The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
"IF GOD purposed that sin should enter the world, why does He cast Satan into the lake of fire for doing what it was planned he should do?" On the surface this question seems reasonable and right, but beneath its demand for fairness lies the most malignant of all sins. God is put in the same category with man. He is placed on trial by a jury of His peers. He is called to account as though He were a criminal and we were gods, high and mighty, and far more just than He. It denies His deity; it undermines His sovereignty. Man takes His empty throne and is seated in the place supreme.
When the great apostle of the nations was confronted with the equivalent of this question he did not even deign to answer it (Rom.9:19). None who ask it can be enlightened unless first of all they take the place which becomes them in His august Presence. So we echo the apostle's reply. Of those who seek to overthrow the truth by questioning God's right to do what He does, we simply ask, Who are you? We have no controversy with them. Their quarrel is with God. Until they bow to the Creator and acknowledge that they are merely creatures, His ways will be hidden and His doings devious and dark.
This question is but an echo of man's objections to God's dealings with Pharaoh. "You will be protesting to me, then, `Why, then, is He still blaming? For has anyone withstood His intention?'" What is the spirit's answer to such insolence? "O man, who are you, to be sure, who are rejoining to God? That which is moulded does not protest to the moulder, `Why do you make me thus?' Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, and one for dishonor" (Rom.9:19)?
Jehovah said "I will harden Pharaoh's heart" (Ex.7:3). The Hebrew word here rendered "harden" is the same as is elsewhere translated, encourage, establish, strengthen, fortify, etc. Why should it have a special meaning when applied to Pharaoh? Pharaoh's heart was weak. It had to be fortified after the very first infliction (Ex.7:22). After the second, he called for Moses and Aaron and told them he would let the people go (Ex.8:8). After the third it was again fortified (Ex.8:19). After the fourth he weakened once more, and promised to let the people go into the wilderness (Ex.8:2).
While God had to encourage the king's heart, Pharaoh took the honor and glory to himself. This is entirely obscured in our version, where two distinct terms are both rendered "harden." The second term is the same as that in the precept "Honor thy father and thy mother" (Ex.20:12). It never has the sense of harden. Pharaoh honored or glorified his own heart (Ex.8:15,32 ; 9:34). God's answer to this is in the same terms, "And the Egyptians shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have gotten Me honor upon Pharaoh..." (Ex.14:18).
Nothing is more mistaken than the supposition that the Pharaoh of the oppression was a mighty strongheart, whom nothing could move, and that his persistent opposition brought his destruction. His heart was infirm and faltering from the first to the finish. He sought one compromise after another, but whenever he weakened, Jehovah fortified his heart, so that he refused to carry out his concessions. It is useless for us to seek to evade the facts. Moses said, "Thus saith Jehovah, `Let My people go, that they may serve Me!'" (Ex.10:3). Pharaoh said "Go" (Ex.10:8). "But Jehovah fortified Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the sons of Israel go" (Ex.10:20).
The ruler of Egypt was the merest puppet in the hands of God. Pharaoh did not think so. He was conscious of no external coercion. He gloried in the influx of a mysterious might that enabled him to recover from his spells of fear and answer these miserable Hebrew slaves as they deserved. Herein lies the real essence of what is misnamed free will. It is simply that men are not conscious of coercion. Their volition is not really the independent deity it seems to be. It is as much the product of law as all else in nature. It is a composite of the interior and exterior forces in which they, have their being. Free will is the insensibility brought on by the anesthetic ignorance.
The important point for us to fix firmly is the fact that God was apparently working counter to His revealed will. It is but natural for us to suppose that, if He said that He wanted His people to go, He would use His influence with Pharaoh to effect their deliverance. But we forget the divine purpose back of it all. Israel's liberation and exodus and Pharaoh's defeat were not the end in view. They were merely the means. The immediate purpose was the revelation of God's power. The ultimate purpose is the complete revelation of Himself.
All knowledge is relative. The greatness of God's power can only be grasped by contrast with another similar power. Egypt's greatness and strength must be established before God's might can be manifested by its overthrow. And, if the ruler of Egypt begins to melt before His might, he must be held together long enough to stand up before the onslaughts of Jehovah. Man's puny power must actually be reinforced by God before it can even form a foil for the display of His strength.
