Once Saved, Always Saved?

A common phrase in Christian circles is “once saved, always saved.” Many hold it, many reject it, but a lot of people have questions about it. Here are a few brief thoughts I recently shared with someone who asked me about it:
The Bible speaks clearly to the nature of salvation:
1) It’s a work of God (Ephesians 2:1-10, John 6:44, Romans 8:28-30, etc)
2) It’s not based on any works that we might do (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:5, etc.)
3) Jesus will not lose any of those the Father gives him to save (John 6:39, John 10:28)
Based on these passages, and others like them, I would argue that salvation is not dependent on us, but on Jesus who does not fail. Therefore, since it is not dependent on us, we cannot lose it. And Jesus won’t lose it for us.

Once saved, always saved.

That being said, however, Scripture is equally clear that it is possible to lose what we never truly possessed:
1) We can taste and see the goodness of God in salvation without actually experiencing it for ourselves (Hebrews 6:4-6)
2) We can delude ourselves into thinking we are saved when we are not (Matthew 7:21-23)
3) We can claim salvation but never be changed by it and thus prove to never have been saved (1 John 2:3-4)
Based on these passages, and others like them, I would argue that not everyone who claims to be saved is saved. Therefore, “once saved, always saved” has to be understood to implicitly mean “once truly saved, always saved.”
Though much more could be said here, I’ll keep it brief: Once saved, always saved is an easily remembered phrase and, so long as it is spoken with the understanding of all the biblical context taken together, it is true. However, it has frequently been used to imply that so long as someone “walked an aisle and prayed a prayer” they are saved. But that’s not what the Bible says salvation is. The Bible says salvation is found in submitting to Jesus as Lord, holding the enduring belief that he is who he claimed to be, being convinced that God raised him from the dead, and finding your joy in obeying him.

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Obadiah: The Danger Of Indifference

Indifference.

It seems to be a perennial problem.

Obadiah dealt with it. Obadiah was a prophet. His book is the shortest in the Old Testament. If you can quote a verse from it without looking it up, you’ll have earned my undying respect.

We just don’t seem to pay much attention to Obadiah.

I think the reason is that it’s short.

What could such a short book possibly have to say that would matter?

I had a professor when I was in college, though, who was fond of saying that “in order to be immortal, a message need not be eternal.”

Sometimes it’s the short messages that hit the hardest and linger the longest.

The Danger of Indifference

One thing that should jump off the page of Obadiah is that indifference is dangerous.

Obadiah is a really interesting book not just because it’s the shortest one in the Old Testament. No, it’s interesting too because Obadiah has a focus that’s a little different than most of the rest of the Bible. Obadiah focuses his message, not on Israel, not on Judah, but on the nation of Edom.

Edom is not a nation that we think about much. They’ve been one of history’s casualties. So, a little bit of background might help us as we walk through the text. Edom is comprised of the descendants Esau. Now that name ring a bell. Who is Esau? He’s Jacob’s brother. Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel. Esau was actually the firstborn, the oldest son. He was the one who should have been the most prominent, according to tradition. Instead, Jacob gets that honor and is the one who becomes the carrier of God’s promise. Jacob is the one who inherits the blessings. It’s through Jacob’s line that we have the nation of Israel. And Esau is jealous, not entirely without cause, of Jacob.

The seed of jealousy planted by Jacob’s usurpation of Esau carries over into the relationship between the two nations that sprang from them. And that’s what Obadiah addresses.

God’s Judgment On Edom

But Obadiah doesn’t give us this background in his message. Instead, he just launches into God’s judgment against the nation of Edom. Verses 1-9 say:

The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
    and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”
Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
    you shall be utterly despised.
The pride of your heart has deceived you,
    you who live in the clefts of the rock,
    in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
    “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
    though your nest is set among the stars,
    from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.

If thieves came to you,
    if plunderers came by night—
    how you have been destroyed!
    would they not steal only enough for themselves?
If grape gatherers came to you,
    would they not leave gleanings?
How Esau has been pillaged,
    his treasures sought out!
All your allies have driven you to your border;
    those at peace with you have deceived you;
they have prevailed against you;
    those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—
    you have no understanding.

Will I not on that day, declares the Lord,
    destroy the wise men out of Edom,
    and understanding out of Mount Esau?
And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman,
    so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.

Apparently, Obadiah missed the memo on how to be an effective public speaker. He just jumps right into it: “you’re going to be judged Edom. You’re going to be destroyed now.”

Not A Unique Message

A message of judgment and destruction is not a novelty amongst prophets. Why is that? Because God is a holy God, he is a righteous God, and he has established the world expecting certain things from his creation. God judges sin and destroys sinners because things go really horribly terribly wrong when we don’t do what God has said to do. Sin itself is the cause of God’s judgment. Humanity is frequently in need of judgment, that message is not unique, because we frequently do the things that God says not to.

