Wonderful to worship and sing together these great truths. And I said to some of you the other day, the reason we keep singing these old hymns is because nobody’s writing anything better, and that’s why they last.
Now I have been assigned the responsibility of the problem of evil, a small subject to deal with here, but I think one that we can enjoy examining in the Scripture. One of the favorites, if not the favorite justification for those who reject the God of the Bible is the issue of evil in the world, because skeptics and theological liberals cannot accept the God revealed in Scripture; and the reason they ask: “How can the God portrayed in the Bible as good and holy and loving allow evil; and not just evil, but massive evil in the world; and not just massive evil in the world, but dominant evil in the world?” Or it’s framed in another way: “How can God be loving and tolerate or allow all of the results and effects of evil which inflict people with so much pain and so much suffering?”
The issue could be stated in kind of a syllogism little logical flow like this: “The biblical God is loving, the biblical God is good, the biblical God is holy, the biblical God is all-knowing, the biblical God is all-powerful, yet evil exists in the world; therefore, the biblical God does not exist.” That sums it up. So theological liberalism needs to rescue the true God from the bad caricature in the Bible. So we have to deny what the Bible says about God and come up with a truer understanding of God who is basically assembled by the component parts that make up our own system of personal ethics.
In fact, I think most skeptics and theological liberals, everybody from the people in the theological elite who write their assaults on the biblical God to my friend Larry King who struggles with the issue of how a Christian God is revealed, and the Bible could allow such evil, and everybody in-between, really believe that this is the dilemma that backs Christians into an impossible position. There are many who see this as fourth and forty on the ten-yard line, and the only option we have is really to punt. And I think there are many people within the supposedly evangelical world who agree with that, who think that we’ve only got one option and that’s to punt, and so they want to snap back Deuteronomy 29:29 which says, “The secret things belong to the Lord,” and just kick that as far into the enemy territory as we can, hoping to buy a little time and gain a little ground.
Is that the best we can do? Is that really where we are, pressed against our own theological end zone, with nothing to do but punt Deuteronomy 29:29 as far down as we can? If we know the divine playbook, isn’t there some perfect play that we can pull off? Isn’t there a 90-yard touchdown that not only scores but wins the game?
I think there is. I think in dealing with the problem of evil we don’t need to just find a temporary escape. We don’t need to just hope we can get into field goal range. I think we’ve got a big play. I think we’ve got a big play that scores, and it scores clearly, and it guarantees victory. I think the answer to why God allows evil in the world is in the Bible, and we can know it, and we can thoroughly embrace it, and we can enjoy it.
And it’s not one of the inadequate short answers like, “Well, God’s not responsible for evil, Adam and Eve are.” That is a very short-sided answer, because it only poses the question as to why God allowed Adam and Eve to be able to make that choice: “Knowing they would, why did He create them with the ability to do that? And then why in the world did He put a talking snake in the garden, which did not create itself?”
So somebody says, “Well, God’s not responsible, and Adam and Eve aren’t responsible. Lucifer is responsible, which only poses the question as to why God who created the angels with the capacity to rebel and fall did so when He knew would, and that Lucifer would become Satan?” – which gets us back to where we need to be, to the realization that sin started in heaven. And so there we find the short answers really don’t fly.
We find our way back to God no matter how we answer the question. If we think it through, we find it all the way back in the lap of God who created the angels that fell, who created the humans that fell and catapulted the whole of humanity into its fallen condition, suffering all of the pains, both temporal and eternal that sin produces. You have to build your answer on God. And that is why we call the discussion theodicy. This is the theological term that refers to the discussion of the problem of evil, theodicy from two Greek words theós (god) diké – all of the word group around justice, justification – righteousness is the diké word group. It simply means “a defense of God’s righteousness in the face of the presence of evil.”
