Can the Wicked do Anything Good?
This is one of those questions that gets asked a lot, though often as a result of some misunderstandings of terminology. Often this kind of question comes from a critic of Calvinism…or perhaps more specifically, from a critic of the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity. They see the words, “Totally Depraved,” and assume that what the Calvinist means is that human beings are as bad as they possibly can be. Yet, a brief survey of the world around us will illustrate that even unbelievers do noble things and the worst of mankind could act worse than they do. So, the critic says, “See, the world around you disproves your doctrine.”
Yet, the argument is more of a straw man than anything else. All that the world around us proves is that the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the doctrine that the critic holds is untrue, but that says nothing about the doctrine itself. The doctrine itself simply speaks to the fact that the whole person has been affected or tainted by sin and thus the whole person (mind, body, soul, actions, etc…) needs redeeming. Yes, we could be worse, though God restrains our sin lest this earth become little more than a shadow of hell.
The other question raised by statements like this has to do with the definition of the word, “good.” Certainly Jesus teaches that only God is good (Luke 18:19). And so, the quick answer is, “No, no one can do anything Good because God alone is good.” Yet, that seems to beg the question because the person asking is not asking about good in the absolute sense, but simply about the things that we might appreciate as good, noble, or perhaps as meritorious.
Of course, the answer is still, “no.” The reason for this is that God considers anything that is not done “in faith” to be sin (Romans 14:23). Further, Paul writes to the Colossians that everything they do should be done in the name of Jesus Christ giving thanks to the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17). And so, if the wicked have rejected God (which they have) and do not honor the Son, Jesus Christ (which they do not), then it is impossible for them to do anything good in God’s eyes no matter how noble we might view an action in our own eyes.
And so the Heidelberg Catechism makes it clear in question number eight, that unless we are born again by God (thus having faith and doing all in thanksgiving to God through Christ) then we can do nothing good. This is both a matter of Total Depravity and of Intentionality. Lots of pagans do things that are noble on a human level, but in God’s eternal economy they fall short.
What is Good…
“It is good to praise Yahweh;
To sing to your name, Most High.”
(Psalm 92:2 [verse 1 in English])
Indeed, it is good to give God praise. How often, though, we seek to define for ourselves what is good rather than seeking obedience to God’s word about what is truly good. Scripture tells us that it is good to be in the presence of the godly (Psalm 52:9), to give thanks to our God (Psalm 54:6), to be near God (Psalm 73:28), to be afflicted that we might learn the statutes of God (Psalm 119:71), to wait quietly on the Lord (Lamentations 3:26), to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), to discern the will of God (Romans 12:2), to not cause a brother to stumble (Romans 14:21), and to remain orthodox in your theology (Hebrews 13:9).
And while we could go on, isn’t it interesting how many of the things listed above take place in the context of our gathered worship on the Sabbath day. We pray, we gather, we sing, we learn the statutes (even sometimes in affliction), and we learn to wait on God’s time and his deliverance from trouble. It indeed is good to praise Yahweh, and not just on the Sabbath day, but with every waking breath and with our rest at night.
And in the context of praise, the psalmist also speaks of singing those praises. The term that we translate here as “sing” is the Hebrew word rmz (zamer), which refers to singing while accompanied by a stringed instrument like a harp or a lyre. It is the root from which the word rOwm◊zIm (mizmor), which is translated as “Psalm” comes from…a reminder that instrumentation is appropriate for the worship of God’s people.
Most High is one of those rich names for God amongst God’s people. It reflects his majesty and the loftiness of his name and person. When the Messiah was announced to Mary by Gabriel, he is referred to as the Son of the Most High, again a reminder of Jesus’ divinity (Luke 1:32). How rich and good it is to sing praises and proclaim the name of our most high God!
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, holy to Yahweh, and honorable; honor it from doing your own things and finding your own pleasure and speaking words, then you shall delight in Yahweh and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth; I will feed you with the inheritance of Jacob your father, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.”
“Now the chief priests and the whole of the Sanhedrin were looking for a false witness against Jesus so that they might put him to death. Yet, though many false witnesses came forward, none could be found until eventually two emerged.”
“Now the chief priests and the whole of the Sanhedrin were seeking a witness against Jesus to put him to death but none could be found, for though many bore false witness against him, none of the witnesses agreed.”
