Vengeance Is Mine

The question of evil and suffering in the world is perhaps the strongest argument against the existence of God. The reasoning is that since a good and loving God wouldn’t allow so much evil and suffering, either God is not good or there is no God. Many are deceived by this line of thought.

There are two basic problems with this argument. The first lies in a presumption that no ultimate good can possibly come of all of the evil and suffering God allows; that He simply cannot have a good reason for doing so. This is merely arrogance, claiming to have ultimate knowledge of what constitutes a good outcome, and defining the meaning of life in terms of human innocence and suffering. It is a man-centered view of existence and presumes to know better than God.

One obvious benefit from God allowing evil is that it provides a context in which God may fully reveal and glorify Himself. If there were no sin we would know very little about the love, wrath, faithfulness, justice and amazing character of God. God does promise He will eventually deal justly and perfectly with all sin (Ro 12:19); nothing will go unresolved. If we don’t find this a sufficient motive for God allowing evil and suffering, if we don’t value God’s response to sin, perhaps we don’t rightly value the glory of God.

The second major problem with this argument lies in how to define evil itself if there is no God. Plants and animals aren’t evil; only Man is evil. Animals don’t violate moral law as they impose suffering – they live according to their design and aren’t punished for this; justice is irrelevant in the realm of Nature. Man is evil because he violates a moral standard or code which define his actions as wicked and inappropriate; the victims of evil therefore require justice.

For any moral standard to be legitimate and binding, one to which we may rightly hold people accountable, we intuitively understand that this standard cannot be sourced in Man himself, merely our opinion or preference. Apart from a divine standard, one man’s opinion about good and evil is just as valid as any other. Yet we act as if our understanding of morality is binding on others whether or not they agree with us; it doesn’t matter how many people hold a certain moral belief, a standard doesn’t become legitimate just because we like it.

This is inherent in our understanding of morality itself and we cannot escape it; we impose our definition of evil on others irrespective of whether they agree, as if moral law were a divinely revealed, universal standard.

The very fact that we accept the existence of evil in the world is actually then very strong evidence that there is a God. In other words, the argument we are considering here must borrow God’s definition of evil in order to even be an argument.

We cannot live as if evil doesn’t exist, or as if it’s merely a matter of preference or opinion: all of us believe in God in this sense –  we act as if there’s a divine being with a moral standard which He uses to evaluate human behavior, a standard to which he holds all people accountable.

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Friend

When Judas was in the very act of betraying Christ, Christ knew exactly what Judas was up to, how wicked it was, and how much pain and suffering it would bring upon Himself. Christ saw Judas coming toward Him in the garden of Gethsemane, temple guards in tow, to betray the Son of Man with a kiss.

The Passion of the Christ

Judas was committing, in all likelihood, most evil act in all of human history. Nothing else compares to it, betraying the perfectly innocent, precious Son of God to crucifixion and death. Jesus had already warned, The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.” (Mk 14:21) This was evidently a peculiarly unique and wicked sin. No other act is ever described in such grave terms.

Yet, as evil as this act was, as sold out to Satan himself as Judas Iscariot was at that moment (Lk 22:3), Christ addresses Judas as His friend. (Mt 26:49-50) Christ extends the offer of friendship one last time, as if to give Judas one final opportunity to be honest with himself, and with Christ, before they took Him away.

This may be the greatest example of fulfilling Christ’s own command, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) We’re to bless those who wrong us, do good to them, wish them well, not decide what their punishment should be or wish them any harm. If we truly believe God is perfectly just, and also perfectly merciful, we’ll not hesitate to leave all in His hands.

It’s not that we shouldn’t acknowledge sinful behavior for what it is, or protect ourselves and those we love from abuse, but when God calls us to suffering, we should not retaliate. We should be praying for our enemies and seeking their welfare, regardless what they’re up to.

When we behold the wicked, it’s so tempting to allow unrighteous indignation to well up within us, as if we’d never do such things, and begin to posture ourselves as knowing what they deserve and wishing it upon them. But this disposition doesn’t spring from humility and love; it isn’t Christ in us. It springs from the lie that God is unjust, that we can do better. We can’t. God is good, only God is good, and He is always good.

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Her that Is Divorced

Christ teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that marriage is sacred. If a man pursues a married woman with the intent to defile her current marriage then he’s as good as done it: wrongful intent is equivalent to wrongful action. (Mt 5:27:28) It’s about the heart, not just the action.