Now what I want to give you is a little bit of a logical flow. I want to create a little different pattern of logic, okay, so I’m going to give you just a few points to think about. Number One – and we’re going to deal with what we know to be true – evil exists, evil exists: patently obvious, axiomatic, self-evident, unless you are one of those Grape-Nuts Christian science people who follows the teaching of Mary Baker Eddy Patterson Glover Fry who said all evil is an illusion, apparently including infidelity and divorce. Most people would affirm that evil is an incontrovertible fact. Playing metaphysical games is pretty silly since evil dominates our world and our culture.
Now let me break evil out a little bit for you, okay. First of all there’s natural evil: impersonal, external, physical, temporal, diseases, disasters, catastrophes from tiny bacteria to tsunamis and everything in-between, from viruses to volcanos. The whole natural world is blighted incessantly by bad things. We live at the mercy of a fallen creation. We live at the mercy of physical corruption, which is evident to us in the very aging process. That is natural evil, and you understand that, I don’t need to paint the picture any broader than that.
Secondly would be moral evil. Natural evil is impersonal, outside of us. Moral evil is personal, inside of us, internal, spiritual. It is wickedness, sin, and transgression. This dominates the life of humanity. “No one is good, not one. All the thoughts of the human heart are only evil continually. There is in the human heart an unceasing lust that continually conceives sin, and then gives birth to it, and then produces death,” – James 1.
Society then is dominated by external evil and internal evil. It is dominated by external corruption and internal corruption. It impacts every person. It impacts every relationship in every dimension. All of our relationships, whether they are marital relationships, the tightest intimacy, family relationships, and everything that extends beyond that, have the potential of difficulty, challenge, disappointment, heartbreak, wounding, injuring – all of those things that come, because it is a collision of immoral people. It is a collision of the corrupt. That’s why marriages malfunction, families malfunction, friendships malfunction. That’s why we have wars and rumors of wars and crimes, et cetera, et cetera.
Now that would be enough evil to engulf us, but there is even further evil. Let’s call it supernatural evil. This is demonic. It was our Lord who said to the Jewish leaders in John 8, “You are of your father, the devil.”
This is a supernatural expression of evil “against which we wrestle not flesh and blood” – Ephesians 6 – “but principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies.” And these vile spirit beings, fallen angels, are as old as creation. They have been alive since their creation, which I’m convinced was at the time when God created everything else. They are unmitigatedly wicked. They are skilled in their wickedness. They have plied their supernatural evil on every generation since the creation.
They have a delegated sovereignty in this world system on a temporary basis, but on a formidable basis as well. They use their powers to seduce. They use their powers to deceive. They create a kind of cosmos which assaults the corruption that is already in us so that it is exacerbated fiercely. Evil exists everywhere on a natural level, and everywhere on a supernatural level all the time without rest.
There is a fourth category of evil that must be acknowledged and that is eternal evil, eternal evil. Sometimes we talk about the fact that God may have brought evil into existence so that He could destroy it. That may be true to a point, but not completely so, since eternal evil will exist in eternal hell. Hell is where God is not. Hell is where righteousness is not, where holiness is not; therefore it is where evil is, and evil is forever there, because those who occupy hell will be punished and tormented forever.
And I go back to what I said; evil is a massive reality, massive. It is the dominant reality of human life, externally and internally; corruption dominates. So we start with the obvious; evil exists, we admit it. It is massive. It is dominant. It is uncontrollable; it is systemic. It is outside us; it is inside us. You cannot go anywhere in this universe without the affects of evil being manifest.
Let’s move to the next factor in our reasoning. Factor Number Two: God exists, God exists. That is to say the God of the Bible. He is the true and only living God. There is no other God but the God of the Bible. We demonstrated one way to see that when we said in the earlier session that whoever created the universe will know how it operates; and we know the Creator is the God of the Bible, because the Bible understands reality perfectly.
The God of the Bible is the true and only living God, and He is the God that Scripture says He is, because Scripture is His own self-disclosure. He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is good, He is loving, He is holy. He is sovereign and controls absolutely everything. There is nothing that exists or occurs or ever will that is not in His control.
