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FIRST-PERSON: Repentance amid the search for meaning in a time of evil

WASHINGTON (BP)–As the dust settles on the recent horrors in New York and Washington, secular man has begun to think of the sacred. Frantically searching for the key to unlock the mystery of why this happened, 21st-century America wonders what lies beyond the door of the unseen. Exactly what does all of this mean — and how can we face the future?

Sadly, evil is nothing new, and early Christians understood and even anticipated its reality in their lives. In 1677, a group of Baptists boldly confessed in the Second London Confession, “God hath decreed in himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass.” Believing that God is never the author of sin, they carefully stated that despite sinful man’s best efforts to act in rebellion, the “contingency of second causes” could never thwart God’s wise and holy (albeit often unknown) purposes.

Unlike those early Baptists, modern theologians of all stripes are scrambling to defend God’s good name. Many are quick to point out that God in no way caused this to happen, and was, to hear them talk, taken by surprise just as we were. Various pastors are also boldly stating that God is unable to control evil. He reacts as we do — with shock and disbelief.

We must not refuse, as C.S. Lewis put it, to “follow our thoughts home.” To believe in a God who shares power with evil in a co-equal or, in many cases, subservient manner, is to have no God at all. More than one supreme being means there is no supreme being. God — to be God — must stand above and over evil in some way if God is to exist at all. To fashion a God capable of emotion but not power is simply to concoct a fantasy and call it God. And such a “God” is not worthy of worship. Here, then, are our options: God is evil; God is impotent; or evil is a real and present mystery that we cannot fully understand.

When faced with a similar situation, Jesus Christ minced no words. Another vicious act of terrorism is recorded in Luke’s gospel (chapter 13). The despotic ruler Pilate murdered a group of innocent Galileans. Not content with their dead bodies, Pilate sought to defile their souls. He took some of their blood and mingled it with that of the animals brought for their sacrifices.

The reply of Jesus is shocking, to say the least. Rather than run down the perpetrator, he talked about the victims. He ignored their question of “why?” and resorted to a question of “when?” Challenging their ideas about tragedy and sin, Jesus called on his hearers to repent or face the same end — death. Jesus went on to speak of 18 other people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Again, he spoke not of why — but when. Faced with death, he called on his hearers to repent.

How offensive! How insensitive! How cruel!

Or how comforting. For a closer look reveals a deeper truth. The window on the unseen world is opened by Jesus. The path to the defeat of death is — of all things — repentance. These dreadful days bring yet another opportunity to call a world in peril to repentance — the ultimate, and only, answer to the sorrows of this life.

God is never the author of sin, but he is never surprised by it. In a world promised to bring pain and hardship, Jesus brings a word of refuge — repentance toward God and faith in the Christ.
Baker is the Kampouris Fellow in the study of Christianity and culture at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

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  • Douglas Baker