Evil in the world has been a problem for nearly as long as people have been in the world. And for those who believe in an all-powerful and loving God, it is no small problem either. If God is omnipotent, then why does evil seem to triumph so often? And if He truly loves us, why does He permit it in the world at all? From the cross, Jesus echoed the disappointment of generations confused by God’s apparent inability or unwillingness to deal with the evil that afflicted their lives: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46 New International Version) Leaving the question of why evil exists for another blog, allow me to assure you, God is both able and willing to deal with evil in the world; and in fact He has and does deal with it every single day.
Romans 12:21 says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (New International Version) This one verse tells us three important things regarding evil:
- Evil is real.
- Evil struggles with good.
- Good overcomes evil.
Some faiths teach that evil and good are eternal and equivalent forces at odds with each other in the universe. Sometimes evil prevails; at other times good triumphs; but both will forever be a part of our lives; get used to it. Others believe evil to be strictly a matter of fleshly, material things. We can transcend (rise above) that which is physical and evil by pursuing that which is spiritual and good. You’ll know what’s good when you get to the place where physical and spiritual completely separate – when you’re dead. The Christian faith teaches that evil is real and present in the world and it affects all people in all places in all ages; but it is not eternal and ultimately God will put an end to it everywhere. By definition evil is anything that does hurt, harm or injury. It can rightly be said that cancer is an evil disease, Hurricane Irma was an evil storm and certainly the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland Springs, Texas were evil acts. The apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian Christians said the very days we live in are evil (Ephesians 5:16). Evil is real; it exists in the world; and it hurts, harms and injures people – all people – in all sorts of ways. As long as we live in this world we will struggle with evil, but God is good and good overcomes and will ultimately eliminate evil!
God overcomes evil with His goodness and mercy: How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. (Psalm 31:19 NLT) The term lavish means in excess, without measure. Evil happens to all people; indeed good people often suffer more evil in their lives than bad people (Psalm 34:19). But the promise of God is that however plentiful the evil touching the lives of His people may be, His goodness will be more abundant! This certainly is the meaning of Psalm 23:6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (New King James Version). During fourteen years of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph suffered many things, but God lavished on him favor, wisdom, success and authority. Ultimately elevated to second in power throughout the kingdom of Egypt, Joseph testified that what others meant for evil, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20). The apostle Paul suffered many things – beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, stoning and more. But he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:5: Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (Good News Translation)
God overcomes evil through His Son: The sinner is a child of the Evil One; for the Evil One has been a sinner from the first. And the Son of God was seen on earth so that he might put an end to the works of the Evil One. (1 John 3:8 Bible in Basic English) Those who perpetrate evil against others whether it’s murder, theft, sexual harassment, assault, false witness or anything else are children of the Evil One (the devil). Jesus is God’s Son and He came to destroy the evil activities of evil people and their spiritual father, the devil. He does this by changing their hearts and calling them to follow Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 10:27). Paul, who penned Romans 12:21, is the prime example of Jesus overcoming evil in a person’s heart. On his way to Damascus with warrants to arrest Christians, Saul of Tarsus met the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth and his life changed forever. The great enemy of Christians became himself the greatest Christian in history. Years after the fact Paul wrote how Jesus changed his life, and how He can change anyone: This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16 New Living Translation). In every heart where Jesus resides, goodness lives and evil dies.
History proves that wherever the message of Jesus Christ spreads, people and whole societies are transformed from evil to good. Just one and lesser known example is Mary Slessor from Scotland and nineteenth century missionary to Calabar in Africa. The peoples in Calabar were renowned for their savagery. Slavers and cannibals, they devoured their captives and brutalized unmarried women. They murdered twins believing them to be the spawn of demons and turned their mothers out to be eaten by wild beasts. Witchcraft, drunkenness and tribal warfare dominated the culture for centuries. But all that changed as Mary shared with them the love and gospel of God’s Son. As the chiefs of the various tribes were converted, the wars ceased; cannibalism, slavery, infanticide and abuse of women also ended.[i] The story of Mary Slessor of Calabar is only one of thousands how God has and continues to triumph over evil through His people spreading the news of His Son – Jesus Christ.
God will overcome evil by making everything new! Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5 New Living Translation)
The cliché is starting with a clean slate. John was given a glimpse of God’s clean slate at the end of the glorious vision we call Revelation. Notice, there will be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain. In God’s new universe there is no room for evil; but there is plenty of room for Him to dwell with His people. God is good, and He is going to put an end to evil everywhere. Paraphrasing what He said to John – “You can count on it!”
“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail!” You know those words. They are from H.W. Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” better known as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He first wrote it on Christmas Day in 1863. It was the height of the Civil War. Brothers were fighting, thousands were dying and none knew at that time which side would prevail. But for Longfellow the day was even bleaker. Just two years earlier his dear wife of eighteen years was critically burned in a fire and died. Henry had been severely burned himself while trying to save her. And in November his oldest son Charles was seriously wounded in the war and was struggling to survive. No wonder then the melancholy that clouded his mind, the despair that filled his soul when out in the city streets the bells, those Christmas bells began to toll. Their tune was as always joyful; their message hopeful – “peace on earth, good will to men.” Suddenly something warm and wonderful began to happen deep inside Henry Longfellow. As he listened to the bells and considered their meaning he realized the child in the manger so celebrated by the bells was greater than life or death, and that because of Him his wife still lived, and his son would live and the nation would also live. So his famous poem made carol, while recognizing the evil that touched his life, ends with this triumphant refrain:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”[ii]
Evil in the world; the evil that touches all our lives, tempts us to despair. But remember Jesus’ words – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 New Living Translation)
[i] D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born, pp.167-169 [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994].
[ii] Wikipedia.org/”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”