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 Theodicy as Spiritual Warfare

READING:

The Problem of evil:
If God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?
- this is a very big subject – it even has it’s own name: Theodicy
- theologians have tried to answer it for a very long time, so we won’t succeed
- but let’s have a go:

If God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?
Possible answers:
a) God is not good
b) People are not good
c) God is not all-powerful

a) is the answer of most ancient religions.
- gods are capricious and have their own morals and don’t care too much about humans

b) is the answer of most modern religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
- God is holy and man is sinful and far below God.
- no-one is good enough to deserve God’s undivided attention and reward
- some people suffer proportionately to the evil they do, but no-one deserves better

c) Zoroastrians believed this, but they have virtually died out.
- they thought there were two equal and opposite gods, of light and darkness
- there is a constant battle and sometimes one is winning and other times the other
- so sometimes things happen as they should and sometimes they don’t

Many modern theologians have followed a variation of (c)
- ie God limits his power in order to give us free will
- if God was totally in charge of everything, then we couldn’t choose what to do
- so God limits himself enough to make us free though he can step in at any point

This successfully explains why a lot of evil happens – it is due to human sin
- famines, earthquakes, storms, illness etc happen out of human control
- but the suffering caused by them could be avoided if we shared resources fairly
- and some things are worsened by sin, eg AIDS, deforestation causing floods
- but ultimately it doesn’t explain the origin of most bad things
- perhaps bad things are merely inherent dangers due to the nature of the world
- but this doesn’t explain why God doesn’t rescue us from bad things very often
- it is also very difficult to find free-will limiting the power of God in the Bible

Ancient theologians in Bible times had a different answer, now largely neglected
- there is a battle going on between good and evil - God and Satan’s forces
- many times Satan has a small victory, perhaps working together with humans
- and many times God defeats Satan, though many times we don’t notice it
- we are buffeted about by this invisible battle, and we become collateral damage
- so bad things happen, and we may not know why till we see the truth in eternity

This explains apparent randomness of evil and apparent capriciousness of God
- if bad happens we can blame it on Satan (or sometimes on random accidents)
- and whenever we are rescued, we can thank God (or goodness in his creation)

I think this explanation has a lot going for it
- it is a way of approaching the problem which is easy to find in the Bible
- and the one person who takes Satan most seriously in the Bible is Jesus
- he speaks and acts as if Satan and demons are real individuals to battle against
- and he isn’t just doing this to speak the language of Judaism at the time
- few Jews spoke much about Satan and demons, and none as much as Jesus
- so, whether we ultimately accept this or not, we have to take it seriously


Satan in the Old Testament
The OT tells us a great deal about God, but very little about Satan
- actually, one should probably say that it tells us nothing about Satan
- in Job it is arguably better to translate him as “a satan” – ie a heavenly accuser
- and we struggle to find references elsewhere. But let’s try.

In Eden we have the snake, which Rev.12.9 encourages us to regard as Satan
Revelation 12:9  And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
- but before Revelation, we’d have to say that the snake didn’t look very evil
- he only asked rhetorical questions which Eve would have asked Adam anyway
- and if Eve hadn’t got round to it, their children would certainly have asked
- children have that annoying way of asking: Why?  which forces you to think

Only Revelation (12.9 & 20.1) equates the “Devil” and “Satan” in this way
- but it is fairly obvious, because “Devil” (Greek diabolos) normally translates Hebrew satan (meaning “the accuser”)
- however “Satan” occurs very rarely with this kind of meaning:
1) Job 1-2: Satan is allowed to persecute Job and try to make him curse God
2) 1Chr.21:1: Satan incites David to take a census to see how strong he is
3) Zech.3.1-2: Vision of the High Priest with Satan beside him, rebuked by God

