2008-04-20pm Romans 8:29-39 Lord’s Day 10 Q&A 27&28 God the Father—His Providence
One of the biggest challenges to faith, not just Christian faith, is the problem of evil. Why does a good, loving God allow evil to happen?
There are all kinds of evil: there are natural disasters, there’s accidental evil, there’s human sinfulness, there’s gratuitous evil, like serial killers, genocide and just plain evil.
Why would a good God, who is perfect, who never changes, who isn’t fickle like humans are, who is defined as love itself, why would He allow evil?
Why couldn’t God have created a world without evil?
Now, there are some who try to say that because there is evil, God must not be real, He must not exist. But that does not follow. Just because there is evil in the world, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. Even though it sounds like the presence of evil would be incompatible with a good and loving God, it might not be, and I suggest it isn’t. Therefore, we cannot conclude that simply because there is evil in the world, that God doesn’t exist.
In fact, the Bible is quite clear not only on the existence of evil, but that God doesn’t shy away from its existence. But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.
What we have to do is ask ourselves not simply why does God allow evil, but also why God allows good?
Normally people don’t ask why God allows good, presumably, because most people think they deserve good, but that they don’t deserve evil. Nevertheless, some people realise that they don’t deserve good, and that they really do deserve evil, since they realise that at their core they are not able to do the good that God created them to do in the first place.
Now let’s look at Q&A 27 first, for this gives us a good overview of what we’ll be looking at mostly this evening.
The providence of God is the almighty and ever present power of God, by which he supports the entire universe, governing it in full wisdom, providing good and bad, from His Fatherly hand.
This will take a bit to unpack.
First of all, God does this because it is part of His character to do this. It is who he is. He is a loving father.
We could go into a huge exposition of the distinction, important as it is, between a father and a mother, but for this evening, we won’t. I simply want to draw your attention to the more general pattern of parenting. For those of us who are not parents, but who are nevertheless married, think along the lines of your spouse commitments. For those of us who are children, or young, unattached adults, think of the obligations you have to your families.
Now, as parents, we do things for our children all the time. We do things without thinking about it. We buy enough food for the whole family, not just for ourselves. It is not as though we go to the children and say, “Okay, son, go out get a job and make enough money for your supper, and by the way, I expect you to earn a raise by the time you’re in kindergarten.”
No, we understand that part of our identity as parents means that we provide food, clothing and shelter, and we do it without hardly thinking about it. It is just one of those responsibilities that we take on because it is part of the job.
This catechism tells us that God looks after the universe He created not just because he created it, but because it is in his nature to do so! He is the creator, and the sustainer. He looks after His creation because He is like a father to the creation, to all of it!
So, when we think of God, that’s how we have to think of him, as the Heavenly Father of the universe!
But since He is the ruler, the governor of the universe, we also realise that God is in control of everything. God is in control. There aren’t two gods here. It is not like there’s God on one side, and Satan’s on the other side, an equal and worthy opponent.
Satan has no power. He tells lies, and that’s it. That’s all the power that God has allowed Satan to have. Yes, God dictates the workings of the entire universe, including Satan’s stuff, but we’ll get to that yet.
So, if you have in your head a picture God and Satan as two equal adversaries, then get it out of your head.
No, whatever happens in the world, it all happens because God allows it to happen. God wills it to happen.
Now it is hard to fathom how all of this happens without making God the author, or creator of sin and evil. God doesn’t do evil. But God does allow evil things to happen.
Let me make one quick aside here. It might be a totally unrelated tangent, but I think it fits in, or at least it does in my mind. In the beginning of the book of Joshua, God tells Joshua that Moses is dead.
Now, this is significant. God’s passing the torch. The great leader, the beloved Moses, the guy who talked with God face to face, he’s dead. God’s chosen a new leader, it’s Joshua.
How many times have you heard it said, “I just don’t know what’s going to happen when Billy Graham dies. I just don’t know what will happen when so and so is no longer around. Or, that church leader succumbed to temptation, now what’s going to happen to the Gospel ministry of the church?
Now, I hardly have to remind you what happens to God’s church when the leadership is gone. Not only was this church vacant for 4 years before I came, I keep disappearing for several months at a time, so you know that a leader is useful, but he ain’t all that!
Sometimes, in our concern, in our worry, we might imagine God, in heaven, thinking, “Oh no! So and so is gone, now what am I going to do?” No, clearly, as you’ve seen in this church, as we see in Joshua 1, God’s up in heaven, He’s got an eternal perspective on things, He doesn’t worry for a second. Nope, God simply says, “Next!”
God thinks on a completely different scale than we do. We’re very much caught up in the moment. We have a hard time remembering the past, and when we do, it often isn’t accurate; usually we downplay our weaknesses, and make more of our strengths. We also have a very poor ability to think of or imagine the future. Has any serious, dire or even positive prediction ever come true?
