PERMISSIONS OF EVIL
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinFebruary 12, 1995
Lord, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph? They utter speech, and speak insolent things; all workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces Your people, O Lord, and afflict Your heritage. (PS 94:3-5)
The spirit of this text of the Psalms has been uttered countless times. Throughout history, there has always been cruelty done to innocent people. Wicked people have done and continue to do vicious acts of cruelty to innocent people. Just within this century, we have witnessed the slaughter of innocent people with the Holocaust, Somalia, and Bosnia, just to name a few. And that is not to mention all those who are cheated and harm that we do not hear of.
Even the Word confirms that people will suffer on earth. The Lord once said in the Gospels, “The poor you will always have with you.” There will always be those who seem to have many tragic circumstances afflict them during their lives upon the earth. And we are especially disturbed when we personally know someone who seems to suffer a hardship that is unjustified. At times it seems as if those who are the gentlest and the kindest suffer the greatest afflictions. It is while we are confronted with this harsh appearance that we question how a loving God, Who has all power, could allow such things to happen.
The Word does treat and address this subject quite extensively. The Writings for the New Church give many explanations why it is necessary for the good to suffer at the hands of the evil. However, these explanations are not designed to make us comfortable with the suffering of the good. We are meant to feel grief and be upset when an innocent person is needlessly victimize. We are not to be fatalistic and develop the attitude that this is the way it is and there is nothing we can do to change it.
What the Word does provide is a perspective that explains why these things must happen. In giving these explanations, we can remain steadfast in our faith in the Lord. We can also continue to believe that the Lord governs everything in the universe. These explanations can prevent us from believing that the Lord does not exist or that things that happen that are beyond His control. Still, the question remains, why would the Lord allow such tragic things to happen to innocent people.
The Word does provide many examples of innocent people suffering affliction. First, we read of a man who was born blind. The disciples assumed that his blindness was a direct punishment of someone sinning. The Lord answered that no one sinned, but that the glory of God might become manifest through him. His affliction was not a punishment. Instead, it was an opportunity for the Lord’s power to be displayed and become visible. Quite often, we can see the Lord’s power better through adversity then we can when everything is going well. Many times, the serenity of heavenly peace is more visibly recognized, when a true disciple of the Lord is going through a hardship. It is through adversity that we can see and become more aware of the presence of the Lord. Quite often a person who is suffering from a diseased body can better manifest a heavenly life. They never complain, but find satisfaction in what the Lord has given to them. Also, they have a perception of the Lord within them that is enough to sustain them in their troubles and find joy in what they are able to do. The man born blind was able to show the Lord’s healing power through his affliction. Adversity can give us the greatest demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power.
Esau is another example of a benefit that can happen to us when we are faced with a tragedy. Jacob stole Esau’s blessing through deception. He was very angry and threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob than fled for his life. After many years, Jacob was reunited with his brother. Jacob was afraid of the type of reception he would receive. But when they finally met, Esau was a changed man. When Jacob offered him many gifts, Esau was not interested but said he had enough to live on. He was content with what he had.
Quite often, when some type of disaster strikes, it can cause a great deal of anxiety. However, tragedies can reinforce the principle that eternal things are more important than natural things. We see vivid examples each day of how fragile and vulnerable natural things can be. Our possessions, and even our lives can be taken away in an instant. A person who bases his or her entire life upon the attainment of natural enjoyments is like the rich fool who only spent his life building bigger barns. His whole focus of life was obtaining worldly pleasures. When natural disasters strike, they can be very painful and disturbing. Yet, they can encourage us to look and focus upon things that will last for eternity. We are to lay up treasures in heaven. We are to regard spiritual things as more important than natural things. And should something happen to our natural possessions, this teaching can become more real. When we base our lives upon spiritual principles, we are building our lives upon a foundation that will last throughout eternity.
The attitude of how we are to regard natural things is summed in the Lord’s statement before Pilate. When Pilate inquired of the Lord why He was not fighting against His accusers, He said, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight. But My kingdom is not of this world.” (REF) If life upon the natural world was all there was, then we should use every method to enjoy the world’s pleasures. But life on this world is designed to prepare us for life in heaven.
At times, the good may indeed suffer tragically while in the natural world. But their reward will not be fully recognized until they enter their place in heaven.
Therefore, we are told directly that the only reason why evil succeed upon this world is on account of mankind’s salvation. The Lord must permit evils to happen, and even succeed, in order that He may bring salvation to the human race. Our freedom of choice is preserved through the Lord permitting evil to take place. There are two spiritual benefits when evils or tragic things are allowed to take place. First, they prevent us from making spiritual judgements. If we think about it, if only the wicked suffered tragedies, we could make a spiritual judgements. Whenever someone suffered a catastrophe, we could state that he or she is evil. When the good suffer the same things, then we are prevented from making spiritual judgements.
Secondly, we are taught that evils are not fully removed unless they are allowed to express themselves. When they are allowed to be made known, then they can be put away. Also, we can see the emptiness in basing our lives upon obtaining their pleasures.
We are to desire justice. We are not to feel so comfortable with wickedness that we tolerate their existence. And if we are in a position to combat an injustice, we must do so. But their will always be injustices and tragedies that will be beyond our control to remove. It is when we are confronted with these difficult moments that we need to hold fast to the doctrine that the Lord governs all things of the universe. He does not allow anything to happen unless something good may come from it. In other words, everything that happens, good or bad, can have a positive effect on everyone’s lives. We may not recognize it while we live in this world. But the truth of this statement can happen. And when we find discouragement in this world’s injustices, we can find strength in these words of the Lord, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”