1) Job has the most iconic portrayal of Satan, though not in ways we expect
- he meets with the heavenly council, along with God’s angels, and addresses it
- he walks around the earth, but only does bad things with God’s permission
- he disagrees with God, and they appear to have something like a wager
- in other words, he appears to be like an angel, and ultimately under God’s authority, though not very subservient or respectful
2) In 1Chr.21.1 we see Satan in the role of a tempter
“Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel”
- David wanted to know how big his kingdom was, but this was evil pride
- he insisted, and God punished him by sending a plague killing 70,000 men
- David sees this as an angel with drawn sword, and fell down in repentance
- he asked God to kill himself and his family rather than any more Israelites
- the place where the angel stopped became the place for David’s Tabernacle
3) Zech.3 is a vision of the High Priest Joshua at his lowest ebb
- he is wearing filthy rags indicating his sinful state, and Satan beside him
- but God rebukes Satan, and angels dress Joshua in fine clean clothes
- and God says if he keeps the commands, he’ll govern the House of God

We can tentatively derive some information about Satan from these passages:
1) Satan can cause evil in our lives, and we won’t be aware of the cause 
2) Satan incites us to do wrong, but we still bear responsibility for doing it
3) Satan can be resisted by the rebuke of God, or in God’s name

Spiritual Warfare in the Old Testament
The OT doesn’t have the same model of evil as we find in the NT
- the NT world has God+angels on one side and Satan+demons on the other
- it is somewhat more complex, with different types of angels and demons
- but basically, it is two sides with varying forces, and God is the clear winner
- but in the OT, there is hardly any mention of any evil forces

Even the Hebrew word Satan occurs much more in the NT than OT
- we saw the OT Hebrew word satan occurs in 3 passages as a personal being
- even though the word is Hebrew, satan occurs as a person in 31 NT passages
- as well as many other references to him with different names
- why such a contrast?
- I think it is because the main message of the OT is the one-ness of God
- almost every part of the revelation is combating the worship of other gods
- so the primacy of God is emphasised, and mention of evil forces are minimised

In the books of Moses we have hints about goat gods in the Wilderness
- Lev.17.7 mention the goat demons (Hebrew “goat”, sa’ir is sim. to Greek satyr)
- on the Day of Atonement one goat is “for the Lord” and one “for Azazel”
- later some branches of Judaism identified Asael as a chief fallen angel

In the books of history, we have various contests with other gods
- Dagon’s statue falls and breaks before the Ark of the Covenant
- Elijah defeats Baal at his own game of sending lightning

Isaiah describes a series of court scenes where the gods are put on trial
- they are found to be merely wood & stone, and not real entities at all
- but the premise is that some thought them real and worth battling against

All these are, of course, non-examples, of gods which are shown to be unreal
- in one strange story we come across “a lying spirit” who instruct false prophets
- in 1Kings 22 Jehoshaphat & Ahab asked various prophets about a battle
- they all said: “You’ll win”, except Micaiah who told a strange story:
1 Kings 22:19-23  I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.  20 And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?' One suggested this, and another that.  21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.'  22 "  'By what means?' the LORD asked. "  'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,' he said. "  'You will succeed in enticing him,' said the LORD. 'Go and do it.'”

This, like other examples in the OT, shows evil spirits as seen subservient to God
- it is probably misleading to ask: “How can God decide to use evil in this way?”
- the point is that the OT has to show that God is the only God in heaven
- because it is addressing a population who regard all gods as roughly equal
- so the consistent picture is that of God ruling everyone, even his enemies
- this isn’t exactly false, because God is in ultimate control, but it is misleading
- at least, it is misleading if we ask: How do evil spirits work, in practice?
- but that isn’t the question we should be asking, because it doesn’t glorify God
- we should be asking: Who’s in charge up there and down here? Answer: God.

