Friday, June 12, 2015

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth

Why does a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient God allow evil?  If the Master and Creator of the universe is all-powerful and all-knowing, who is defined by the Holy Scripture as “love” itself (1 John 4:8), how can evil even find a place in this merciful God’s realm?

This is the prevailing question among atheists who have rejected religion outright, among agnostics who question reality within an otherworldly realm, and even among dutiful Christians who struggle to answer this legitimate and age-old question - for themselves as well as for those who really desire an honest answer. 

It is both an honest question that deserves thoughtful attention – and a snarky question posed by those who are more often asking rhetorically, not expecting a serious answer because they neither seek to know nor want to know.  It is the “gotcha” question of the so-called “none’s” who claim no religious affiliation.  It is the question that often silences the Church.

It is hard not to ask such a question in light of all we are surrounded by today.  In the United States alone, arguably the most religious nation on earth (or, at the least, the most religiously diverse), we seem almost completely enveloped by a culture that has lost all sense of religion.  Our children do not understand “love” unless sex is involved, but they seem to understand what it means to be entitled.  The Church is struggling to find its moral voice in the face of cultural opposition in terms of marriage, same-gender relationships, gender-confusion, and abortion, to name only a few. 

The Church, adrift in a sea of such confusion and angst, struggles to be relevant – but relevant to whom or to what seems to be what escapes us.  On the one hand, the Church must acknowledge the cultural reality and equip itself to speak within that reality.  On the other hand, relevance must not be subjective to human standards or ideas.  I dare say the Church has completely lost its identity. 

If the Church is Christ in the world, the Church must first be biblically relevant and must not allow itself to become convinced that the Bible is forever lost to antiquity; that it has no relevant message for the world today.  Unfortunately, even within the Church, there are those who dismiss or reject outright “ancient documents written for an ancient people”, as seems to be the mantra of the so-called “progressive” theologians.  But even the fundamentalist reads so narrowly and refuses to think more broadly that they fall as far off the grid as those who make it up to fit the modern culture.

As elusive as defining “love”, however, is the definition of “evil”.  From one generation to the next, what is once considered “evil” becomes tolerated until it is fully embraced as a “right”.  So it seems the question of why The Lord allows evil misses the point – especially if we are as confused about what constitutes “evil” as we are about what “love” really means.  The more direct and appropriate question may be, Does The Lord allow evil? rather than to ask why He allows it.

Judging by what is written in the prophets of Holy Scripture (speaking of the relevance of Scripture today), ancient Israel had the same problem discerning between what is evil and what is love.  At the core of their confusion was their very identity as a “holy nation of priests”, the same confusion the Church struggles with today.  The desire (or the temptation) to pander to the dominant culture, the consumerist culture, has overwhelmed the Church as it must have overwhelmed the religious leaders of pre-exilic Israel. 

“Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophecy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10).  The “itching ears” that will reject “sound doctrine” written of in the New Testament as a “time to come” (2 Timothy 4:3) “has already been” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and was alive and well in ancient Israel as it is now in the United States – and in the Church. 

“If [the prophets] had stood in My counsel and had caused My people to hear My words, they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:22).  It seems the Church today is not giving the people half a chance.

“You [prophets and shepherds] eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool.  You slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.  The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost” (Ezekiel 34:3-4).  Everyone for self-satisfaction first.

Does The Lord allow evil?  It seems for a “season” humanity will have its own way, will do its own thing.  Why does The Lord allow it when it is clear by this type of culture that the “weak”, the “hungry”, the “sick”, those most in need of mercy will be neglected, oppressed, and marginalized.  It was once, and it will be again.  And it will continue to be so until the Word of The Lord finally finds its way into the hardest of hearts, until those who claim to be “saved” begin to live as though they have truly been “delivered from evil”, those who claim to be disciples or faithful begin to live as though they really are.

And if we do not turn away from our own selfish ends and self-serving desires, we who had much to share will lose it all.  Make no mistake.  The Lord will have His way; and His Church can choose to be the conduit through which this grace and mercy can flow – or we will be judged by what we did (or did not do) according to what we claimed to know.

No, The Lord does not “allow” evil; we do as much as those who demanded Jesus’ blood!  As the philosopher Sir Edmund Burke once observed, “Evil cannot prevail unless good men do nothing”, we cannot assign blame for evil if we do not stand firm against evil.  It is often said that if one is not part of the solution, then one must be part of the problem.  There is no grey area, and there is no “worse” evil nor a “little” evil.  Evil dominates because we do not understand “good”, and we reject any notion of inconvenient love that does not offer any return on our investment.

Those who reject The Lord will not understand until those who claim to embrace The Lord live as though we understand.  Is The Lord allowing evil because He does not care, or is He allowing us just enough rope to hang ourselves or climb out of the hole? 

It is not a simple yes/no answer to a question that requires a lifetime of engagement in search for the Truth.  The answer will not suddenly occur to us if we never bother to ask the question – and then be prepared to search for honest answers rather than convenient ones.

Lord, grant us the courage to ask.  

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