Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21.1-6)
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15.58)
Yesterday I posted some reflections on the Boston bombings. Today an old friend called and told me I had missed the bigger picture, that while I said we Christians are called to be Jesus’ light and beacons of hope in his dark and fallen world, I hadn’t explicitly said why we should do and be this. What is the basis of our hope? What was the basis for what I had said?
And you know what? My friend is absolutely right (much as I hate to admit it). There were a lot of assumptions on my part as well as a lot of questions we all have in the wake of the Boston bombings and I will attempt to address some of them briefly here.
The most obvious question on our minds is why does God allow evil like this to operate in his world? The short answer is that nobody knows for sure (and beware of those who claim otherwise). Scripture is remarkably reticent in explaining why a good and gracious God allows evil to exist as it currently does. Genesis 3.1-24 tells us that when humans sinned, it opened the door for evil to operate freely in God’s world and much of what we experience is the result of God’s curse on that sin and the evil it unleashed. Simply put, we live in a fallen world that was created good but which has become ruined to a large degree by sin and the evil that was allowed to enter as a result. Having said this, we are still reminded that Scripture does not tell us why God allows evil to operate.
But Scripture does tell us what God is doing about the problem of evil, sin, and death. God called a people Israel through Abraham to be his agents of healing and redemption to his hurting and broken world. This is what the story of the OT is about and it explains the often stormy relationship between God and his called-out (that’s what holy means) people because Israel was as much a part of the problem as it was the solution. It is important for us to remember that God is eternal and despite his call to Israel and its subsequent failure to be his holy people who would bring healing to his world, none of this caught God by surprise. There is no Plan B in God’s plan to rescue humans from evil, sin, and death. God is in charge and God knows what he is doing.
That is why God entered our history as the man Jesus and on the cross defeated evil (cf. Colossians 2.13-15, which Paul wrote from prison, no less). But if God defeated evil and the powers and principalities on the cross, why is evil still in our world? Again, our answer must be that we do not know. Instead, what we do know is that God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so, ushered in his promised new creation that will come in full when Jesus returns and which we read about in the passage from Revelation above. So we are living in the period of time in which God has acted decisively to defeat evil and the time when his victory will be fully consummated when Jesus reappears to finish God’s plan to heal and rescue his creation and creatures from evil, sin, and death.
As we read the gracious words above from Revelation, we are reminded that when the new creation comes (and notice that the New Jerusalem comes down to earth, we don’t go up to heaven), evil and evildoers will be banished forever and God will wipe away all our tears, implying that our hurts will be fully healed so that we won’t feel the need to ask all the questions that currently vex us about evil and how God operates in his world to respond to it. Our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and will be equipped to live in the new creation. Whatever that looks like, because God is good beyond our comprehension, we can be sure that the new creation will likewise be good beyond our ability to comprehend it now. You can read about our promised resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15.35-57.
And here I must emphasize that the hope of new creation, God’s rescue plan to deal with the problem of evil, is more than wishful thinking. It is based on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the NT’s consistent promise that when God consummates his victory over evil, sin, and death that was won by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we will be with our Lord and be just like him in his risen glory.
Not only that, but in a few weeks we will be celebrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven (God’s space that is currently invisible to our human eyes but which is not very far from us, much like an adjoining room that is veiled by a curtain) where he sits at God’s right hand. This is all NT code that reminds us Jesus is Lord, not the powers and principalities and the evil they unleash. If Jesus is Lord, evil’s day cannot and will not last forever.
All this is why we Christians should have real hope, even in the face of unspeakable evil that was unleashed on us yesterday in Boston (and elsewhere in this world). But while our hope is based on historical knowledge, it also requires faith on our part, an informed faith, that says to evil and evildoers, “You may win some of the battles now but we worship a God who raised Jesus from the dead (and will raise us as well) and who calls into existence things that are not. Death is vanquished, and Jesus is Lord. That is why you must lose the war you wage now and your destruction is assured.”
That is also why our response as Christians must be ones of prayer, fasting, and compassionate outreach to those who are hurting in the midst of evil. We don’t have the answer as to why God allows evil to operate in his world, but we know the mind, character, and power of God (cf. Ephesians 1.15-23) and we see how God has responded to defeat evil on the cross. We can therefore imitate God’s love for us and his world by embodying Jesus’ love and compassion and offering it to his broken and hurting world and its people. All this will engender hope because this is how God operates primarily in his world.
God didn’t send in the tanks to defeat evil nor did God use shock and awe. God sent his own son, who was the very embodiment of God himself, to suffer and die on a cross, to bear the entire weight of the world’s sin and evil himself so as to defeat evil decisively. And God raised Jesus from the dead to demonstrate to the world that the cross is no symbol of defeat and weakness. It is a symbol of God’s love and power (cf. 1 Corinthians 1.18-30) and it is a powerful reminder that God is not indifferent to evil and suffering nor has God checked out on us. This is the basis for Christian hope and why Christians must always be people of hope.
For those who demand answers, none of this will likely be satisfactory. But we must meet God on his terms, not ours. The fact is, we are simply not capable of plumbing the depths of God’s knowledge, wisdom, and plans and I suspect that God doesn’t explain to us why he currently allows evil to operate in his world because we would be incapable of understanding God’s answer or reasoning behind it. This will surely offend some but it is not unlike why parents don’t explain why they operate the way they do to their 1 year old baby. The latter simply cannot understand adult reasoning. Part of our faithful response to the enigma of evil must therefore be humility, but an informed humility.
But if we focus on the why questions and ignore what God has revealed to us about what he has done and is doing about the problem of evil, we will lose hope and surely be defeated by evil. That is why we must keep in mind the prize that awaits us in the new creation. God will not be mocked and has acted decisively to defeat evil, sin, and death. If we believe this, really believe this, we will have hope and act accordingly by embodying Jesus’ love and compassion to his broken world and its people, thereby becoming his light and resurrection people to the world.
As Paul reminds us in the passage above from 1 Corinthians 15.58, because we are resurrection people, we know our labor and hope in the Lord’s name is not in vain because Jesus is risen and evil and death have been conquered, which as we have seen requires a living faith on our part. But because we also have God’s promised Spirit who lives in and through us, we have confidence that we can be imitators of Jesus, albeit imperfectly, and therefore be his light to the world, bringing hope, healing, and Good News to others, even in the midst of murderous evil.
Jesus is risen. Evil and death are conquered. This is the challenge of the Christian faith in response to the evil that wants to destroy us. Is this your faith?