Luke 13:1-9 – “The Problem of Evil”

Twenty three years ago, I got engaged to the most wonderful woman I had ever known.  I felt blessed.  But then just two months later, the school bus I was driving was hit by a van running a red light.  This accident left my back and my wrist permanently damaged.  I was in therapy for months, finishing just mere weeks before the wedding.  Then just a few months after the wedding, I was diagnosed with a degenerative disease.  And over the years, as I have struggled with my injuries and the slow painful erosion of my physical capabilities, I have come back again and again to the same question.  Why Me?

We’ve all asked God this question in one way or another.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Typically we ask this question one of two ways.  When we look at ourselves, we tend to ask, God, how could you do this to me?  Don’t you love me?  When we look at others, we tend to ask, God, what was wrong with them that made them deserving of this punishment?  Now as much as I was struggling with why God would inflict me with the pain and suffering He had, what was even more painful was the moments when well-meaning, pious, God fearing people would come up to me and tell me in love that if I just searched my heart for the sin that was getting in the way of my faith; if I could only trust God rightly and reject sin in my heart, God would of course heal me of my infirmity.  That the pain I suffered was God’s correction for the sin in my heart.  There were times, I felt like rejecting God all together.  How could I love; how could I trust; how could I believe in a God that could do this to me?

What I’m talking about here, is what philosophers call the Problem of Evil.  If God is real, then He must be all powerful and purely good.  But there is evil in the world.  Now if God is purely good and there is evil in the world, then God cannot be all powerful; and if He is all powerful and yet there is evil in the world, then God cannot be purely good.  The problem of evil is the favored proof among atheists today when arguing that God cannot exist.  But the problem with the Problem of Evil is a misunderstanding of terms.  What is evil?  You see, there is a Problem of Evil, but it is not a problem for God, it is a problem for us.  When we think of what evil is, we understand it in relation to ourselves.  We see ourselves as the measure of good and evil.  We determine what is and isn’t evil based upon how it affects us.  But that is not an adequate measure of what evil is.  When the relation of actions to us becomes the measure of evil, evil becomes subjective.  What is evil to me may not be evil to you.  What is evil today may not be evil tomorrow.  If there is in truth any reality to evil, we cannot be the measure of it.  True evil can only have one measure, God Himself.  Whatever is in keeping with God’s loving will is good, for God is purely good.  And whatever stands opposed to or at odds with God’s loving will as purely good is by definition evil.  So is there a Problem of Evil?  Yes!  Evil exists here and only here in our hearts.  It is called sin.  And this evil (or sin) is the fundamental problem with human existence.

So those well-meaning, pious, God fearing people who came up to me and told me that I would be healed if I would just get right with God, were they right?  Is the pain I suffer, God’s correction for the sin in my heart?  Am I somehow more sinful; more evil than my neighbor?  No!  You see this is the other side of the problem of evil.  We desire to see ourselves as good and see evil as outside of ourselves.  When we see someone else suffering, we want God to be just, and we want to deserve our good fortune.  I am blessed by God because He is pleased with me.  I have earned my blessing.  But they suffer.  They have not been blessed like me; therefore they must please to God, as I do.  They must be more sinful than me; more evil than me.  They must be deserving of God’s judgment, just as I am deserving of God’s blessing.  You see, in our pride; in our arrogance; in our sinful and evil hearts we raise ourselves up as deserving of the blessing we have received and scorn those who suffer as deserving of God’s punishment.  The human heart is the real problem of evil.

And is there a solution to this problem of evil?  Yes!  The solution to the problem of evil is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Jesus asked, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?… do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”  And what was His answer?  He said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  When we ask the question, why me? We miss the point.  Are we deserving of God’s eternal punishment?  Well, yes, but no more so than everyone else.  When judged on our merits; when judged on what is in our hearts, we are all deserving of suffering and death.  Just as the vineyard owner in Jesus’ parable said, “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”  When judged on our own merit; on our own fruit, we are fit for nothing else than to be cut down and cast into the fire.  We certainly do have a problem with evil.

But the solution to our problem with evil is the cross of Jesus Christ.  When we face pain and suffering in this world, is God punishing us for our evil?  No, but Jesus Christ hangs on the cross suffering for us and with us.  When we see people die needlessly and unjustly, is this God’s judgment for their sin? No, but Jesus Christ died on the cross for us and through faith in Him our evil, sinful self dies with Him.  We are sinful in our hearts; we are evil to our very roots, and apart from faith in Jesus Christ we are all deserving of nothing but suffering and death (fit only to be cut down and cast into the fire), and unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.  But a fig tree cannot amend its own soil; and on our own we cannot truly repent for our sins from our hearts.  But there is Good News!  What we cannot do for ourselves, God Himself has done for us.  God the Son – the Vinedresser – has come to us, and has tended us, and amended our soil with His own precious blood shed on the cross for us; so that we might be raised up with Him and through faith in Him, we might bear fruit pleasing to God.  Jesus Christ has solved the Problem of Evil!

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