What comes to mind when you read that Jesus followers believe in a God who is Almighty, who is so powerful that He created the universe?
Do you think, “What about all the evil in the world?” J.I.Packer writes, “[D]oes not the existence of evil-moral badness, useless pain, and waste of good-suggest that God the Father is not almgihty after all – for surely he would remove these things if he could?” (Packer, I Want to be a Christian Tydale 1981, 38)
The first part of the answer is that God created humans with the ability to choose.
And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ (Genesis 2:16).
With the freedom to choose came the consequences of those choices. Life is not a video game, where all harm happens on the screen to virtual characters. The choices we make impact others. We have the capacity to hurt others. Can you think of times when you did that? Was it God’s fault that the choices you made hurt someone else, or were you responsible?
There’s a remarkable story in Luke about self-inflicted harm.
As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days wll come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They wll dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:41-44).
Had the people made Jesus their leader, they could have avoided the devastation that would come upon the city in the Roman assault of 70 A.D. Jesus wept as He looked into the future and saw the carnage, but He left them to the consequences of their choice to rebel against Rome rather than follow Jesus, who reached out to both Jewish people and Romans in love.
The second part of the answer is Packer’s own answer to his question about God and evil above; namely, wouldn’t an Almgihty God remove evil if He could?
Yes, he would, and he is doing so! Through Christ, bad folk like you and me are already being made good:…[Romans 8:18; cf. 19-23]. If Godmoves more slowly than we wish in clearing evil out of his world and introducing the new order that, we may be sure, is in order to widen his gracious purpose and include in it more victims of the world’s evil than otherwise he could have done. (Study 2 Peter 3:3-10, especially verse 8ff.) (Packer 38-39)
In other words, God is active in removing evil from the world by changing Jesus followers from the inside, through the power of the Holy Spirit. As they change, they relate with God’s love to hurting people around them.
In the passage Packer cites, Peter writes,
The Lord is not slow in keepng his promise, as some understand slowness.Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God is not shutting down the world, broken as it is, because He is being patient with those who hurt others – and that, according to Peter, means that Jesus followers have an assignment. They are called to relate also to those who are hurting others, because God loves those people too. He wants to transform them into Jesus followers and to love other people through them, thus pushing back against a wave of hurt and hate with a wave of Jesus’ healing and love.
In a world where people are free to ignore God’s commands and hurt others, God doesn’t stop people from hurting one another, but He calls Jesus followers to be agents of healing and love. Where you live, can you see some of that in action? Are there hospitals that were started by Jesus followers? How about services for the homeless? How about internatinal relief organizations operated by churches?
Whether or not Francis of Assisi wrote the prayer attributed to him, that prayer says it well.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Jesus followers believe in an Almighty God. He uses love to overpower hatred and evil, one person at a time. One person at a time, transformed from the inside out by the power of God’s own Spirit.