But we’ve got the idea wrong when we think that God says don’t do that because he’s just some sort of cosmic killjoy. God’s commands and God’s judgments are not pettily motivated. God knows that if we function as He created us to function, things will go better for us. And he knows that by judging our sin and calling us back to repentance (kind of smacking us upside the head) he can get our attention. He knows that things will go better for us if we will turn from our rebellion and do things his way. So, God’s judgment is ultimately an act of grace in calling people back to wholeness and fulfillment.

If God is gracious in judgment, we are infinitely creative in requiring it. And almost everyone would agree that there are things that need to be judged. Murder. Rape. Theft. And more. Most everyone recognizes that there is a reason why we have police officers and courts and judges and jails.

A Surprising Cause

But sometimes we’re surprised by what God says requires judgment. Because Obadiah, after telling Edom they will be judged, turns to tell them why. And it’s for something that you and I probably wouldn’t worry about that much. Verses 10-11 say:

Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.
On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.

Edom, you’re being judged for violence done to Jacob. You did perpetrate the violence though: you just stood there and watched.

You’re being judged because you were indifferent.

We think, “What’s the big deal?”

And God says, “That’s the big deal: that you stood there and did nothing.”

Indifference is dangerous.

It’s dangerous because it invites God’s judgment, but it’s dangerous because of where it leads people. Verses 13-14:

But do not gloat over the day of your brother
    in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
    in the day of their ruin;
do not boast
    in the day of distress.
Do not enter the gate of my people
    in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
    in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
    in the day of his calamity.
Do not stand at the crossroads
    to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
    in the day of distress.

The Edomites indifference leads them to the next step: rejoicing at Israel’s misfortune. The German term that we’ve co-opted to describe this is “schadenfreude” – pleasure at another’s problems. The Edomites were indifferent as they stood and watched, but that indifference infected them and led to schadenfreude.

And then they take it a step further: they profit from Israel’s problems. They looted the homes and farms the Israelites had been driven from. They didn’t drive them out, but they certainly gained from someone else doing it.

And, to add insult to injury, they wouldn’t let Israel escape their enemies. They cut off and turned back anyone fleeing.

They were indifferent.

They rejoiced.

They profited.

They participated.

Edom is being judged for good cause.

Not Just Edom’s Problem

But just in case we think Obadiah’s message is for Edom only, it’s not. This is a God’s message for each of us. Obadiah broadens the spectrum in verses 15-16

For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
    your deeds shall return on your own head.
For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
    so all the nations shall drink continually;
they shall drink and swallow,
    and shall be as though they had never been.

All the nations. Edom. Israel. America. Kenya. Australia. Romania. Britain.

Nothing’s exempted here.

All the nations are going to experience the judgment of God for this very same: indifference, schadenfreude, profiting off the misfortune of others, participating in injustice.

It’s interesting that Obadiah says “as you have drunk on my holy mountain so all the nations will drink continually.” To drink in the hall of your vanquished enemy was the sign of victory. God says, “look all the nations do this. All of them think they won, whether through conquest or through indifferent profiteering. And in the very act of enjoying their victory, I will destroy them. They’re going to drink and they’re going to gulp down and they’re going to disappear.

The very instance of their success is the very thing that condemns them.

God’s Message of Hope

But Obadiah’s not done – verses 17-21:

But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,
    and it shall be holy,
and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.
The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
    and the house of Joseph a flame,
    and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
    and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
for the Lord has spoken.

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,
    and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;
they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,
    and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.
The exiles of this host of the people of Israel
    shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,
and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
    shall possess the cities of the Negeb.
Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion
    to rule Mount Esau,
    and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

God’s judgment is going to come against all those who oppose God’s kingdom but there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion. God’s kingdom will be established. Everyone who opposes the sovereign King and Creator of the universe will be judged. But those who submit to the King will reign with him. How is that going to take place?

Jesus Christ the King

In the mysterious providence of God, it’s going to take place because of Jesus Christ. It is going to take place through this Jewish Messiah, dying. This is Jewish King being mocked by an occupying army. It’s going to take place by this King being so poor he can’t even afford to bury himself, someone else has to foot that bill.

And then he rises from the dead. And he establishes himself and demonstrates his authority in that act. He sets himself up as the King, the one on the throne, the one who will produce the Kingdom of God.

Where You and I Fit In

Here’s how he’s going to do it: he’s going to take normal, everyday people. Like you and like me. And he’s going to change them and transform them from the inside out. He’s going to take the heart inside of them that is indifferent to the sufferings of others and he’s going to replace it with a heart that bleeds for the sake of others. He’s going to take their selfish will out of their mind and he’s going to put in instead a desire to do God’s will. He’s going to create this people from every tribe and every tongue and every language. These people are going to want nothing more than to see his kingdom established and they’re going to start now. They’re going to try to make a difference in the lives of the people around them. They’re going to meet problems and they’re going to fix them. And they’re going to come face to face with depravity and sin and all of the mess of humanity and they’re going to speak life into it through the words of the gospel of the kingdom.

