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‘Problem of evil’ requires careful handling, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Across the nation and throughout the world, people from all walks of life have asked one question in recent days: How could a loving God allow such a terrible tragedy?

It is a question that must be handled with care, and one that Scripture alone answers correctly, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a special chapel sermon Sept. 13 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The seminary president, speaking two days after terrorist attacks killed thousands in New York City and Washington, D.C., said that the tragedy of Sept. 11 will offer Christians countless opportunities to spread the gospel, share their faith and minister to those in need. During those times, Mohler said, believers should be ready to tackle what he called “the greatest theological challenge we face.”

“People all over the world are demanding an answer to this question,” Mohler said. “It comes only to those who claim that God is both mighty and good. How could a good God allow this to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize and the wicked to escape without a trace?

“No superficial answer will do.”

Two answers, Mohler said, fall short of a biblical explanation for evil. First, he said, it is unbiblical to deny God’s omnipotence, omniscience and sovereignty over all of creation.

“Not even a sparrow falls without his knowledge,” Mohler said. “He knows the number of hairs upon each our heads. God rules and reigns over all nations and kingdoms and principalities. Not one atom, not one molecule of the universe is outside his active rule.”

However, Mohler noted, the Bible also says that God is not the author of evil.

“God is absolute righteousness, unconditional love, goodness and justice,” Mohler said. “Most errors related to this issue occur because of our human tendency to impose an external standard — a human construction — of goodness by which we will measure God. But good does not so much define God as God defines good.”

Thus, the answer to the problem of evil lies somewhere in the middle of these two erroneous explanations, Mohler said.

“Between these two errors the Bible points us to a radical affirmation of God’s sovereignty as the ground of our salvation and the assurance of our own good — our own future,” Mohler said. “We cannot explain why God has allowed sin, but we understand the Bible to declare clearly that God’s glory is more perfectly demonstrated through the victory of Christ over sin. We cannot understand why God would allow sickness and suffering, but we must affirm that even these realities are rooted in sin and its cosmic effects.”

To some, the explanation may raise as many questions as it answers. It’s a mystery, Mohler admitted, but Christians must never forget that God is in control.

“How does God exercise his rule?” he asked. “Does he order all events by decree, or does he allow some evil acts by his mere permission? We find ourselves using both of these words. This much we know — we cannot speak of God’s decree in a way that would imply him to be the author of evil, and we cannot fall back to speak of his mere permission, as if this allows a denial of his sovereignty and active will.”

Mohler quoted the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

“As Paul affirms for the church, God’s sovereignty is the ground of our hope, the assurance of God’s justice as the last word and … the assurance of God’s loving rule in the lives of his people.”

Mohler preached from Luke 13:1-9, where Jesus tells the story of a tower in Siloam that had fallen and killed 18 people. Jesus asks those who are listening, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus then tells the parable of the fig tree.

“This is one of those difficult passages of Scripture,” Mohler said. “In it, tragedy and theology intersect in the teaching of Jesus and end up in a parable. The background events are genuinely tragic. The context is a call to repentance — individual and national.”

Jesus’ call to repent applies to modern-day America as well, Mohler said.

“Jesus took the occasion of the tower’s fall and turned it into a call for individual and national repentance,” he said. “Given our assurance that God is in control and working even in this unspeakable tragedy to accomplish his will, dare we not see the horrors in New York and Washington as an opportunity for America — and for Americans — to repent as well? … We need to repent of our national arrogance. We need to repent of our national depravity. We need to repent of our rebellious spirit against God’s law and God’s sovereignty.”

Mohler said that it would be arrogant to claim that he — or anyone — has special knowledge of what God is doing through the recent tragedy. However, he said, “This biblical text explains that all such events are signs of our need for repentance. Thousands must have died in New York and many died in Washington. Like the Galileans in Jerusalem and the victims in Siloam, many may have died impenitent and unrepentant.

“… This is a time for national and personal repentance, and in the midst of this national horror, Christians will face unprecedented opportunities to tell the truth, to speak the word of the gospel. This great tragedy … may produce a softening in the American heart, or it may produce a hardening. Let us pray that it will produce a softening. Let us pray that there may be yet time for us to reach many of our fellow citizens with the gospel.”

This message can be heard online at http://www.sbts.edu/mohler-response.html. The text of the message is also available at the site.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SMOKING RUINS.

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  • Michael Foust