1 – Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 – But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 – For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 – They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 – They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
6 – Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
7 – From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 – They scoff and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 – Their mouths lay claim to Heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 – Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 – They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”
12 – This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 – Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 – All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.
15 – If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.
16 – When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply—
17 – till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
18 – Surely You place them on slippery ground; You cast them down to ruin.
19 – How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 – They are like a dream when one awakes; when You arise, Lord, You will despise them as fantasies.
21 – When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
22 – I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You.
23 – Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.
24 – You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory.
25 – Whom have I in Heaven but You? And Earth has nothing I desire besides You.
26 – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 – Those who are far from You will perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
28 – But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all Your deeds.
On July 17, 1987 four hundred church kids were finishing up a week at a place called the POT O’ GOLD Christian Camp—which is just outside Comfort, Texas. The Guadalupe River runs right by the campus. It started to rain on the last day of the week and—warned by officials that the river would flood, leaders got the kids up early that morning—before breakfast—and loaded them into buses.
But it was too late. By the time the convoy pulled out, the river had already left its banks spilling several inches of water onto the road beside the camp entrance. Most of the buses got through—but the last bus stalled in the rising water—trapping a van that was behind it—the last vehicle in the exiting convoy. An adult told the kids in those two swamped vehicles—all 43 of them—to get out and wade to a large tree and climb up in its branches. One of the drivers of a bus further down the road looked back and watched what happened. He said the first wave of the flash flood to hit that group of campers was ten feet high—and it was followed by four more. The bus and the van were swept away—along with teens and their counselors. Some were able to climb into trees but many couldn’t. The water was just too high and too fast.
Helicopters belonging to the Army, the Texas Department of Public Safety and local TV stations soon arrived and spent hours swooping down to drop harnesses and pluck up survivors. In one case, a girl grabbed onto a rope instead of tying it around herself. As the helicopter lifted her out of the tree, she lost her grip and fell 100 feet to her death. Thirty-three people were eventually pulled to safety. Ten drowned—and one body was never found.
This tragedy was the cover story in a recent issue of Christianity Today. They interviewed three of the survivors and they all said that for the past three decades they have struggled with one question: “Why?” One survivor put it this way, “Why us? Why our group? Why those kids? Hadn’t they been doing everything right? Hadn’t they been praising God just 12 hours before He let the river take them? Why, if He were in control of everything, would God allow this to happen to His children? Why did all those good kids have to die?”
This survivor is asking a question that many have asked down through the years—it’s the inspiration behind our text. Here it is: “If God is just and good—why is there so much bad—so much injustice in this world?”
George Barna once conducted a national survey in which he asked a cross-section of adults: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The top response was, “Why? Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” The fact that so many times the evil prosper while the good suffer—well, it can make people feel that faith in the God of the Bible is a faith that is “in vain.” They think, “If God exists and if He is good—why does He allow things like this to happen?”
I’m reminded of the words of a newsman who was reporting on Hurricane Katrina and said, “If this world is the product of intelligent design, then the designer has some explaining to do.” By the way, this particular issue prevents people from embracing a faith in Christ more than anything else. Even Christians struggle with this one, especially when we see that so many times it is the INNOCENT who seem to suffer the most. Sheldon Vanauken writes, “If only villains got broken backs or cancers, if only cheaters and crooks got Parkinson’s disease, we should see a sort of celestial justice in the universe. But as it is a sweet-tempered child lies dying of a brain tumor, a happy young wife sees her husband and child killed before her eyes by a drunken driver—and we soundlessly scream at the stars: ‘Why? Why?’”
Well—can you relate to Vanauken’s perspective? I mean be honest—are there times when, like the Psalmist, your feet “almost slip when you see the prosperity of the wicked?”
By the way, there’s a theological term for this issue. It’s the word “theodicy” and it is used to describe the age-old attempt of scholars to answer this haunting question: “If God is just—why there is so much injustice?” That brings us to this morning’s topic because the attribute of the Real God—the ONE TRUE GOD—that we are studying is His Justice. And that’s the Bible’s teaching. God’s Word tells us over and over again that in spite of how it may look—GOD is completely JUST. Here’s a brief sampling:
- In Isaiah 61:8 God says, “I, the LORD, LOVE justice.”
- Deuteronomy 32:4 says this about God “All His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”
- Psalm 146:7-9 says that God, “…executes justice for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry; sets the prisoners free. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.”
- In Acts 10 Peter proclaimed, “God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
I like how Ingram puts it in his book. He says, “Justice is not a standard God follows; He IS the standard. He’s not accountable to justice because justice flows from Him. It’s part of Who He is.” Well, as I’ve said, many people look at this world—a world where injustice and unfairness seem to rule—and they question this aspect of God’s character. They ask, “If justice flows from God then why are we drowning in a constant flood of unfairness?” And people deal with this conundrum in several ways.
