“Christianity is the only religion whose God bears the scars of evil.” -Os Guinness
This post is the compilation of thoughts that I have been chewing on for the past year or so which now have come together into what I hope is a cohesive and coherent message. It is good news. In fact, I think what I have concluded again and again and again–is the Gospel. It all began with the problem of evil. As some of my previous posts demonstrate, this has been a topic of particular interest to me over the past few years. It is funny, in a way, that this “problem” has driven me, not from God, but towards Him and into a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the Gospel. It is ironic that what the world intended for evil, God meant for good. Pun intended.
Like a good philosopher, I began with the problem posed. I then considered the two possible conclusions: God or no God. First, I examined the latter and quickly found that given the problem of evil itself, this could, by no means, be the logical conclusion. It reduces to absurdity. For if there was no God, there would be no so called “problem.” Evil would be a relative and meaningless concept. The problem itself was its own demise. And so, I found that I could with great rational peace deny that conclusion.
And that, of course, left the only other option: God. I think I would be both an irresponsible philosopher and an irresponsible Christian if I merely accepted this conclusion without considering its implications, especially in light of the problem of evil. Yes, I found that belief in God was more rational, but rationality really only gets you so far in life. What does this conclusion, this God with a capital “G” mean for our lives? What does it mean for both our joys and our sufferings? As Christians, it is not enough to merely answer negatively to the problem of evil. We must also answer positively. We must give an account, a humble account of course limited by our finite understanding, of how a good God can truly be compatible with the present evil and suffering.
I have attempted to do this, and as I have turned to scripture and thought and pondered, the final answer I’ve arrived at is that God allows evil because it brings Him glory. On this point, He is emphatic and unapologetic. It is a simple, straightforward statement, but it is not a simple, straightforward answer. It is packed with meaning and complexity. Of course, we say it all the time. God does whatever will bring Him the most glory and He is justified in doing so because He’s God and all the glory is His due. But as I related this to the problem of evil, this became a hard pill for me to swallow. I sensed some tension. Can a God truly be called good when He brings Himself glory at the cost of such suffering? Could He not have been glorified in some other way?
Indeed, the ways of God often seem incredibly strange to our human hearts. It is tempting to simply wave the white flag, to begrudgingly surrender God the right to His glory. Okay, God You win. You’re God, so You get to do whatever You want. But to do this would be to miss a great truth, a precious gem of understanding. Scripture doesn’t say that we give up and surrender to the glory of God. No, it says that “werejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2 God’s glory is not something we begrudgingly submit ourselves to. It is not merely okay, it is wonderful and liberating for it is at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Gospel, the good news for the sinner’s heart and this fallen world.
God is unabashed about His love for His own glory. Throughout scripture, He adamantly declares “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.” Isaiah 42:8 Everything He does, He does for His name’s sake. Why is this good news? Why should we rejoice to have a God that is so in love with Himself? It is because God’s quest for His own glory is at the center of the Gospel. It is the ceaseless fountain of our salvation and hope, the bedrock of our faith in Him. For consider the nature of God’s glory. When has He been most glorified? Surely, it was in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross is the place where God’s glory is most clearly revealed. What I have also begun to grasp is that the cross is the single most evil act in history. The crucifixion of the holy and spotless Lamb at the hands of wicked and filthy sinners epitomizes the evil of man as well as the glory of God. What a strange pairing…
Essentially, God is justified in allowing evil and suffering for His glory because the nature of His glory, shown at the cross, is so amazingly selfless and sacrificial. Accusations of heartlessness and cruelty simply cannotbe maintained when one truly understands the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the glory of God. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 At the cross, we witness the heart of God and we are dumbfounded, first by the evil wrought by our own hands, second, by the fact that He would take that evil, “the iniquity of us all” Isaiah 53:6 upon Himself. And then, subsequently we are blown away by His glory. Somehow, in a mysterious and wonderful way, this strange combination of our all-surpassing wickedness and His all-surpassing love becomes an incomprehensibly beautiful story…
So I do not pretend to understand the mysteries of God, precisely why the world had to be just this way, why He could not have been just as glorified in another way. But I can understand very clearly the sacrificial love of Christ on the Cross. I can grasp Isaiah 53. And I find that that is enough. With this understanding, the Gospel becomes more powerful and awesome in both its cosmic scope and personal meaning. God’s commitment to His glory rings out in all the earth, speaking of hope to all Creation and it also whispers quietly to the sinner’s heart that He will never forsake us or cease in doing good to us because He will bring glory to Himself. This is His great purpose and we can rejoice in that for “the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11
What a wondrous truth. God’s glory is both the input and the output of our salvation and our lives. All creation sings of His glory, for “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; Night after night, they display knowledge” Psalm 19:1-2 and yet, apart from Him, we cannot hear and we cannot see because “our thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21 We stand at the Cross, witnessing the glory of His love displayed, and we are unable to perceive it. We scoff. We jeer. But now, we rejoice for God has opened our eyes and drawn us near. He has “removed from us our hearts of stone and given us hearts of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 For the sake of His name, He has delivered us from the depths of the grave and He Himself has put a new song in our mouths. Where once we stood and spat His name with contempt and condemnation, we now stand and sing His name with reverence and worship. Where once we stood and scorned Him as He gave His life for our sins, we now look upon His sacrifice with tears in our eyes and are moved to repentance. We once mocked His wounds, but now they have become so dear.
Before the Cross, we find that the conductor of the universe is fine tuning our hearts to join in the song of Creation and of the Cross. He is tightening the strings of our hearts that they might move from the dissonance of their godlessness and sinfulness to the harmony of their redemption and righteousness. As he opens our eyes to the hope of His glory, we stand awestruck, not only that we are forgiven, but that we are also laden with the riches of His grace. Our hearts ask in wonder, “What on earth did we do to deserve this?” To this, He responds, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” And that is the wonder of His Gospel. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has sent His glory out to achieve the work of the redemption of sinners and as it does, it also returns to Him in waves of amplified glory on which we ride with joy. And unto God be all the glory, for it is He who opens our eyes to His glory, He who brings us near and forgives for His glory, and He who beckons us onward towards His glory.
“ And so we do “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the holy spirit whom He gave us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:2-8 We rejoice because this is our assurance that God will continue to do good to us, that He will again arise to show us compassion, that he will never leave us nor forsake us. For now that He has taken us from under His wrath and placed under His grace, we are called children of God. We bear His name and we know that He will never see His name dishonored. He will not yield His glory to another. And that, my friends, is Good News.