This is one of those areas where a harmony is extremely helpful in trying to sort out what was taking place. It is clear that the leaders in the Sanhedrin have already decided what the outcome of this trial is to be. At the same time, they are still going through the motions, trying to make this seem a legitimate trial. Realistically this could be explained on the basis that they wanted to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the Jewish people and likely they were trying to save face with the Romans by presenting Jesus as a tried and convicted man.
To do this, they entertained many false witnesses. You can almost imagine the chief priests rounding up their cronies and manufacturing stories against Jesus, twisting the truth to suit their own ends. Yet, something wonderful happens. The Sanhedrin sitting as judge and jury over Jesus cannot find two witnesses that agree on their stories. You can almost see the frustration in their faces as they bear the contrived stories of witness after witness (that they have sought out even!) who cannot agree on what they heard and saw.
So what is the big deal? Why bother finding witnesses who can corroborate each other’s stories? It is meant as a false trial anyway. Their goal was not to slap Jesus on the wrist nor was it to imprison him. Their goal was to see him dead and according to Jewish law, no person can be put to death unless on the testimony of two or three reliable witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6). They looked hard and wide and eventually found their witnesses, but it likely took some coaching. That is the significance of Matthew’s statement that eventually two emerged — they were looking for, as Mark points out, two false witnesses whose false accounts agreed with one another.
God is Truth and there is no darkness within him. The only way one can accuse the Lord of Truth is with the lies of the devil — false and manufactured — twisted realities to suit wicked ends. The bottom line is that while Truth can exist on its own, evil must have truth to twist and manipulate. Yet, how often we are guilty of allowing our ideas to be warped and twisted by the false witnesses out there in the name of tolerance or out of the fear of consequences if you speak truth in an unpopular way. The bottom line is that we must let our witness of Christ be visible and clear in this world around us, if we don’t, we are no less guilty than the procession of false witnesses that walked before this morning of Jesus’ trial.
Cogito Ergo Sum
Descartes made his famous statement, “I think; therefore, I am,” to communicate what he held to be the most fundamental and irrefutable truth: his thought about whether or not he existed was proof that he did exist. He argued that everything else could be an illusion, but that this was the one principle that he could not deny. He would go on to argue that logically, the only way we can have any confidence that the things we believe to be true are true is to posit the existence of a good and all-powerful God, for without such a God, one could logically have no confidence that what he perceived was not part of a grand deception. In addition, combining elements of Anselm’s Ontological Argument and Aquinas’ Proof from Degrees, he posited that the idea of an all-powerful good God was inherently greater than that of an all-powerful demon, it must be that of an all-powerful God of good that we ought to expect to be in reality.
Whether one is compelled by Descartes’ logic or not, my purpose here is to raise the question about existence and non-existence in relationship to God’s creation. God, of course, is the one self-existent being that was necessary to bring into being all that is. Prior to God’s work of creation he existed in perfect blessedness and in perfect relationship within his Triune self. His creation was done not because of a need within him that had to be filled; his creation was done as a revelation of his glory and he created us to be in fellowship with him so that we might enjoy the fullness of his glory.
One of the key elements in medieval logic, that drove Anselm, Aquinas, and Descartes was the principle that existence is greater than non-existence. For most of us, that seems to be more or less a common sense position as a pound of meat in the hand of a hungry man is more valuable to him than the idea of a pound of meat. Yet, later on, there would be philosophers like Immanuel Kant who would challenge that notion, arguing that existence is not so much a quality of something that could be found cumulative with other qualities, thus making that which existed better than that which did not exist, but that existence simply was a reflection of an item’s state of being. It either does or it does not exist, with no value statement assigned either way.
Despite Kant’s insistence to the contrary, I would put forward that the medieval view that existence is greater than non-existence is closer to the Biblical standard. Certainly a God who does exist eternally and is self-existent beyond the created order is greater than one who exists only in our imaginations, for who then brought creation into being? The naturalist would argue that nature is self-existent and has always existed, but nature is un-thinking and un-reasoning and how could an unthinking and unreasoning entity produce such uniform design throughout the cosmos? From the smallest genome to the largest stellar body, complex design is evident and design demands a reasoning designer. Hence, there logically must be one who is self-existent and transcendent from nature from whom nature receives its design — once again returning us to the necessity of a self-existent God who is existent.
