High school junior Terry sat in my classroom at lunchtime and exploded in anguish. It was good thing the door was closed; he was facing the whiteboard, literally shouting and screaming, throwing his hands in the air in agitation.
“Why is God allowing this to happen? My aunt is a saint, man, an absolute saint! She’s a good woman, never done anything bad to anybody! Why does she have such a brutal cancer?” He took a breath and turned toward me.
“There are wicked people in the world who openly mock God or abuse children or cheat honest people out of thousands of dollars. They live the high life, and here’s my aunt dying slowly of cancer. Why would God do this to her? Why?”
This went on for days and weeks. I listened. I walked slowly through the Scriptures. This isn’t something you rush; Terry’s aunt was suffering greatly. So was Terry.
On one occasion, Terry sat back, exhausted from his tirade. “So, Doc,” he said, pulling his chair in my direction, “Have you ever asked God why He does this kind of stuff?”
This kind of stuff.
Yes, I remembered a very vivid time. I shared with Terry the time I left a safe and secure local church ministry position to take a dream job in publishing as head writer for a whole new national ministry. I had created a youth group discipleship program, and a Christian publishing company had caught wind of my project – they wanted to make it a nationwide outreach.
From the first day I set foot in the building, the dream came true, above and beyond anything I could imagine. Our books and programs were selling like hotcakes; the project sold more than anything else in the company’s twenty-five year history. The initial plan was to establish the ministry in ten states within a year; we accomplished that in less than seven days. We were in thirty states and Canada within the first month. I was on the road or in a plane virtually every week, traveling and speaking to youth groups, camps, conferences and churches across the country.
And the whole thing imploded within eleven months.
The head of the company was caught red-handed in a scandal and wouldn’t go down without a fight. Paranoia set in, and we all because casualties. I, a newcomer, was collateral damage and lost my job. In fact, in order to cover their tracks, the company brass enacted a smear campaign on a number of us through a nationwide letter campaign. My wife and I were getting phone calls at our home on a nightly basis from all over the country – from people we considered friends, mind you – berating us and ending their relationship. We stared at each other in disbelief, crushed by the avalanche of events. Worse yet, the company booted me out and kept my idea. It had taken me five years to develop the program and it was gone, just like that.
The dream had become a nightmare.
Why, Lord? I was doing Your work. I worked long hours. I sacrificed. And this is the thanks I get?
Terry was able to see that none of us are immune to suffering and disappointment.
As I sat writing this, my wife came into my office with a letter from our friend “Miriam”, a dear mother who survived a horrible divorce but was able to keep custody of her elementary age children … until now. The heartbreaking letter told us that she lost her children to her ex-husband; she has no idea where the children are.
Why, Lord? Miriam only wants to serve You and have a good family. Why this?
I feel I should tell you these stories because I don’t walk into this subject in a cold, calculating manner. This question hits close to home. To my friends. To my family. To me.
So let’s talk seriously.
God grieves over man’s pain as well.
Despite the skeptics’ claim of a cold, calculating God, Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God gets no pleasure from the downfall of any sinner. Jesus, who told us “…he that has seen me hath seen the Father…” (John 14:9), openly wept over the death of Lazarus as well as all of the lost and wandering people of Jerusalem. God Himself actually crying! In Exodus 32, Moses pleaded and directed God to activate His heart of mercy for the rebellious people – and God opened up and responded with that heart of mercy.
1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. Not that He has love, or He activates love, but that He is love. Consider the fact that in this Creator’s realm, love is the highest relational value in the universe. He could have forced us to love Him, but that would be hellish. Remember, love is impossible without choice.
Absolutely impossible. Without choice.
So God placed His very own Omnipotence on a balancing scale that mankind could tip. Man could reject the Creator of All Things.
I refer you to yesterday’s Great Risk. God placed the option solely in our hands. We can accept or reject. It must be that way, or else we are puppet-string beings. Mankind decided to forego the perfectness of God and venture into his own self-made universe, which brought us this current mess we call today’s society.
You say, “That still doesn’t answer my question. Why did He create evil?”
He created the opportunity for evil when He gave us a choice.
Consider the theologian Augustine’s thought: “Evil is not as a thing in and of itself, but as a parasite on good. Something that is lacking is not a thing in itself.” For instance, Augustine says, if you have a hole in your clothing, the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking. Augustine considered evil something that is missing. It requires good to exist because it is a parasite.
I was driving through the city with a college student who was an aggressive agnostic. “Why would God create evil?” he burst out.
“He didn’t,” I replied.
“Yes, he did,” he countered. “God created all things, right? Well, he created evil.”
“I see that you’re stuck on this,” I said. “You think God in creation made things sort of like this: rock, tree, cat, river, evil.”
The student got quiet.
“Am I right?” I asked. “You think evil is a solid, greasy object, a brick-like entity that God made during the week of creation, and it lurks somewhere where people can get infected by it.” He didn’t reply so I continued. “So let me ask you – how much does a left-hand turn weigh?”
“What?” His eyebrows raised.
I repeated. “How much does a left-hand turn weigh? Is it measured in ounces? Pounds? Tons?”
He shook his head. “That’s illogical. It’s not tangible.”
“Well, then,” I went on, “if I go to the hardware store, how much will I pay for loyalty? Or if I get an idea, how tall is it, in feet or yards, perhaps?”
“I told you,” he said, “that’s is illogical. Those are intangibles. Those are concepts that cannot be grasped by human hands.”
“So it is with evil,” I said. “Let’s stop assuming that evil is a tangible creation of God, and let’s move on to the fact that it is the result of a choice. We have a lot of ground to cover, but we must get the definitions correct.”
He slowly shook his head. “Okay, fair enough. I get it.”
Let’s stop here for today and incubate these thoughts. We’ll talk some more about this tomorrow.