In the process, Jesus teaches us something else about marriage: when God’s Law permits divorce (31), the spirit of the marriage relationship implies the grounds for divorce are quite strict. Note carefully the qualifying exception: sexual impurity or infidelity (32a); it’s when a husband has come to hate, resent or mistrust his wife in a manner comparable to what’s expected if she’s become sexually impure, that we should consider the relationship properly irreconcilable. (Mt 1:18-19)

This can easily be seen in the Torah itself: it’s when a wife finds no favor at all in her husband’s eyes that he’s to divorce her. (De 24:1) If his heart has become so hard towards his wife that he finds no mercy or compassion for her, no love or concern or care for her, the spirit of the marriage is already broken so deeply that it’s better for the woman to be released of the marriage bond. Divorce isn’t God’s original intent for marriage; it’s how Love deals with hardness of heart. (Mt 19:8)

The implication is that reasonable men don’t become so hardened toward their wives, such that they cannot possibly live with them in peace. So, as long as people are minimally reasonable, there should be no divorce … as long as wives aren’t adulterous.

However, the Pharisees had evidently turned this provision for divorce under exceptional circumstances into a sort of wife-swapping, putting away their wives for trivial reasons and deeply violating the spirit of the marriage covenant. (Mt 19:3) In these cases, where the marital relationship isn’t so deeply broken, marrying a divorced woman permanently breaks the marriage covenant in much the same way adultery does (Mt 5:32a), because this step prevents her from being reconciled to her former husband according to God’s Law. (De 24:3-4)

We should keep this context in mind when Christ adds: “and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.(32b) This is significant since in Torah, when a woman is divorced by her husband she is free to remarry. (De 24:2) Is Christ saying Torah permits a certain kind of adultery? Is He changing the moral standard?

Paul doesn’t seem to think so: he says if an unbelieving man departs his marriage, implying he abandons or divorces his wife, she’s no longer bound to her marriage covenant, implying she’s free to remarry (1Co 7:15), just as Torah says. Paul wouldn’t allow this if remarriage was inappropriate in a properly irreconcilable context, if it constituted adultery under a newer, higher standard set by Christ.

It seems much more reasonable to interpret Christ, not as correcting Torah or creating a higher standard, but focusing on the spirit of marriage. Re-marrying a divorced woman under less severe circumstances, unless all reasonable hope of the prior marriage being reconciled has expired, expresses an irreverence for the marriage covenant.

Divorce is acceptable only under the most extreme relational circumstances, and the divorcing husband should consider his action permanent. If a divorced woman believes her former husband may eventually change his mind, and wants to wait and leave the door open for reconciliation, that’s up to her; it isn’t necessarily wrong for her to move on, but if she does she’s effectively permanently sealing the termination of that marriage, as her former husband has decreed it.

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Praise His Word

I was warned early in my spiritual journey to not worship the Bible, to not make an idol out of it (1Jn 5:21), to avoid what we might call bibliolatry.

Certainly, the idea of bowing down to a bible, a literal physical book, worshipping it or praying to it, never crossed my mind. Yet the spirit of this warning might be taken a bit further, suggesting we shouldn’t love the words of scripture too much, and this is perhaps a more interesting and relevant concept. How much should we value the words of scripture? (Ps 19:10) What does the value we place on them reveal about us and our spiritual state? (Ps 119:127)

Asked another way, can I envision God reprimanding me for loving what He says too much? for taking Him too seriously? for treasuring His words too much, or trying too hard to understand His ways and obey His commands? (Is 66:2)

In other words, what’s the practical difference between loving God and loving what He says? (1Jn 2:5) Can I be loving Him and disinterested, even the slightest bit, in what He’s saying? (Ps 119:155)

Jesus says those who love Him will keep, guard or cherish His words. (Jn 14:23) He’s telling us there’s a direct connection between how we treat His Word and how we view Him; our view of His Word reveals our heart toward Him. (24)

It’s easy to mistake a love of Bible study and teaching the Bible, even memorizing it and quoting it to others, for a love of God’s Word. Yet, if we aren’t earnestly obeying all of it as well as we can, in both letter and spirit, we aren’t loving God’s Word itself at all: we’re just loving what we can do with it, and missing the whole point. (1Ti 1:5-7) God equates loving Himself with obeying His commands. (1Jn 5:3)

Do we praise God’s Word as we’re praising Him? (Ps 56:10) Are we delighting in God’s Law so much that we’re constantly thinking about it? (Ps 119:97) consumed with wanting to understand and obey it more and more? (20)

If God actually were to equate our love for Him with how we treat the Bible (Re 3:8), how would it go? (Mt 7:24-27) Seems to me very likely that He will. (Jn 12:48)

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