As we then reflect on the nature of this self-existent God, we must first note that the God of the Christian Bible is the only God that fits the description of being both transcendent and self-existent. The Hindu gods, for example, are part of the created order and are not considered to be self-existent. Similarly, one can say the same of the many spirits worshiped in various forms of shamanism and new-age philosophy. In each case, the gods are understood to exist within the natural order, not outside of it. The one potential exception to this would be Islam, which holds to a transcendent god, yet their god presents himself as a great deceiver, which of course would eliminate him from being a candidate for being absolutely “good.” Thus, as Descartes points out, without an absolutely good God, we can know nothing for sure — even the faithful Muslim will have to confess that he does not have any confidence as to whether he will go to heaven or enter into judgment. The Christian Bible would go further in its claim about a god who is a deceiver and clearly point out that he is the Devil (John 8:44) or serves the devil (2 John 7).
Thus, if the Christian God is the only candidate for a transcendent and self-existent God, we will use the Bible (God’s self-revelation) to be our rule for understanding the characteristics of this God — namely that he is not only all-powerful and self-existent, but that he is all-knowing. This attribute is essential to our discussion of existence and non-existence. For, when we state that God is all-knowing, that means that God can learn nothing — he knows and has always known from the beginning all that will ever take place. This is a position that even most Wesleyans and Calvinists can find agreement on. The Wesleyan would argue that God knows all things because he is outside of time and thus looks down upon the whole of time and observes the events of man from beginning to end, a view popularized by the philosopher Boethius. The Calvinist would argue that God knows all things because he has ordained them to take place, a view that is arguably more consistent with Paul’s use of terms like election and predestination in his epistles.
Thus, regardless of which side you may fall on the Reformed/Calvinistic vs. Wesleyan/Arminian debate, there is agreement that God knows all things within orthodox Christianity. God knows all things and in turn, can learn nothing. The implication of this is that before God entered into the act of creation, the idea of his creation and of all created history existed in his mind. Surely, were God to have thought like Kant, there would have been no need to create, for existence and non-existence are simply states of being, not qualities of value. Instead, God does not simply let the idea of a created order exist in his mind, but he chooses to create and bring into existence all that is known.
This raises an interesting thought. While there was nothing lacking within God to cause him to create, it may be suggested that there is something lacking in non-existence. The lack is not in a sinful way, for sin did not enter into the world until the fall and sin can certainly not abide in the presence of a holy God, but the principle that existence is better than non-existence implies that that which exists in reality is better than that which exists only in the mind. Thus, in creating, God redeems non-existence by bringing creation into being. In a very real sense, this makes the entire creation account a redemption story. God begins by redeeming non-existence by making it exist then continues by addressing the formlessness and void. God redeems the formlessness by giving it order in the first three days of creation and then redeems emptiness by filling it in the latter three days of creation. Existence to non-existence, order to disorder, and fullness to emptiness, God redeems each and makes them “good.”
Thus, where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.
Stuff, stuff, and more stuff… We fill our lives with stuff, we fill our homes with more stuff, and we fill the homes of others with even more stuff. In and of itself, stuff is not bad—we need stuff to survive. We need food to eat; we need water to drink; and we need shelter and protection from the elements. All of that is stuff. Certainly, some have more stuff than others, but it still is stuff. Frankly, I like stuff; I cannot deny it, but I would suggest that God also likes stuff. Roughly 6,000 years ago, God decided to create, well, stuff. And not only did God create stuff, but he pronounced it, “good.”
The problem with stuff is not the stuff itself, but what we use it for. Often, our stuff just collects dust. We fall into a trap of wanting to have stuff and more stuff just for the sake of having the stuff. Even worse, we find ourselves embattled with others, each trying to gain and secure more and more stuff than the other. Our lives begin to be consumed by the pursuit of stuff. Where does it all end!?!
Ultimately it does come to an end. There will come a time when all of us will die and leave behind our stuff to others. Death is the great equalizer as someone once said; we all die and we cannot take any of our stuff with us. Where we go next is not dependent on the stuff we have or even on what we have done with our stuff; where we go is dependent upon the finished work of Jesus Christ and whether or not our name is in his great Book of Life.