Let me give testimony to that from Scripture, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Thine. Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all. Thou reignest over all, and in Thine hand is power and might; and in Thine hand it is to make great, to give strength unto all. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine.” All is obviously inclusive.
Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Daniel 4:35, “He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What are You doing?’”
Scripture clearly affirms the sovereignty of God. It is absolute, it is infinite, and it is irresistible. He has the right to govern the universe that He has made, and He does so. His right is the right of the potter over the clay. He may mold that clay into whatever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump whatever it is that He desires to fashion. He is under no rule. He is under no law outside of Himself. He has no influences that come to Him externally. He is a law unto Himself, under no obligation to give an account to anyone.
In Deuteronomy 32:39 it says, “See now that I, I am He. There is no god besides Me. It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” Or in the language we heard read by R. C. last night, Exodus 4:11, “The Lord said to him,” – that is to Moses – ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord’” It is the Lord who makes the blind and the mute and the deaf.
Psalm 105:16 says that “God called for a famine upon the land.” Second King 17:25, “They did not fear the Lord, therefore the Lord sent lions which killed some of them.” You can tell that God is not distancing Himself from calamity.
Lamentations 3:37 and 38, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both and evil come forth?” And by the way, it was God Himself who drowned the entire human race made up of millions of people, and saved only eight – Noah and his family. And God takes full responsibility for that act.
This is a problem for liberal theologians and assorted other so called evangelicals who desperately need to rescue the true God from this bizarre biblical caricature. But God is actually quite content to make it clear that He is in fact unhesitatingly sovereign over everything that exists, including evil, which He is glad to state without a hint of reluctance. He is not asking to be rescued from His biblical caricature. He is not asking to be delivered from bad press fallen upon Him by inept biblical writers, and even more inept interpreters of Scripture. He is very content to speak for Himself in unmistakable terms. He is glad to announce, in the words of Paul writing to Timothy, that He is the only potentate – I love that word. He’s the only potentate, the one with power, potent.
In Revelation 4:11, worship given to God goes like this: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they were created.” And in Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made all things for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
God created everything that He created of His own free choice, and He designed them the way He designed them, because that’s the way He wanted them, knowing full well that angels would rebel, and so would men. God created angels and people, and planets and stars, the sky and earth, and mountains and seas, and deserts and plains, and lakes and streams, and sun – and you go on, and on, and on, and on, in every kind of form and fashion, because that’s exactly the way He wanted it done. Second Samuel 10:12 says, “The Lord does what seems to Him or what is known to Him to be good, to be good.”
In Job 23:13 says, “But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, even that He does.” God is not conflicted. God is not duplicitous. God is not wringing His hands trying to figure out whether He should go this way or that way.
Psalm 33:9-11, “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord brings the counsel of the heathen to nothing; makes the devices of the people of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” He is equivocating, He is fixed and unchanging. “The Lord” – says Psalm 103:19 – “has prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all.”
Isaiah 14:27, “The Lord of hosts has purposed, and who would annul it?” First Samuel 2:6-8, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low, and lifts up. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He set the world on them. From the beginning He laid the foundations the way He wanted them to be to affect exactly what has happened.” Amos says it pretty directly. Amos 3:6, “If there is a calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?”
This is the God of the Bible. This is the only God who exists, the God who is in control of absolutely everything, and evil is no disruption in His plan; no shock and surprise which somehow call for Plan B. He knows everything that can be known, that is to be known, that is knowable, and He has known it eternally, and He has comprehensive power to do anything and everything He desires to do; and that is the God who exists. So evil exists manifestly so; God exists manifestly so. The great Creator of the universe is the only explanation for the universe.
So the third step in our thought-flow is this: God wills evil to exist. God wills evil to exist, there is no other possible conclusion.
In Isaiah 45, let me read a section, starting in verse 5: “I am the Lord, there is no other; besides Me there is no god. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.”