The physical is a parable of the spiritual. Almost all locomotion or progress is the result of two counteracting forces. The major, or applied power, is modified by a minor or secondary directing force. Were the ships that cross the sea compelled to sail before the wind they would seldom reach a haven. The helmsman holds the vessel across the path of the breeze by pitting the water against the wind. Any sailor will acknowledge that the force that holds a ship to its course is quite as necessary to its usefulness as the driving power.
Gravity is the essential counter force on land. Without it we could not walk or ride. However much it may weigh on us and tire us, we could make no progress whatever without it. In walking, we lift our feet from the ground. They would continue to leave the earth but for gravity. We could not put them down again, for we have no support for a downward thrust, unless we are walking in a tunnel. But for gravity a vehicle could ascend a hill as easily as go down. Indeed, it could do neither, for it would soon leave the ground and lose all its power of traction.
The principle of two opposing forces is contained in almost all methods of utilizing mechanical energy. Every motorist knows that to get the full effect of his fuel, the momentum of an internal combustion engine must compress the charge after it has been exploded in order to produce practical results. These forces must not be equally balanced, of course, or the engine will stall. In operation, when the charge explodes, it is not immediately allowed to propel the piston, but the inertia of the engine compresses it for a brief instant, greatly increasing its potential power. After this it is allowed to do its proper work. If anyone wishes a practical example of the principle we are discussing, let him try to crank a motor with the spark advanced to running position. The explosion will force the engine backwards, and so forcefully that it will endanger the hand or arm of anyone who does not take due precautions.
The electric dynamo is gradually replacing other methods of producing power, so that, in civilized lands, it bids fair to become the main medium of motion and light and even heat. Suppose we should build a dynamo, driven by water power. We will take cores of soft iron and wind wire around them to make an armature. We will mount these so that the water will set them whirling. But we get no electricity. No practical effect is produced.
Now, however, let us add some magnets and place the poles so that they pull the armature in the opposite direction. Now we have two opposing forces. The result is that we get an electric current. We may not be able to reason out the physical fact that an opposing power is essential, but we know that it works. The moment we withdraw the counter force it ceases to be practical. This subtle form of energy, which can be known only from its effects, is one of the closest approximations to the divine spirit which we have. The only way this physical power can be known is by the same principle which God used in the case of Pharaoh.
As we behold the grand orbs of space we are appalled at the power displayed. The moon, the sun, the myriads of stars, all present such staggering exhibitions of physical force that our imagination reels, and refuses to follow the facts. Yet these immense masses, as well as the most minute particles of matter in the universe are held in place by the operation of two forces, not by one the moon, for instance, like every other object above the earth, is constantly falling. What a tremendous impact it would make if it were not held aloft by the counteracting centrifugal motion which seeks to make it fly off into space!
These are offered simply as illustrations to enable us to grasp the truth taught in God's word, that He pits His power against itself, and introduces conflict into the creation, so as to guide it into the path which leads to perfection. Had Pharaoh obeyed the revealed will of God, Jehovah's purpose would have been defeated. There would have been no mighty portents, no restraining of the Red Sea, no bloodless battle, no defeat of Egypt's armies by a rabble of slaves. God's indignation and power would have remained below the horizon of human perception.
Perhaps no other event has so impressed mankind with the sovereign power of Jehovah as the deliverance of His people out of Egypt. Israel never did and never will forget it. Only a few millenniums have passed since Jehovah led His people from the land of bondage, yet millions of men have marveled at the might and majesty which it manifested. The suffering involved has been justified thousands of times by the lesson which it has conveyed.
With the indisputable and undeniable facts before us, we pray God's forgiveness beforehand for so much as staging the farce of bringing the divine Majesty before the bar of human folly. We repeat the question with which we began, suiting it to the circumstances attending the exodus out of Egypt. "If God purposed that Pharaoh should resist His mandate, why did He plague Egypt and drown Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea for doing what He had planned that they should do?" God Himself replies that it was done to display His indignation and to make His power known (Rom.9:22). And who dares to question His right to do as He wills with His own?