For 200 years, people have been warning about a shortage of oil, is it logical to believe them? How do you run out of something for 200 years? People have predicted that we’ll run out of land, we’ll overpopulate the earth and that there will be massive starvation and famine. We’re not running out of land, the earth is not over populated, not by a long shot. We’re actually able to feed every mouth on the planet, but either the rich are hoarding it all, or we’re turning it into fuel because we believe that the stuff that’s waiting to be pumped out of the ground is either really bad for the environment, or we’re going to run out of it anyway, so let’s stop using it now.
If you had half a loaf of bread in the fridge, would you stop eating it because it’s almost gone?
So, despite our tendency to worry, we have to know and believe that the universe is in God’s very good, very capable hands. And that even the bad stuff that happens happens with God’s permission. That doesn’t make God the author of it, for He has allowed humans to have responsibility as well, nevertheless, God allows both the good and the bad to happen.
The Newsboys have a song that puts this well, the chorus goes, “When we don’t get what we deserve, it’s a real good thing. When we get what we don’t deserve, it’s a real good thing. Christians get what they don’t deserve: eternal life. Christians don’t get what they do deserve: hell.
So, the doctrine of Total Depravity says that, all humans, because of sin, original and actual, deserve the righteous judgement of God, which is hell.
But, what God actually does is, allow humanity to live, he continues to provide everything that humans need for survival, he blesses people with good things, even though they all deserve hell.
That’s just what he does in general. Specifically, God provided His Son to pay for sins, to give us eternal life, which we don’t deserve. And those who believe in Christ don’t get what they deserve, which is hell.
This is how we know that God so loved the world, not simply that He sent His Son, but also that he provides everything that humans need in order to survive. In that Theology and Science class I told you about last week, we also saw some videos that make it abundantly clear that the entire universe is incredibly tuned for life on earth. The mathematical probability of all of this goodness for life happening randomly really is impossible.
The very providence of God in creation, for example, the perfect distance the earth is from the sun which allows it to have a near constant temperature, relatively speaking from night to day, is amazing. On planets that are closer or farther away from the sun, it is either too hot for life, or too cold, and there are temperature fluctuations from night to day in the hundreds of degrees.
Also, our magnetic poles prevent a lot of harmful solar radiation from penetrating the earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere itself cuts out most of the harmful ultraviolet rays. The moon is the perfect size and distance from the earth and the sun that allows us to observe the sun’s atmosphere during a solar eclipse. If the moon was slightly larger, slightly smaller, slightly closer to earth, slightly farther from earth, or even if the sun was slightly larger, smaller, closer or farther, we would not be able to observe the sun’s atmosphere.
If we had a different atmosphere, we wouldn’t be able to see the stars, planets and galaxies at night. If we were located in a different part of the milky way, we wouldn’t be able to observe anything outside of our galaxy.
God has provided everything we need in order to realise that God exists.
The very earth we live on is proof of God’s existence! Even the seasons themselves are proof. So much of what we take for granted happens, is in fact a testimony of God’s goodness.
But still, the problem of evil stares us down.
First, you’ll notice that the presence of evil doesn’t alter who God is, or even how he cares for creation.
Then, there are God’s promises given particularly to the elect, as we read in Romans 8:28-39.
But can we trust these promises? Is there any evidence that they are true?
Well, we should consider the life of the one who wrote the letter to the Church in Rome, and we ought to consider those who received the letter. Paul faced persecution, hardship, all kinds of things, and it didn’t change the way he related to God. The church in Rome faced, and would face incredible persecution.
They had to know, really know, that God’s promises are real. That God’s love for us is unconditional; it isn’t dependent upon what we do. If things go well, God will give us the Spirit to give Glory to Him. If things don’t go well, God will also give us the Spirit to give Glory to Him. But the glory will be different. It is not as though we’ll be saying, rah rah, I really love these horrible things, but rather, “I know I can get through this, because I’m not doing it on my own strength.”
But there is more, congregation. God hasn’t simply given us himself; he’s given us one another.
Hopefully, we’ll be better comforters than Job’s friends were. God in his providence, it sounds strange to say it, but it is true, God in his providence permitted Satan to take everything away from Job. In fact, the book of Job makes it almost seem like a bet between God and Satan. Satan said, “God, I betcha Job loves you simply because you’re so good to him.” To which God said, “You’re wrong, dare to prove it?”
And so, Job, not at all privy to what had taken place cosmically, endures first hardship of the most devastating kind, then has to endure platitude after platitude from his closest friends.
They tell him it’s his fault. God’s angry with him. He must have sinned. They come up with all kinds of reasons, but Job never finds out. Even Job’s wife offers no support, curse God and die, was her advice (Job 2.9).
But Job persevered. Eventually, God provided for Job again. And yet, Job did not allow the circumstances of his life to dictate his relationship with God.
Can we say the same thing? How do we view God in light of His provisions for us? Can we even accept illness and recognise that it is from God? That God can transform even the horrible things that happen in this life into good? Yes, we can do that! It is possible!
For we have the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit in us. And because of that, because of God’s provision, God’s providence, let us, as the author of Hebrews puts it, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Amen.