Verse 9: “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘To what are you giving birth?’” You cannot say to your father, “Why did you choose to do this without asking me?” or to your mother. That’s the logical and impossible, equally so to question God.
Needs to be a reminder here, Psalm 5:4, “For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; and no evil dwells with You.” Evil exists, God exists, the God of the Bible exists who is absolutely sovereign over everything, therefore God wills evil to exist without being evil. He is light, and in Him is no – what – darkness at all. God wills evil to exist.
Now at this point panic strikes the heart of an Arminian. He becomes short of breath; his eyes roll back. There are accelerated heart rates and palpitations. His palms become sweaty, because like the theological liberal, he’s got to rescue God from this horrible caricature.
Do you know why there is Arminianism? Do you know why there is an unbiblical system of theology? Same reason there’s liberalism. It’s another rescue operation to try to deliver God from the bad press He gets from the Bible.
Now they don’t deny – Arminians don’t deny God’s power, they don’t deny His knowledge, they don’t deny His love, they don’t deny His holiness, they don’t deny His goodness. They don’t deny that He should be glorified for saving sinners. But the panic attack hits them, because they can’t let God be held responsible for evil. It isn’t that they don’t like God getting the glory for saving people, they just don’t want God to have the responsibility for not saving people, and want to rescue God from the worst fate, being responsible for natural evil, moral evil, supernatural evil, and eternal evil.
So how do they do it? So how do they make this rescue attempt? Well, you have to reinvent God, right? You’ve got to reinvent God, so you become a revisionist interpreter of Scripture, and you’ve got to come up with a new god who’s off the hook.
Many Arminians believe God has limited power. They say He is good and loving and holy, and He knows all about this, but He just doesn’t have the power to do anything about it as far as preventing it; or He was unwilling to use that power. Either He doesn’t have the power, or He chose not to use the power, because there was something more important than using power to stop evil, and that was to give to sinners autonomy – complete freedom. That is a nobler gift for the reason that it saves Him from criticism. God had to give the sinner complete freedom to make his own choice in order to save Himself from criticism. So Arminianism is a rescue operation to try to deliver God from the bad press He’s gotten from people who want to make Him responsible for sending people to hell, which is the end, of course, of all evil. But then there are other Arminians in that category – Pelagians, whatever you want to call them, sort of semi-Pelagian. They’re all in the same boat really.
Panic also strikes others, and they respond in a different way. They say God has limited knowledge, right? He has limited knowledge. And here we meet those familiar process theologians, that idea simply that God’s in process. He’s getting better as He gets more information. And we laugh at that, but that’s a very erudite, noble elitist theological perspective that God is gradually working Himself into a more acceptable deity as history unfolds. He is a deity in progress, becoming what He is not yet, but will be, as history shapes Him; and He is getting better. Here we also meet the openness theology people; and mark it, the only reason for openness theology, he only has one basic motivation and that is to get God off the hook for being responsible for evil.
So what do the openness people say? They don’t deny God’s power, they don’t deny His holiness, they don’t deny His love, they don’t deny His goodness, they deny His knowledge. And openness theology says God doesn’t know the future, it’s wide open. He can’t know it because it hasn’t happened; that’s what they say. So they have created a new god. They have created a new god, a god without omniscience. And they say He can’t know what isn’t knowable, because it hasn’t happened. So God goes through reacting, and He’s good at it; He really makes the best of it. But everything is a response to what He sees and experiences coming to Him from human choices.
And, again, this gets God off the hook. He either doesn’t have the power to stop evil, or chose not to for a greater good human freedom; or He doesn’t know it’s coming the way it’s coming. In fact, whoa; one day when Adam and Eve sinned, God was surprised. But, you know, when He created it, He look at His creation and said everything was very good.
