Surprised by evil and death
Australians don’t tend to be great philosophers. We live in such a beautiful, productive, wealthy country, we can afford to push the bigger, deeper issues of life to one side, and just live for the moment. Were happy to pay off the mortgage, go on holidays when we can, and watch Netflix when we can’t.
But from time to time, evil and death poke their ugly heads into our lives in a really challenging way that we can’t avoid. It might be the funeral of a loved one, or some really confronting news footage. For me, one of those moments was hearing the news about the murder of Anita Cobby. It happened decades ago, but I still remember it. I remember being absolutely appalled at the sheer brutality of what four men did to a young woman. I remember being so angry that I wanted to see the perpetrators executed. I was suddenly, unexpectedly, confronted by the reality of evil. And with the reality that evil brings death.
The spiritual origins of evil and death
We think we can address evil and violence with psychology, education, charity or economics. But the Bible has a very clear analysis of evil and death. They can’t be solved with psychology, education, economics or charity, because they do not have their origins in the physical world. They are the consequences of a deeper issue – a spiritual one. Like the proverbial iceberg, we see what lies above the waterline and not below. We see the visible effects, but fail to see the spiritual causes.
The cause of our problems lies in one broken relationship – with God our creator. When he created us, he intended us to love him, and find shelter in his love for us. He intended us to honour him and acknowledge his goodness. He intended for us to rule and care for his world, as his regents, his representatives.
But we turned our backs on God to follow his arch-enemy, the devil. We jumped ship and joined the pirates. We declared independence only to find ourselves living in captivity to the Satan, the great liar.
This is what the deceptively simple story of Adam and Eve means (Genesis 3). It is the story of our spiritual history. And in this, it is an account of how we ended up in a world of evil and death. Our ancestors made a decision to abandon God our creator. That decision has consequences for us, here, now, today. And we affirm that decision daily, in our personal acts of rebellion against God.
God warned Adam that if Adam turned away from God, he would die (Genesis 2:17). The serpent directly contradicted God’s word – “No! You will not die” (Genesis 3:4, Christian Standard Bible). But he lied. From the moment we turned our backs on God we were spiritually dead, because we were separated from God, who is the source of life and joy and everything good. Genesis 3 depicts this in Adam and Eve being thrown out from Eden, God’s garden, which is the place of life and joy and everything good.
To be cut off from God is spiritual death! This is the missing ingredient in the world’s analysis of our problems. Our relationship with God is broken. But we are blind to the problem. We see only the results: evil, and death. Evil spreads from this broken relationship with God because to turn away from God is deeply wrong! It is an insult to our good creator! So, having turned away from him, it’s no surprise that we do wrong to each other, insult each other, and hurt each other. And, from this spiritual death, flows physical death, and eventually eternal death – being judged by God and separated from his life for ever, which the Bible calls ‘hell’.
Jesus solves the problem of our rebellion and spiritual death
You might reasonably think that this rebellion against God is the greatest problem humanity faces. But I beg to differ. Because that problem has been solved!
God himself solved this problem by sending his one and only Son into the world. Jesus is God’s way back to God. His death is God’s way of forgiving evil people for rebelling against him and reconciling them to himself – making them his friends, his subjects, even his children. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s way of giving these forgiven, reconciled, former rebels, eternal life with God. Even better: with Jesus’ resurrection, the Father gave him the keys to life and death, the keys to heaven and hell. So now our judge is none other than Jesus – the same Jesus who loves us and gave his life for us.
But it takes a miracle to repent – to trust and follow Jesus
Well – no, not quite! The problem is – it would take a miracle for anyone to believe all this!
That is our greatest problem. We are unable, in our own strength, through our own, unaided wills, to accept the salvation that God offers. We rejected God in the first place. We will not now, of ourselves, take up with Jesus. We are too far gone.
I know someone who is 92 years old. I’ve known him for 40 years. He knows I’m about Jesus. He has heard the message of Jesus. But, at 92, he says, “don’t try to talk with me about that. I’ll just have to take my chances. The die is cast!”
God can put out his hand of reconciliation. But what would make us take hold of it? This is what we’ll look at in my second post.