Dr. Ingrid Faro has sparked some great discussion here at Pilgrim’s Road Trip with her recent posts exploring the character of God in light of the evil that seems to be flourishing all around us. I am grateful for her carefully-crafted thoughts on this topic, as well as the great questions asked by many commenters who’ve weighed in on her previous two posts. (Click here to read Part 1; click here to read Part 2.)
These posts are by no means an exhaustive exploration of the subject, but both Dr. Faro and I hope that these words may provoke further reflection and prayer.
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Is God A Mafia Boss Or Is God Good? (Part 3)
by Dr. Ingrid Faro
‘’Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.’’[i]
A current hit song by Matthew West called ‘’Do Something’’ summarizes this final post in the series. The lyrics of this song begin with him looking at all the suffering in the world and asking, ‘’God, why don’t you do something!’’
The response is, ‘’I did. I created you…’’
I would like to provide the biblical foundation for why I appreciate this song deeply and theologically. The Bible gives us a call to action beginning in Genesis 1: The Principle of Authority and Responsibility.
In Part I of this series we explored the Principle of Action-Consequence beginning through the image of a seed. Part II looked at the Principle of Mercy and Grace, beginning with the image of humanity as dust infused with divine life. In Part III, we are focusing on the Principle of Authority and Responsibility, beginning with the image of humanity created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28; 5:1-2, and 9:5-7).
Genesis records that humanity was created in God’s own image, for the purpose of ruling with God as His co-regent. We can gain an understanding into what this would have meant to the ancient Israelites through archaeology. From Egypt through Mesopotamia, statues of kings and governors have been found at the entrance of their cities or lands, often with inscriptions that read along this line, ‘’Wherever you see the statue of this king, or this governor, the laws of this ruler must be respected and upheld by all. The way you treat this image is the way you treat the ruler of this land. Anyone defacing this image will be defaced. Anyone destroying this image will be destroyed!’’ In Biblical terms, in light of the prohibition against carved images … We are that image of God. We are that representative of God Himself, of His kingdom, and His ways. God gave us the authority and made us responsible for how things go in this world. That was His design. Blaming Him does not alleviate us from that God-given charge. Nor does saying, ‘Well, I didn’t ask for that!’ The responsibility to make choices and the power to carry them out is part of what makes us both human and made in the image of God.
Our ‘image of God,’ as cited in Gen 1:26-28, was not lost after the ‘Fall.’ The image of God remains, as shown by Gen 5:1-2, and 9:6. To strike another human is to strike at God. On this basis, all wrongs done to others, God takes personally. God holds us accountable to Himself for the way we treat His creation.
But God also knew that we humans would fail. That we would not represent God well, or use our power rightly. He knew that we would need someone to show us how to do this! Someone to help us carry out God’s plan. God knew that we would make a royal mess of things, a mess so huge, that only God in His own Person and Power could solve for us. Even before humanity’s first big mess, God knew that His provision for us would be Himself.Since God gave responsibility and authority to humanity over the world, the only way He could restore the world would be through a human. But no human on their own could do it. It had to be the Divine Human, the Perfect One, a Sinless One. It had to be God Himself clothed in human flesh. This One would not only show us God the Father Himself in person, but He would take upon Himself the entire mess that we had made. He would bear upon Himself, in His own flesh, every wound that we had ever struck against God by harming His creation. Every wound we afflicted against ourselves and one another, He would take upon Himself. God Himself, coming in the person of Jesus, would absorb the entire fall-out of cruel humanity into His own body, and even take upon Himself the death penalty that each of us deserves for our crimes against God and one another. By taking all the wickedness and sin of the world into Himself, God absolved us. He Himself is the provision for our new start. For as many as receive this incomprehensible grace, each becomes a new humanity, forgiven, wiped clean, with a clear conscience before our Maker. God Himself then begins the process of restoring His image in each of us. He becomes alive inside each one who receives Him, through the Holy Spirit. Spirit dwelling in our new spirit, empowering us. Breathing life freshly within us. Peace with God is restored. Peace with one another is made possible. The image of God can take shape within each of our lives. We can take up our charge to be stewards and co-heirs with Jesus in this world, establishing justice and righteousness, being agents of mercy and grace, restoring lives, homes, communities, and cultures towards wholeness.
Our identity as the “image of God” provides us with the understanding that the reason there is evil in the world and that evil persists, is largely because we have abdicate our God-appointed responsibility and God-given authority within this world to bring about and maintain goodness, order, harmony and justice that God intended in the beginning, and has made possible once again through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We each have a role to play in response to the prayer, ‘’Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, here on earth as You have willed in heaven. Let me be your agent to bring about Your will here, where you have placed me and given me responsibility. I might not be able to change someone else’s neighborhood, but I will work to change the one where I live. And then I’ll work on the next one!’’
Anything we believe about God, ourselves, or others that leads us to be lethargic or passive against evil, perpetuates evil.
If we believe that absolutely everything that happens, including the most vile event, is God’s will, thinking we are powerless to change anything that happens, we become passive, and submit to evil as if it were God.If we believe that all life came about randomly without purpose, so that we are not expected to rise above primate behaviors of self-survival and conquest, looking out only for our own best interests, we consuming others and feed evil. If we believe that what we should tolerate the rights of others to act in any way they freely choose, as long as it doesn’t directly affect us, acting as if everything is acceptable, but denying the rights of those who uphold moral boundaries, we end up condoning evil as if it were not evil.
The three principles I’ve described in this series of blog posts are not the only agents behind why there is evil in this world. Hopefully, they can keep us from simply throwing up our hands and giving up when evil strikes. Hopefully also, they can provide a framework to view suffering, help us to take a stand against evil in the realm where we can, and move us toward God for solutions and restoration in this broken world that has a Savior.
[i] John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address, University of St. Andrews, 1867.