- Some say that since there is so much unfairness and injustice in the world, God must not exist.
- Some say there is a God—and He is just—but He’s not powerful enough to deal with all the injustice and suffering in the world.
- Some choose a third option: they deny injustice and insist the world IS fair.
This particular group of “theodicists” say if you live right—and have enough faith—you will not experience suffering. You’ll be healthy and wealthy. But this line of thinking doesn’t hold up does it?
- I mean, what about the babies who get AIDS in utero?
- What about the people who are killed as they go to needy third world nations to help hurting people?
- What about that church full of people who died in the recent Tsunami in Indonesia?
- What about the firemen who died trying to rescue people when the Twin Towers fell?
Now—if you are expecting a complete answer to these questions—if you think I’m going to solve the problem of Theodicy here at Redland Baptist on October 7, 2018—well, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not going to happen. I don’t have the answer to this question—I mean, I believe God is completely good. I believe He is all-powerful and only wise—I believe He is sovereign and just. But I don’t know ALL the reasons bad happens. I don’t think anyone does.
Our finite brains don’t have the ability to fully understand this issue. This is one of the things that as the old hymn text puts it, “We will understand better by and by.” I have come to believe the issue here is not UNDERSTANDING but rather TRUSTING. We deal with this conundrum by having faith in God—believing He is just—even when we don’t understand why bad things—unfair things—come our way. And this morning I want to suggest a few things that have helped me nurture this kind of faith. First, I must point out, as many theodicists have, that…
(1) Our very perceptions point to the fact that there is a God and He is just.
I mean, the guys who say, “The God of the Bible cannot exist because there is injustice in the world” are proving themselves wrong. All the evil down through history—all the natural disasters—do NOT validate the opinions of atheists who say, “See? The God of the Bible is a fable.” In fact, it’s the opposite. I mean, the fact that we know evil is real—the fact that we judge things to be unjust, is very clear evidence that our good and JUST God DOES exist.
To show you what I mean, let’s do an experiment. I want to share a true story from the days when an evil man named Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived through it and wrote about it. Here goes:
A communist party conference was underway in a Moscow Province. It was presided over by the District Party Committee. At the mention of the name of their supreme ruler Joseph Stalin, everyone immediately jumped to their feet for stormy applause, raising to an ovation. For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the applause continued, but palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. Who would be the first to stop became the critical question.
And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to Stalin, the applause went on six, seven, eight minutes. Who would be the one to stop? Finally, the manager of a paper factory in that province, with a business-like expression, stopped applauding and sat down after 11 palm-busting minutes.
This man assumed that enough was enough, and when he stopped everyone else did—I think with a great feeling of relief. But, the representatives from the KGB noted that man, arrested him, and he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp—simply because he was the first to stop applauding after 11 minutes.
How many think that was unfair—unjust?
Why? Why is it not 10 minutes or 15? Where did you get your standard? It didn’t come from you. Like me, you are a fallen creature. Without some outside influence you wouldn’t know JUSTICE if it hit you in the face. That outside influence—is God. The fingerprints of our JUST Creator are on our souls. His standard of justice influences you perceptions.
As Ravi Zacharias once put it, “One cannot disprove the existence of God by introducing the reality of evil. Evil exists only if an absolute moral law exits—an objective moral law exists only if God does. [So] to raise the question to disprove God is self-defeating.”
Do you understand this rationale? Zacharias and other wise theodicists are saying that our JUDGEMENT that it is BAD for a guy to go to a labor camp because he stops clapping—our judgment that it is wrong for children to starve—and for innocent people to die in earthquakes—all this presupposes that there is a GOOD—a STANDARD that determines what is evil and what is good. It’s like giving a student an 85 on a test. That grade presumes that 100 is the standard on which that grade is based. In other words, a test grade that is less than perfect infers that there is such a thing as a perfect score. And a WORLD that is less than perfect assumes that perfection does exist and that it must come from OUTSIDE this imperfect world.
God has put His moral code on our hearts. He’s the reason we know certain things are wrong and other things are right. He’s the reason we believe right should be rewarded and wrong punished. Here’s a second thing that has helped nurture my faith that God is indeed just.
(2) We see injustice from a limited perspective.
I mean, we can’t say we KNOW it all—because we can’t SEE it all—so it’s hard for us to accurately judge something as just or unjust.
