Chatting with some friends yesterday about my faith, it seems that the old “Problem of Evil” is still the biggest issue people have against God. Why is there evil in the world if God has the power to stop it? Several times in the Bible, men asked this same question in one sense or another. And often when they asked “Why is this evil happening to us? Why isn't God doing anything about it?” God responded with something like, “Ok, here I am and here's what I'm about to do... I'm going to destroy those evil doers!” And so we have wars, or these massive invasions like when Babylon conquered Israel, and like when so many hundreds of years earlier, Israel conquered Canaan. And of course, we all know of the end-of-the-world apocalyptic scenario where God finally comes to destroy all evil once and for all. But this is not the answer to evil that we want because 1) evil runs rampant for a long time until such judgement occurs, and 2) the judgement would most likely destroy us too! And so we continue to complain about God and question God. Surely the all-wise and all-powerful God can come up with a better solution!? Well, maybe He has...
But we need some back-story. We'll start in Egypt, and please bear with me. The Egyptians did not worship Yahweh, and they kept the Israelites as slaves. For this sin, God waited some 400 years (during which time I'm sure the Israelites cried out “Why does God allow this?”) and then He judged Egypt with the famous 10 plagues. And God said “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments” (Exodus 12:12). These plagues were specifically targeted at the gods which the Egyptians worshipped, demonstrating that Yahweh was superior to those gods. For example, He covered Egypt in darkness, showing Himself to have power over the sun, and showing Himself to have power over “Ra” their god of the sun, (and while they were surely praying to Ra during that time.)
Next, God showed that He was God of all in every land on Earth as He led Israel to the land of Canaan in order to judge Canaan for their sins also (Genesis 15:16, Deuteronomy 9:4). But He commanded them...
You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.
And to Israel He had said...
You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)
So God was dealing with evil with that first “method” we spoke of in my initial paragraph, where He would destroy the evil-doers. But we should realize that He was really trying to deal with evil by striking at the root cause of it... the false gods that people worship. Deuteronomy 12 tells us explicitly what was wrong with those false gods...
You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31)
Eliminating evil is the name of the game, and God, dealing with the root cause of evil, wants to turn us away from the false gods we worship, and in this case He is doing it by force. But He instructed Israel otherwise...
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
The Bible teaches that we tend to become like what we worship. God's “second method”, (His and our preferred method) of eradicating evil is to have us become like Him, who is without sin. Rather than destroying sinners, God would rather that we would become like Him and live a sinless life.
Gandhi is quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is a good mindset. If you say “Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where nobody hated anyone else, and nobody cheated anyone else...”, then you yourself shouldn't hate or cheat. It may not be that you will change anyone else's behaviour, but if you do good, then that's one less hater and cheater in the world, and the world has ever so slightly moved toward that ideal. This is probably what Gandhi meant. But just about anyone who has been inspired by Gandhi's words to live a more moral life will quickly come to the conclusion of “Easier said than done, Mr Gandhi!” Even if we understand that the key to overcoming our own sin is to worship the right God, we find that we cannot do that either. But this is what God has begun to do in eliminating evil from the world... He has sent His Holy Spirit into the lives of those who desire to worship Him, and this gives us the power to actually overcome the sin and temptation in our lives.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
This sums up what we have been talking about. We become like the god we serve. If we serve God, who is sinless, we become like Him. But it was necessary that God change our hearts (that is, who we really are on the inside) so that we could, in fact, become “obedient from the heart.” This is what God spoke of in the Old Testament where He said...
...from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Peter writes about the fulfilment of this, telling us that we have all it takes to "become partakers of the divine nature"...
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
So in conclusion... there is evil in the world and all people expect God to do something about it. But what it is that God should do about it no one seems to be quite sure. Take 9/11, for example. Should God have diverted the aeroplanes moments before they crashed? But why do that... why not prevent those pilots from becoming pilots in the first place? But why do that... wasn't Osama Bin Laden's ideology the root cause? Why not prevent Osama from developing his ideology? But why start there? Why not prevent the Muslim religion from taking off, which formed the basis of his ideology? And of course, this is an interesting point to get to because, after all, we can look at what God did do. He demonstrated to mankind His supremacy over all other gods when He sent plagues over Egypt, and He commanded us “You shall have no other gods before me.”
And it's not as though He remained silent after that... Israel continued to proclaim this command to the world, and then Christ came and re-established this commandment with great signs to prove His authority. And now Christians everywhere proclaim this same commandment to all people. And not only that, but God has given us the Holy Spirit, if we desire Him, who will give us actual power to overcome the sinfulness in our own hearts, wherein we can theoretically eliminate the evil from our own lives and actually be part of that new, sin-free world we all desire. In my view God is very pro-active in eliminating evil, and in the non-destructive sense where sinners are saved from destruction. But we know from the Bible that that day will come, and final judgement will come upon all mankind, and in which all evil will be purged from the Earth.
But all in all you cannot say that God is not doing anything about the evil in the world, you can only say that He is not doing what you would do if you were God. And unfortunately, people thinking they're smarter or wiser than God actually only tends towards more evil. Instead, listen to God's Word to us all...
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.