By Edgar Jones
It happens every time! Whenever there is a tragic event that causes death or suffering someone will rush to ask these questions:
Where was God?
Why did God allow this evil thing?
Why does evil befall good people?
The 9/11 World Trade Center disaster was no exception. For several days thereafter these and similar questions appeared almost everywhere - in newspapers, newsmagazines, religious periodicals, books, TV commentaries and news reports, in sermons, Sunday School classrooms and every sort of religious gathering.
Overlooked is the simple fact that Jesus of Nazareth long ago provided the answers. This is the present thesis, and we sustain it here by pointing to his words. We begin by investigating the essence of evil.
I. What is Evil?
First we recognise that there are two varities of evil, the absolute and the relative. Absolute evil is evil as the Lord sees evil. Relative evil is evil as men see evil.
1. Absolute evil
We can only wander in the wilderness if we continue without a brief analysis of the nature of the beast. We begin with this utterance of our Lord:Luke 6There are three person-based entities here, indicated by the underscores. There are "men," "you," and the "Son of man." The "Son of man" is Jesus. "You" refers to his disciples. "Men" is everyone else! Blessed are you disciples, when men hate you, exclude you, revile you, and cast out your name as evil. But why do men cast out the name of the disciples as evil? Why, it is "on account of the Son of Man." Therefore, the disciples are identified with the Son of Man, and so there are only two separate categories: men and the Son of man together with his disciples. The latter are conjoint with the Son of man. They are therefore not members of the vast conglomerate that Jesus here calls "men" or "the world." When we go on to v. 23, (above) we can further state that "their fathers" are of the same category of persons as "men," whereas "the prophets," like the disciples, are conjoint with the Son of man. As "their fathers" were hostile to the prophets, in exactly the same manner men are hostile to the disciples and the Son of man.
22 Blessed are you when men hate you,and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
We can further state that "men" in the utterances of Jesus means "all men" exclusive of Jesus and his disciples. For assurance of this, let us attend to this utterance of the Lord:Luke 6This takes a different approach, being addressed not just to disciples, but to men also. And so, instead of announcing a blessing for disciples, Jesus announces a woe to all other men, and emphasizes the inclusiveness of the term by defining it as "all men." The reason given is the same in that they are following the pattern of conduct of their fathers with regard to the "false prophets."
26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
So, we can confidently conclude that "men" in Luke 6:22 means the same as "all men" in Luke 6:26. There is no split category. It is either the Son of man and his disciples, or it is "all men." This is very important and permits -- indeed compels -- us to acknowledge that we are, in Jesus, faced with two hard alternatives with regard to evil, and only two. They are the evil as seen by men, all men, and the evil as seen by the Father in heaven, for the Father affirms those who have had their names cast out by all men as evil by greatly rewarding them.
Now we add yet one other utterance of our Lord before drawing our first conclusion as the the nature of evil:Luke 16:15 But he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.Jesus has drawn the line so clearly and sharply that there can be no misunderstanding on the part of anyone who can hear him. From his point of view, evil -- that which is evil indeed -- is an absolute conception that consists of whatever is "exalted among men." Evil is, in Truth, that which is an abomination to God and which is exalted among men or in their high esteem. Therefore, when "all men" speak well of another, they are admiring what is an abomination to God. When men cast others out -- cast out their names as evil -- on account of the Son of man -- they are despising what God has, through Jesus, decreed as "blessed." God sees as evil what men see as good; as accursed what men see as blessed; as good what men see as evil; as blessed what men see as accursed.
So, what is evil? I must conclude from this that evil -- absolute evil that God deems evil -- is what "all men" deem to be good. Good, absolute good, is what "all men" deem to be evil. That, for Jesus and his disciples, is all that matters.
Let us consider an example: patriotism. Do not "all men" think of it as good? Do they not praise it? Exalt it? Esteem it highly? Therefore, patriotism is absolute evil. It is an abomination in the sight of God. It is precisely as Jesus said,God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.2. Relative Evil
So, humans blunder on in a maze of confusion while they seek to answer questions concerning evil such as I listed in our Introduction. That is because they are enslaved to a perception of evil that is purely relative, although to them, in their poverty of Truth, it may seem absolute. This ought to be obvious to thinking persons while they continue attempting to fathom evil apart from its absolute definition. It is easy to observe subdivisions of men who are plainly in pursuit of different definitions of good and evil.
The Islamic fundamentalists perceive the United States of America as the very incarnation of the "Great Satan." American leaders are "evil people" who must be fought and overcome if not destroyed. On the other hand, the popular American president, George W. Bush, proclaims these particular Muslims to be "evildoers" and the attack on America to be an "evil act." Both parties, the Americans and the Islamic fundamentalists, have profound, rational and (to them) convincing explanations for their positions. But is not this just the pot calling the kettle "black"?