But still, we are human and we want to know what’s really going on
- when all the metaphors and theological emphases are put to one side
- what are the unvarnished facts about how things work in the invisible world
- well, we aren’t going to be told in straight-forward language, but there’s a clue

Daniel 10 tells us about a 3-week period when he prayed and fasted
- he isn’t praying about an illness, or a battle. He just wants to understand
- God already gave him lots of hints about the future but he wants to know more
- so he prays and fasts and waits for a revelation which an angel eventually brings
- you can read the many details in Dan.10-12 but those aren’t the interesting bit
- much more interesting is the angel’s explanation about why he took so long
Dan 10:12-13   “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understan¬ding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.
- Michael, who Rev.12.7 identifies as an archangel, is called a “prince” here so presumably the “prince of Persia” is another angel from the opposition
- so here we see a battle of two angels, with more-or-less equal forces
- but the opposing forces can only delay God’s will, and are defeated
This passage in Daniel can perhaps teach us one more thing from the OT:
4) Evil forces can invisibly obstruct God's work through the agency of angels

A Reality Check
At this point we need a word of warning and a reality check
1) We are in danger of now importing into our thinking lots of Christian novels
- winged angels with swords feature heavily in some modern novels
- they are influenced by the angelology of Milton, Dante and many others
- and before that, on apocryphal works like the Book of Enoch and Jubilees
- then later Jewish Merkabah mysteries, kabalistic writings and magic books

2) We are taking Scripture texts at face value when perhaps we shouldn’t
- they are in prophetic literature which often speaks in images and metaphors
- and we have already seen that the message of the OT is not straightforward

3) We are listening in on conversations not entirely crafted for us
- at the least, these texts tell us what OT believers needed to know
- at the most they have some gems of insight which we accidentally get right
 
I’m not saying that the Scripture is wrong, or that God is trying to fool us
- but almost certainly, our imagination and interpretation will get things wrong
- there is simply too little for us to get a consistent picture we are sure about

OK – have you taken on board those warnings?
- Good. Then I’ll continue to ignore them and press ahead. 
 

The last two refs are really speculative, but may have some truth
- Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 may portray something of the fall of Satan
- on the surface, they tell us about the king of Babylon and Tyre
- great rulers described in poetic language falling to the lowest depths,
- but at times the language seems to go beyond a mere human falling:
Isaiah 14.12-15:  How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  13 You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.  14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."  15 But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.

Ezekiel 28.12: "'You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.  14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.  15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. 16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.  17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.

The rest of the surrounding passages are certainly talking about human kings
- but these bits may be talking about something else behind the figure of a king
- perhaps it is like when Scripture gives us some insights about the Messiah
- a Psalm may, on the surface, talk about a great king, or someone suffering,
- but when we look at its depths we see more – we see a prophecy of Jesus
- and perhaps in these passages we learn something about Satan?

It is very conjectural, but if this is so, we can make a few tentative conclusions
- Satan was once a powerful angel who was, well, on the side of the angels.
- he may have been a special angel looking after Earth, and now imprisoned here
- he suffered pride and wanted to ascend to the heavens, perhaps to rule there
- he was once beautiful, and perhaps still is, but his is corrupted by his evil

We have now made some VERY big interpretive conclusions based on very little
- but I’m interested to see hints in the NT that some of this may be true
- 1Tim.3.6 warns us not to suffer pride and fall like the Devil did

Spiritual Warfare between the Testaments
By the time we get to the NT, everything has changed, including Jewish thought
- Qumran has preserved early copies of apocalyptic writings about heaven & hell
- there’s nothing like the magical mystery tours of Dante and Milton, but similar
- Enoch is taken on a tour of heaven though he sees more planets than angels
- but he does learn about the origin of evil spirits, in the mysteries of Genesis 6
- from other writings, this is very important to early Judaism, and is in the NT

Gen 6.4: The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore child¬ren to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

This passage has sparked off all kinds of speculations, silly and perhaps sensible
- unfortunately it is very difficult to work out which is which (sensible or silly)
- in context, it is one of the factors which makes God decide to flood the earth
- the other one is that the humans were all wicked, except for the family of Noah
- which suggests that this describes a form of wickedness but what is it?