Well, so much for positive thinking. Didn’t work for God; probably won’t work for you either. God was up there in heaven thinking the best thoughts about Adam and Eve, walking and talking with them in the cool of the day. Whoops. And then you beg the question, “What in the world the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world if the cross is an afterthought post fall?”
Since God is not able to know what hasn’t happened, He’s had to adjust to the presence of evil, and works through this Plan B – you get the picture, right? And in any case, can we sum it up? These are people who lack a God-centered, God-focused, God-dominated, God-exalting view of the way things are. They sit in their man-centered perch, and they need to be sure that God doesn’t violate any of their sensibilities. So God creates man in His own image, and they return the favor.
It can’t be true, and we’re not talking about people outside “Christian thought,” we’re talking about inside. It is true that they say God can’t have full knowledge and full power; He cannot be responsible.
They’re with Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote the book When Bad Thing Happen to Good People. A pretty big mistake in the title; there are no good people. But anyway, even he knew God was the Issue. Even a Jew knew God was the issue, and he came up with the idea that God doesn’t have the ability to prevent it, He doesn’t have the ability to eliminate it, He lacks the knowledge and/or the power.
And, again, these are answers that come from people who lack a fixed God-centered view of reality, even though they may declare their faith in the God of the Bible; they have to be revisionists and redefine Him. And when you try to be consistent doing that, and go from cover to cover in the Scriptures, it is impossible. You’re going to be walking through a minefield and you’re going to be blown up all over the place, every several steps.
I can just tell you, I’ve been pastoring one church and expositing the Scripture for almost forty years to the same congregation, and they know everything I said last week, so every week is new for me – verse by verse, verse by verse, year after year, decade after decade, and I will tell you this, that the absolute infinite sovereignty of God over everything is one thing that is crystal clear from one end of the Scripture to the other. And if you’re going to try to fix that and change that you have a big job.
So where do we go to solve this? Now we’re talking about theodicies; a way to explain is God just in the presence of evil. Let me give you some categories to think about.
First of all, one answer is metaphysical theodicies – and we’ll do a little philosophy here. That is to say metaphysical thinking about reality, which would be this: good exists, therefore evil exists, because the fact of something posits its opposite necessarily. Evil is inevitable, because good is present; it’s the yin yang kind of idea – whatever it is has its opposite. This is not a new thing; this is Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism. Basically they said two co-eternal, independent realities, good and evil, always present. Not created by God, it’s just there. It is a privation. The idea is that finitude results in evil as a metaphysical reality, not from God, but from persons who rebel against God.
And there is some truth in that; there is a sense in which it is true. A fallen man is inevitably going to be evil, because evil can only exist in rebellion against God; and everybody’s born in rebellion against God. But it leans too much on metaphysical inevitability, and still doesn’t answer the question why. This is not an ultimate answer, because then you have to ask the question, “Did God create this evil and good, these two independent and eternal things? And if He didn’t create them, if they were created by anybody else, who else?”
So then you come to a second category of theodicies, and this is the typical popular theodicy used by most evangelicals, even today. I call it the category of autonomy; and there are a lot of them within these, I’m just giving you just a real light dusting. Autonomists theodicy – this is the category of theodicy that suggests that the cause of evil is the abuse of free will, that the noblest thing that God gave to angels and men was free will. God allowed free will, because it is the highest good. It has to be that way.
One writer that I read said, “God created the world the best way He could, and it had to have the potential of evil, because the best thing that God could give us is independence and autonomy. Free will trumps evil on God’s value scale. God would rather deal with all the issues of evil in order to give people freedom.” That is sometimes articulated this way: “God wants you to love Him just because all on your own you chose to love Him, not because He made you love Him.” Very sentimental approach.
So free will trumps evil on God’s value scale, so God had to allow for the possibility of evil in order to protect the more highly prized autonomy; and He had to protect autonomy to protect Himself from this bad press, being responsible for evil. Humans then must have self-determination, freedom to act. If God acted as the primary cause and humans only as a secondary cause moved by the primary cause, then God being the primary cause is responsible; and people are not free, and therefore God decided and God compelled and God coerced, and God actually overturned human will. Then God is responsible for all the evil and all the divine judgment and the determination of eternal punishment.