I remember a clip from some sit-com where a couple guys are watching a convenience store. A convertible sports car pulls up—and the driver parks in the handicap spot. A VERY healthy young man hops out from behind the wheel without even opening the door. He is obviously far from handicapped! The witnesses in the sitcom see that “injustice” — and they think, “That is just not right!” So, they go to the side of the building where they find several garbage cans—and they pour all that stinky trash into the convertible. They fill it up to overflowing with refuse—banana peels, rotten tomatoes, dripping cans—And you and I would probably “AMEN” that kind of thing—because we think we see it all.
But we don’t.
As they are finishing trashing this car, the healthy young man comes out of the 7-11 but he’s not alone. He’s gently escorting his elderly, feeble, handicapped grandfather. He hadn’t come to shop for himself. He’d come to pick up his grandad. That’s why he parked where he parked. So—what we thought was UNJUST was actually just. The injustice was done by the people who filled the car with garbage.
Well, to an infinitely larger extent—that’s our perspective on injustice. We don’t see it all—we don’t understand it all. I mean, it is impossible for us to understand all that God does or does not do. Let me put it this way, we can’t know enough to judge why God lets the evil people of the world get all the good parking spots. We don’t see enough NOW—to know why the good guys get hit with so much injustice. This is what God was saying to us through Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
The fact is, ultimately only God knows all the whys and wherefores of life. Finite beings like you and me—we cannot judge the infinite. With our little minds we cannot grasp God’s limitless perspective. As Paul says in Roman 9:21—God is the Potter and we are just the clay so we can’t always understand His plans and purposes.
Do you remember the familiar words of William Cowper’s poem?
“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. ]He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines, of never-failing skill He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take! The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break, in blessing on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”
Well, Cowper’s words are true—since God is infinitely superior to us in every possible way, we should not presume to judge Him with our “feeble sense.” As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” My point is we need to be careful not to get the “big head” and judge God. As I said last week, we need to humble ourselves and REVERE Him for His wisdom.
Here’s a third thing that has helped me have faith in God’s justice.
(3) I have learned not confuse God with life.
This principle is not original with me. I read about it in a book written by Philip Yancey, entitled, Disappointment With God. In it Yancey tells about a man named Douglas. Douglas had enjoyed a very lucrative career in psychotherapy. But he decided to leave all that success and the wealth that came from it to spend his life helping the poor—the under-resourced. Not too long after that life change, his wife discovered a lump in her breast. It was cancer and doctors did radical surgery but two years later they found that the cancer had spread to her lungs. While his wife suffered through chemotherapy, Douglas took over many household and parental duties. Sometimes she couldn’t hold down her food. She lost her hair and always felt tired. She was vulnerable to fear and depression. One night in the midst of all this, Douglas was driving down a city street with his wife and twelve-year-old daughter in the car. A drunk driver swerved across the center line and smashed into them head-on. Douglas’ wife was badly shaken, but unhurt.
His daughter suffered a broken arm and severe facial cuts from windshield glass. But Douglas got the worst of it. He had a massive blow to the head. After the accident, Douglas never knew when a headache would come on. He couldn’t work a full-day and sometimes he would become disoriented and forgetful. Worse, the accident permanently affected his vision. One eye wandered at will refusing to focus. He developed double vision and could hardly walk down a flight of stairs without assistance. He could no longer read—something he had LOVED to do—but no more. Yancey asked Douglas about his disappointment with God and Douglas replied:
“To tell you the truth Philip, I don’t feel any disappointment with God. Here’s why. I have learned, first through my wife’s illness and then through my accident, not to confuse God with life. I’m no stoic. I am as upset about what has happened to me as anyone could be. I feel free to curse the unfairness of life and to vent all my grief and anger. But I believe God feels the same way about that accident—grieved and angry. I don’t blame Him for what happened. I have learned to see beyond the physical reality of this world to the spiritual reality. We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life—but expecting constant good health, for example—then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment. God’s existence, even His love for me, does not depend on my good health. Frankly, I’ve had more time and opportunity to work on my relationship with God during my impairment than before.”’
I know I’ve shared this story before, and I share it again because it’s a reminder of a very important truth—I’m referring to the fact that, God is not to blame for the unfairness of this world. WE ARE. It’s mankind’s fault that bad things happen. As I told you a couple weeks back, the sin of Adam and Eve didn’t just affect you and me. IT affected this world as well. Because MAN fell—creation fell. Before sin entered this world there was no unfairness—no hurricanes—no tsunamis—no cancer.
In the first few verses of the thirteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel—Jesus was asked about some Galileans who were apparently murdered while they were innocently worshiping in the temple—and about eighteen people who were killed when a tower in the village of Siloam fell on them. In His response our Lord inferred that these disasters happened not because of the sin of those who were killed but simply because bad things happen in a fallen world.