That’s the plan.

The Danger of Indifference For Those Who Should Make a Difference

But what happens what happens when the people who are supposed to be bringing it about, lose the plot?

That’s the danger of indifference.

If you’re going through your day and you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see the funny video of the guy falling flat on his face. What happens if you’re indifferent to that? You’re being conditioned.

Maybe then you’re driving down the street and you see a homeless guy, maybe indifference is your reaction. Why? Because you’ve conditioned yourself to be indifferent to the suffering of others.

And then maybe you’re at work and you’ve got a coworker who just got promoted. They’re in a little over their heads and instead of offering to help, you just sit there and watch them flounder.

It’s true for all of us: if we miss the danger of indifference, we’re going to sit there and watch. And then a little later on maybe we move to the next step too.

Maybe instead of just watching the video, we share the video. Why? Because we get “likes.” We get joy out of it.

The homeless guy: instead of just being indifferent, we start thinking, “man I’m glad I’m not such a mess. I’m glad I’ve got things together.”

We get to work. And we realize, “hey, if this coworker keeps floundering, maybe that opens a door for me once they finally get rid of him.”

The danger of indifference.

We begin to see profit in indifference.

“I get my rush from the Facebook likes.”

“I get this feeling of smug superiority from judging the homeless guy.”

“I might get a raise or a promotion if this guy gets fired.”

And it’s not so far from there to begin participating, just like Edom did standing at the crossroads.

Indifference is dangerous.

The Image of God Is Marred By Indifference

Indifference is a sin. It’s not just an affront to God: it destroys us. It takes everything it means to be human and it turns it around. God created us in His image. The very first thing we see God doing is seeing a problem and fixing it. And he says to us, “you’re just like me! I made you to see problems and fix problems!”

Indifference is the precise opposite of that. If we’re not doing the things God created us to do, we aren’t experiencing the life he meant for us to live, we’re not being what he made us to be. Indifference is the gateway drug to a life that is less than human. From not caring about others to taking pleasure at the misfortunes of others, to profiting from the loss of others.

God made us to be problem-solvers, world-changers, difference-makers.

Indifference makes us people who just sit back and consume instead of create. People who are constantly looking to be entertained instead of looking to engage their culture.

Indifference In The American Church

Indifference is dangerous and it seems to have overcome the American church.

I used to worry about the American church. I used to worry that we were a lot like Israel. We were aware of the things that were wrong, we knew that that we were kind of idolatrous, and we knew that we had placed the American Dream ahead of following Christ. We knew that but we were kind of OK with it.

I used to worry about that. But the past couple weeks, as I’ve been reading Obadiah, I’ve started worrying that maybe we’re not like Israel: maybe we’re more like Edom.

Maybe we are completely indifferent to the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to rejoice at the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to profit off of the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to participate in a system of injustice.

Because what’s the church designed for?

The church is, by nature, designed to be unable to be indifferent. We are given the life-changing message of the gospel of the Kingdom. We are the ones who can go to a world that is broken and say, “here is a solution!” We can go to people who are drowning in despair and who are turning to alcohol and pornography and drugs and success and money and all of these things that will ultimately be empty and we can say, “Look! That’s not going to do it for you.” And we could run headlong into the darkest places and say, “here’s Jesus.”

But are we?

Not hardly.

No church in history has ever had the resources that the American church has. No national group of believers has ever had the sheer numbers, the sheer technological ability, and the sheer financial resources of the American church.

And yet, no church has ever spent more money, more time, or more effort on itself. The church was never designed to be a country club that we pay our dues to and we show up once a week or twice a week for our own benefit.

And yet the American church has devoted itself to creating a culture centered around sitting under preachers that we like, singing music that we like, and building buildings we like. All the while indifferent to the fact that too much of the world’s population has zero access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All the while indifferent to the fact that there are people who are waiting for the door to burst open and shots to be fired. We are indifferent to the fact that there are people who will go to bed tonight not having eaten last week and not sure if they’re going to get to eat this week.

Do you see the danger of indifference in Obadiah?

What if we are Edom?

What if we are the ones watching indifferently, rejoicing indecently, profiting obscenely, and participating blindly?

Then we better fix it.

The Solution to Indifference: Engage

If the problem starts with indifference then the opposite of that is how you fix it. And it’s really only that first step that needs fixed – instead of just sitting there and watching and being indifferent when you see a problem – engage.

Engage with your heart: feel it.

Engage with your head: think about it.

Engage with your mouth: speak boldly about it.

Engage with your hands & your feet: go do something about it.

This holistic engagement is the what’s at stake here. Engage. It’s the opposite of indifference and it makes a difference.

Everything changes when you engage. So, next time you’re scrolling through Facebook ask yourself, “am I being conditioned for indifference or am I being conditioned to make a difference?” Ask, “as I’m having a conversation at work, am I being conditioned to indifference or am I going to make a difference?”

