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It was a Tuesday night in the pediatric intensive-care unit at Florida Hospital. I was there as a chaplain-in-training with a mom, a dad, a grandmother, and one precious baby who was going to die soon. “Why is God doing this? Tell us why!” the red-faced grandmother cried out.

The standard Reformed answer to questions about the problem of evil is that we don’t have a problem of evil but a problem of good. The mystery isn’t that God would allow evil to begin and continue to exist in the world—the mystery is that He would allow any good to happen to wicked people like us. True enough; I agree. It’s a correct answer to a question, but it is not the answer to the question at hand. It’s mostly a rhetorical kick in the shins.

I think there is a greater mystery than why God would allow good or evil to come upon us. Every person who has faced the death of an infant has sensed it in the pit of his or her stomach. The greater mystery is why God would allow evil to place its mark on the truly innocent—our Lord, the Suffering Servant.

Consider the problem as we look through the lens of Isaiah 53. I believe that if we can understand why God would allow His only, perfect Son to suffer, bleed, and die, then we will have some ideas that will help us understand why God allows us, His imperfect sons and daughters, to experience evil in its various forms.

One of the first things we see in Isaiah 53 is that the suffering and death of Jesus’ magnificent defeat demonstrate God’s wisdom.

Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (NASB). From a human perspective, Jesus’ suffering was senseless. From God’s perspective, however, the Son was bearing the sins and sorrows of His people so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Rom. 3:26). In the death of His Son, God was the perfect judge, bringing judgment upon the One who accepted the guilt as He kept His promise to make a way to justify sinners.

Surely the Suffering Servant was bearing the sins of His people, but it looked like senseless violence from the human perspective. We hear news stories whose details haunt us, making us want to weep for the seemingly pointless brutality of this world. But even in the greatest evil this world can imagine, God is working for His glory and the good of His kingdom. God’s providence is something like a woven rug, which from the bottom looks tattered and senseless, but on top reflects the skills of a master artist. We look upon the ragged bottom now, but when we reach heaven we will see the Master’s work from the proper angle. Only rarely do we have that privilege on this side of the grave.

The redemptive life and death of Jesus Christ constitute the best thing that has ever happened. It is the victory of God over those who would impugn His glory. Now, as Jesus said, the Father is glorified, both just and the justifier of men, all through the suffering of Jesus.

In touching the problem of evil, this shows that God not only permits evil to occur, but even uses it for His own glorious purposes, yet without sin.

The greater mystery is why God would allow evil to place its mark on the truly innocent—our Lord, the Suffering Servant.

Second, God’s holy Word demonstrates how Jesus’ suffering shows forth the finest part of God’s holy character.

Isaiah 53:6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (NASB).

God loves sinners and His own glory enough to expose His Son to His own wrath. We would not know how much God loves us if the Son had not suffered. Moreover, we would not know grace, the unmerited favor of God toward sinners, unless sin and sinners existed. Sin and evil in this world allow us to see the wrath, forgiveness, and dramatic saving impulse of God. As a dark cloth behind a diamond brings out the finest glimmer and reveals its hidden glory, the dark stain of evil reveals the best in God. His glory is revealed more, not less, in an imperfect world.

What if Adam and Eve had been told only about God’s grace? They would have known about it to a great degree, due to God’s direct revelation to their perfected minds. But there would have been limits to their understanding. Just as the delights of sexual pleasure cannot be understood only by reading about them, the delights of God’s grace cannot simply be studied academically—they must be experienced to be fully known.

The Suffering Servant also highlights God’s passion to pursue the sinner unto salvation.

Isaiah 53:11 reads, “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (NASB).

From an entirely human perspective, God had a problem. How could He be just, and yet be the justifier of the guilty elect? He had to be the perfect judge, and yet find a way to pass over exposing the elect to His wrath. In His perfect wisdom, the Father poured out His wrath on the Son so the elect could find reconciliation with the Father. God so loved the world, loved justice, loved His own glory, loved His own satisfaction, that He gave His only begotten Son.

Back to our original problem of evil—in a world without evil, we never would know God’s “leave the ninety and nine” love. Remember that Jesus is the Seeker in the New Testament, not the sinner. He said, “ ‘The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost’ ” (Luke 19:10, NASB). Lost people aren’t seeking salvation from God any more than rats are seeking salvation from cats.

So based on God’s purposes for manifest evil of all types in this world and in His redemptive plan, how should we then live?

First, we are not afraid to suffer for the kingdom. We give and we give and we spend our lives in adventures of redemption, seeking the lost, risking it all. We turn from lives designed to maximize our vacation and begin to live in ways that maximize God’s salvation.

Second, we do not blaspheme God when moral or natural evil touches us. We look for His hand of providence in everything, and we bless Him and live, not curse Him and die. We stand with Job, who said: “ ‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD’ ” (Job 1:21b).

Finally, we rejoice in the bloody, brutal, primitive Gospel of Jesus’ death, knowing that without Jesus’ stripes we would not be healed, because that was the only way God could be both just and the justifier. We are not ashamed of the Gospel, we do not try to clean the goop off of it or update it with modern conventions, but we give the whole bloody mess to the sinner and saint alike. We are not ashamed of the Gospel.

“How Long, O Lord?”

Those Whom He Loves

Keep Reading Righteous Wrath: The Wrath of God

From the February 2002 Issue
Feb 2002 Issue