So, if my salvation is neither dependent upon the stuff I have nor upon how I use it, what does it matter? Jesus has some words to this question, because while your salvation is not dependent upon anything but Christ’s finished work, Christ’s finished work in your life should affect what you do with your stuff in this life. We are taught two major lessons about our stuff in scripture. The first is that God blesses us with stuff primarily so that we can be a blessing to others—not only in how we share our stuff with them, but in how we share our stuff with them for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.
The second thing we learn from Scripture is found in this verse—our heart will dwell with what we treasure. Now, for the Hebrew culture, the heart not so much reflects the passions as it does the personality and mind—in other words, the thing that you think about all of the time will be what you treasure. For the Christian, our minds and thoughts ought to be on Christ and upon God’s word; sadly, we often are tempted to fall into the trap of pursuing more stuff and in that pursuit they become consumed. The Apostle John warns about this trap:
Do not love the world, nor that which is in the world. If a certain person loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all of the things in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and arrogant living-is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away as well as its lusts. Yet, the one who does the will of God will continue living eternally. (1 John 2:15-17)
So, the question is not so much about the stuff, but it is about the heart. Have you set your heart upon God and upon the things of God or is it on the stuff that those who live in this world set their hearts upon. If, then, your heart is set upon God, the stuff that you have and accumulate in this life becomes rather secondary. And when stuff is secondary, using it to bless others becomes second nature. All our stuff comes from God anyhow, let us use it as an evangelistic tool and not an end in and of itself.
Why Doesn’t God Just Obliterate the Devil and thus Get Rid of Evil?
Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil?
One of the projects that we engage in at Rocky Bayou Christian School is that of helping to train students how to defend their faith when it is challenged. One of the ways in which we do so is to pose questions to the student body that challenge the faith and then challenge them to write out a response for a prize. Each of these questions are drawn from atheistic websites, blogs, books, or movies to ensure that the questions we use are ones actually being presented by unbelievers.
This month’s question is, “Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil and thus get rid of evil—and if he can, what is he waiting for?” The question itself comes from the trailer for Bill Mayer’s new movie, “Religulous.” The movie is presented as a documentary—more a “mock-u-mentary,” designed to poke fun at religious people. In his interview on Larry King Live this past August, Mayer gives the motivation for asking this question. Mayer states that religion is “the ultimate hustle,” that Christian leaders “need” the Devil, “because if God got rid of the devil—and he could because he is all-powerful—then there is no fear, there is no reason to come to church, there is no reason to pass the plate, we are all out of a job…” This statement falls on the heels of the comment, “at some point, mankind is going to have to shed this skin (Religion) if he is going to move forward. I do have a serious intellectual problem with it, and on another level, it just ticks me off…”
It is worth making one more comment about the interview on an indirectly related note: when speaking about the afterlife and the Christian’s view that we know what will happen to us after we die, Mayer makes a wonderfully true comment. Mayer states, “unless a God told you personally what happens to you when you die, it all came from another person with no more mental powers than you.” And that is exactly the point. God did come and tell us what will happen to us when we die, and he tells us the way that leads to eternal life, which is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the way that leads to death, which is the way that Mayer seems to have chosen to pursue—to reject Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And we have these words of God recorded for us in the Bible.
How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God and not the writings of men, as I would presume Mayer would assert? While my point here is not to present a full defense for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures (as others have written excellent volumes on just that subject), let me set forth several basic points.
The first thing that we must present is that the Bible itself claims to be God’s word. Now, your initial response very well may be to assert that a statement like this is circular reasoning. And on some level, it is. But let us pose the question, what might be true about the Bible if this statement about it being God’s word is true? We would expect, were it written by God, that all of the facts that it contains are true. And indeed, while evolutionists would assert that the creation story is untrue, evolution is a theory based on a speculation of the order of events. The “mountains” of evidence that so many evolutionists point toward are illusory, and Creation Scientists can present interpretations of the evidence that are arguably more compelling than the evolutionary models, and which are consistent with Scripture. If you doubt this, try getting a college Biology professor to agree to debate with a Creation Scientist—you will find it to be a rather challenging task. The Creation Scientists are willing, but the evolutionists are not—basic logic should tell you that they are hiding something if they are unwilling to engage in such debates.
