There are not many things in the first world that compare to bailing “dirtied” water out of your sons toilet because he has put an entire roll of toilet paper into it and flushed. I would know. After about an hour of plunging I decided that wasn’t going to work, and so I moved on to the ‘Plumber MAXX.’ When that started bubbling almost to the point of unintentional evacuation, I decided that an ice cream bucket ‘bailing’ system was the only remaining option. The bathtub was the first casualty, my appetite for dinner that evening, the second – but I eventually solved the problem.
There are real problems in the world, and my above experience really isn’t one of them. People are sick. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness – these are words that evoke emotion in many if not all of us. Fired, laid off, debt, collections and repo probably have a similar effect. Murder, rape, suicide, racism – miscarriage, abortion – pornography, divorce – there is not space here to list all the things that we humans have done to ourselves. But make no mistake, it is we who have done it.
As a pastor and Bible teacher I am often confronted with what in apologetic circles is called ‘the problem of evil.’ ‘How can an all-loving, all powerful God, allow bad things happen to good people?’ It’s never phrased that way, but that’s what they’re asking. It normally sounds more like, ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘this isn’t fair!’ or ‘why isn’t God answering my prayers?’ Honest questions from hurting people, and honestly I cannot blame them. Life is hard. Pain is real. God sometimes seems distant.
I do not often quote the book of Revelation, it’s not easy to understand, but perhaps when talking about life’s most difficult situations it’s appropriate to use a verse from the Bible’s most difficult book.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)
Jesus is knocking. The choice is ours. Free will is a real and wonderful thing. It keeps us from being robots, it reveals the character of God, it makes love possible. But it also leaves us with a choice – God, or not God. And the results aren’t usually too good.
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
(Romans 3:10-12, 23 ESV)
The ‘problem’ of evil, is us. We are the ones responsible for it. Evil is not something cast on us by an ornery benevolent being. It is not the result of His futility, nor is it a product of His indifference. It is His absence. And we are the ones removing Him. There are many who might disagree with my assessment, but I would only invite them to see the above list of ‘evils’ and try to remove the human element. Sin, the absence of God, is a powerful thing – and one we have too often chosen.
What then, should we do? How then, should we live? The answer is two-fold. First, DO NOT ignore the reality of pain and suffering. It is real and it is not going away. Instead, find someone else who is hurting, perhaps like you have in the past, and hunker down.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:2 ESV)
Second, let us begin to CHOOSE God, instead of ‘not God.’ A simple concept, but a difficult proposition. I think Jackie DeShannon got it right when she wrote;
What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…
And I think John got it even more right when He wrote;
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 ESV)
So whenever possible, and if only to avoid the problems of evil, let us begin to choose God. He has given us that opportunity, an opportunity to solve the world’s biggest problems. And let us not forget to cling to one another as we do so. The water is rising, it threatens to overtake us, and two buckets makes the ‘bailing’ just that much easier.