How Long O Lord?: A Pastoral Reflection on the Problem of Evil
April 4, 2011 4 Comments
My wife and I go on walks several times a week around our apartment complex. Without fail, a mom and her daughter blissfully walk down the same sidewalks we do. We both are out enjoying the day; we both have our dog by our side, exchanging genuine hellos as we pass one another. But there is something different about her daughter – noticeably different. Yes, she is youthful, jovial, and full of laughter, as every young girl her age should be – probably around 10 years old. Yes, she stumbles and giggles when her dog pulls her a little too hard or licks her in the face. And like most young girls her age, she wears beautiful flower printed dresses, especially now that it is springtime. Yet again, there is something noticeably different about her. She is missing her hair. She seems, though I may be wrong, to have the appearance of a young girl struggling with the disease of cancer.
I can only imagine that this little girl has asked the age old question that so many of us ask, or perhaps even struggle with daily, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Or, you may have heard it stated like this, “If God is good then why is there so much evil in the world?” It is the question philosophers and theologians have been asking for thousands of years. It is the problem of evil.
By no means do I plan to exhaustively solve the problem of evil in this short article. I do, however, want to offer what I think is the best solution to this question.
The Bible speaks of a God who created the world in 6 days (Gen 1). He created both men and women in his own image and after his own likeness (Gen 1:27). Adam and Eve were to live in perfect harmony with one another, as it flowed from their perfect communion with their creator God. There was no sin. There was no death. There was no evil. There was no disease. There was no cancer. Everything was perfect. Everything was as it was made to be. The Garden of Eden was how the world was supposed to be before the entrance of sin. But then came sin.
Sin disrupted everything. It disrupted relationships, both vertically with God and horizontally with one another. It brought disease, hardship, and poverty. But ultimately, it brought death.
We look at the world today through the lens of a cracked frame. All is not as it should be and we know it. That is why we ask the question, “Why?” Why does God allow this to happen? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why doesn’t God just wipe out all sin? Isn’t he all-powerful? Why, why, why? We ask these questions because deep down inside of us is the understanding that this world is only a marred image of what it was created to be. We are only marred images of what we were created to be.
As Christians, we must trust in the character of God. God is not a god of murder, or a god of disease, or a god of rape. In fact, his character is portrayed to us in Scripture as good, loving, kind, merciful, and just. He is the opposite of evil and sin, and he is the embodiment of what goodness and love truly are. When we ask the question, “Why,” we are simply asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking as Christians who love Jesus is, “How long, O Lord?”
The Psalmist asks the same question in Psalm 94:3-7. The wicked rule and evildoers boast and kill. Yet God does nothing about it. It reads,
O LORD, how long?
How long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O LORD,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The LORD does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
If God were to truly answer the Psalmist’s prayer here, then the events would be catastrophic. If God were to answer the Psalmist’s prayer and wipe out all of the wicked and evildoers in the world then there would be no single person left. As the Bible states, all men have sinned and fallen short of his glory (Rom 3:23). We would all be wiped out. We would all be obliterated.
Thankfully, through his sovereignty and pre-ordained plan for all of creation, we find Jesus at the center of it all. Jesus was the centerpiece to God’s entire plan.
In short, God created the world for the cross.
It was not Plan B. It was not something God figured out once sin entered into the world. The cross of Jesus Christ was always the plan. God is not a junior college professor sitting in the sky wondering what to do next. He knows! He has always known! He is in control! He is King! He is Lord! He is God!
As we continue reading the Psalmist’s plea, as of sorts, for God to wipe out evil, we read two beautiful verses that point, again, to God’s triumphant character.
Verses 22-23 read,
But the LORD has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the LORD our God will wipe them out.
Yes, God will indeed one day wipe out all evil and all sin. One day, there will be no more sin. There will be no more death. There will be no more disease. But we must live in the reality of the already/not yet truth of Scripture. In Genesis 3:15, right when sin and evil entered into the world of human history, God, in his sovereignty, made a promise that he would make all things new. Though it is huge, just a cursory reading of the text would lead you to miss it. God promised that through the seed of the woman, he would crush the head of the Serpent. This is the first gospel promise in all of Scripture. The rest of the Old Testament springs forth from this seed marching forward until the Son of David (2 Sam 7), the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), the Son of Man (Dan 7), and the one called Immanuel, God with Us (Isaiah 7), would come forth in all his glory, in all his splendor, in all his majesty, and tread toward what was pre-ordained and sovereignly planned for him to do before the creation of the world – endure the cross for the hope of sinners.
You see, the problem of evil is not that hard at all. God solved it on Calvary that day when he put to death sin and death in the form of his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the cross and defeated all sin and then he rose from the grave and defeated all death.
The message of the gospel is a message of hope. It is a message that centers on the person of Jesus and then is embraced by sinners like you and me. It is the foundation for understanding the true meaning and purpose to life. The Bible promises salvation and freedom from sin and death through the mediums of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
One day, God will completely wipe out sin, death, disease, wickedness, and evil. Jesus will return. But he will not return empty handed. He will return with a sword. He will return as a Warrior King. He will then completely defeat sin and death and he will graciously forgive all who are in Christ and he will justly and righteously judge all those who are not (Rev 21-22). We will then live with him for eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth.
We will live with him in the state we were always meant to be, in a world that was always meant to be – without sin and death.
Until then, every time I walk past my little friend outside on my walks, the one with the beautiful dresses and jovial smile, I will always mumble to myself, “How long O Lord?”