But let us look at events that are clearly documented in history. What we find when we examine the archaeological evidence is that there is nothing to contradict the historical Biblical account. In addition, when we compare Biblical records of historical events with extra-Biblical documents of the same age, we find once again that there are no contradictions. There are more textual accounts, for example, to the life of Jesus than there are for example to the life of Julius Caesar, but no-one doubts that Julius Caesar lived, nor do they doubt the historicity of his writings.
In addition, we might not only expect that the history that the Bible records is accurate, but we might also expect that the things that it foretells is also accurate. Now, certainly all of the things that the Bible foretells have not yet come to pass, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of prophesies that the Bible did foretell that did come to pass. For example, Isaiah prophesied that the man who would be used of God to return the exiles to Jerusalem would be named Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), a prophesy that was given roughly 200 years before the event took place. There are numerous prophesies that are given about the coming Messiah as well—that he was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), that a forerunner would be sent (Malachi 3:1), that he would be rejected by his people (Psalm 118:22-23), numbered with transgressors (Isaiah 53:12), that the soldiers would divide Jesus’ garments (Psalm 22:18), and that in his death his bones would not be broken, but his side pierced (Exodus 12:46, Zechariah 12:10). We could go on, as there are many more, but as a friend of mine who used to be in the meat packing industry regularly says, “If the sample is true and free from bacteria, the whole lot is likely true and free from bacteria.” In other words, to prove that a tree has roots you don’t need to dig up every tree, but only a representative sample. Time after time, it can be documented that Biblical prophesies have come to pass. By every scientific measure, then, one must accept the validity of the whole.
One might also suggest that if the Bible were written by God himself, it would be true and without contradictions. And indeed, that is exactly the case. It is granted that there are some people who would point out that the Bible does seem to contradict itself on occasion, but in each of these cases, the contradictions are only apparent ones noted from a surface reading of the text. Reasonable explanations can be given for each of these apparent contradictions. One thing that we have learned from the discipline of forensic science is that in crimes, oftentimes very unusual events take place. And while a crime may at first seem to have taken place in one way, when all of the evidence is examined, rational explanations can be given for why the initial assumptions were wrong. If one is going to seek to say that the Bible contradicts itself, all of the evidence, both internal and external, must be examined before any rational conclusions can be reached. I suggest that once that examination is made, the Scriptures will be recognized to be internally consistent.
Though I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I want to make several more practical observations about the Bible that only seek to affirm that it is God’s word. First of all, one of the things that separate the Bible from mythic and religious writings of the ancient times is that it gives accurate names as well as detailed historical as well as geographical information. Most ancient religious documents are rather vague when it comes to such details so that they cannot be refuted. The Bible presents this kind of information, and as noted above, it is not found in error when challenged. Secondly, the Bible has had a greater impact on the events of worldwide history in a way that no other book can claim. Nations have risen and fallen around the contents and teachings of this book. Philosophies have emerged with the contents of this book as their foundations. The bible is the most widely-read book in history and even non-believers have benefited from its insights and wisdom into human nature. In addition, people have been willing to die for the veracity of this book in a way that no other book can claim in history. And finally, on a very pastoral note, the Bible has the ability to bring peace to a dying person’s heart unlike any other book in human history. When folks are on their deathbeds, they typically do not ask for someone to read from Shakespeare’s sonnets, but regularly ask to have some of the Psalms read to them. This again is a sign that the words of this book transcend humanity and are found to be of divine origin. No other book, religious or secular, can claim the authority that the Bible claims for itself, and it is irrational to ask for a higher authority to attest to the divinity of the Bible than God himself because God himself is the highest authority—and He claims thousands of times in the scriptures that these words are his own. If you doubt that this book is truly God’s word, I challenge you to sit down and give the Bible an honest read from cover to cover, examining the evidence for and against, before you seek to challenge its authority.
