This article first appeared in the Dec.1, 1993 issue of The Standard Bearer (Vol.70, No.5) and was an editorial written by Prof. David J. Engelsma (PRC Seminary).
The Problem of Evil
Evil is a problem for the child of God. The problem is practical, spiritual, and urgent. Such is the problem that God's child is tempted, strongly tempted, either to despair of God's goodness or to rebel against His sovereignty. He struggles with discouragement and bitterness.
Evil is the occasion of this struggle. Evil here isnot sin, although it maybe caused by sin, but great trouble. It is the devastating sickness or debilitating injury. It is disappointment at work. It is the death of one whom you love. It is the lonely life of one who desires marriage and family. It is abandonment by a faithless husband and father; life with a miserable husband or wife or father or mother; the withholding of children in marriage; a wayward child.
The trouble brings intense suffering, whether in body or in soul, or in both.
Evil in the life of the believer poses a problem.
It is emphatically evil in the life of the believer that is the problem.
The problem is not that there is evil in our world. We know why there is evil in the world, and must be. The sin of the human race in Adam ushered in the great evil, and mother of all evils, death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12).
Nor is it a problem to the Christian that there are evils in the lives of the ungodly. All those who live in enmity against God, outside of Jesus Christ, are perishing under the wrath of the just God (Rom. 1:18; I Thess. 1:10). The suffering of unbelievers in the floods in the Mississippi Valley, the fires in California, the ravages of AIDS, the butchery in the Balkans, or the "holocaust" of Nazi Germany is not a problem to anyone who believes the Scriptures. Their suffering is distressing, but it is not puzzling.
God visits the wicked with the evils that they fully deserve. Evil in the life of the reprobate unbeliever is divinely inflicted punishment. The Reformed faith confesses that God in His perfection of justice will not allow disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished. Terribly displeased with both original and actual sins, He punishes them temporally and eternally. The only deliverance is His mercy in the cross of Jesus Christ (Heid. Cat. Lord's Day 4).
The climactic evil in this life for every impenitent unbeliever is his death at the hands of an angry God. The final evil will be his everlasting torment of body and soul in the fire of hell (Rom. 2:8, 9; II Thess. 1:6-9; Rev. 20:11-15).
Not even the suffering of the babies and children of the ungodly, grievous as this is, constitutes a problem for the believing mind. For one thing, the world's abuse, torture, and murder of their own offspring are a dimension, admittedly horrifying of the depravity of fallen men and women. This is the human race apart from God. Like the pagans of old, they cruelly sacrifice their own children to Molech. All that changes is the Molech.
But in this evil bums the punishing wrath of God upon babies. Babies are not innocent. The infants of unbelievers are guilty before God from conception. We Reformed parents confess about our infants at baptism that
our children are conceived and born in sin, and, therefore, are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself (Reformed Form of Baptism).
To unbelievers, God has made no gracious promise to save their children. He has not included their children in the redemption of the cross of the Savior. Unbaptized, without any refuge under the blood of the Lamb, the children of the ungodly suffer and die, like Egypt's firstborn, at the hands of God the Destroyer (Ex. 4:23; Ex. 11:4-6; Ex. 12:21-30).
The holy God is terrible in His just dealings with the unforgiven wicked.
The problem for the believer is not the evils suffered by the wicked, but the good things that they enjoy. This is one aspect of the problem of Psalm 73: Why do the ungodly prosper in the world? (vv. 2-12).
The solution of the Word of God to this problem is not that God is gracious to the ungodly in time. Rather, in giving them prosperity He is busy setting their feet on slippery places so that they will smoothly slide into eternal destruction (Psalm 73:18-20). The attitude that alone accounts for this activity is wrath. If comparison be made, the wrath in prosperity is more fearful than the wrath in calamities. For God's prosperity-wrath gives the ungodly a "spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear" (Rom. 11:7-10). If there would be any hope at all of the sinner's conversion and salvation, that hope would be realized through God's adversity-wrath. Adversity-wrath might be hoped to wake the sinner to the realities of a righteous God, his own sin, and the necessity of repentance. Prosperity- wrath makes certain that he remains in his fool's-paradise.
Outside of Jesus Christ, whether in adversity or in prosperity, are only condemnation, wrath, curse, and destruction.