The danger of indifference is that you would waste the life God has given you and be worthy of his judgment, just like Edom.

The beauty of engagement is that God says, “Come on in. Join me in changing the world.”

saviors vs. The Savior

Finally, there’s something interesting about how Obadiah ends his message:

Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to rule over the hill country of Esau, but the kingdom will be the Lord’s.

God calls us to join him in changing the world, but we need to recognize that it’s still, ultimately, his work: when we engage instead of watching indifferently, we are saviors with a small “s”. It’s essential that we know and proclaim the Savior with a big “S”. We don’t get the glory, we don’t engage for praise. The praise and the glory go to Jesus: Jesus, whose kingdom it is that is being established. Jesus, who shows us what it means to be human as God intended. Jesus, who dies on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus, whose resurrection from the grave conquers the God’s enemies.

Reject indifference.

Embrace Jesus.

Change the world.

 

If God Is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen?

When Bad Things Happen How Can God Be Good

If God is good, why do bad things happen?

The question is not new. People have asked it for centuries. It shows up in historical, philosophical, and religious texts.

One of the places it appears is in Psalm 10.

Most think that David is the author of Psalm 10. Assuming that, what David is doing in Psalm 10 is wrestling with the question of how to reconcile God’s goodness with the reality of evil. He starts off asking:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1

David is expressing his confusion, his sadness, his uncertainty, his doubt…in other words, David is just like us. When we see bad things happen, we wrestle with them, they affect us, they affect our faith. We pray, “God! when times are tough, I have a really hard time seeing you! God, when evil strikes, I have a really hard time understanding if you’re good! God, why do you hide yourself!”

When things are hard, it’s difficult to see God. We have trouble understanding how it is that we could be experiencing what we’re experiencing and God still be good.

How can God be good if he hides when trouble comes? But does he hide? Or is it the case that perhaps the problem is not that the Lord hides from us in times of trouble, but that it’s harder for us to see him in times of trouble.

When I was growing up, I remember my pastor telling a story. I don’t remember if it was his story, if it was a true story, or if it was something he made up. But he told the story of a couple who were dating and he would drive his car with a bench seat and she would sit right next to him. And they got married and experienced the normal ups and downs and they had kids. Twenty years go by and, one day, they’re sitting at a stoplight and they see a car coming the other way. There’s this young couple sitting in the car and the guy’s driving and his girl is sitting right next to him and he’s got his arm around her. The wife sees this scene and, from her seat by the passenger window, looks over and says to her husband: “Do, you remember when we used to do that?” And he looks over at her, across the seat, and says, “Yeah, but I’m not the one that moved.”

God doesn’t move.

God doesn’t change.

When times of trouble come, it’s that our circumstances have put a lot of seat space between God and us. We seem to have slid farther and farther across the seat.

God’s not intentionally hiding.

It’s just harder to see him when times are tough.

But David points out a problem: when it’s difficult for us to see God, evil seems to increase. The wicked seem to be emboldened by God’s apparent absence and they began to take advantage of the situation.

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
    he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

Psalm 10:2-13

Unfortunately, evil tends to breed evil, wickedness, wickedness. We see this when we look at the world today. We hear stories of people growing up and seeing depravity all around them and instead of desiring a different way they just continue in it. They see the war, so they wage war. They see drugs, so they do drugs. They see wickedness and they learn it and they say, “look we’re not being punished for it. We’re not being held accountable for it. Therefore, I can do whatever I want.”

David says evil is a problem that just snowballs. It’s not random, it’s not chance: it comes from us. From humanity. Lying about one another, stealing from one another, persecuting one another, waging war with one another. If there’s no God to hold us accountable, then we can do whatever we want to.

“Do whatever you want as long as you can get away with it” is the modern mantra.

How many atrocities have come about from people operating on that understanding?

How many warlords are on their thrones today because they’re convinced that no one can stop them?

How many people today are walking around with this understanding: there is no God?

Thankfully, Psalm 10 goes on and David reminds himself and us:

14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:14-18

What is David saying? He’s saying, “God, I know you’re going to fix things. I know that you are going to do something about evil. God, you are good in spite of the fact that evil exists. This time of trouble is not the eternal state of things. God, you’re good and, yes, bad things happen. But one day, they’re not going to happen anymore. One day, God, you’re going to set everything right.”

Do you hear David’s relief? Do you get his sense of understanding?

God’s not hiding; God’s going to do something about this evil. Indeed, God has been doing something about it all along.

What is God doing about it?

God Gave Us A Choice

First, God gave us free will. Debate the particulars all you want, but he gave us a choice: worship him or worship not-him. And humanity chose not-him and everything that has happened since has been a consequence of that decision to not worship God.

But God hasn’t moved. God hasn’t changed.

And what God established from the beginning still holds true.

God created the heavens and the earth. And he made light and he made the moon and he made the sun and he made the animals and he made everything and he said, “this is good.” And then he made Adam and he made Eve and he said, “this is very good.” When God said it was good, was he unaware of how bad it would get? No! He wasn’t surprised. It’s very good because the end result would be to God’s glory and the ultimate good of his creation.

