In our day, it seems one of the most-repeated criticisms of God is that He is unfair and cruel. In what theologians and philosophers call the problem of evil, skeptics tell us that God is not worthy of worship because He does not spread good everywhere nor not stop all pain. God, so we are told, is horrible since He demands the destruction of some societies. Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message that the entire population would be destroyed because of their wickedness. We are told by atheists that God is either asleep, powerless, or evil.
Somehow modern skeptics seem to think that no one has ever thought of this criticism. They imply that ancient people must have been rather uneducated, stupid, and superstitious, accepting the idea of a God that is offensive to the modern ear.
Nothing could be further from the truth, for the ancient man had all the same criticisms as we do today. The questions repeated by modern man were asked of God even in Bible days. David, in Psalm 35, cries out to God asking how long will He merely observe the injustice of David’s enemies without doing something about it (Ps. 35:15-17). In Psalm 79, the writer laments that God allowed the enemies of Israel to come in and kill the people of Israel, leaving the bodies as food for birds. The Psalmist lays some of the cause for this at the feet of God, saying that God was angry at Israel when He should instead be angry at Israel’s godless enemies (Ps. 79:1-6). Several places in the Old Testament have a similar criticism of God. Several times the Bible writers cry out “How long, O Lord?” as if God was silent in the face of evil.
The same question can be found in the New Testament also, and Jesus gives a very interesting answer to the question. In Luke 13:1-9, some people came to Jesus asking about the fate of some Galileans who were murdered by the Roman leader Pilate. It seems that the Pilate who was squirming to wash his hands of Jesus in Matthew 27:24 was the same man who had no hesitation to be a brutal killer of Galileans, destroying some at the same time as a sacrifice. The people in Luke 13:1 apparently had the same criticism as our modern secular intellectuals, presumably suggesting that God ought not have allowed such a thing.
Most interesting is Jesus response. He does not shy away from the problem, and in fact brings up another instance, one where a tower fell and killed eighteen people. Jesus not only does not wince or dodge the issue, but He twice gives a harsh answer: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5) Jesus then tells a parable of a vineyard owner who is ready to cut down a fig tree that does not bear fruit.
Jesus’ response is plain, but harsh to the modern ear. He is saying that not only does God not have to apologize for allowing death and destruction in the world, but that God is justified in allowing, or even causing, the death of all people. How can this be?
The answer lies in God’s holiness and human sinfulness. Modern man, and it seems ancient man also, compares God to our sense of fairness. If we lower God’s standard of goodness, and raise ourselves by not thinking of how evil humans really are, then we can level the playing field enough to think that God is not fair. We think the problem of evil is a problem because we do not understand how truly holy God is, and we do not admit how truly evil we are. Jesus’ answer in Luke 13 tell us that God is fully justified in destroying all mankind due to the evil we have all done. The greatest evil is in laughing in the face of the greatest good, God Himself.
Destroying a kindergartner’s crayon art is a small crime. Destroying the Mona Lisa would be a much greater crime. Sinning against your fellow man is a small sin, while sinning against an infinitely pure and holy God is an infinitely greater crime. Jesus answer is that God is fully justified in destroying us all, and only by His mercy do we get a chance to enjoy heaven for all eternity.
Now I am sure many will disagree with Jesus’ answer. Left to my own sense of value, I would frankly disagree with it myself. Keep in mind that I am not expressing my views here, but merely repeating what Jesus told us when given the same criticism as the modern skeptics and atheists. If it were up to me I would open heaven’s gates to all the people I thought deserved it, then opened the trapdoor to hell to all those who I thought deserved to go there.
So the problem of evil, as presented by all the modern and ancient critics, is not really much of a problem. To really have a true theological conundrum, the skeptic must answer the question of how to reconcile their criticism of God and all those Bible stories they dislike with the existence of a truly holy God. Until you can explain God’s actions in reference to His perfect pure holiness, you do not have much of a criticism.
But the problem gets worse for the skeptic. Recall that their criticism is that the stories in the Bible are unfair and cruel, telling of a God not worthy of worship. They dismiss the Bible with a wave of the skeptical wand, telling us that it is so many made-up human stories. But there’s the rub: if humans were to make up a God, they would not have included in their account the same criticism that the modern skeptic has. Any made-up God would have been a God who was fair, or if not, at least they would not have included the same criticism as modern skeptics, then presented no answer to the problem. It seems absurd of me to invent a God that no one likes, then point out the greatest weakness in my God, and without an answer. As R.C. Sproul has said, if we were to invent a God, we would not invent a holy one.
Such a problem is a mortal wound to the modern skeptic’s criticism of the Bible. It is much more reasonable to conclude that a holy God does indeed exist, He has revealed Himself to us, and we do not like such an idea. As the atheist T-shirt says, better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven…..or so it seems to the natural man. But God, in His infinite mercy, extends a hand of love and forgiveness to us. Remember Jesus words: If we repent, we can enjoy God’s love and forgiveness.
Remember the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9? Jesus’ point was that God gives us another chance, even when we do not deserve it.