Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Many people struggle with the problem of evil. If God is all powerful then he could eliminate evil. If God is all good then He would certainly want to. So then why does the classic Christian position teach us that God is both all powerful and all good, and yet evil continues to exist?
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt. 13:44).
Summary of the Text
I want to work through this short little parable, and summarize it for you. What is the kingdom like? It is like hidden treasure. When a man finds it, he then hides it again, and in his joy he goes and sells everything in order to buy that field. This is a kingdom mystery—it is like the purloined letter in Poe’s mystery. The treasure in this instance is hidden in plain sight. The seller gives it all up, not knowing the value of what he is giving up. The buyer relinquishes everything he has elsewhere in order to obtain that which has value beyond reckoning? Who is the seller here? I take it to be the nation of Israel, not knowing the value of their field, or the treasure in it. Although they did not know the value, their ignorance was culpable. They ought to have known. The buyer abandons all he used to have, gives it up, and comes into his new possession, well knowing the value of what he has. Thus far the point of the parable.
But after that point, I want to step back a few paces and look at the mere fact of the parable.
Gospel Story, the Story of the Gospel, and Story Gospel
“The kingdom of God is like a man who . . .” Time is mysterious, space is mysterious, people are mysterious, and story arcs are mysterious. In order to have a story that is interesting, there must be conflict. Perhaps we should qualify this by saying that in order for story in this world to be interesting, there has to be conflict. Presumably, we won’t be bored in Heaven, and we know that in the resurrection the kind of warfare that we now undergo has ceased. “Her warfare has been accomplished” (Is. 40:2). If the millennial age is one in which the swords are fashioned into plowshares, how much more will this be true of the eternal state (Micah 4:3)?
But in order to keep from becoming bored, there must be a placeholder for that conflict. In our resurrected and glorious condition, there will be no suffering, tears, bloodshed, or anything else like that. But there will be something. We just don’t know what it is yet. My nomination for that post is a little something called difficulty. Maybe God assigned you to the planet Jupiter, and charged you to grow giant turnips, fifty feet across. But all that is just speculation. We know that the resurrection life will be perfect, and that means not boring.
Whether or not the stories themselves grow increasingly gripping, we know that storytelling will finally come into its own. Perhaps the solution to this dilemma is found in the fact that in the resurrection, the glorious things that God accomplished here will finally find a narration that is worthy of the subject.
“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:11–12).
God knows how to stack one choir upon another, and so myriads of angels ascend on the celestial risers. And they sing about the crucifixion, about something that happened here, in this life, in our history.
What is Evil?
If you were making the perfect salad, you would take the garden slug out of it. If you were making the perfect wine, you would make sure to remove the battery acid. If you were decorating the living room perfectly, you would take the greasy engine block off the coffee table. If you were making the perfect flower arrangement, you would not drape a bicycle chain over the vase. But we are in danger of becoming the victim of our analogies.
But if you were telling the perfect story, would you remove the evil from it? Think for a moment. Would it have improved The Lord of the Rings if Tolkien had left out Sauron? Or Saruman? Or the Nazgul? Or Gollum? With the disappearance of each villain or antagonist, is the story getting progressively better? Or worse?
“The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26–28).
God is the good author of the good story. God is the perfect author of the perfect story. God freely and unalterably ordains 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 causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF 3.1).
God is not the author of sin, but He most certainly is the author of a story that has sin in it. This is not a defect in the story, but is rather the glory of it.
The Bloom of Fallen Creation
When the day of resurrection comes, it is not the case that God has mighty angels pick up big erasers in order to wipe out everything that was. The cosmos is not erased. The cosmos is reborn, and what went before is contained within, and glorified by, that resurrected state.
“Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:21–22).
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).