We can speak of absolute evil only from the point of view of Jesus and of the Father and of his children who remain in the world and among men. This view sees humanity, apart from the disciples who are not of the world, as Jesus sees it -- as a single category of "all men." The moment we began to categorize ourselves as belonging to some human subcategory, we lose sight of the divine view and began to see things as men see them -- yes, as "all men" see them, even though they are often seeing them in contradictory ways that produce violent disagreements. So, we define both good and evil relative to who and what we are. "We" call that "good" that "they" call "evil." "They" call that "good" that "we" call "evil." "We" are the "good" ones; "they" are the "evil" ones.
But in absolute Truth, all men are evil; God alone is good:Mark 10No one is good but God alone; it follows that "all men" are evil. The theologians and Christian ethicists can chew and tear at this Word of Truth with all their might, but they cannot touch its pristine purity and simplicity. Instead, they toss out unreasonable suggestions as to the answers to their profound and unfathomable questions concerning evil, then retreat into the confines of their "holy eminences."
18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
It is easy to formulate definitions of relative evil, as it is easy to define absolute evil once we have heard Jesus. From the human point of view, "evil" -- relative evil -- is that which is harmful, hurtful, and bad for us and ours. Evil men, or evildoers, are the people who perform acts that have these evil consequences. The very worst evil is, to men, the one that kills them, and so the perpetrators of the 9/11 disaster are "evildoers." They are evildoers of the very worst kind because they killed so very many of "ours." This "evil" must be exterminated from the earth, and so the call goes out: "Hand them over dead or alive, preferably dead." Then, in the midst of all this, people are asking the same of questions:
Where was God?
Why did God allow this evil thing?
Why does evil befall good people?
And, they are coming forth with the same non-answers and admissions of ignorance. But, dear friends, it need not be so for you. If you can hear this -- if you can abide in the Words of Jesus -- If, as his sheep, you can even now hear his voice, you can receive the Truth and are not far from the kingdom of God.
We have presented patriotism as an example of an absolute evil. We need now to suggest an example of relative evil, and the best one for our purposes is the same one: patriotism. That is, the enemy's patriotism is the evil one; ours is the good kind!
While we stand within the view of Jesus, we see that the absolute conception "patriotism" is an example of absolute evil because "all men" hold it in high esteem, and Jesus says that whatever is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God. It follow that what is abomination ot God, in this case patriotism, is absolute evil.
But those who do not aspire to that perch behind Jesus, but assume their places among men, soon find that things look different. Here the view is always relative to whom, what, and where they are. They perceive themselves not simply among "all men" but among a particulary subcategory of "all men" -- that is, some family, tribe, or nation. They have no thought of patriotism and other absolute evils as evils, but have devoted themselves to their own particular brand of patriotism, one that seeks only the interests of that family, tribe, or nation.. Relatively, then, they see only their particular patriotism as good. It follows as does the night the day that the patriotism of the enemy family, tribe, or nation is evil because it inspires him to do bad things to them -- even to kill them.
Men are asking their questions concering the 9/11 disasters from this perspective of relative good and evil. This explains why they remain in confusion and must repeatedly acknowledge their ignorance.
II. What is the Basis of Evil?
If, as has been shown by the utterances of Jesus, "all men" are absolutely evil, and there is "none good but God alone," what can be the basis for evil? To get at this we need only to go again to the Words of Jesus. He who can classify "all men" as evil and "God alone" as good surely knows what is behind it all. Let us recall that the words of Jesus are the words of a man who speaks for God and are therefore the words of the Father. We go now to the central principle of Jesus' life and death, which I have designated the Great Principle. He repeated this principle many times in the gospels, and in many ways, but none more precise than this:John 12This principle is discussed in detail elsewhere on this site, and I propose here only to relate it immediately to the subject of evil, for in this Great Principle we find absolute evils' very basis. Recalling that these are words of the Father, uttered by Jesus, we can immediately conclude that the Father hates life in this world and also that life in this world is an absolute evil.
25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Because the Father grants eternal life -- life with him -- only to those who hate life in this world. The woman or man who loves that life does so in opposition to the Father, who is good, and such a one is therefore an evil one. Life in this world is itself, as an object of love, an absolute evil. We know that the Father hates life in this world because we must hate it to accord with the Father so as to inherit his eternal life.
Then "all men" are evil only because they love life. That which they most highly esteem, which is abomination to God, is life in this world. This explains why the worst thing that can occur to one is to die or be killed, and the worst injury one can inflict on an enemy is to kill him or her.