There are three main interpretations, the boring and the weird and the way-out 
The boring one is that the “sons of God” were male descendants of Seth and the “daughters of men” were female descendants of Cain, who intermarried.
- this may not sound convincing to you, but you haven’t heard the alternatives

The way-out one, which you’ll find on the internet (for the totally open minded)
- a typical site is AlienResistance.org with the tagline: “Resistance is fertile”
- they say this describes alien fertility experiments with humans and their offspring
- after that, the weird one doesn’t sound so bad, so here it is…

The weird interpretation – the one which many Jews believed in NT times:
- the “sons of God” are angels (presumably fallen angels) who marry women
- and the “Nephilim” and “mighty men” are giants who were born to them
- the word “giants” come from the ancient Greek translation, and from other texts
- the Book of Enoch says these ‘giants’ were destroyed but became the evil spirits
- and these spirits were imprisoned in the chains of Hell, though some are at large
This does have some basis in the OT (see Num.13.33 & Deut.2.10-11)
- the “Nephilim” are associated with the “Rephaim” and “Anakim” who are associated with 9-foot tall individuals in the OT (Dt.3.11; 2Sam.21.18f)
- people like Og the King of Bashan and Goliath and his over-sized relatives

By NT times, other details had grown up around this story
- especially, the offspring, the Nephilim or giants, were locked up at “the chains”
- but some of them became the evil spirits who try to get revenge on humans
- we  don’t know where these details come from
- some suggest they were borrowed from Greek mythology because of similarities
- ie the Titans were the gods before the Olympians, and were put away in a prison
- this prison is called Tartarus, which is a name sometimes used for “the chains”
- but there are as many differences as similarities – these Titans weren’t human offspring
- and they didn’t become or sporn any evil spirits. The only link is being locked up
- in Greek myths, children of humans and gods were Heroes, who were mostly good

The strange thing is that these new details turn up in the New Testament
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them  in chains of darkness [Greek Tartarus] to be held for judgment;
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their  proper dwelling --these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

What do we do with these? Ignore them as simply talking in ancient language?
- or are they telling us some deep truth?
- I suspect there is real truth here, but lets move on to more certain ground

Spiritual Warfare in the New Testament

From the few references in the OT we found hints of four things:
1) Satan can cause evil in our lives, and we won’t be aware of the cause 
2) Satan incites us to do wrong, but we still bear responsibility for doing it
3) Satan can be resisted by the rebuke of God, or in God’s name
4) Evil forces can invisibly obstruct the work that God does through his angels

Let’s see if we can substantiate these hints from the OT in the NT

1) Satan can cause evil in our lives, and we won’t be aware of the cause 
The Devil tries to trip us, esp church leaders to ruin their reputation (1Tim.3.7)
The “seed” of the gospel is taken from our hearts so we don’t follow God  (in the parable of the sower)
When Christians in Smyrna were imprisoned, John (in Revelation) attributes this to the Devil working through false Jews living there (Rev.2.9-10)

So: The devil can cause bad things to happen in our lives
However:
Bad things also happen all by themselves because the whole world is fallen
When they asked Jesus about the people killed by a tower falling down in Siloam, he said they weren’t any more evil or judged than others. 
 

2) Satan incites us to do wrong, but we still bear responsibility for doing it
Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the Wilderness
The devil incited Jewish leaders to lie and murder (John 8.44)
and tempted Judas to betray Jesus (John 13.2)
John’s letters almost equate sin with the Devil, even saying he who sins is of the Devil (1John 3.8-10)
When Peter told Jesus he shouldn’t go and die in Jerusalem, Jesus said that Satan was speaking through him.