When God declared over his creation, “this is very good,” he was not saying, “this is very good because they’re never going to face difficulties, they’re never going to choose to reject me, they’re never going to have to deal with trouble.” Not at all. He’s saying this is very good because God built his solution to the problem of evil in from the very beginning. He built in his understanding that mankind would choose not-God and that all of this trouble would come as a result.

God knew that. And he can still say it’s very good because of what he’s going to do.

God Gave Us Life

In spite of the evil to come, God gave us life. He could have made nothing! If God created nothing then we would not exist to even ask these questions! We would have been spared pain but we would also never know joy. Existence is better than non-existence.

So, God gave us life out of love. But then why didn’t he create us without the ability to choose not-God? Because, if God would have given us no choice but to worship him, if the only option was the God-option, we’d be no different than robots.

How much does a robot understand of love? How many robots drive hundreds of miles to visit a national park, stop at the overlook, and marvel at the panorama of creation? How many robots go out at night to look at the stars and see the Milky Way stretched out above them?

The reason didn’t God didn’t create us like robots, the reason he gave us a choice, is not so that he could punish us when we finally fell. No! He created us with a choice so that we would have the capability or the possibility of knowing what love and beauty are.

God gives us life and it’s interesting that we still have it. He didn’t change when we fell. God didn’t pull the plug. In spite of our sin and the trouble we cause and the trouble we experience, we still have life. We still experience goodness. We still experience love. We still experience God’s provision.

Whether we acknowledge him, or not, he still allows us the chance at making something of this life. One of the things that God is doing about evil is he gives us a glimpse of good things in this life and invites us, through them, to see the rest of his work.

But we say that’s not enough. We don’t want glimpses of good in the midst of the bad: we want God to fix the problem!

God Made Us In His Image

We misunderstand what God’s purpose was for us. He created us in his image. God didn’t just give us life and say, “here, eke out whatever meager meaning and purpose and beauty and love you can find.” No! He gives us the opportunity to be like him. He says, “look, you’re going to be like me. You’re going to understand and you’re going to be able to create and you’re going to have dominion and you’re going to be able to rule. You’re going to be creative and there are going to be problems and you’re going to be able to fix them.”

One of the things that God is doing about evil is that he made us in his image. We’ve been given the stewardship of creation and one another. We’re supposed to be the ones representing God to the world. We’re supposed to be the ones who fix problems when they come up.  We’re supposed to bring order out of the chaos of everything like God brought order out of the chaos of nothing.

When we experience trouble, when we experience the effects of sin on this world, we’re not experiencing something that God is surprised by. Instead, what we’re experiencing is God giving us the opportunity to image him. We so often look the problems of this world as if, somehow, we were helpless creatures in the hands of time and fate.

And yet God has given us minds that are almost unimaginably creative and hands that can build the most intricate and beautiful things. Through history, we can see that God gave us the ability to create amazing things, technology that allows us to travel faster than sound waves. We can build stuff as high as mountains. And we have medical technology that can save lives. We have this unbelievable potential to fix problems as they arise. That’s God’s gift to us.

And yet when times come in hard times come, we just want to take our hands off and say, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Or worse: “This is your fault, God.”

I don’t think that God’s plan for humanity was for us to shrink from problems: he created us to solve them. There is a near-constant invitation for people to join him in his work. When we see evil, we need to understand that God is giving us opportunities to exercise the gifts he’s given us.

The problem of evil is ultimately not that God doesn’t intervene every time, but that we, his created solution, choose not to.

Instead of solving problems, we create them. We end up causing more destruction than we do construction. Why? Because we take the gift of creativity and the ability to make stuff and we twist it.

We take minds that were meant to harness the healing power of creation and instead we split the atom and build weapons capable of destroying every single one of us.

Instead of serving, we’re lazy.

Instead of loving, we’re uncaring.

Instead of giving, we’re greedy.

And then we blame God for our problems.

The problem is not God, the problem is our sin.

But God’s not done yet: there’s another thing that he’s done to deal with evil.

God Gave Us Jesus And Took Our Sin

God knew that in order for us to do that which we were created to do, in order for us to join him, in order for us to truly demonstrate who he is to the world around us, he has to fix something first: sin. Because so long as sin is in us, we will continue to abdicate our role in creation.

God has to change something in us in order for us to change the world.

He’s inviting us to see problems as an opportunity to join him in his work but we will never see them as such until he gets through to us. Not until he takes that heart of stone from us and puts a heart of flesh in its place are we ever going to experience what it means to truly image God

The reason we can know that God is good even when bad things happen is that God takes those bad things and turns them for His own glory and for our good.

He does this most visibly with Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes. And Jesus experiences all the things that we experience. He lives, he breathes, he struggles, he hurts. Jesus is just like us: he’s human.