The prosperity of the wicked should not be a problem to anyone who has studied Psalm 73. Neither should it be a problem to anyone who takes seriously the necessity of the incarnation and crucifixion of the Son of God to avert God's wrath "temporally and eternally" from the elect church.
The problem is evil in the life of the godly. This was the other aspect of the problem of Psalm 73: "For all the day long have I been plagued" (v. 14).
This is the problem, not as it idly comes up in the discussions 'of philosophers but as it lives in the soul of the Christian in that dark hour when evil falls: Where is the love of God for me in this evil? where, the blessing in this suffering? where, my heavenly Father as His child goes under?
The solution is not a denial of God's governing and sending the evil. This is the "solution" that prevails in the evangelical churches and that makes headway today also in Reformed circles. God is not sovereign over evil. God is not almighty.
Some solution! God is not God. For a god who is not almighty is not God. He is not the God of Scripture, who says, "I am the LORD and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (Is. 45:6, 7). Because of my suffering, the Godhead of God should be destroyed!
Some solution! Give the troubled saint, tempted to despair, over to the tender mercies of Satan, supposedly the sovereign of evil. Or encourage him with the comfort that evil now runs amok, uncontrolled, purposeless, accidental, a force that baffles God Himself. This is not the comfort of the Reformed confession, which holds that God's power in His creation and over every creature is almighty and everywhere present, so that both good and evil come to the believer, not by chance but by His fatherly hand (Heid. Cat., L.D. 10; cf. the Bel. Conf., Art. 13). Because my suffering is so great, the one possibility of real comfort should be denied!
It does not work. In his direst straits, the Christian traces his trouble to the hand of God. Although the calamity may have come through the agency*of sinful people and by the instrumentality of Satan, the suffering child of God works his way up to a sovereign God. Quickly. Job did. So do we. "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away" (Job 1:21). God has delivered me to the ungodly. God has broken me. God runs upon me like a giant (Job 16).
This is the problem for the believer in his anguish.
The problem is God.
For this God, who afflicts him, who shatters his life, who guides the evil unerringly, is the God of love toward this believer in Jesus Christ. He has promised him personally in the gospel that He will bless and do good, only bless and do good. All evil, all real evil, evil that truly destroys, has been visited upon Jesus Christ in his stead.
This is the solution to the problem of evil in the life of the believer.
The solution is the promise of God received in faith, better, the promise of God that works faith in the dark hour of the evil. Nothing else besides. There is no sight nor feeling nor explanation of the goodness of God. Only trust in the promise of God.
The solution is the promising God Himself in Jesus Christ. We view the God who sends the evil in the light of the (same) God who has promised. We recognize the God who troubles us, although He has a frown. He is our Father.
We can willingly submit to the evil. The evil is carrying out the promise. Perhaps, it corrects us for a specific sin. Or it may be the general discipline that we children desperately need in view of the disorderly movements of our sinful nature. It takes our affections off this life and the present world and directs them to the life that is hid with Christ in God and the coming kingdom. It teaches even an upright Job, indeed, it taught the sinless Jesus, obedience, in that the one who fears God learns what obedience really is when he does the will of God in pure adversity (Heb. 5:8). It empties the Christian of proud self-reliance in order that the power of Christ may rest upon him (II Cor. 12:9). The perishing of the outward man is the renewal of the inward man (II Cor. 4:16). Evil in this life works good in the life to come, and the good is "far more exceeding" (II Cor. 4:17).
This is the solution to the problem of evil in Psalm 73: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (v. 24).
One thing is sure: The promise of the gospel is not assurance of an earthly life free from evil. The message of the evangelicals and charismatics that faith in Christ guarantees health, wealth, happiness, and success is grotesque heresy.
The promise of the gospel that God will bless for the sake of Christ is a real solution to the problem of evil. It enables the believer to sing about the evil. If he sings, the problem has been solved. He sings, "Affliction has been for my profit," from Psalm 119. One may begin to see this already in this life. For him, singing about evil becomes easier.
Another may see nothing at all of any profit of the evil as long as he lives. But he sings too, through his tears. He expects to see the profit in the day when God makes all things plain.
For the present, he believes.
Faith is enough.
Prof.David J. Engelsma (Wife: Ruth)
Ordained: September 1963
Pastorates: Loveland, CO - 1963; South Holland, IL - 1974; Professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1988; Emeritus - 2008Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof_D._Engelsma
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