So, the Devil can tempt us to do evil
However, we are still held accountable for it, because we can resist him

3) Satan can be resisted by the rebuke of God, or in God’s name
The Devil gets a foothold in our lives if we harbour anger (Eph.4.26-27)
We are encouraged to pray and live righteously as armour against him (Eph.6)
James says: Resist the Devil and he will flee from you (Jam.4.7)
Peter says: Resist him, standing firm in the faith (1Peter 5.9)
Jude warns us not to be flippant in our resistance, saying that even a powerful angel like Michael says: “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 8-9)

So, we can resist Satan and (as we’ll see) in Jesus name we can expel evil spirits
However: they are sometimes very powerful, and we shouldn’t be presumptious
 

4) Evil forces can invisibly obstruct the work that God does through his angels
The Devil still holds some power – over death (Heb.2.14) 
Peter warns he can devour us like a lion (1Peter5.8) but doesn’t explain this.
When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee he used the same wording as when performing exorcisms – he “rebuked” the wind and waves. (Mk.4.39)

So, all kinds of things can be caused by the Devil, to obstruct us
However: don’t blame the Devil for everything. He isn’t that powerful.

A second Reality Check
I feel that I must offer a crime-watch style reminder here:
- don’t get over-concerned about the powers of evil
Firstly, there aren’t so many of them in countries with centuries of Christianity
Secondly, Jesus is the victor, and he’s on our side, so they’ll avoid us

True, sometimes there’ll be a concerted attack on a Christian leader
- but that isn’t likely to be you, because you aren’t important enough
  (Jesus loves everyone, but doesn’t mean the Devil is concerned about everyone)
- why are there so few direct attacks on believers? Because they are cowards
- they know that if they attack a believer it is likely to be the last thing they do
- because if the Christian knows what to do, those spirits will leave this world
- they’ll be locked away and never be able to bother humans again
- and before the evening is out, I’ll tell you how to do that yourselves.

But hang on – this is way outside normal Christian teaching. Is it true?
- we don’t normally mention Satan or this warfare
- this kind of stuff is left to the lunatic fringes of the church
- church theologians through the ages have ignored this aspect of the Bible
- perhaps they were right to do so. Perhaps it is just an old way of talking
- perhaps it is like the Psalmist saying the sun runs round the earth
- it was just a way of speaking about mental illness and a world gone wrong
- Biblical writers expressed these ideas in language which would communicate

Perhaps Jesus cast out demons because that’s what people expected him to do
- people then thought that demons caused things, so Jesus ‘cast out’ those ideas
- he couldn’t explain they had a mental illness, so he used their terminology
- like we couldn’t tell a simple tribal chief about germs living inside mosquitoes
- so we might tell him that injections and nets ward off spirits of illness in the air

While it’s possible, it is unlikely, because Jesus’ fellow Jews didn’t talk that way
- about 1/3 of Jesus’ healings in the Gospels are exorcism; they keep happening
- but in Jewish literature of the time we struggle to find any exorcisms
- there’s only a couple of texts, and they talk in theory; there’s not one exorcism
- the only actual exorcism we know of carried out by Jews is in Act. 19.14-16, where the sons of Sceva attempt an exorcism in the name of Jesus.
- perhaps all the texts about exorcisms have been lost, but I doubt it
- we have lots of texts from the whacky extremes of Judaism, but no exorcisms
- so if the NT is attempting to mirror society around it, it fails miserably.

What did Jesus believe?
Jesus wasn’t humouring his listeners when he talked so much about the Devil
- this is genuine Jesus. He himself was concerned about the Devil
- but the church very quickly went quiet about this
- I think this was because too much talk about the Devil made God look small
- one Gnostic heresy was that God and Satan were equally powerful beings
- and the church wanted to emphasise that the Devil was nothing next to God
- but ended up implying that the Devil was nothing.