Still, there’s something different about him because instead of creating chaos where there should be order he brings order where there is chaos.

Instead of breaking things that should be fixed, he fixes things that are broken.

Jesus does what man should have done: he fixes problems instead of creates them.

And we killed him for the trouble. We put him on a cross. We did the most unimaginably evil thing possible. We sought to kill God.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus rose again.

In Jesus, we finally see hope. We see the possibility of God dealing with this problem of sin that we’ve got. Because, in Jesus dying and rising, we are invited to place our faith in Him. We are invited to exchange our heart of stone for a heart of flesh. And we’re given Holy Spirit and now we’re empowered to live a life that exists for God’s glory and for the good of others and not for ourselves.

Instead of doing good things to further my own ascension, Jesus ascension means that I don’t have to do anything for me anymore. I can do things purely for others. There’s no need for selfish motives.

If God is good why do bad things happen? I don’t know: look at the cross.

Bad things happen so that God can redeem them. In redeeming them, God shows us a better vision of His glory. God saves us by removing the sin from us. It’s only after sin is taken out that we’re able to finally do what it was that we were created to do: fix what’s broken!

What is God doing about the problem of evil: he’s redeeming people and setting them free of themselves so they can focus on fixing things. The question is not, “where is God when suffering comes,” but, “where are the people at whose hearts have been changed so that they can now live the image of God out in this world?”

When war breaks out.

When tragedy strikes.

When injustice reigns.

When oppression is the law of the land.

Where’s the church?

God doesn’t rush in and fix all of our problems; he doesn’t curtail our free will; he doesn’t cut us off at the knees: he wants us to know true love and true beauty and true grace. He invites us to see evil dealt with at the cross.

But when we receive that vision, the saddest thing in the world would be for us to imagine that the only reason we’ve received it is so that we can go to heaven.

No, no, no, NO!

God Gives Us Purpose

God saves us and he gives us a purpose. That purpose is what to finally do what we are made to do which is to image him, to showcase him, to allow creation to see who God is. He has made mankind a steward, a creative, problem-solving being that points back to his goodness.

That can’t happen unless our sin gets dealt with.

Our sin can’t get dealt with unless we’re humble enough to ask God fix it.

And once it’s fixed, we’re free to do that which we were created to do: meet the challenge of evil head-on and work to eradicate it.

What’s that mean when the question comes up, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”

It means that the Church has some work to do.

Christian, you and I are God’s answer to the problem of evil.

Sometimes we think there are two kinds of Christian: there’s the professional Christian and then there’s the everyday Christian. Not so. There’s just one kind of Christian: those who work to fix what’s broken.

When problems arise at work.

When a terrorist strikes your city.

When a hurricane devastates the coast.

The people of God should be right there, working to fix things.

We won’t be perfect.

We’ll always need Jesus.

But let’s get to work.

 

If God Is Good, Why Do Bad Things Happen? (A Sermon From Psalm 10)

Psalm 10 is one of those heavy Psalms. It forces us to wrestle with a question that has been asked throughout human history and that question is this: “if God is good, why do bad things happen?”

Most think that David is the author of Psalm 10. Assuming that, what David is doing in Psalm 10 is wrestling with the question of how to reconcile God’s goodness with the reality of evil. He starts off asking:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1

David is expressing his confusion, his sadness, his uncertainty, his doubt…in other words, David is just like us. When we see bad things happen, we wrestle with them, they affect us, they affect our faith. We pray, “God! when times are tough, I have a really hard time seeing you! God, when evil strikes, I have a really hard time understanding if you’re good! God, why do you hide yourself!”

When things are hard, it’s difficult to see God. We have trouble understanding how it is that we could be experiencing what we’re experiencing and God still be good.

How can God be good if he hides when trouble comes? But does he hide? Or is it the case that perhaps the problem is not that the Lord hides from us in times of trouble, but that it’s harder for us to see him in times of trouble.

When I was growing up, I remember my pastor telling a story. I don’t remember if it was his story, if it was a true story, or if it was something he made up. But he told the story of a couple who were dating and he would drive his car with a bench seat and she would sit right next to him. And they got married and experienced the normal ups and downs and they had kids. Twenty years go by and, one day, they’re sitting at a stoplight and they see a car coming the other way. There’s this young couple sitting in the car and the guy’s driving and his girl is sitting right next to him and he’s got his arm around her. The wife sees this scene and, from her seat by the passenger window, looks over and says to her husband: “Do, you remember when we used to do that?” And he looks over at her, across the seat, and says, “Yeah, but I’m not the one that moved.”

God doesn’t move.

God doesn’t change.

When times of trouble come, it’s that our circumstances have put a lot of seat space between God and us. We seem to have slid farther and farther across the seat.

God’s not intentionally hiding.

It’s just harder to see him when times are tough.

But David points out a problem: when it’s difficult for us to see God, evil seems to increase. The wicked seem to be emboldened by God’s apparent absence and they began to take advantage of the situation.

