AGAIN. It happened again. At 5:42 pm on Tuesday April 30, 2019 on the last day of classes before finals at the University of North Carolina - Charlotte, a student opened fire on his classmates. He killed two people. Shot four other people - critically injuring three of them. Students fled and hid. An entire campus was on lockdown for hours in shock and terror. Evil.
All of this just down the road from my home. Near where I work. My son and his fiancé graduated from UNCC. My son's friend was actually in the building when the shooting occurred. Some of my friend's kids and grandkids were on campus at the time of the shooting.
My heart is so sad over more lives lost, more families shattered, people experiencing fear. Stupid and senseless. Evil.
The evil seems to be growing. It seems to be closing in. We cannot escape it.
I began working on this post yesterday morning. Little did I know it would hit so close to home the same day.
A group of us women are taking an online theology class. The professor gave a lecture on Evil in the World and Monday night we met to discuss it. His lecture was mostly walking through the book of Job. The women found the lecture to be very interesting. Evil touches us all. It is intensely personal for all humans.
To prepare to facilitate the discussion I re-read Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright (affiliate link). Tuesday morning after our discussion on evil I had sent them excerpts from the book.
We mentioned the Holocaust and 9/11. We mentioned the recent events like school shootings, the shootings at the New Zealand mosque (3/14/19) and the Pittsburgh (10/27/18) and California (4/27/19) synagogues, the bombings at the Sri Lanka churches and hotels (4/21/19),...
Like everyone else we ask Why?
I'd like to say we came up with some profound answer to the Why? We didn't. Just as Job didn't either.
"Somehow, strangely (and to us sometimes even annoyingly), the Creator God will not simply abolish evil from His world. The question that swirls around these discussions is, Why not? We are not given an answer; we are instead informed in no uncertain terms that God will contain evil, that He will restrain it, that He will prevent it from doing its worst, and that He will even on occasion use the malice of human beings to further His own strange purposes."
[Wright, N.T. (2006). Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, p. 55]
Evil seems to be growing. Hemming us in. Smothering us. I find the concept that God is containing it, restraining it, and preventing it from doing its worst to be comforting, but in a way very terrifying. How much worse could it be? It seems horrific now. I am reminded of the first theology class I took and the seminary professor when talking about the End Times that "Things won't get better. (Matthew 24) The Bible says things will get worse. Things are going to continually deteriorate." And they are. And the deterioration seems to be exponential.
We cannot escape evil. We cannot answer why it happens. How do we live with it? What hope do we have?
Here is where I found the ideas put forth in Evil and the Justice of God to be worth pondering.
N.T. Wright says we must recognize evil and call it for what it is. EVIL. That seems obvious, but yet we sugar-coat it. We ignore it if it doesn't hit us directly. We are surprised by it when it does. Our reactions are immature. We say the person was mentally unstable or look what that nation did to the other nation or we somehow try to find a reason for the evil, to justify it in some way. There is no justification.
If the problem of evil could be solved with technology, education, and scientific development; then the world would be evolving into a better place. That is not the case. The world is evolving into a more evil place.
So where does that leave us? What hope do we have? And that is what our women's group focused on in the end of our discussion.
Our hope is in Christ. Look, I don't say that tritely. He is our only hope.
Christians are well aware that our eternity is sealed. We will be judged righteous because we are covered by the blood of Jesus. We are reconciled to God through Jesus and the evil we have committed is forgiven. We look forward to when we will be with Christ in heaven - a physical place with a resurrected physical body, where there is no more sorrow or tears or evil. That assurance greatly comforts us through the many tears in our lives.
We are also assured that God will judge and He will judge justly. No one will escape the final judgment. We know there is a great battle going on between good and evil and that in the end, our good God will be triumphant over evil.
But getting through the current evil event or the next evil event isn't what our calling here on earth is about. We aren't supposed to just get through it. We aren't supposed to just wait it out. We are to join God. We are to be on His side. We are to put on our battle gear and fight evil.
I get you are skeptical on this one. You think how can I have any real effect against the evil in the world? Think BIG people! We don't serve some puny god; one who has no real power to affect change. We serve an almighty, all-powerful, sovereign God!
We by ourselves don't have any real power. But God does have the power we need and He will use us. He calls us to be part of the battle.
God put you exactly where you are right now to influence those you come into contact with. You have no idea how God is using you to impact others, but He is. God is actively at work in this world. We just have to live as Christians - to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
About now you are thinking I am being way too philosophical. I'm not. The Christian walk is purposeful, proactive, life-changing, practical, and useful. How you live your life matters. It matters in the eternal scheme of things. It matters in combatting evil in this world.
When we encounter evil, we turn to God. We seek Him for comfort. We let Him use us to comfort others. We hold their hand. We pray for them. We don't try to explain why the evil happened to them. We don't have those kind of answers. We are just there for them, ministering to them.
We pray. Oh how we pray. There is power in prayer. Extreme power. Unimaginable power. God hears our prayers. He acts on our prayers. Pray. Be persistent. Be bold. Ask for what seems impossible. We love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:43-47) Talk about a revolutionary way to change the balance!
We live our lives as Christians are supposed to live their lives. We love on others. We put their needs above our own. We humble ourselves. We control our anger. We repent of any prejudice or hate within us. We call evil out, but we do not retaliate or seek revenge. We do not fight evil with evil. We forgive. We offer the olive branch of peace. We seek reconciliation. We serve others. We help the poor and the heartbroken and the suffering. We give of ourselves expecting nothing in return. We give others grace and mercy. We become active in our world to fight injustice. We refuse to hate. We choose to love.
We see others as Jesus sees them. They matter. Their lives matter. We are realistic about the evil in the world and are quick and purposeful to fight it. But we fight evil the way Jesus taught us to fight it.
We do the right thing. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We seek the Spirit's guidance in our interaction with others. We hold onto our faith and we show the world the hope within us.
And with each godly choice and action we make to live for a better world, something changes. Evil is thwarted in that instance.
Now read The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5. Truly read it. Take it to heart. Live it out.
What does God do about evil? He sent His Son to redeem us. And then the Redeemed join in the battle against evil.
God has not left us ill-equipped. He has given us His arsenal. Christians don't go into combat like others. Jesus gave us a radical new way to fight evil. It is through love and peace and forgiveness. To the evil world those seem like a weak offensive. But we know the greatest of these is love.
"God's justice is not simply a blind dispensing of rewards for the virtuous and punishments for the wicked, though plenty of those are to be found on the way. God's justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the Creator God who has yet to complete His original plan for creation and whose justice is designed not simply to restore balance to a world out of kilter but to bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that He made in the first place. And He remains impeccably determined to complete this project through His image-bearing human creatures..."
[Wright, N.T. (2006). Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, p. 64]
People, we have a purpose. We have a mission that He summoned us for.
We are to fight evil with love.