The most telling effect of this is in the Lord’s Prayer
- in most translations and traditions, there is no mention of Satan in it
- Jesus tells his disciples to pray:

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

- but “evil” has an article, and should be translated “the Evil one”
  just like in Matt.5.37 or 13.38 “the tares are the sons of the Evil one”
  or Eph.6.16 “the flaming arrow of the evil one” (also 2Thes.3.3; 1Jn.3.12)
- so we should translate “deliver us from the Evil one”
- Satan is at the heart of Jesus’ theology and prayer life
And “temptation” is also an unfortunate translation
- the Greek word peirasmos is much more like “trouble” or “suffering”
- sometimes it is translated “temptation” and other times “a test”, or “a trial”
- but often the context has no sense of testing – just terrible suffering
- so perhaps a better word would be “tribulation” or perhaps just “trouble”
- eg Acts 20.19 where Paul suffered many tears and troubles at the hands of Jews
  or Gal.4.14 where Paul’s illness was a trouble to those who tried to care for him
You can see the kinds of trouble in some examples in 1 Peter: 
  1 Peter 4:12-16  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trouble  you are suffering …  13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ….  14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ… or 16 If you suffer as a Christian…

But peirasmos  can mean both “temptation” and “trouble”, as in James 1

[Read once with temptation then again with trouble]

James 1:2-4   Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face temptations/troubles of many kinds,  3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:12-15    Blessed is the man who perseveres under temptation/trouble, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  13 When tempted/troubled, no one should say, "God is tempting/troubling me." For God cannot be tempted/troubled by evil, nor does he tempt/trouble anyone;  14 but each one is tempted/troubled when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

The important thing is to see where this temptation or trouble comes from
- James insists that it does NOT come from God
- he’d say the trouble caused by Paul’s eye disease did not come from God
- he’d say the persecution suffered by Peter’s church did not come from God
- he’d say the troubles or temptations which build up faith and strength do not come from God
- all these things come from the world, our flesh or from the Devil

Is everything the will of God?
We have got used to thinking that everything, good and bad, is from God
- we talk about everything that happens as part of God’s careful plan for us
- well, in some ways that’s right, in that God is ultimately in charge of everything
- God created the universe and can wind it up or call a stop at any time he wants
- but does that mean that everything that happens is what God wants to happen?

Did God want Adam to sin and be thrown out of the Garden of Eden?
- did God want Cain to kill Abel or any of the countless murders since then?
- did God want humanity to become so evil that a Flood was needed?

Some Reformed theologies would say: Yes. God predestines all human actions
- God pre-determines who will be saved and who will continue sinning and how
- but this doesn’t explain why God was “grieved” at having to bring a Flood
- if he wanted to do it, then why does he feel “grieved” about it?
- there are answers to this, but we aren’t looking at all this today

If we take the Biblical picture of spiritual warfare seriously, the picture is simple
- God has given us a certain amount of free will, and there’s a battle for our souls
- the earth is Fallen, and Satan and humans have a limited freedom to do evil
- Paul would say that the whole of creation groans under this evil
- we and all creation long for the day when God is fully in charge again
- this will be when the Kingdom comes fully; when God is King again fully

This means that when bad things happen, God isn’t the author
- of course, ultimately God could be blamed, like we might be blamed for everything our children do because we gave them life and tried to teach them
- and, ultimately, God could be blamed because he could stop it, like we could stop our children every time they were going to do something wrong
- though if we did that, they’d never grow up, and God wants us to grow up

Is it true to say that everything which happens is part of the will of God?
- yes and no.
- if our reality is a battle ground, then some things must be against God’s will
- and if we understand that God loves us, he doesn’t want those things to happen
- Jesus, outside the tomb of Lazarus, wept over the natural death of a friend
- why did he weep, seeing that he was about to raise him to life again?
- wasn’t death, and especially this death, all part of God’s will?
- Jesus appears to regard even death itself as something which shouldn’t happen
- it wasn’t part of God’s original plan for us. He wanted us to live forever
- and Jesus has come to set that right, by re-establishing eternal life for us

And that’s the key to seeing everything as part of God’s bigger plan
- at the details end, God’s will may be thwarted, but his big plan always happens
- in the end, God does establish life for us with such overwhelming goodness that all the small sufferings and troubles in this life will look insignificant
- in the end, God’s will always perverts evil and brings good out of that evil
- the troubles or temptations which the Devil throws at us make us stronger
- the suffering by others gives us a way to show God’s practical love to them
- the greatest crime in history, the death of Jesus, becomes the greatest good

God is so superb at bringing good out of evil that it appears his will is done
- it almost looks like the evil which happened was planned and willed by God
- Almost. We must remember what James tells us: Peirasmos  is not from God
- God does not tempt / trouble us with bad things.

