During the summer of 1962, I worked as a laboratory assistant in the School of Chemistry at Florida State University. A German student nearing the completion of his Ph.D. studies worked in the same lab. I had very recently graduated from a Christian college, and it soon became obvious that I was a religious person. One day, as a matter of fact, and in no way confrontational, he told me that he did not believe in God.

This was the first time that I had met a person who openly stated that he did not believe in God. It was a conversational, respectful situation, so I asked why? Mentally I anticipated a number of possible responses. But I did not anticipate his response. He said, "If there was a God, He would have prevented the atomic explosion over Hiroshima." It was not an act of war that distressed him. It was the unthinkable death toll among the children, the women, and the aged. To kill military personnel is one thing; to kill civilians is quite another.

He placed his finger on the pulse of an issue that troubles everyone. If God exists, how can evil destroy the innocent?

  1. Over fifty years later, this act of war hardly touches our sensitivity, but the shootings occurring in our schools assault our sensitivity.
    1. February 2, 1996.
      1. In Lake Moses, Washington, a 14-year-old walked into an algebra class hiding a rifle under a trench coat.
      2. He allegedly killed a teacher, two students, and wounded a third student.
    2. February 19,1997.
      1. In Bethel, Alaska, a 16-year-old fired a shotgun in a high school's common area.
      2. A principal and one student were killed, and two students were injured.
    3. October 1, 1997.
      1. In Pearl, Mississippi, a 16-year-old killed his mother. He was convicted this week.
      2. Afterward, he allegedly shot nine students at the high school. Two died.
    4. December 1, 1997.
      1. In Paducah, Kentucky, a 14-year-old allegedly fired a gun into a prayer circle at school.
      2. Three students died and five were wounded; one of the five was paralyzed.
    5. March 24, 1998.
      1. In Jonesboro, Arkansas, at the Westside Middle School, two boys, ages 11 and 13, fired on teachers and students responding to a false fire alarm.
      2. One teacher and four students were killed; ten people were wounded.
    6. April 24, 1998.
      1. In Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old student has been charged with shooting and killing a 48-year-old science teacher.
      2. He allegedly shot the teacher at a graduation dance as other students watched.
    7. May 19, 1998.
      1. In Fayetteville, Tennessee, an 18-year-old honor student allegedly opened fire in a parking lot at Lincoln County High School
      2. A classmate who was dating his ex-girlfriend was killed.
    8. May 21, 1998.
      1. In Springfield, Oregon, a 15-year-old allegedly killed his parents, then went to the Thurston High School cafeteria heavily armed.
      2. There he allegedly shot 24 people; two died.

  2. More questions than we could discuss in a month deeply trouble us about these events.
    1. But one religious question troubles us so deeply that it shakes us.
      1. How could innocent people be destroyed by such mindless, random acts of evil?
        1. Acts of war that destroy the innocent raise the same question,
        2. As do horrible accidents and disease,
        3. As do violent storms and earthquakes.
      2. But nothing screams that question with the impact these incidents do.
        1. In these incidents, evil and innocence stand in such stark contrast.
        2. The evil is so mindless, so random, so senseless.
        3. The innocence is so real.
    2. Perhaps the reason we are shaken so deeply is because our assumptions are severely damaged. May I call just two of those assumptions to your attention.
      1. Assumption # 1: a major, divine reward given to a Christian is physical protection from evil.
        1. We understand that the combination of faith, repentance, and spiritual birth into Christ brings forgiveness.
        2. But we also are convinced that if we are Christians, God protects us from physical expressions of evil.
        3. In America, the godly prosper.
        4. Christians should be the healthiest, safest, most secure people alive.
        5. Christianity is a first class ticket to the American dream.
      2. Assumption # 2: the highest goal of human existence is to achieve and enjoy a good physical life that is free from injustice and problems.
        1. God's immediate purpose in Jesus Christ is to bless us physically right here, right now.
        2. In a Christian's life, injustice will be defeated, problems will disappear, and prosperity will come.
      3. Those two assumptions powerfully influence our everyday life, our faith, and our spiritual expectations.
        1. When these shootings so obviously strike the innocent and kill Christians, that violence and evil attack our assumptions.
        2. When our assumptions are attacked, our confidence in God is attacked.
      4. We need to ask three questions, and we need to answer them honestly.
        1. Where did we get those assumptions?
        2. Why have we incorporated those assumptions into our faith?
        3. Why did we make the American dream the purpose of Christianity?

