things you have for me today”. My job, then, is simply to be faithful to where God’s leads me.  The reason I pursue Jesus isn’t just to avoid negative consequences, but rather to enjoy watching God do good things through me.

3.  In Jesus I have access to joy–all the time

This leads to the third truth, in Jesus there is joy—all the time.

Psalm 16:11- You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

In the presence of Jesus there is joy.  Now what I didn’t know in high school was that this verse does not mean that Jesus will fill my life with joyful things.  Instead it means, despite the suffering that may come from external circumstances, there is joy when I acknowledge the presence of Jesus over all my life and chose to praise Him–no matter the situation.

This is actually an amazing experiment to try sometime. Wait till you’re angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, anxious, or stressed out of your mind…and then start worshiping Jesus. Seriously.  Start with the simple stuff, like “Jesus I thank you for giving me a mind, and thoughts, and the ability to think. Jesus I praise you for color and giving me eyes to see it. Jesus I praise for creating good flavors and the ability to enjoy food. Jesus I praise you for the trees outside that look like they are lifting their arms to worship you” …whatever comes to your mind.  As you do this you will literally feel your heart soften, and the beginnings of joy enter in. It is this secret of life that led the Apostle Paul to exclaim, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), while suffering in prison. Jesus is worth pursing now, because He offers joy now.

Life maybe short and unpredictable, but in Jesus we know that there are good things planned for us and joy in His presence–now and forever.

When have you been tempted to ask, why can’t I sin now and then ask for forgiveness later? How have you experienced the joy of Jesus’ presence? What has motivated you to pursue Jesus?

God is Reality

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Think about the last time you sinned. Why did you do it?

When I sin it is because in that moment my experience seems to run contrary to God’s truth. Or to put it another way, the reality I am experiencing is running contrary to the truth I have been told to accept.  Sometimes, in that moment of temptation, I don’t believe that my soon-to-be experience of sin will in reality actually be sin. Other times, I don’t believe that the “sinful” experience will in fact lead to any “real” death, “real” destruction or “real” consequence.  Because in that moment of temptation,  I don’t accept that God’s truth will in fact correspond to my reality.

Recently in a time of confession I told God this. I told Him that there are times when I don’t believe Him, I told Him there are times I do not accept that His truth corresponded to my reality. And do you know what His first words of response were to me:

“I Am Reality”

Then the Bible verses came to my mind…God’s revealed name to Moses, of “I AM” …Jesus’ use of “I AM”

Is not this identity statement of “I AM” the most succinct and profound way to communicate, “I am existence”, “I am the essence of being”, and “I am Reality “

Why does this matter?

If God is Reality, and if Jesus is God in human flesh, then to know God through Jesus is to know Reality.  Reality therefore cannot be based on your’s or mine’s experiences. Because our experience is at best only our perception of reality. Thus when our experiences of God’s truth do not correspond to what we perceived to be reality we should not look to condemn God’s truth but rather to condemn our perceived reality. God truth could no more be separated from reality then light could be separated from the sun. Because just as the sun is the source of light, so too God as Reality is the source of Truth.

Thus the next time you or I are having the experience of temptation, we can cling to the truth that God is Reality, which will in turn serve as good reason to distrust our distrust of God.  And  then in that moment of distrust of our distrust of God, we will be able to run to God, trusting that as “I AM”, He will shine his Truth upon us.

How to Let Jesus Fight Your Battles

ImageWhen I was growing up I thought if I was struggling with some sin or weakness, that it was my job to do more to fix it.  I thought if I just read my bible more, prayed more, or tried harder to be like Jesus, everything would get better— it never worked.  I have since learned that when it comes to spiritual battles, Jesus doesn’t want me to do more, He wants to do more for me.  But that can only happen if I’m willing to let Jesus fight my battles.

Maybe you’d like Jesus to fight your battles but you’re unsure of how that actually happens (I was for a long time). So here are three ways to start:

  1. Tell Jesus exactly what’s on your heart and mind-Jesus is one person you can be so honest with, that in his presence you can feel emotionally naked. (It’s like the Garden all over again). Without fear or shame, you can tell Jesus exactly what you’re feeling, and exactly what you want in any moment. No matter how bad it is. Often I will literally say things like “Jesus right now I’m feeling _____________” or “Jesus right now I really want to ____________________”.  Whether it’s cheating, sharing gossip, lying, cutting, stealing, watching porn, lashing out in anger or wanting to kill someone, we let Jesus fight our battles when we confess all our temptations to him. Remembering all the while, that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
  2. Ask Jesus for healing and removal- Your heart and mind are full of wounds and idols (welcome to the club). Some put there by you, some put there by the actions of others. But no matter how they came about each of us needs our wounds healed and our idols removed.  So I will say things like, “Jesus would you heal my heart, Jesus would you heal my mind”, or “Jesus would you show me the idols of my heart…would you remove the idols of my heart”.   Until my wounds are healed and my idols destroyed I will continue to be overpowered by temptation and a slave to sin. Thankfully Jesus can heal and remove, as 1 Peter 2:24 says,   Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God’s approval. His wounds have healed you. Jesus has done all the necessary work on the Cross and so that now you can receive all the benefits.
  3. Speak God’s Truth over you- Finally speak God’s Truth over your life. This is where all the real power is. As you proclaim God’s Word over your life, you will feel Jesus giving strength to your body and soul.  It is like letting Jesus breath life in places where there was death. Do it out loud, because there is much more power in God’s Truth spoken out loud.  I will say  things like:“God says, I am His adopted child” (Galatians 4:6),“God says, I am valuable” (Matthew 6:26),“God says, He has good things planned for me” (Ephesians 2:10),“God says, nothing can separate me from His love” (Romans 8:38-39).

In Jesus there really is victory! I pray these practices help you, as they have helped me. And I pray you would know the joy of watching Jesus fight and win all your battles.