The Problem of Evil: Part 6
Jul 11, 2006
Some of you may have thought that my last web log diverted from the theme at hand, since I dealt with the duration and nature of "hell," or "the lake of fire." However, no discussion of evil and its purpose would be complete without reference to the greatest of all evils--hell itself.
All judgment for sin is evil. God imposed death (mortality) upon all mankind when Adam sinned. This has been the root cause of all subsequent evil in the world that man has done as a consequence of this mortal condition or weakness. Paul says in Romans 5:12, "death passed into all men ON WHICH [eph ho] all sin."
Here we also see the difference between man's evil and God's evil. God's evil is always in accordance with His law, for He is true to His character, which is Love that includes justice. Death was not an unjust penalty for sin, nor was it imposed without prior warning. On the other hand, when man does evil to his neighbor, it is sin to him--not only because he violates the rights of another, but also because such sin is motivated by self-interest, not by Love.
Thus, while Isaiah 45:7 tells us that God creates evil, nowhere in Scripture are we told that God creates sin. Nonetheless, one could make the case that man's sin is a response to God's creation of evil (in the form of the death penalty). Without the imposition of the death penalty, Adam was capable of sin and certainly inexperienced and ignorant of the full consequences of sin. But after sinning and becoming death-ridden (mortal), he became too weak to avoid sin. He could regulate his actions by learning a few laws, but to change his core mortal weakness was beyond his capability.
Thus, once death was imposed upon all men, they began to sin because of their death-ridden state. Those individual sins, then, became the basis of further divine judgment. Hence, Romans 6:23 says, "the wages of sin is death." Here Paul was speaking of mankind's sin, whereas in Romans 5:12 he was speaking of Adam's original sin. These verses are not contradictory.
The death penalty is still the penalty for sin. It has not changed, because God's character has not changed. Yet take note that there are two different kinds of deaths in the Bible. The first is mere mortality, while the second is the death of repentance and turning. The Apostle Paul has much to say about this second type of death. Baptism symbolizes this death, along with its result--resurrection to newness of life.
When I was young, I was taught to define death as "separation from God." Many Scriptures were brought in to buttress this definition. But when I finally studied it for myself with prayer, I discovered that separation from God was not the definition of sin, but a natural consequence of death. To be cut off from the Life-Source is certainly death. But separation is an immediate by-product of death, not death itself. Adam hid from God and separated himself AFTER he sinned. To redefine death as "separation from God" twisted the Scriptures and only caused confusion between the meaning of mortality and immortality.
Such a view then warped the entire meaning of divine justice. Whereas God imposes the death penalty for sin, men came to impose the penalty of fiery torture for sin. The purpose of divine judgment shifted from justice to deterrence, especially in the Latin-speaking Church, for the Roman mind valued "law and order" more than justice itself. Certainly, any carnally-minded nation had the same tendency, but the Romans perfected it.
True justice, as defined in God's law, makes justice the first priority, while deterrence is secondary. The purpose of justice is to correct the sinner and restore the broken relationship with his victim. Justice restores equilibrium to the divine order through balance. Hence, the law says, "an eye for an eye." In other words, the judgment imposed by the judge must always fit the crime--no more, no less.
This is why God's law does not permit torture for any sin, for torture is mere punishment that does nothing to change a sinner's heart or to restore a broken relationship through restitution. When man defines "hell" as never-ending torture, claiming that this is divine justice, it truly is an "evil" as man views evil, for it has no purpose except to punish without end. It is only "good" to men motivated by revenge. It is not "good" as God defines it, for God's evil is good because it always has good purpose and is motivated by Love.
When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his soul began to rule his spirit and he began to think dualistically. Good and evil were separated into opposites, instead of two aspects of good: Love and Justice. It was inevitable, then, that Justice would be seen and defined as an opposite to Love, instead of as a derivative of Love having an alternate application. As this dualism progressed in religious philosophy, "hell" became hotter in the attempt to restrain the ever-increasing evil among men. Deterrence trumped justice.
But God spoke to Moses and gave Israel a perfect law by which we might know His mind and how to establish a perfect system of law. For this reason I have been amazed when well-meaning Christians fear the divine law as if it came from a God of Vengeance. They run from such a God and draw near to Jesus, the God of Love, not knowing that Jesus was the Law-giver who appeared to Moses while Jesus was in His pre-incarnate state.
Such a dualistic mindset makes the Old Covenant ("Testament") an opposite of the New Covenant and tends to create two opposing Gods, each with a different purpose and character. No, the Bible is a single Book and must be viewed as a progressive revelation of the Kingdom of God, with each revelation building upon the previous foundations.
The strangest of all ideas is that the divine law is somehow more to be feared than the God who is said to impose torture upon sinners. In the divine law, stealing one dollar brings divine justice that says I must return two dollars to my victim (Ex. 22:4). The Church, however, largely discarded the law and then substituted its own ideas of deterrence, telling us that stealing even one dollar is punishable by never-ending torture in hell.
That is not divine justice as defined in the law. That is only purposeless punishment imposed by carnally-minded men who claim to know better than God the true meaning of justice. Their dualistic philosophy leaves the universe eternally with heaven and hell, light and darkness, all coexisting perpetually with no thought to restoration or reconciliation. Such an end separates evil from good, but never reconciles creation.
On the contrary, Paul tells us in Col. 1:16-20,
16 "For by Him [Christ] were all things [ta panta, "the all"] created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him.
20 "And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things [ta panta, "the all"] to Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven."
"The all" of creation is "the all" that is being reconciled to Christ. This can only occur if divine justice is good. Justice is only good if it has a good purpose and is imposed in Love. Anything short of the reconciliation of all creation falls short of Paul's expectations of God. Hence, divine justice is eonian, not everlasting, and it is restores balance to the divine order, rather than imposing mere torture.
This is the God of the Bible.
This is the sixth part of a series titled "The Problem of Evil." To view all parts, click the link below.