Now, as to answering Mayer’s specific question about why God does not destroy the Devil and thus rid the world of evil? To answer this question well, there are several things we need to take into account. First of all, there is an important distinction that needs to be made between the Devil and evil in the sense that even if the Devil were to cease to exist tomorrow, there would still be evil in the world. The name “Devil” comes from the Greek term, dia/boloß (diabolos), which literally refers to one who engages in slander against another (certainly something that Mayer is guilty of when it comes to God). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dia/boloß (diabolos) is typically used to translate !j’f’ (Satan), which means, “accuser.” Satan is described as the accuser of the faithful (Zechariah 3:1-2; Job 1) and one who incites to sin (1 Chronicles 21:1). The Devil, in turn, is described as tempter (Matthew 4:1), enemy of God (Matthew 13:39), betrayer (John 6:70), murderer and Father of Lies (John 8:44), oppressor of God’s people (Acts 10:38), enemy of righteousness (Acts 13:10), the one who sets snares for God’s people (1 Timothy 3:7), and the father of those who make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:7-10). Ultimately it will be the devil and those who serve him who will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented eternally (Revelation 20:10,15). Thus, in a sense, part of Meyer’s answer is answered. God has promised that he will destroy the devil, but such will not take place until all of God’s elect have been brought to faith (arguably Christ’s return is keyed to the death of the last martyr [Revelation 7:11]).
Before I address the question of evil and it being taken out of the world, I want to address the follow-up question that Meyer posed—what is God waiting for? In other words, the question can be rephrased—why doesn’t God just get on with it? In a sense, the answer was given just above—God is waiting for the final predestined believer to come to faith/the last martyr to give his life for the Holy faith. To understand this better, it is important to look at how Peter addressed this very question in his second epistle. Peter was dealing with those who were scoffing and saying “nothing has changed since the old days—where is this God of yours?” It is almost as if Peter were writing to Mayer on this very issue—or perhaps Mayer isn’t overly creative in asking questions. Peter states that the reason God is taking what seems to us to be a long time is not because God is slow to act, but because God is patient, being willing to endure the mocking and scoffing of unbelievers until the very last member of his elect has been brought to faith (2 Peter 3:8-10). Thus, in God’s eternal decree before the foundation of the earth, when he chose his elect throughout history (Ephesians 1:4), God also determined to stay his hand of eternal judgment long enough for the very last believer would be brought to faith—he will not lose even one of those who he has so ordained to become his own (John 10:28).
Finally, we are left with the question of evil. The first thing to note is that while the concept of sin is related to the concept of evil, they are not synonymous. The Old Testament word for sin derives from the Hebrew verb aj’x’ (chata), which means to miss the mark or target that one is aiming at. Thus, sin is missing the mark of God’s righteous character or not being able to live up to his standard. In turn, the antonym of sin is righteousness. In contrast, the Hebrew word for evil is [r: (ra), and it is typically used as the antonym of bAT (tov), or “good.” Deuteronomy 30:15 presents this contrast quite clearly where Moses presents the people with the following statement: “See, I put before you this day the life and the good—the death and the evil.” In other words, that which is good and that which is evil are seen as the necessary results of obedience or disobedience respectively, or in the context of our discussion—good and evil are the results of a righteous lifestyle or a sinful lifestyle. One might take the concept one step farther, understanding the fall of mankind as described in Genesis 3 as the entrance of evil into the world, that good is ultimately reflected in what it was like to live in an unfallen world and evil is reflected in what it is like to live in a fallen world.
So why does God permit us to live in a world that is less than perfect and is often filled with evil rather than with good? Admittedly, such a time is only for a season, for there will come a time when Jesus will return and remake the heavens and the earth free from the effects of evil—restoring the world to an unfallen state, but with one catch—we will no longer be able to fall into sin. Yet, for now, we live in a fallen world and not only do we sin, but we are forced to endure not only evil people all around us, but also evil events that take place—events that are reflective of the fall of mankind. So why does a good God permit such evil? First of all, God permits such to go on in the world around us to remind us of the effects of our sinful actions and hopefully compel us to grieve over our own sin as well as the sins of others. Secondly, evil in the world around us stands as a constant testimony against the secular humanists and almost every other religious system. Most religions and the secular humanists believe that deep down mankind is good and that it will only truly become good when it “sheds the skin” of religion and moves forward apart from God. The Bible tells us quite the opposite. We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and we pursue sin (Romans 3:10-12) with all of our strength apart from a movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If mankind were good, then mankind would be perfecting itself and wars and political oppression and greed would come to an end. Yet we are sinners, and thus we stumble and fall into sin. Mankind is fallen and evil is a constant testimony to that fallenness. A final reason for God’s permission of evil in the world is that he uses evil to strengthen Christians in their faith. Facing evil, trials, and tribulations force us to draw closer to God and to rely on his strength and thus grow in our relationship to him.
