The question of evil has had a large impact in my Old Testament class and given me much to think about. Then, this weekend I got a “picture” of how to begin to put it together.
We have a dog, okay, we have two dogs actually. Mandy is a mix between a standard poodle and a rottweiler. She’s eight years old and we’ve had her for almost seven years. She loves her family, including her “little brother” Granger, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who will be two in August. Like all “siblings” Mandy and Granger play and fuss and love each other and can’t stand each other from time to time. But no matter how irritated Mandy can get with Granger, she is protective of him and of his things.
We learned this first hand this weekend when we were “babysitting” a friend’s dog. They all got along fine unless Mandy thought she or Granger or their territory and belongings were being threatened or appropriated by our guest. Transitions were also a bit difficult, strangely just like kids.
I happened to wind up in the middle of a fuss over belongings during a transitional time.
I had just come home after a long day helping out at my church’s garage sale. I was tired and not as attentive as I should have been. The dogs were all excited about my return home. David, Brianna and I were at the dining room table sorting through various items and the day’s mail. Granger and our guest were on one side of me and Mandy came into the room and noticed that our guest was playing with one of Granger’s toys. She, being the bossy big sister, decided the toy needed to be retrieved and our guest needed to be told off just as I stepped toward the table to pick up the mail. Her teeth and my leg collided and take a guess which one came out the worse for the collision!
Actually we all did. David and Brianna, of course, came immediately to my aid, with Mandy being the object of great wrath and defensiveness. Mandy was scolded and isolated in another room. The other dogs were ignored. We were all sent into a heightened state of response – adrenaline rushing and tears leaking out despite efforts to stem them. It hurt.
So, are you wondering what this has to do with the question of evil? Here goes…
God, the Creator, is, well, just that… creative. Just look around you, night or day, and you can see His handiwork all around you – stars, moon, planets, mountains, trees, flowers, waterways, insects, animals, and people – of all shapes, sorts, and preferences.
God loves. He loves completely, unconditionally, and steadfastly. Love requires choice, free will, otherwise it is nothing more than captivity and bondage. We know of, through His Word, two initial acts of refusing to living in God’s love and the long-lasting consequences of the ensuing rebellion that came from those refusals. The first was Lucifer – God’s first worship leader among the angelic hosts of heaven, so to speak. When Lucifer chose to rebel and challenge God’s authority and love, he took one-third of the heavenly host with him. Mutiny. He was cast down out of heaven, and some believe, allowed to reign over the earth, perhaps creating the chaos described in Genesis 1.
But God’s heart is for redemption, it is the thing for which His love longs after! And the plan of God was implemented. Enter a new creative act on earth, and we are introduced to God’s redemptive plan… human beings. But they, too, must be given choice, the freedom to willingly respond to or reject the love of God. Adam and Eve chose to listen to the rebellious, twisted voice of the beautiful serpent, the voice of Lucifer’s rebellion against God’s love and grace.
Instead of standing with God and for God’s character, they succumbed to the distortion and lies of the enemy. The continual choice for rebellion and against love leads to evil – the continual erosion of love and grace and forgiveness and hope and faith and goodness, till there’s nothing left to demonstrate the nature of God through the being of the created one. In our case, the ones created in the very image of God – to be His image-bearers to a world dark and wild with chaos. As a result, we humans are constantly faced with the need to choose between light and darkness, between good and evil, between God’s redemption that brings about the ever-increasing love of goodness (God-likeness) and Satan’s rebellion that brings about the ever-increasing lust of evil (God-unlikeness).
And even so, God’s heart is for redemption.
Are you wondering how the dogs and the bite are a picture of all this? It’s all about the nature of us all. Mandy was simply following her nature – to protect what she thought was threatened and that was her realm of responsibility. She did not trust that her “people” had things under control and were committed to her well-being and to supplying her needs. So she got protective and vocal and I took the brunt of it.
Mandy is not evil. I know that she loves me and would never intentionally harm me. She does lack training and discipline and the ability to understand her need to trust and be patient. She wants what she wants and has a strong will that resists listening and obeying. As she reacted from the nature within her, harm was done. (Yes, I know she is a dog, and the analogy is not perfect, but it works for me. It works to help me process my thoughts with this picture.)
People are not evil. They are reacting from the nature within them. Some folks have endured a great deal of harm and have not had the means or the will to understand they must always, in every circumstance, choose between good and evil. Before Cain murdered his brother Abel, after his offering was rejected by God, God warned him, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” He had to choose between good and evil. It would take an effort for him to rule over sin, and allow God’s goodness to fill him and change him.
Cain made his choice and sin’s desire grew into an evil act. And yet, God offered him grace.
Many today choose sin’s grip and the bondage it twines around them. They know little or nothing of the love of God, of the freedom of forgiveness, or the redemption of God’s Presence. And so evil abounds. People are not evil, we are created in the image of God. But as we choose sin, evil comes as a by-product. And so does harm and pain and death.
Redemption. Reconciliation. Restoration. Yes, all the way to Resurrection. But the road to Resurrection always goes through death. The Word of God, Jesus, is the One whose death offers us the way of the resurrected life of God in us and through us. Every day, every moment, we must choose between good and evil, life and death. And the only way to life is through death, death to sin, death to our own way, death to the bondage that comes as we turn away from God to follow the twisted lies of the enemy and his host of followers.
The way of Jesus and redemption brings death to vengeance and hatred and retribution. It leads to forgiveness and intercession and restoration. His life is the only true freedom and the only lasting healing.
We live out of our nature. We choose which nature reigns. Righteousness or sin. Good or evil.
We can see eternity from here; but the day is coming when eternity will be now.