"All men" view a threat to life as evil. The threat may be either direct or indirect, to those things that pertain to life such as political freedom, family or other loved ones, the tribe or nation. The threat that succeeds in its objective does an evil thing, and therefore the "enemy" that does it is evil. That enemy that succeeds in taking many of the lives of one's own kind who share in the same values of life, including the nation, is therefore a perpetrator of great evil. This is why American leaders following the 9/11 attacks call them evil and brand the perpetrators "evildoers."
That is why the perpetrators of this "evil" -- who are themselves "evil" -- planned and engaged in the attacks in the first place. They also love life in this world and perceive America as the cause of great limitations on the quality of life of many of their peoples, including the Iraqis and Palestinians. The American are, in their eyes, the major threat to their lives and the lives of Muslims throughout the world because they are pursuing policies that have killed many Muslims or have greatly restricted their "quality of life." Americans are therefore evil in their eyes. Of course, you knew this already.
It is therefore the love of life in this world that compels "all men" to conform to a relative standard of good and evil, because "all men" are motivated by the love of life in an arena where "strangers" exist who appear to impose threats on them and their kind. This is what renders "all men" blind to the absolute standard of the Father as enumciated by Jesus.
It is for this reason that Americans and others are, in the aftermath of 9/11, asking questions that they cannot answer. The love of life blinds them to the Truth, the absolute Truth, concerning good and evil. To hear the Truth, it is necessary that they accept themselves as evil within the grip of the love of life, and this they cannot do.
Because the very thing that establishes their absolutely evil nature is the very thing that they see to justify them, who -- enslaved to the love of life -- can only see the love of life as the epitomy of righteousness. So we see them continuing to ask the same old questions and acknowledging their ignorance:
Where was God?
Why did God allow this evil thing?
Why does evil befall good people?
Having specified patriotism as an example of absolute evil, we can now see why this is so. There are two primary reasons. First, every human being has a parental lineage that establishes membership in a particular subcategory. It is this lineage and the place of birth that establishes participation, or citizenship, in a particular subgrouping, usually a nation. This association, both local (family) and extended (nation) gives Americans, for example, a sense of security in their concerns with threats to life. Furthermore, it is a part of the love of life that human beings learn to love the family, community, and nation that has produced and protected their lives from all threats. Second, therefore, in addition to the lineage, is this association with one's relatives and fellow citizens that produces a bonding between individuals.
Most cultures, including the Western, trace this lineage through the father, the grandfather, the forefathers and on to the founding fathers of the nation. Now, my Websters Collegiate tells me that this word, father, finds its origin in the Latin, pater, and the Greek, pater. Are we surprised to learn that the words, partriot and patriotism, also hail from this same Latin and Greek root? This word, "father" and its forms are thus intimately associated with the concept "patriotism" that is good and admirable to a human being from his relative perspective, but is absolute evil from the perspective of the Father in heaven. Patriotism, which pertains to fatherhood, intimately supports and protects life, the love of which is absolute evil. Therefore we say that both patriotism and the love of life are absolute evils.
III. Why is the Love of Life the Basis of Absolute Evil?
Jesus makes stringent demands on his disciples (from the human point of view), and he expresses as the reason for our compliance that we may be the children of God. We have these utterances,Matthew 5The motive for doing these things -- peacemaking and loving our enemies -- is that the disciples may be the sons, or children, of the "Father who is in heaven." Jesus was speaking for the Father; therefore it is the Father's desire that we should do these things so as to become his children. Jesus also said,
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;Matthew 23These also are words of the Father. It is the Father who commands that his children call no one their father on the earth. but should call "Father" only the "Father who is in heaven."
9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
This is the absolute crux of the matter. We can only have one father, and the "Father who is in heaven" wants to be that one. Therefore, that alone is good absolutely, as God is good, that produces this end result, that the disciples of Jesus become the children of the "Father who is in heaven."
But it is life in this world that is keeping us away from him, and it is our devotion to the life in this world, to the family of this world, the community of this world, and the nation of this world that is keeping us away from him because he has mandated a choice, and has given us the freedom, the experience, and the knowledge to make it.
Therefore, whatever binds us to this world is evil, and the love of life binds us to this world more than any other thing. Next to that comes love of family, community, and nation -- patriotism! All these loves are therefore absolute evil, and "all men" are committed to them, contrary to the will and purpose of the Father who is in heaven. It follows as two follows one that "all men" are evil -- absolutely evil. Now we can understand why Jesus made this emphatic statement;John 15Here is the bottom line. The ultimate purpose of the creator for man, for "all men," is that we become his children in Glory and that we honor him alone as Father. That, alone, is his good purpose for human beings. In so far as we are concerned, that is the only absolute good. Anything that hinders that purpose is an absolute evil. Clearly, all earthly attachments -- family, nation, world, life in this world -- are in this view absolute evils. Everything that enshrines those attachments, most notably the love of life and patriotism, is an absolute evil.