Now Jesus’ prayer makes sense. He’s asking God to keep us from peirasmos 
- he is asking for God’s protection from what the Enemy wants to do to us
- and he told his disciples to pray in Gethsemane, to keep them from peirasmos 
- the Devil was on the loose and they needed God’s protection
- from spiritual danger and physical danger, and from all kinds of trouble

Jesus regarded this world as a battle ground where Satan was very real indeed
- Satan was much more real for Jesus than for his contemporary Jews
- we can’t see the Spirit world, so for us it doesn’t seem real
- we can forget that a battle is raging around us, and settle down into cosy beliefs
- one cosy belief is that whatever happens is God’s will
- well, according to some theologies it is; but not if the battle is real.

And that’s the key to seeing everything as part of God’s bigger plan
- at the details end, God’s will may be thwarted, but his big plan always happens
- in the end, God does establish life for us with such overwhelming goodness that all the small sufferings and troubles in this life will look insignificant
- in the end, God’s will always perverts evil and brings good out of that evil
- the troubles or temptations which the Devil throws at us make us stronger
- the suffering by others gives us a way to show God’s practical love to them
- the greatest crime in history, the death of Jesus, becomes the greatest good

God is so superb at bringing good out of evil that it appears his will is done
- it almost looks like the evil which happened was planned and willed by God
- Almost. We must remember what James tells us: Peirasmos  is not from God
- God does not tempt / trouble us with bad things.

Now Jesus’ prayer makes sense. He’s asking God to keep us from peirasmos 
- he is asking for God’s protection from what the Enemy wants to do to us
- and he told his disciples to pray in Gethsemane, to keep them from peirasmos 
- the Devil was on the loose and they needed God’s protection
- from spiritual danger and physical danger, and from all kinds of trouble

Jesus regarded this world as a battle ground where Satan was very real indeed
- Satan was much more real for Jesus than for his contemporary Jews
- we can’t see the Spirit world, so for us it doesn’t seem real
- we can forget that a battle is raging around us, and settle down into cosy beliefs
- one cosy belief is that whatever happens is God’s will
- well, according to some theologies it is; but not if the battle is real. 
 

Is Spiritual Warfare the answer to the Problem of Evil?
I don’t think this is THE answer to the problem of evil
- I don’t think there is a single answer, because the issue is far too complex
- imagine if Paul asked you for the answer to the problem of illness
- where would you start? You’d say, there are many causes, not just one!
- there are diseases of germs which spread from people or animals or soil
- cancers come from random mutations which cause unstoppable cell growth
- auto-immune illnesses make the body attack parts of itself as if it was a germ
- and there are lots of different kinds of viruses, bacteria, and fungal growths
- there’s a million and one causes of the problem of illness
- but Paul doesn’t have the terminology and can’t see what we’re on about

Now we ask Paul for the answer to the problem of evil
- this is his turn to throw up his hands: Which form of evil do you mean?
- evils of society, of individual humans, of nature, or corrupt nature?
- evil due to human planning, or human weakness, or laziness, or hedonism?
- or spiritual evil: do you mean demons or unclean spirits, or powers, or Satan?

We’ll see a little of the complexity of spiritual evil in the next section
- but for now, we merely need to acknowledge our ignorance
- if we realise that the realm of evil is at least as complex as modern medicine
  (and probably more complex) we are starting to understand much better
- the start of wisdom is knowing what we don’t know
- and in the realm of evil, we are thankfully extremely ignorant


 

 

(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2011



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