Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marks of a Criminal, Marks of a Savior

[This was an email written to my friend and beloved Father-in-Law Ken Gillming of Boston Bible College. He wrote me about a book he was reading entitled Worldviews in Conflict by Ronald Nash. In it, Nash states something philosophers call The Problem of Evil. To give context to this post, The Problem of Evil states: God is all good and all powerful, so he could eliminate evil, yet evil exists. Therefore God is either not all good or not all powerful.]

Interestingly, the Christian faith actually doesn't have a clear answer on where evil comes from. I mean, we do have an answer for where evil comes from within our position in salvation history (that would be our sin). But when you track it back past the fall of Adam... Did it come from Satan? But God created Satan, so did God create something evil? The answer to the second question is "no." The answer to the first question is that the Bible just doesn't say. A true mystery.

But The Problem of Evil as stated plays off philosophical (rather than theological) attributes of God off of one another. As we well know, the Bible just doesn't speak distilled truth very often. It tells stories that only glimpse upon didactic principles and truths. And as I mentioned above, the story of the Bible starts after evil exists. So the Biblical witness tells about how evil entered the human sphere of experience - as opposed to how evil entered the heavenly realm, and it tells about God's saving activity to rescue all of creation including humans and the heavenly realm from evil and the associated decay and corruption that it causes.

So what all of this means concerning The Problem of Evil is that we are left to guess as to the reasons that evil first entered God's good creation (and by this I include the heavenly dimension). I have a plausible guess which I think is correct about 29 days of the month....

Evil entered God's creation because in order to magnify the worship and glory that he was given by beings that he created he allows them to voluntarily choose to worship and serve him. This is an argument for evil based on free will. Note what I am not saying. I am not saying that in order for worship or love to exist that evil must exist side-by-side with good. What I am saying is that this is the argument is that true love is love that is truly chosen and this freedom of choice was abused for selfish ends by created beings. First Satan and the Angels then by human beings.

The real question is, "What are we to take away from this into our present experience?" The biblical witness is surprisingly clear on the presence of evil in our contemporary world as not being a part of God's original intention. Sin-in addition to all of the normal effects we teach about-brings corruption and decay to all of creation. This does explain for the Christian the presence of all evil in our lives. Yes, including things which are not seemingly a result of direct choices to sin. Seeing as how creation itself is awaiting redemption and release from bondage to corruption and decay.

The reason that contemporary evangelical Christians struggle with an answer to this question is that we lack a proper doctrine of resurrection and new creation. We tend to think of Jesus resurrection as a one-time special event that happened just to Jesus. After all, he was God. In fact, what happened there was quite profound, not just for Jesus, but for us as well. The resurrection of Jesus was the very first act of God's New Creation. It is not completely discontinuous from the old, but rather incorporates the old into the new incorruptibility. This is what God did with Jesus' body and this is what he will do with us and this is what he will do with all of creation. That is what Romans 8:19-25 is all about. (It would be helpful for you to take a moment to read it...)

And that is precisely why it makes the claim in Romans 8:28 - "For we know that for those who love God all things work together for god, for those who are called according to his purpose." These are not two separate ideas: new creation (of which resurrection is a part) and God's sovereign redemption of our suffering. They are intimately related. In fact Paul is explaining to us that precisely because there is a new creation coming we can trust that God will work all of our present sufferings (Rom. 8:18) out into something that brings even more glory to us and himself.

If the question is, "How in all of this injustice and all of this suffering can God still be just and good and powerful?" Then the answer is "There is a new creation coming along with the resurrection of all to their appropriate judgement. So in resurrection and new creation the Problem of Evil is addressed because we clearly see both God's power (in the creative act) and his goodness (in his redemptive work). They are a contradiction in light of our worlds present condition, but they are not a contradiction in light of the world to come. And in this new creation all of the suffering in the old will be turned to glory in the new." Now how this works I haven't the faintest idea, but I know of one signpost, pointing to the future, that I hold to with all of my might.

The nail marks in the hands and feet of Jesus were the signs of his greatest suffering and shame. But when he was resurrected where did they go? They were still there! Only now they were the marks of his greatest glory. They were given as the marks of a criminal, they were revealed to be the marks of a savior. And since there is a new creation coming this is what God will do with our suffering and even our shame as well. Our suffering is to both God's glory and ours. Our shame increases the glory of our Saviour who bore it all.

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