This is a God that some people just can’t live with; they’ve got to get Him off the hook. So they reinvent Him and they invent this concept of human autonomy in salvation. But that doesn’t solve anything, because if God knew that given freedom they would reject Him, and He went ahead and created them anyway, or created them with a capacity to do that, knowing where it would go and where it would lead, that in the end there would be few gathered into the kingdom and many lost, then He’s still responsible. It’s another short-sided answer.
Oh, you say, “That’s why we are openness theologians, because we understand that problem, so we say He doesn’t know. That’s the safest ground; he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know who will, who won’t, so He’s free to create with no knowledge of precisely what’s going to happen.” So they’ve redesigned God. You have to understand that this issue of the problem of evil is the big issue, the big one in even evangelical Christianity, as well as liberal Christianity – everybody trying to save God from this biblical definition.
Let’s assume for a minute that God doesn’t have the power or willingly limited the power for a greater good, human freedom; or doesn’t have the knowledge. In any case, guess what; evil exists and God exists, and God has no power over evil, and evil dominates the world, and it is beyond His control. The universe is out of control; it’s out of control and the most crucial point.
So just exactly how, may I ask you, is God all of a sudden going to get the knowledge of the future that He needs to bring this deal to an end, and how is He going to exercise the power to end it, and how is He going to overturn His immutable decision in the past to give the creature autonomy? How is God going to define the end of everything in the way the Bible says He defines it if He’s not even in control of it, because He will not or cannot exercise the power, or doesn’t have the knowledge? Maybe global warming has more power than God.
So I ask you this: Which god would you like? Would you rather have a god trying to get control of evil or a God completely in control of it? It’s obvious. It’s heresy to say the world is full of evil apart from a predetermined plan and purpose by God far beyond the willy-nilly human choices.
So evil exists, God exists, God willed evil to exist. He didn’t create it, He couldn’t. He’s holy, holy, holy. But He didn’t prevent it. It occurred in a rebellion against Him. But He willed and ordained that it occurred.
In fact, if you study the Bible carefully, you can see many ways in which God designs to use evil things – natural evil, moral evil, supernatural evil – for His own purposes, even eternal evil, sometimes to bring fear and terror and conviction on the unregenerate, sometimes to bring chastisement and discipline on God’s people, sometimes to humble them. And in the case of Job, He turned Satan loose for horrendous evil in the life of Job.
You remember that Jesus said to Peter one day, “Satan desires to have you that he may sift you like wheat”? Remember that, Luke 22? And if I’d had been Peter I’d have said, “Well, you told him no, right?” Jesus said, “Actually, I told him yes, have at him.” What? “So that when you’re converted, you can strengthen the brethren.” There’s a remedial purpose in this. “As you come through that difficulty and come out the other side, you’re going to be able to strengthen the brethren.”
It was 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul says, “There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan.” A lot of discussion about what that is. Pretty clear. Messenger is aggelos. A satanic messenger is a what; a demon.
I don’t think Paul had a demon in his life, I think that’s the demon that was leading the false teachers who were ripping and shredding the Corinthian church, and Paul prayed three times that it might be removed, and the Lord didn’t remove it. Why? He says twice in 2 Corinthians 12, “to keep me from exalting myself, to keep me from exalting myself.” If God so designs He will use a demon-led false teacher association to rip up a church to humble the pastor. He’s in control of all of that, of all of it.
Now the question is, “Why did God will it?” And the answer is our last point: God willed it for His own glory. God willed it for His own glory.
Listen to the Westminster Confession: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second-hand causes taken away. Sinfulness proceeds only from the creature and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither can be the author and approver of sin.” And on to say, “And all that God decrees and providentially brings to pass is all to the praise of His glory.” And they got a lot of things right, of course, and they got that exactly right. They got it exactly right. I want to show you.