In other words, for the Christian, while evil is something that we never desire to enter into our lives, when it does, such evil things are not necessarily bad. In fact, in many cases, the scriptures remind us that it is good to face evil things so long as we are relying upon God, for such cases will grow us to be stronger in our relationship with Jesus Christ. One final note—while the final destruction of the Devil will not take place before the second coming of our Lord, Jesus did once and for all time defeat the power of the devil upon the cross of Calvary. Yet, though Satan has been defeated, we must endure for a little while longer while God works out his plan in the world.
In a nutshell—God does has already destroyed the Devil and has promised to cast him in the lake of fire in the end times. Second, God is waiting for the last of the elect to come to faith and/or the last martyr to die. Third, even if the Devil were thrown into the pit tomorrow, we would still have evil in the world due to the fall of man and man’s sin—something that can only be remedied through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Fourth, evil is not always bad though it is always unpleasant. God often uses evil to bring about his work in this world as well as using it to sanctify and mature us in the faith.
Does Sin Crouch? (Genesis 4:7)
Can Sin Crouch and can sin Desire?
Genesis 4:7 (ESV) “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Literal Translation: “Will not, if you do good, to lift up? And if you do not do good, sin is laying at the door. And it’s longing is toward you, and you must rule over it.”
The question that was asked, is this passage simply personifying sin of does God’s word somehow suggest that sin is an entity which can act on its own volition? The simply answer to the question is that sin is being personified by God to emphasize the point that God is making with Cain. God wants Cain to truly understand the power that sin has over him, so the comparison that is being made is of a predator crouching in wait at the threshold of his home—ready to strike—and that it has a desire for Cain.
While the simple answer is that God is personifying sin for the sake of emphasis, perhaps the more interesting question is why might God have communicated in this way with Cain? To answer that question, we need to know something about what is literally being communicated.
First, as you can see above, the initial question, when translated literally, makes rather awkward and unintelligible English. And such is not overly unusual when going from one language to another—especially with idioms, so a few notes must be made up front. First of all, the Hebrew language often uses word order to add emphasis to those things that are found at the beginning of the sentence, though typically not as much so as Greek. In other words, what is being emphasized is God’s beginning question—“Won’t this take place…?” Oftentimes when my son has been disobedient, instead of just telling him that he was wrong, I will ask him a leading question so that he speaks the truth about his action. I might ask “Surely, you didn’t think that such and such was okay to do…,” and in doing so, add a great deal of emphasis on the word, “Surely.” Usually, when confronted in this way, my son responds by hanging his head and saying, “no, dad…” I think that the word order and structure of the initial question lends itself to this tone on the part of God. God knows that Cain knows right from wrong, God knows that Cain knows that he sinned, and God also knows that Cain knows that he needs to repent, but the leading question is designed to force Cain to respond properly—yet Cain’s heart is hardened and he refuses to repent.
The second thing that we need to note is the word af’n” (nasa), which means, “to lift up.” While this term broadly refers to picking or lifting up anything in particular, it is also sometimes used in a judicial sense to some being restored to favor before a king, as with the cupbearer being restored to his office in Genesis 40:13. That seems to be the context of its use in this particular pattern—if Cain does right (in this case, repenting of his heartless offering and make a proper offering, sacrificing what is first and best of his crops), then he will be forgiven. Thus, the concept that the ESV is seeking to capture as they translate this word as “be accepted” is this idea of Cain’s being restored to proper fellowship with God. Note too, that af’n” (nasa) is being used in it’s infinitive form, and thus carries with it no subject (as my translation above reflects), and though this makes awkward English, it is meant to remind us that in the repentance (doing what is good in God’s eyes), the process of lifting up—the process or legal restoration to his original position in the covenant community—takes place. Yet, of course, if he chooses what is not good, in comes sin.
This raises the issue with respect to what is “good” and what is the relationship between “good” and “sin.” The concept of “good” is understood in a number of ways, but in its absolute sense (from which we should derive our applications of the concept) only applies to God (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Psalm 119:68 is the basis for this concept:
“You are good and you cause good to be;
teach me your statutes.”
