Through the Fires of This World or, Evil Persists, but Shall not Prevail


IMG_0966For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by Romans 8. I would go so far as to say that it is possibly one of my most favorite passages in the Bible. Yet, as much as I have read it, it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that Romans 8 serves as Paul’s theodicy (and really the only explicit passage in the New Testament that tackles the problem of evil; though I could argue that the entire Bible actually serves as a theodicy). The entire passage is about how though we must suffer through this world and how creation itself groans in anticipation for its own redemption, there is a better future. Paul does what many Christian thinkers have been unwilling to do, namely admit that evil exists, it is a problem, and there is no greater good to it.

We exist in a world that is filled with the absurdity of evil. A married couple can be split apart by their own selfishness in just a few years, or ripped apart by life itself after decades together. A man can go to work, spend his time there, work hard to save up money, come home an empty shell to his family, and repeat this process every single day, becoming nothing more than a husk with a title. We live in a world where the more we progress in technology and wealth, the more we regress into isolation from each other. A child in a distant land can starve to death, die of a disease, or be brutally murdered by a group of young boys who have been deluded and drugged into committing war crimes for a maniacal warlord. The evil listed here hardly touches the surface of what the world faces on a daily basis.

Romans 8 is beautiful because Paul doesn’t attempt to deny the ugliness of this world. This is part of what is so beautiful about the Bible, is that as a Holy Book it is also very earthy and acknowledges this world for what it is. Every major Biblical character – with exception to Christ – has his or her flaws on display. Ironically enough, many critics of the Bible point to these flaws and say, “See? Even your great heroes of the faith sinned and the Bible celebrates it!” The point of their sin is missed, showing that everyone commits evil, even the greatest in the faith. Of course, Christians do themselves no favors when we attempt to downplay the evil of this world or say that for every act of evil there is an equal or greater good to counteract it. The simple, brutal, and depressing truth is that sometimes evil happens and nothing counteracts it, sometimes the light goes out and darkness rules.

The Bible presents a different approach of evil, one that simply treats the world as evil and every act of good as Divine intervention. That is, every instance of healing in this world, every instance of good, every moment of happiness is a miracle. These positive aspects are droplets of water to the parched souls who wander through this mortal desert in search of the imperishable and boundless oasis of life. These rays of light penetrate the darkness of our cells and give hope to life beyond this dungeon.

In the closing passage of Romans 8, Paul offers the following benediction:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is such a beautiful answer to the problem of evil. We shall suffer evil, but it shall not overcome us, for even when we die, even when evil has seemingly held the last laugh, we are lifted into the arms of a loving Christ who has already descended to Hades and robbed it of it keys and power. Not even death, with its illusion of finality, can overcome the love of Christ.

If Romans 8 is my favorite passage or chapter in the Bible, then Matthew 11:28-30 are possibly my favorite verses. Christ famously states:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Life is labor, life is burdensome. The biological reality of this world is that from the moment we are conceived we begin the process of dying. From the very moment we come into existence a clock begins to tick that counts down to the days of our death. From a spiritual and psychological reality, we are all alone. No one can truly understand us, even in our most intimate moments. Ultimately, we all die alone, even if surrounded by others, for none of them can ever know what we are experiencing. Yet, here is Christ telling us that in the darkness of this life, He serves as the light toward whom we walk.

We all must travail the fires of this world, but there is hope of a soothing balm in the end. We will all walk upon the cold and dark path, only to come upon a warm and bright fire. We will all hunger and thirst, physically or spiritually, but we must seek the feast of eternity, where hunger and thirst do not exist. Nietzsche’s nihilism cannot grasp the depth of Christianity, for our answer to the argument of evil is found in nothingness and silence. The answer is found in the nothingness of the tomb, where the only sound heard is the weeping from devils over their defeat. Yes, we live in a world full of evil, we live in a world where evil persists; but this is a world that is not void of God’s love.

In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter that the Gates of Hell (evil) shall not prevail against the truth of Christ being the Messiah. A simple question can change how we view this passage. Typically, this passage means that no matter how much evil attacks us, we will prevail against it. Yet, this is not what Christ is saying. After all, how do gates prevail on the offense? Gates are purely defensive, they do not march, they do not increase territory, they do not prevail in conquest. Rather, gates prevail in defense, they prevail against invasion, and we are told that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel. That the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel means that the Gospel is not on the defense, but is on a march against evil. Love will always prevail, it will always conquer and vanquish death, it is only a matter of time.

Love is on the march whenever we display this love to those who are trapped behind the gates of evil. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, when we allow Christ to fill us and we become Christ to a world in desperate need for a Divine Lover, we have loosened the gates every so slightly.

Some view the admission of evil as proof that God does not exist, but Christians ought not be ashamed of admitting that evil exists, evil of the most gratuitous sort; Christians can admit to gratuitous – albeit finite – evil because we can quickly point to the lavishly inexhaustible love of God.

 

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