19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
IV. The Answers
1. Where was God?
Simple. God is the "Father who is in heaven." God was in heaven on Septerber 11, always has been, is now and always will be. He is not here in the midst of the evil that is the life-loving world of "all men." That is absolute evil and He hates it as "all men" love it!
If you want to view the most graphic image of the Father's view of the world, carefully study Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son, where we find a father to whom the "far country" was only the realm of the dead:Luke 152. Why did God allow this evil thing?
23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry;
24 for this my son was dead . . .
Simple. God has given men the freedom to make choices, and he will not abrogate that freedom in that it is essential to his purpose, which is that human beings become his children, acknowledging Him as their only father. He therefore does not interfere with whatever evil deeds men choose to pursue. He stays in His heaven.
3. Why does evil befall good people?
Simple again! The question is misconceived. There are no good people. Don't you remember what Jesus said?No one is good but God alone.
V. Other Conclusions
1. God does not interfere to prevent disasters.Matthew 5This is perhaps the most powerful anti-discrimination statement ever made. The Father's divine laws of nature that came into existence with the creation are inviolable. Neither good nor evil are factors.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.John 9Both the disciples of Jesus (9:2) and "the Jews" (9:34) believed that the man was born blind because of some sin, either that of the man or his parents. But no. Regardless of the circumstances that occur at birth or in any other situation, God does not interfere either to bless or curse. There was some physiological reason the man was born blind. God does not discriminate, not even on the basis of gross immorality, either to correct a condition or to cause it apart from the normal operation of the divine laws of nature. But Jesus, who intended to heal the man by a miracle (in this special case he did interfere), gave a reason for it:
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.
33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
34 They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.2. God does not punish by means of disasters.Luke 13Disaster happen, either by human design like the 9/11 disasters and the destructive acts of war in Afghanistan or for other causes arising out of the normal operation of the divine laws of nature. The moral state of the victims is irrelevant. Always.
1 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingle with their sacrifices.
2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?
3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo'am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
The threat to the Jews, unless you repent you will all likewise perish, does not imply that God would enter into the situation and destroy the city because they were so evil. Jesus simply foresaw that, if they kept on their rebellious course, the Romans would take care of it. He was not threatening divine retribution.
Luke 13:4 above is again as follows:Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo'am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?We can make that verse very relevant to the current events by paraphrasing it as follows:Or those three thousand upon whom the twin towers in Manhattan fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in New York?The answer is, again, I tell you, No. But we cannot threaten New York with similar destruction if they do not repent, as Jesus threatened Jerusalem, for we do not have the foresight to see that terrorists or anyone else will soon succeed in destroying the entire city.
3. God does not open the gates of heaven to people simply because they were victims of disaster.
Some have sought to give solace to the survivors of the 9/11 disasters by assuring them that their loved ones went straight to heaven. One writer even portrays the vision of a multitude of angels hovering over the towers and escorting the souls of the dead directly to Paradise. But Jesus offered no exceptions to the Great Principle.He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.The only question is, when they died, were they loving life and trying to save it?Absolutist views have never been widely popular, particularly when they attempt to define good and evil, as generally they do. There is good reason for this, and people of good sense have done well to avoid taking absolutist views seriously. A primary and valid objection is that absolutists have sought to impose their rigid definitions of right and wrong on others so as to sway the world to their way of thinking, with results that have been disasters in themselves. We think immediately of such promoters as Muhammad and Marx, and their recent incarnations in Osama Bin Lauden and Pol Pot. Not just the World Trade Center but the whole planet is littered with the remains of human beings who became the victims of absolutist ideologies. Absolutism gets bad press for very good reasons, for it is most often associated with despotism and insanity.
Good judgment dictates that one avoid those ideologies that paint the world in black and white. Everyone is wise who constantly seasons growing convictions with a daily dose of ambiguity. Wisdom is wedded to the gray areas, for these produce a body politic that nurtures tolerance and praises compromise. Gray areas are the essence of democracy.
Jesus of Nazareth is the sole exception -- the benevolent absolutist who enshrines love for the enemy rather than hate, who seeks absolutely no impositions on the world but only to enlighten the world and rescue from it every human being who can hear him. Other absolutists bedeck themselves with gold and precious stones and sit enthroned above their fellow men as their supreme rulers.
Jesus is different. He crowned himself with thorns and enthroned himself on a cross. He spent one of his last hours washing the dirty feet of other men. He died praying for and blessing his enemies, crying out words that we must never forget:Luke 23Yes, Jesus is different. He is the Truth, absolutely. So, I make my plea to you in his holy and precious name: Suspend your good judgment for an even better one. Abrogate your worldly wisdom for that which is wisdom indeed. Take up your cross and follow him. Join his little flock and hear him. Only then will you understand what is good and what is evil, and you will be blessed! You will be free!
34 Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.John 8
31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
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