He was saying that thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve this is not a safe place in which to live. This world is unfair—but God is not this world.
Here’s a fourth thing I have learned about this issue—a fourth fact that helps nurture my faith in our JUST God.
(4) I know that God will judge all injustice sooner or later.
Let’s start with “sooner” — the ways we have seen God judge evil in THIS world. As Ingram reminds us, “God judged Cain for Abel’s murder; He judged the world for the epidemic of sin that led to the flood, He judged the arrogance of those who built the tower of Babel; He judged the people of Sodom and Gomorrah; He judged the greed of Ananias and Saphira.”
God DOES judge evil.
I had a dear Christian friend years ago. He was a loving and faithful husband. He was a great dad to his sons. He was a deacon—active in his church. But one day he decided he would leave his loving wife for another woman—the mother of a girl his son was engaged to. You can imagine the pain he caused his family. Think of how it affected his son. Well, I took a mutual friend and went to talk to this man. We admonished him for his decision—we lovingly tried to help him see the error of his ways. We appealed to his sense of right and wrong. But he was adamant. He said, “I don’t care. I know what the Bible says but it’s MY turn to be happy. I’m going to do this. I’m not turning back.” Well, a week after he married this other woman he had a massive heart attack and died instantly. I believe that was God’s judgment.
I mean, God doesn’t sit around doing nothing. He does judge the disobedient. We see His judgment in incidents like this—we see it in history as tyrants like Hitler and Hussein and Ben Laden meet their just end. I’m saying, that it’s wildly inaccurate to say that God does not punish evil. He does sooner or later.
In fact, that’s enough of the “sooner.” Let’s talk about the later.
As 1st Peter 4:5 says, a time will come when all will “give an account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” In John 5 Jesus promised, “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear My voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
A final judgment is coming. No one will escape it. Some may seem to avoid punishment in this life—but no one escapes God’s perfect justice. The psalmist in today’s text understood this. He said, he was upset because the bad guys seemed to be rewarded. He felt that way until, he understood their final destiny. Listen, we must remember that this world of ours is a TEMPORARY world. It’s a fallen, unfair world. The real world—the permanent world—the fair world—THAT world is yet to come. This is what the psalmist is talking about when he says, “Afterward—after this life—You God will take me into glory.” As 2nd Peter 3:13 says, “In keeping with [Jesus’] promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
I love an insight that Yancey shares in another of his books, The Bible Jesus Read. In his commentary on the book of Job he writes,
“The pleasure that Job enjoyed in his old age is a mere foretaste of what is to come. Chapter 42 includes one poignant detail. All of Job’s material possessions are doubled in his old age. Once the owner of 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 donkeys, he now possesses 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 donkeys. Significantly though, his family does not double. The father of seven sons and three daughters becomes the father of seven new sons and three new daughters—not 14 sons and 6 daughters. Even in the middle of the Old Testament, which has a shadowy concept of the afterlife at best, the book of Job clearly intimates that Job will one day get his original family back. The ten children he tragically lost will be restored to him.”
The thing that makes death bearable for us as Christians—especially the death of children like those kids killed in the flood in Texas—is our knowledge that because of Jesus we will one day get them back. This world us unfair—in its unfair things happen—but this world is not eternal. It’s just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg that is eternity. In the ETERNAL world—there will be justice! One more thing and I’m done. I know…
(5) God did not exempt Himself from injustice.
Listen, we ALL deserve death. We all deserve God’s judgment—because we are all sinners. We all fall short. We all go our own way instead of God’s. Our thoughts and our actions condemn us. The only reason we don’t get what we deserve is because in Jesus God got what He didn’t deserve. I mean, did Jesus DESERVE to die on the cross? No—He had done nothing to deserve that cruel death. He had broken no laws—He had done no wrong. In fact, everything He did was completely RIGHT. He healed the sick—calmed storms that would have drowned His followers—He fed the hungry. He fought injustice by cleaning the temple TWICE. He even raised the dead. Yet, He was executed as a criminal.
So, as Yancey writes, “No one is exempt from tragedy and disappointment—God Himself was not exempt. Jesus offered no immunity, no way out of the unfairness—rather He offered a way THROUGH it to the other side.” Jesus faced the just punishment YOU and I had coming.
That’s grace—and we also see it in the fact that God doesn’t judge the world now. As 2nd Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish—but everyone to come to repentance.
I don’t know the complete answer to this popular question—but I do know these things I’ve shared with you. I hope they help you to nurture a more “Job-like faith” — one in which you can say, “Though He slay me—yet will I trust Him.”