  3. If your pat answer to those questions is, "That is what the Bible teaches!" I want to call your attention to one of the oldest stories in the Bible.
    1. Genesis 4 tells us about Adam and Eve's two sons, Cain and Abel.
      1. When the sons were grown, they both worshipped God by offering sacrifices.
        1. Abel's sacrifice honored God, and God was pleased.
        2. Cain's sacrifice did not honor God, and was rejected.
      2. Just as Eve's suspicious spirit caused her to distrust God, Cain was suspicious of God's reaction to his sacrifice.
        1. Cain was personally offended by God's reaction.
        2. God approached Cain, not in anger, but with concern.
      3. God asked Cain, "Why are you angry?"
        1. "Don't you know that if you do well I will accept what you do?"
        2. "But if not, sin is crouching at your door ready to pounce on you."
        3. "Sin desires to possess you."
        4. "You must not allow temptation to master you."
      4. First, Cain was angry at God; then that anger turned to a jealousy and was directed at Abel.
        1. He regarded God's rejection of his sacrifice to be an act of favoritism.
        2. His younger brother received that favoritism; as the oldest son he was offended.
    2. What happened was not Abel's fault or responsibility.
      1. But anger and jealousy are irrational.
      2. So furious, jealous Cain lured Abel into a field a killed him.
      3. God provided Cain with several opportunities to express remorse, but Cain never did.
        1. Cain was the ultimate self-centered man; he thought only of himself.
        2. Everything Cain did, including his offering, was about Cain.
        3. His offering was an act of pride, not a declaration of honor.
        4. But Cain was so consumed with Cain that when God rejected his offering, he acted as if God rejected him.
    3. Pay careful attention to God's reaction to the death of a truly innocent man who had pleased God.
      1. God did not kill Cain for murdering Abel.
      2. He placed two consequences on Cain.
        1. The ground would not respond to his farming efforts.
        2. He would be a wanderer, a nomad.
        3. Even then, Cain thought only of himself: "My punishment is too great; someone will kill me."
      3. God's incredible grace assured Cain that he would be physically protected.
    4. How do you factor God's reaction to Cain into our assumptions?

  4. This difficult question is truly not one question but several questions.
    1. There are so many different realities to be considered in this question that any nice, neat, pat answer will be inadequate.
    2. But I want you to consider some realities that our assumptions commonly ignore.
      1. Reality one: evil is a real, living, active, powerful force in our world and society.
        1. Satan is just as real as God is.
        2. Satan is just as active as God is.
        3. Satan has purposes and objectives just as God does.
        4. Satan exists to pursue his purposes in every possible way.
      2. Reality two: the innocent, the good, and the godly are Satan's special enemies.
        1. They represent everything that Satan hates and wars against.
        2. In this world, they are Satan's greatest enemies and greatest threat.
        3. Satan cannot be true to himself or his purposes without seeking to destroy the innocent, the good, and the godly.
        4. Satan knows his destiny is hell--that was irreversibly determined when Jesus died and was resurrected.
        5. Satan's greatest desire is to take each of us to hell with him.
      3. Reality three: Satan has power in this world and evil exists in this world because of human choices, human decisions, and human acts.
        1. We permitted evil to become a part of this world.
        2. We continue to reinforce that human decision; it was not God's decision.
        3. The realities and consequences of evil in this world are the direct result of human decisions and choices.
      4. Reality four: The ultimate purpose of physical existence is to find redemption in Jesus Christ and to prepare for life with God.
        1. The greatest objective of physical life is not:
          1. The quality of our physical existence.
          2. Physical security.
          3. Happiness, pleasure, and physical fulfillment.
        2. The greatest objective of physical life is to belong to and serve God through the redemption in Jesus Christ.

If we do not understand the nature of evil and the purpose of redemption in Christ, nothing makes sense. Only in the redemption of Christ can we accept realities that exceed our understanding. Only in Christ can we learn how to fight evil in our own lives and become Christ's lights in an evil world of darkness.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 June 1998

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