Now that was introduction; here’s my message. Turn to Romans 3, Romans 3. I just want to touch on some powerful things that Paul says in Romans. This is fourth down winning play, all right. This is a long pass for six and we win. Just going to grab these thoughts without giving you a whole lot of context – you can look it up yourself.
Romans 3:5, “If our unrighteousness demonstrates” – mark that word – “demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” Our unrighteousness, sunistémi, demonstrates, manifests, discloses the righteousness of God. What is Paul after? He has been showing that God is faithful to His promises to Israel, and their sin, and their unbelief can’t alter that faithfulness. And God is righteous, and Israel’s unrighteousness doesn’t cancel God’s righteousness, it only makes God’s righteousness all the more glorious. Against the background of Israel’s unrighteousness God demonstrates His righteousness. “Israel’s departure from the truth” – Paul says – “does no damage to God’s righteousness. It only puts it on display.”
Bottom line: we would never understand the full glory of God’s righteousness were we not so familiar with unrighteousness. It’s a demonstration, that’s how the NAS wonderfully translates that. Romans 5.
Romans 5, verse 8. Here appears that word “demonstrate” again. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The presence of sin allows God to demonstrate His righteousness. The presence of sin allows God to demonstrate His love. How else could He show the character of love that loves enemies and sinners if there were none.
Turn to Romans 9. Romans, chapter 9, verse 22: “What if God,” – here comes the same word in the NAS translating verbs that are synonyms in the Greek. “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath,” – endeiknumi – “to demonstrate His wrath.” He demonstrates His righteousness against the backdrop of sin, showing how utterly holy He is.
And Isaiah got it, didn’t he, in Isaiah 6, when he crumbled in the presence of righteousness. He demonstrates His love at a level of magnanimity, and design, and definition that would have been impossible without sin, in loving sinners enough to send His Son to die. And here He demonstrates His wrath. By the way, the NAS says, “What if God, although willing,” – the verb is actually “determining.” God determined to demonstrate His wrath, to put it on display, a demonstration of His wrath.
Another interesting note: the word “demonstrate” here is Aorist middle. It would be intended in the Greek grammar to be understood this way: God determined to demonstrate for Himself – it’s reflexive – to demonstrate for Himself, for His own glory, for His own satisfaction His wrath. And to make that demonstration and to make a demonstration of the power of that wrath, He has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. If there was no sin, God’s wrath would never be on display. No sin; no display. God is God. God has every right to put Himself everlastingly on display in all the glory of all His attributes.
God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that’s why Paul says He endures sin with patience. He endures those vessels – passive verb, as if God is distancing Himself from their destruction while being fully engaged in it. God endures this horrible assault on His everlasting holiness. He endures the horrifying blaspheming history of fallen beings; He suffers it, the imposition it is on His purity to display His wrath to the fullest extent, to put Himself on everlasting display.
In Jude 4 – just thought of a little footnote that might – I was reading my new book on the truth war and I had a little section on this very issue. Jude 4, listen to this: “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed,” – talking about the false teachers, the heretics, the apostates – “those who were” – listen – “long ago marked out for condemnation.” Wow. Prographó, written before.
The eternal condemnation of these apostates was prewritten before history ever began, because God predetermined that He would ordain the existence of evil without ever being the cause of it for the purpose of putting on display the majesty of His holiness. We wouldn’t know God is as righteous as He is everlastingly and give Him glory for it if it hadn’t been for unrighteousness. We wouldn’t know He’s as loving as He is if it hadn’t been for sin. We wouldn’t know He’s as holy as He is if it weren’t for judgment. How holy is God? So holy that He must send out of His presence everlastingly anyone who is not fit. Revelation makes it clear at the end that those kinds of people are excluded from heaven.
There’s one other component to the display. Go back to verse 23. God also demonstrates not only His wrath, but verse 23, “He demonstrates, or He makes known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.”
