Friday, September 26, 2014

The Problem's Not Far Away

One of my favorite times on vacation with my family is attending worship. I don’t say that to sound super-holy. I enjoy - and need - the change in perspective (not just professionally, but personally). Sitting with my family and listening to a sermon. Singing with my wife by my side. This is an exceedingly rare experience for me. Because this doesn’t happen much, I take a lot of time finding the congregation with which we will worship. Wherever we’re vacationing, I find the nearby S.B.C. congregations (my confessional fellowship, or denomination). I look at their websites. What are their stated values? What do they think is most important about their existence in their community? How do they define “worship”? What’s been preached from the pulpit this year? I don’t have the luxury of an extended taste-and-see church-search as I would if I had actually moved into the neighborhood. One shot. Sometimes it means a local congregation. Another time it meant driving 41 miles over a major mountain pass (two years ago – worth the drive). This year it meant an easier drive of 55 miles. There were two large S.B.C. churches in the town we were staying, but I was searching for something different than “large” and attractive. I’m sure they’ve gotten to be the size they are for very good reasons, but we get one opportunity as a family to worship like this.

I found a congregation in downtown Durango, Gospel Church Durango. S.B.C. Relatively small. No building of their own. “Worship” was defined as far more than music. A Christ-centered view of the Word and the Table were the focus. It was worth the drive. We spent as much time in prayer as we did singing. Scripture reading wasn’t limited to the sermon. The sermon was nice and meaty, and anchored solidly to the Word (with a focus on Christ, even though the text was O.T.) – in other words, I was able to rest in the moment of the sermon knowing my family was hearing the Word faithfully preached (no post-message correction talk). The Table played a prominent role in the service. It was a veritable Christ-feast. Loved it.

The pastor was preaching from Genesis (as I have been doing all year at I.H.B.C.). I enjoyed hearing the text being read and preached by someone else.

As he was preaching through the blame-shifting part of the Fall, another connection started resonating in my mind. In our Berkhof reading group, we spent several weeks discussing the decree of God. Here’s a brief confessional definition: “God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (1689 Baptist Confession, 3.1).

How can God be good Creator and sovereign Sustainer when there’s evil? On one level, we can trace human evil back to Adam (“...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” Romans 5:12). But that doesn’t help much, since the serpent sneaks into the garden already a transgressor and the root of evil. Where does the serpent come from? He is created by God. “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made” (Genesis 2:19; 3:1). But God’s not evil nor the root of evil. How do we solve this conundrum with the limited biblical data given us?

As we just read yesterday in our Berkhof reading group, the Bible has very little to say about the creation of the angelic beings, including the Adversary.

For millennia, every theologian (and everyone’s a theologian) has tried to solve the problem of evil. I’m not sure it can be solved, and suspect there’s a pride problem involved when someone thinks they have completely solved what no one has been able to solve since the dawn of time.

That being said, we should still think on these things, but need to have several cautions in mind.

In thinking on the problem of evil and its origins, let’s beware of blame-shifting too far away from us: “And He said, ‘...have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:11-13).

In the first trial in human history, the man and woman try not to solve the problem of evil, but to get it far away from them personally.

Never forget that the problem of evil isn’t greatest in the mysterious origin of the rebellious serpent, the horrifying stuff in the news, or the heartbreaking decisions of the people we know. The problem of evil is greatest in us. We are evil, even the best among us. Whitewash this, try to justify yourself, play the moral comparison game to try to come out on top, or attempt to wiggle your way out, and you’ll get just about everything else wrong.

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-25).

No matter how baffled I am trying to unravel theological mysteries from the Word, one thing is clear: I am evil and dead in evil apart from salvation by God’s free grace through faith in Christ alone.

No matter how overwhelming the wicked storm of the whole world seems on the news, there is a greater storm that threatens me (and my family) most: I am evil and dead in evil apart from salvation by God’s free grace through faith in Christ alone.

No matter how hurt and disappointed I am by the actions of people I love and respect as they act out their sin in contradiction to the clear teaching of the Word, there is the potential in me to far out-do them in their foolishness: I am evil and dead in evil apart from salvation by God’s free grace through faith in Christ alone.

The problem of evil is not in ancient history, theological abstraction, on the internet news, or in other people. The real problem of evil is in me, but God in Christ has solved it finally and completely.

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