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Ligonier Conference (V)
March 16, 2007
After Dr. Piper’s speech, John MacArthur spoke no the always-difficult subject of “The Problem of Evil.” this is an important issue because one of the favorite justifications for those who reject the God of the Bible is the issue of evil in the world. Skeptics and theological liberals cannot accept the God of the Bible. How can the God portrayed in the Bible as good and loving allow evil and even massive evil and even dominant evil, the ask? How can God be loving and tolerate or allow all of the results and effects of evil which inflict people with so much pain and suffering? The issue could be stated like this: the biblical God is loving, good, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful and yet evil exists in the world. Therefore, the biblical God does not exist. Theological liberalism feels it needs to rescue the good God from the bad caricature in the Bible as if we need to come up with a truer understanding of God assembled from the component parts of our personal ethics.
People really believe that this is the dilemma which backs Christians into an impossible position. There are people who see this as fourth and forty on the ten yard line and the only option is to punt. There are some supposed Christians who believe this too. Is this the best we can do? Are we pressed against our theological end zone with no option but to punt? Isn’t there some perfect play to score a touchdown? We have a big play that scores and guarantees victory. The answer is in the Bible and we can know it and thoroughly embrace it and enjoy it. It is not an inadequate, short answer either.
No matter how we answer the question, we end up back at God who created the angels and humans that fell and catapulted humanity into its fallen position. You have to build your answer on God. This is why we call this discussion theodicy (words derived from God and justice).
MacArthur framed the discussion around four things we know to be true:
1. Evil exists. There is natural evil (impersonal, external evil as seen in diseases, disasters, etc). The whole universe is blighted by bad things and we live at the mercy of a fallen creation and physical corruption. There is moral evil (personal, internal, spiritual seen in wickedness, sin, transgression) and this evil dominates the life of humanity. Society is dominated by both internal and external evil that impacts every person and every relationship. There is supernatural evil (demonic). It is a supernatural evil against which we wrestle. These vile spirit beings are as old as creation and are unmitigatedly evil. They have a delegated sovereignty in this world system on a temporary but still formidable basis. There is also eternal evil (which will exist in eternal hell). And so evil is a massive reality and is the dominant reality of human life both internally and externally.
2. God exists. That is to say that the God of the Bible exists. He is the only true and living God and is the God that Scripture says He is since Scripture is His own self-disclosure. He is sovereign and controls everything. There is nothing that is or could be outside of His control. God’s sovereignty is absolute, infinite and eternal. He is under no rule, no law and has no influences that come to Him externally. He is a law unto Himself. God is content to make it clear that He is unhesitatingly sovereign over everything that exists including evil. He admits this without a hint of hesitation. He does not ask to be delivered from bad press or embarrassment. He speaks for Himself in unmistakable terms.
3. God wills evil to exist. There is no other possible conclusion. He does this without in any way being evil for He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. At this point panic strikes the heart of an Arminian. Like the theological liberal, he needs to rescue God from this caricature. Arminianism is another rescue operation to rescue God from the bad press He gets in the Bible. Arminians don’t deny God’s power or love or holiness or goodness or that He should be glorified for saving sinners, but the panic attack comes when they cannot allow God to be held responsible for evil. They don’t want God to have the responsibility for not saving people (even if they don’t want to deny God the responsibility for saving people). How do they make this rescue attempt? You have to reinvent God and become a revisionist interpreter of Scripture. You need to come up with a new God who is off the hook. Many limit His power to prevent evil or say He is unwilling to use the power He does have because there was something more important than stopping evil and that was to give to sinner autonomy or free will. This is supposedly a nobler gift. Then there are other Arminians who say that God has limited knowledge and here we meet process theologians and openness theologians. They have created a new God and lack a God-centered, God-focused, God-exalting view of the way things are. They need to make sure that God doesn’t violate any of their sensibilities. God creates man and they return the favor.
Where do we go to solve this?
One answer is metaphysical thinking about reality: good exists, therefore evil exists. Evil is inevitable because good is present (yin yang). Another answer is the one used by most evangelicals: autonomous theology—evil exists because of free will. The noblest thing God gave men is free will because this is the highest good. Free will trumps evil on God’s value scale. He would rather deal with the issues of evil in order to give people freedom. God wants you to love Him because you chose to love Him, not because He made you love Him. God had to allow the possibility of evil to allow the possibility to autonomy. Humans must then have self-determination since if God worked as the primary cause, God is responsible and people are then not free. This doesn’t solve anything because if God knew that people would reject Him when He gave them free will, knowing where it would go and where it would lead, He is still responsible. This problem of evil is the big problem in evangelical and liberal Christianity—everyone trying to save God from this biblical definition.
The question is would you rather have a God trying to get control of evil or a God who is in control?
God didn’t create evil but He also didn’t invent it. It occurred in a rebellion against Him but willed and ordained that it occurred. You can see many ways in the Bible that God designs to use evil things for His own purposes, and even eternal evil. Sometimes to bring fear and terror and conviction on the unregenerate, sometimes to bring chastisement or discipline on God’s people or to humble them.
Why did God will this? God willed it for His own glory. At this point MacArthur read fro the Westminster Confession and quoted passages such as Romans 3:5 and Romans 5:8. Read these passages and look for the word “demonstrate.” Through evil God demonstrates his love, his wrath and the riches of His glory. The presence of sin allows God to demonstrate His love and righteousness. How else could He show the character of His love that allows Him to love His enemies if there were none? God endures this horrible assault on His everlasting holiness and the blaspheming history of sinful beings, and suffers it to display His wrath to the fullest extent. Finally. God demonstrates the riches of His glory. The only ones who will ever know the fullest riches of His glory are those that He has saved. We will have the privilege of eternally glorifying Him for all that He is. The greatest good is God’s everlasting glory.
Even the greatest evil the world has ever known, was decreed by God to achieve for God the greatest glory. God will be glorious, and will be all-glorious, and one day every knee will bow and everyone will confess the glory of the Lord. In eternity we will praise God in ways we never could had we not been able to see the demonstrations of His love, His wrath and His glory.
I really enjoyed this session and it was one of the conference highlights for me. A brief aside: earlier today I bumped into John MacArthur and Steve Lawson as they were walking from the parking lot. MacArthur grinned and said something along the lines of, “So did you generate some traffic on your blog from my comments at the Shepherds’ Conference?” And it just so happens I did, to the tune of 50,000 to 60,000 visits in the couple of days after his comments on premillennialism! Every five or six steps someone would approach MacArthur to thank him for his ministry and Dr. Lawson commented that walking with MacArthur is kind of like walking with Moses except that the Red Sea just never parts. John MacArthur is one popular man who has had a far-reaching ministry.