As I read you from Jude 4, the apostates, condemnation was prepared beforehand. Here we find that the vessels of mercy were also prepared beforehand. That’s why the Lamb was slain beforehand; God knew all that was going to happen, He ordained it. God willed to make known. He willed to make known His grace, His righteousness, His love, His holiness, and His grace. The God of the Bible is righteous, perfectly good. The God of the Bible is loving, staggering in His love. The God of the Bible is holy, the God of the Bible is gracious, and the God of the Bible does exist. He is the only true God.
Why all of this? I love this, verse 23: “That He might make known the riches of His glory.” And the only ones who will ever know the fullness of the riches of His glory are those who are the vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand for glory. That is, He did all of this in order that He might gather into heaven a redeemed humanity who would forever glorify Him for all that He is. The greatest good is God’s everlasting glory.
And what is our response? Back up in Romans 9, verse 14. What’s our response? “What shall we say then? There’s no injustice with God, is there?” – mé genoitó – “no, no, never!” God is God. God has a right to do what He wills. He defines justice by what He does.
In case you’re wondering about that, just remember, He says to Moses, “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy; I’ll have compassion on whom I have compassion. I can’t display My holiness without judgment. I can’t display My love without mercy and compassion.” Verse 16: “So it doesn’t even depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, it depends on God who has mercy.”
And in case you need an illustration – every good sermon ought to have an illustration – here’s one. The Scripture says to Pharaoh, listen to this: “For this very purpose I raised you up” – here comes our verb again – “to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
You know why God did that whole thing in Egypt; to demonstrate His wrath on His enemies, and to demonstrate His love and grace toward those who trusted Him. And then He fixed the Passover in the calendar of Israel as a constant memorial to that event in which God put His wrath and holiness on display, and put His love and grace on display. And it says here, “For this purpose I raised you up.” Amazing. Just think about the genetic path to get that Pharaoh to that spot for one everlastingly glorious reason, to demonstrate the holiness and the goodness of God.
Verse 19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? Who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” Here we are, back to that Old Testament text. “Does not the potter have a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” This is the answer, folks; this is the answer.
Even the greatest evil in the world – what was the greatest evil in the world, the event that personifies the greatest evil in the world? What was it? The crucifixion. It was ordained by the predetermined counsel of God to achieve for God, through the greatest evil, the greatest glory. That prayer of Jesus in John 17 basically was, “Lord, Father, I want all those that You’ve given Me to come to be where We are, in order that they may see Your glory.”
If you want to add a footnote my time is gone. Read Job 38 through 42; some tough talk from God, tough talk to somebody who might think they can question God. Listen, He will be glorious, He will be all-glorious, and one day – listen to this – one day, every knee will bow and everyone will confess the glory of the Lord.
Al Mohler was telling me the other day that he had a conversation with Jim Boyce, and Boyce said it was his conviction that a reality among the damned is that they will everlastingly know they received exactly what they deserved. And for us who are by God’s sweet grace taken to glory, we were ordained before the world began, along with everything else, including the presence of evil, to be that redeemed humanity who will forever and ever and ever see the wounds of the slain Lamb, and glorify God in ways we never could if we had not seen such a display of righteousness, and love, and holiness, and grace, as we have seen in His glorious redemption.
Father, we thank You for the wonder of the Word, how its truth is unleashed to us, and it brings our hearts rest. This is satisfying that it all resolves in the one in whom it must resolve. We thank You, O God, that in the unfathomable mystery of Your sovereign will, You have chosen us; we are stunned by it. We cannot get over it. We cannot stop the joy. It overwhelms us to think of what You’ve called us to. We thank You that You’ve put Yourself on display for Your sake; and until we get to glory and can worship You perfectly, O God, may we worship You here to the best of our sanctified abilities with all our powers in the energy of the Spirit as a God who saves sinners. Thank You for that salvation, in Your Son’s name. Amen.
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