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
    let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
    and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
    all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
    your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
    as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
    under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
    in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
    he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
    he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
    and fall by his might.
11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
    and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

Psalm 10:2-13

Unfortunately, evil tends to breed evil, wickedness, wickedness. We see this when we look at the world today. We hear stories of people growing up and seeing depravity all around them and instead of desiring a different way they just continue in it. They see the war, so they wage war. They see drugs, so they do drugs. They see wickedness and they learn it and they say, “look we’re not being punished for it. We’re not being held accountable for it. Therefore, I can do whatever I want.”

David says evil is a problem that just snowballs. It’s not random, it’s not chance: it comes from us. From humanity. Lying about one another, stealing from one another, persecuting one another, waging war with one another. If there’s no God to hold us accountable, then we can do whatever we want to.

“Do whatever you want as long as you can get away with it” is the modern mantra.

How many atrocities have come about from people operating on that understanding?

How many warlords are on their thrones today because they’re convinced that no one can stop them?

How many people today are walking around with this understanding: there is no God?

Thankfully, Psalm 10 goes on and David reminds himself and us:

14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
    that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
    you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.

16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:14-18

What is David saying? He’s saying, “God, I know you’re going to fix things. I know that you are going to do something about evil. God, you are good in spite of the fact that evil exists. This time of trouble is not the eternal state of things. God, you’re good and, yes, bad things happen. But one day, they’re not going to happen anymore. One day, God, you’re going to set everything right.”

Do you hear David’s relief? Do you get his sense of understanding?

God’s not hiding; God’s going to do something about this evil. Indeed, God has been doing something about it all along.

What is God doing about it?

God Gave Us A Choice

First, God gave us free will. Debate the particulars all you want, but he gave us a choice: worship him or worship not-him. And humanity chose not-him and everything that has happened since has been a consequence of that decision to not worship God.

But God hasn’t moved. God hasn’t changed.

And what God established from the beginning still holds true.

God created the heavens and the earth. And he made light and he made the moon and he made the sun and he made the animals and he made everything and he said, “this is good.” And then he made Adam and he made Eve and he said, “this is very good.” When God said it was good, was he unaware of how bad it would get? No! He wasn’t surprised. It’s very good because the end result would be to God’s glory and the ultimate good of his creation.

When God declared over his creation, “this is very good,” he was not saying, “this is very good because they’re never going to face difficulties, they’re never going to choose to reject me, they’re never going to have to deal with trouble.” Not at all. He’s saying this is very good because God built his solution to the problem of evil in from the very beginning. He built in his understanding that mankind would choose not-God and that all of this trouble would come as a result.

God knew that. And he can still say it’s very good because of what he’s going to do.

God Gave Us Life

In spite of the evil to come, God gave us life. He could have made nothing! If God created nothing then we would not exist to even ask these questions! We would have been spared pain but we would also never know joy. Existence is better than non-existence.

So, God gave us life out of love. But then why didn’t he create us without the ability to choose not-God? Because, if God would have given us no choice but to worship him, if the only option was the God-option, we’d be no different than robots.

How much does a robot understand of love? How many robots are drive hundreds of miles to visit a national park, stop at the overlook, and marvel at the panorama of creation? How many robots go out at night to look at the stars and see the Milky Way stretched out above them?

The reason didn’t God didn’t create us like robots, the reason he gave us a choice, is not so that he could punish us when we finally fell. No! He created us with a choice so that we would have the capability or the possibility of knowing what love and beauty are.

God gives us life and it’s interesting that we still have it. He didn’t change when we fell. God didn’t pull the plug. In spite of our sin and the trouble we cause and the trouble we experience, we still have life. We still experience goodness. We still experience love. We still experience God’s provision.

Whether we acknowledge him, or not, he still allows us the chance at making something of this life. One of the things that God is doing about evil is he gives us a glimpse of good things in this life and invites us, through them, to see the rest of his work.

But we say that’s not enough. We don’t want glimpses of good in the midst of the bad: we want God to fix the problem!

God Made Us In His Image

We misunderstand what God’s purpose was for us. He created us in his image. God didn’t just give us life and say, “here, eke out whatever meager meaning and purpose and beauty and love you can find.” No! He gives us the opportunity to be like him. He says, “look, you’re going to be like me. You’re going to understand and you’re going to be able to create and you’re going to have dominion and you’re going to be able to rule. You’re going to be creative and there’s going to be problems presented to you and you’re going to be able to fix them.”

One of the things that God is doing about evil is that he made us in his image. We’ve been given the stewardship of creation and one another. We’re supposed to be the ones representing God to the world. We’re supposed to be the ones who fix problems when they come up.  We’re supposed to be the ones who bring order out of the chaos like God brought order out of chaos.

When we experience trouble, when we experience the effects of sin on this world, we’re not experiencing something that God is surprised by. Instead, what we’re experiencing is God giving us the opportunity to image him. We so often look the problems of this world as if, somehow, we were helpless creatures in the hands of time and fate.

