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By Dr. Gerald McDermott
Special to VirtueOnline
July 23, 2020

At a recent "Theology on Tap" session at a local bar-restaurant, a man asked me, "Why is there so much evil these days?"

For thousands of years Jews and Christians have been asking something very similar--If God is all-powerful and all-good, why does he allow so many evil things to happen?

I told the man and others listening that it might sound simplistic, but Scripture suggests it is because of God's love. Only a good and self-secure and all-loving God would create creatures with the capacity to reject him. And even to hate him.

God chose to make creatures who would not be programmed to praise and thank and love him--for if they were programmed, they would be robots. Then their praise and thanksgiving and obedience would be automatic and not free, therefore not real. And their programmed responses could not possibly be love, because real love must be free.

But of course, when God created angels and humans who were free, he took a risk--that these creatures would abuse their freedom. They might rebel against him and go their own way in pride and selfishness.

God was loving enough to take that risk. And his creatures did rebel and reject him and go their own way. And rather than let them all go to hell--which is the black pit of selfishness and pride and anger and bitterness forever full of those who hate God--he sent his Son to rescue those who were willing to be rescued. Willingness takes humility and repentance and cross-bearing. A remnant all through history has been willing. Most have not.

In the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43) the disciples are asking a similar question, "Why is there evil?"

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a man sowing good wheat in his field. While he and his field hands were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and slipped away.

Jesus says that when the wheat came up after a few weeks, so did the weeds. So, the servants of the master of the house asked him, "Didn't you sow good seeds in your field? Why are there weeds coming up?"

In other words, why is there evil in the world? Why is there such resistance to the true message of Jesus?

The master of the house told his servants, "An enemy has done this."

In other words, Jesus is telling his disciples, "It is not God who is responsible for evil, either in the world or in the church. The devil has a role."

Not the only role, but a significant role.

Jesus and the early church talked a lot about the devil. Jesus told us to pray every day in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from the evil one."

Back in the garden, God prophesied to the devil and Eve that the messiah will ultimately crush the head of the devil, but in the meantime the devil will always be nipping at the heel of her offspring, the followers of the messiah (Gen 3:16).

The master's servants asked if they shouldn't go and pull out all the weeds, to destroy them. "No," the master said, "If you do that, you'll damage the good wheat."

In ancient Israel, the wheat could be taken out much easier than the weeds. Jesus is saying, "Don't try to destroy all the evildoers, especially those in the church, lest you do even greater evil." This was the mistake of the medieval Church that used violence to torture and kill heretics.

But at the same time, the New Testament teaches church leaders to attack heresy in the church by teaching. And to confront false teachers and those living in open serious sin, and if they refuse to stop, to excommunicate them. That is, to say to them, "The church is for those who want to follow Jesus and repent when they don't. So if you refuse to repent of a serious sin that brings scandal to the church, or teach heresies, you must leave as long as you are not willing to repent."

But this was not quite enough for the early church. Christians asked, "But will God ever stop the evil out in the world that is persecuting and killing Jesus followers? Will he ever punish those evildoers?"

Jesus promises that God will. At harvest time, he says, the master will tell the reapers to gather the weeds and burn them.

Jesus was promising the early church--and is promising us--that God is just and will punish all evil at the Final Judgment. "Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:40-42).

Did you notice the particular way that Jesus put it? "The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all the causes of sin and [lit.] workers of lawlessness." Some of those to be punished will come right from the midst of his own kingdom--the Church!

Some of the weeds that are growing alongside the wheat, then, are in the church. The problem of evil is not just outside the church but also inside the church. Paul talked about the same thing. In 2 Tim 3:5 he talks about religion that "has an appearance of godliness but actually denies its power."

There is an old saying, "Wherever God erects a house of prayer, the devil builds a chapel there."

Jesus warned about this in his Sermon on the Mount. He told his disciples to beware of false prophets (Matt 7:15). They were in the early church and they are in the church today.

Who are they? Well, certainly those who teach the great heresies today, such as the one that asserts that gay marriage is just fine in God's eyes as long as there are commitment and fidelity. This is against the doctrine of creation that God made man and woman for marriage.

Then there is the heresy of universalism, that everyone will be saved and there is no eternal hell. This is against the doctrine of redemption from sin, death, and the devil. Jesus says in this very passage that there is a "fiery furnace with weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:42). Jesus is the greatest hellfire and damnation preacher in the Bible. In Mark 9 he says it is better to get rid of a hand, foot or eye that causes us to sin than to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (vv. 42-48).

In Luke 16 he tells the parable about Lazarus and the rich man in hell where the rich man is suffering "in agony in this fire" (v 24).

Notice that Jesus talks in the Wheat and Weeds parable about lawbreakers, literally "those who do lawlessness." A third great heresy today is that as long as you have warm fuzzies in your heart for Jesus and believe in your head that he died for your sins, you can live like the devil. For the law doesn't matter anymore. And after all, it is Jesus' job to forgive. This is the classic heresy of antinomianism.

Today there is a new false teaching taught by false prophets. It is what more than one sociologist of religion is calling the new cult of anti-racism. John McWhorter, the black professor of literature at Columbia University, writes that "antiracism is a profoundly religious movement in everything but terminology."

Now please understand me. All true disciples of Jesus must be anti-racist. Racism is a sin against God and neighbor. It is a sin to look at the color of my neighbor's skin and to make a judgement about his or her character based on something so superficial. The gospel teaches us that there are only two races, the first based on the creation of every man and woman in the image of God and therefore worthy of our love and respect. The second race is the new human race that the Messiah is making through history of all those who have been born again and are asking God to help them to be continually remade into the image of Jesus.

But there is a new religion of wokeness--sociologists are calling it a cult--that has its own version of original sin. It goes like this: there is one skin color that is forever guilty of racism, even for those who have always recognized racism to be wrong and who try to follow the gospel of color-blindness. This original sin can never be cleansed or absolved. This new religion has its own baptismal liturgy in which you confess everything racist associated with your skin color even if you have always detested slavery and Jim Crow. This religion has its own New Birth (being born again) in which you see that all those who possess one skin color are guilty of racism and that all of society is racist and that people of color are always victims and therefore innocent. You are now woke.

This is a radical departure from the gospel of Jesus, where all people, no matter what their skin color, are sinners. The historic Christian doctrine of Original Sin means that we all, no matter what our pigment, have been born into sin. No one is innocent. All need to repent and believe and be baptized to experience the New Birth into Jesus's kingdom where we do not judge others according to the flesh--that is, skin color--and we aim to love and forgive everyone, no matter their skin color or past sins. We deal with sins not by confessing racism you might have always rejected or kneeling before victims, but by being washed in the blood of Jesus and being crucified daily by the cross of Jesus and kneeling before the Jewish messiah of the God of Israel.

The new religion of anti-racism encourages people to practice what Jesus condemned: "Do not judge, lest you too be judged." It imputes bad motives to others based on skin color and good motives to others based on skin color. This is racism by another name. It is sinful judgment.

Why is there so much evil? Because God is good. He permits evil because he is loving enough to let people make up their own minds about him. He even let the angels decide, and so now there is a devil warring with his armies against the Church.

But make no mistake. God will let the devil and his evil angels go only so far. He will punish evil eventually--both the evil in the world and the evil in the church.

In the meantime, we are to trust in him and his love and justice. And we are to resist being seduced by the heresies of our day.

Professor Gerald R. McDermott recently retired from the Chair of Anglican Divinity at Beeson Divinity School

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