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God and Evil, and Human Beings

A blog I recently read made the point that evil is the absence of God. I responded to it, and I thought I’d also share my answer in this blog. So here it is…

Evil as an absence of God. This is certainly true. But the presence of God would also be the absence of evil. The two thoughts in tandem explain why human free will is so risky. By acting in an evil fashion, a human takes himself out of the presence of God. He is too holy to tolerate evil in his presence. However, does choosing good automatically bring a person into the presence of God? Perhaps not. It at least allows God an opportunity to admit the human being to his presence, but something more appears to be required: a cleansing. The evil that was chosen must be purged, because it has left a mark upon the human soul. Christ enters to provide this cleansing, along with the Holy Spirit to help maintain the purity and expand it throughout the whole human character. This is a signal of the sovereignty of God. By his trinitarian actions, he restores the human to relationship with himself and makes possible a consistent choosing of the good. Yet this work of deity is not completed until a period beyond human time-bound experience. Until then, we continue to struggle with good and evil.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Temptation

G. Campbell Morgan wrote about the nature of temptation: “As to the purpose and method of Satan, his first purpose is to lure man into some position outside the will of God. His method is that of appealing to something perfectly lawful in itself, but suggesting that it should be satisfied by an unlawful method.”

 
 

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Have you read Nahum lately?

Nahum 1:1-3:19

Have you read Nahum lately? He’s another of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament who dealt with Nineveh, but his obedience was quicker than Jonah’s answer to God’s call. Nahum is regarded by some scholars as a sequel to Jonah. The Ninevites repented when Jonah preached, but their turn around was temporary. Years later, God raised up Nahum to condemn them and announce their doom.

Other scholars see Jonah as more of a short-story that deals with what God would do if Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, repented. It’s meant to explain the merciful nature of God. His grace reaches even people we hate. But Nahum’s prophecy is considered more realistic for the historical times. He proclaimed Nineveh’s end which was caused by its persecution of God’s people and others in the ancient world.

It seems to me that we need to separate the two prophets in our minds as well as in history. Jonah does have the character of a good story about a moral truth as opposed to a report of an historical, literal event. Nahum is a prophetic message in line with the rest of the Old Testament prophetic writings. His message both condemned the Assyrians (Nineveh was their capital city), and consoled the Israelites who suffered much at their hands.

In chapter one of his prophecy, Nahum expresses the vengeful nature of God. “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nah. 1:3, NIV). God is mightier than the forces of nature. A nation that is ruthless toward its neighbors, conquering them as Assyria had done, will experience his wrath.

In chapter two, Nahum narrates the coming siege of Nineveh. The city gates will be overrun. “Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away” (Nah. 2:8a, NIV). No one can stop her from being pillaged. The Almighty Lord is opposed to Assyria and her conquest. He will repay her plundering of other nations by plundering her.

In chapter three,  Nahum decries Nineveh as a “city of blood” and announces God’s unchangeable decree. The city will die. “‘I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame’” (Nah.3:5, NIV). Nineveh could not be cured; she has been injured fatally.

Nahum presents God as an unstoppable terror to sinners. Those who treat their fellow human beings tragically will come to a tragic end themselves. This is not a book of grace, but wrath and judgment. Why? Because the Lord, despite his willingness to forgive, cannot forgive sin that continues and overwhelms with no genuine repentance on the part of people.

Is this a book for Christians? Definitely, it is written for any and all who wish to deal with God as he is, rather than as they wish him to be. God is holy and righteous. He cannot tolerate evil, and he will punish those who perpetrate evil on the earth. Sin is a genuine experience among humans, and God must eradicate it from our characters. For Christians, Peter spelled out an judgment’s reality: “…it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt. 4:17, NIV).

Our judgment is  tempered by grace. Can you imagine what it would be like to meet the just Judge of humanity without grace to buffer his harshness? Nahum will teach you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Have you read Obadiah lately?

Obadiah 1-21

Have you read Obadiah lately? If you haven’t, it won’t take you very long because this prophecy is only 21 verses long! That’s right, one short chapter.

How’d this guy even make it into the Bible? His writings hardly seem long enough to be of any use. Well, remember that God can use anybody and anything to guide his people into his will. So reading Obadiah should tell you, first of all, that as unimportant as you are to the world at large, you still count with the Lord.

Obviously, we know little about this prophet. He didn’t even address God’s people with his prophecy. He focused on one of its neighbors, an enemy, Edom, a nation that took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem to raid Judah and to harass the few people who were left. In face of the Edomites’ haughtiness, the prophet Obadiah spoke for God: “‘Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,’ declares the Lord” (Obad. v.4, NIV). His message, in part, revealed the Lord as Judge and Deliverer of all peoples. Edom would answer for its crimes.

Obadiah announced that a “day of the Lord” was coming and all nations would answer to God for their behavior. “…your deeds will return upon your own head” (v. 15d). Sin will not be ignored by the Lord. He deals with it among all the world’s inhabitants. No sinner can escape his righteousness.

The prophet also announced that God’s people would be avenged. “Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors from Esau. The Lord has spoken” (v. 18). The Lord would use those whom others ruined to ruin their enemies. Another lesson from Obadiah is that the sufferer wins. The one who causes suffering will, in turn, endure the weight of their own wrongdoing. In the end, “…the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (v. 21c).

It’s important to know that the Edomites were relatives of the people of Israel. They had descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother. The ancestors of each nation were brothers; they were Abraham’s descendants together. This brings us to the heart of the Old Testament’s struggle to create a nation holy and pleasing to God. Obadiah is a prophet who spoke to those who needed to hear: The Lord judges all people, including his own chosen ones and all related to them. Divine judgment is no respecter of persons.

You might want to read Jeremiah 49:14-16 in comparison to Obadiah verses 1-4, and Jeremiah 49:9-10 in light of Obadiah verses 5-6. See how the two prophets spoke to people in the Lord’s name. Jeremiah said similar things to Edom as Obadiah proclaimed. God was deeply distressed with how these neighbors and relatives dealt with each other. He warned them both over the years before and after the exile to mend their ways, or he would have to judge them harshly.

Even after the ministry of Jesus Christ, our God continues to be a “consuming fire,” yet as the author of Hebrews instructed us this is a reason to come to God with thanksgiving, worshiping him “acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28-29, NIV). If we learn this lesson, we’ll appreciate the prophet Obadiah all the more.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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