And yet God has given us minds that are almost unimaginably creative and hands that can build the most intricate and beautiful things. Through history, we can see that God gave us the ability to create amazing things, technology that allows us to travel faster than sound waves. We can build stuff as high as mountains. And we have medical technology that can save lives. We have this unbelievable potential to fix problems as they arise. That’s God’s gift to us.

And yet when times come in hard times come, we just want to take our hands off the wheel and say, “Jesus, take the wheel.” Or worse: “This is your fault, God.”

I don’t think that God’s plan for humanity was for us to shrink from problems: he created us to solve them. There is a near-constant invitation for people to join him in his work. When we see evil, we need to understand that God is giving us opportunities to exercise the gifts he’s given us.

The problem of evil is ultimately not that God doesn’t intervene every time, but that we, his created solution, choose not to.

Instead of solving problems, we create them. We end up causing more destruction than we do construction. Why? Because we take the gift of creativity and the ability to make stuff and we twist it.

We take minds that were meant to harness the healing power of creation and instead we split the atom and build weapons capable of destroying every single one of us.

Instead of serving, we’re lazy.

Instead of loving, we’re uncaring.

Instead of giving, we’re greedy.

And then we blame God for our problems.

The problem is not God, the problem is our sin.

But God’s not done yet: there’s another thing that he’s done to deal with evil.

God Gave Us Jesus And Took Our Sin

God knew that in order for us to do that which we were created to do, in order for us to join him, in order for us to truly demonstrate who he is to the world around us, he has to fix something first: sin. Because so long as sin is in us, we will continue to abdicate our role in creation.

God has to change something in us in order for us to change the world.

He’s inviting us to see problems as an opportunity to join him in his work but we will never see them as such until he gets through to us. Not until he takes that heart of stone from us and puts a heart of flesh in its place are we ever going to experience what it means to truly image God

The reason we can know that God is good even when bad things happen is that God takes those bad things and turns them for His own glory and for our good.

He does this most visibly with Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes. And Jesus experiences all the things that we experience. He lives, he breathes, he struggles, he hurts. Jesus is just like us: he’s human.

Still, there’s something different about him because instead of creating chaos where there should be order he brings order where there is chaos.

Instead of breaking things that should be fixed, he fixes things that are broken.

Jesus does what man should have done: he fixes problems instead of creates them.

And we killed him for the trouble. We put him on a cross. We did the most unimaginably evil thing possible. We sought to kill God.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus rose again.

In Jesus, we finally see hope. We see the possibility of God dealing with this problem of sin that we’ve got. Because, in Jesus dying and rising, we are invited to place our faith in Him. We are invited to exchange our heart of stone for a heart of flesh. And we’re given Holy Spirit and now we’re empowered to live a life that exists for God’s glory and for the good of others and not for ourselves.

Instead of doing good things to further my own ascension, Jesus ascension means that I don’t have to do anything for me anymore. I can do things purely for others. There’s no need for selfish motives.

If God is good why do bad things happen? I don’t know: look at the cross.

Bad things happen so that God can redeem them. In redeeming them, God shows us a better vision of His glory. God saves us by removing the sin from us. It’s only after sin is taken out that we’re able to finally do what it was that we were created to do: fix what’s broken!

What is God doing about the problem of evil: he’s redeeming people and setting them free of themselves so they can focus on fixing things. The question is not, “where is God when suffering comes,” but, “where are the people at whose hearts have been changed so that they can now live the image of God out in this world?”

When war breaks out.

When tragedy strikes.

When injustice reigns.

When oppression is the law of the land.

Where’s the church?

God doesn’t rush in and fix all of our problems; he doesn’t curtail our free will; he doesn’t cut us off at the knees: he wants us to know true love and true beauty and true grace. He invites us to see evil dealt with at the cross.

But when we receive that vision, the saddest thing in the world would be for us to imagine that the only reason we’ve received it is so that we can go to heaven.

No, no, no, NO!

God Gives Us Purpose

God saves us and he gives us a purpose. That purpose is what to finally do what we are made to do which is to image him, to showcase him, to allow creation to see who God is. He has made mankind a steward, a creative, problem-solving being that points back to his goodness.

That can’t happen unless our sin gets dealt with.

Our sin can’t get dealt with unless we’re humble enough to ask God fix it.

And once it’s fixed, we’re free to do that which we were created to do: meet the challenge of evil head-on and work to eradicate it.

What’s that mean?

It means that the Church has some work to do.

Christian, you and I are God’s answer to the problem of evil.

Sometimes we think there are two kinds of Christian: there’s the professional Christian and then there’s the everyday Christian. Not so. There’s just one kind of Christian: those who work to fix what’s broken.

When problems arise at work.

When a terrorist strikes your city.

When a hurricane devastates the coast.

The people of God should be right there, working to fix things.

We won’t be perfect.

We’ll always need Jesus.

But let’s get to work.

Psalms Series Main Title