Note the structure of this psalm. God is described as good—where the idea of “good” is functioning as a predicate nominative. In other words, “good” is being portrayed as part of God’s essential character and reciprocally, “good” cannot be defined apart from a discussion of God and who he is. The psalmist continues, though, by stating that not only is God good, but God’s work is good. This second use of the term good, moves from the adjectival use of the word Good (a reflection of God’s character) to the participial use of the term, reflecting his ongoing actions. In addition, the Hebrew uses the Hiphil stem of the verb in this case, which reflects causative action—in other words, God is the one who causes all good to come about.
One note that we need to make in relation to this is the way in which we use the term “good,” because even as Christians we rarely use it in its absolute sense. We often express the idea of good in relationship to our preferences, other people, or our general comfort. And while they are all legitimate uses of the term, “good,” the general term must derive its meaning from some sort of inviolable standard. God is the only one who can set such a standard. This, of course, provides a problem for unbelievers who reject God’s presence, but in rejecting God, to where will they turn for the measure of what is good? If they determine that preference determines the meaning of good, all intellectual interaction is reduced to meaningless babble—one can turn to the beginning of Genesis 11 to see what happens to a culture that cannot communicate with one another in any meaningful way. If the unbeliever looks outside of himself, to perhaps the state, for a standard for good, they are reduced to excusing Nazi Germany for their execution of millions of people, for those in government saw themselves as doing good for the German people. If you look to the Nuremburg trials, they defined good in terms of that which preserved life (though one might ask from where they adopted that absolute definition). Yet many who would advocate such a definition would also advocate abortions, which terminate the life of an unwanted baby. The unbeliever is reduced to an endless cycle of confusion and frustration unless he can appeal on some level to a supernatural standard, and then he has trapped himself in an unwanted contradiction. If you don’t accept God as being who he is—and being the source of the definition of good—then you cannot use the term in any meaningful sense. At the same time, this causes a great deal of practical difficulty for many Christians, because if you accept that God provides the absolute definition of what is good, we must define what is good on that basis, not on the basis of our own comfort or preferences—and that causes Romans 8:28 and similar passages to be taken in a very different light compared to how most Christians look at the passage. Thus, while God does work all things for my good, what is ultimately good for me is not my comfort, health, or financial blessing, but being conformed into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So, for Cain to do good, he must repent from his sin—and in this case, sin stands as the direct opposite of good. The term we translate as “sin” in the Old Testament is taJ’x; (chattath), and is derived from the verb aj’x’ (chata), “to miss the mark” or “to fail to hit the target” (see Judges 20:16). And then, what are we missing when we sin? We are missing God’s perfect standard (Matthew 5:48). This, of course, is why we needed a redeemer who could come and live a perfect life on our behalf as well as to pay the debt we owed on account of sin (retributive justice). Thus sin is not an entity wandering about on its own, but it is the result of our failure to live up to God’s perfect standard—and willful sin, being that God has revealed his law, is an intentional missing of the standard, and is thus outward rebellion against God’s holy and good character.
There is one more note that we need to make on this passage, and that is of the language of “desire.” The Hebrew term employed in this verse is hq’WvT. (tishuqah), which refers to a “longing” or a “desire” for something. What is particularly interesting is that while this term is only used in two other places in the Old Testament, one of those places is in the previous chapter: Genesis 3:16 (the second other place is in Song of Solomon 7:10). What is also interesting about this is that in both of these cases (Genesis 3:16 and 4:7) the word lv;m’ (mashal) is used in conjunction with it. The verb lv;m’ (mashal) refers to ruling over something or someone. In both cases, the desire is defined as something that must be ruled over—in the first case, Adam ruling over Eve in spite of her desire for him (or for his position as many understand it) and in this case, Cain ruling over sin’s desire for him (or to destroy his relationship with God as part of the covenant community).
The reality is that the struggle with sin, while an inward spiritual struggle, is like wrestling against a wild beast seeking to destroy, but instead must be dominated and ruled over. Not only is God using this language to emphasize the urgency of Cain’s repentance, but also to communicate to us the very real battle that we face—one that is not a battle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities and thus we must take up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-12).