But for those who bow before His divine Majesty, there is a complete and satisfactory solution of the apparent moral obloquy which seems to cling to such arbitrary despotism. Our mistake lies in this, that we take a small segment of God's dealings with Pharaoh as a public character and treat it as though it were the complete cycle of His dealings with him as an individual.
Orthodoxy insists that the die is cast at death. According to its teachings Pharaoh was not only coerced into rebellion against God at the exodus, but he has consciously suffered for his sin ever since, and will do so for all eternity. The annihilationist view is far more merciful to Pharaoh, for he does not receive any punishment in death and suffers extinction of being after enduring the penalty of his acts. The revolt against God's deity has its roots in these unreasonable and irreconcilable doctrines of human destiny.
Once we allow God to complete the broken record of Pharaoh's life it is easy to justify Him and it is easy for God to justify Pharaoh. The great king is not suffering now, before he appears in the judgment to be sentenced. When he does stand before the great white throne, his sentence will be just, in accord with his deeds. The judgment will be, not merely penal, but corrective and remedial. Its end will be death, in which there is no suffering or consciousness of time.
So far as Pharaoh's conscious experience is concerned, his death is immediately followed by his resurrection, and ushers him into the judgment. If he was drowned in the waters of the Red sea he loses all trace of time till he awakens before the great white throne. The judgment is not simply to condemn. Its object is to set right what is wrong. The greatest wrong is his attitude toward God. In the presence of Christ and the awful throne this will be corrected. By means of the blood of Christ his life will be justified (Rom.5:18).
To some it may seem inexplicable that, when he is brought to this point, he should not immediately join the saints, and enter into eonian bliss. But a little reflection will show that this has never been God's way. We are justified and reconciled, yet God does not immediately transport us into the ineffable bliss of His presence. How do most of His saints enter the glory? Through the portals of death. Some of the most faithful have actually suffered death by fire, and not by fire only, but by tortures unspeakably worse and more prolonged.
We do not believe in the theological denial of death embodied in the formula "Sudden death, sudden glory." There is no glory for us until the resurrection. The silence of the Scriptures and the palpable obscurity of theologians should be sufficient to convince anyone on this point. Nevertheless, since the dead know not anything (Ecc.9:5), this statement is true so far as they are aware. In their conscious experience, the moment of repose coincides with the moment of awakening.
Pharaoh dies the second death, yet to him it is quite as if he entered at once into the unutterable glory of the consummation. Through water he enters into the resurrection. Through fire he enters vivification. Thus he is justified, vivified and reconciled. He is a notable example of those whom God locks up in stubbornness (Rom.11:32). In his case, as in all others, it is done, not to lead to his eternal condemnation, but that God may be merciful to him. Christ, Who taught His disciples to love their enemies, will display the richness of His heart and the efficacy of His blood, in the reconciliation of the invisible sovereignties which He created (Col.1:16,20).
At that time no such question will cloud the character of God, so we can well imagine Pharaoh changing it into an affirmation, or, rather, exultation. Well may he exclaim: Blessed be the God Who used my unworthy self to exalt His name and spread His fame! It is an honor to have been trodden beneath His feet!
The case of Satan has some points peculiar to the arch enemy, but it is the same in principle as that of Pharaoh and all of God's opponents. The differences are in degree and detail, not in essence. If God Himself encouraged Pharaoh to oppose His revealed will, we are under no necessity of seeking to invent some new god to be His adversary. Pharaoh carried out God's larger purpose while opposing His apparent determination. So Satan is His instrument for producing the necessary alienation which is the only possible basis of the universal reconciliation.
Satan has no more free will than Pharaoh had. Freedom, in the creature, does not consist in absolute independence of environment, but in accordance with it. God alone originates action. Place, time, and circumstance control His creatures. In reality, they have as little to say about the course of their existence as they had about their creation. But consciously, within the limitations of their own experience, they are allowed the same liberty as Pharaoh had. They may sit upon the throne of their own diminutive personality and fondly dream that they have excluded God from their domain. Of such the chief is Satan, adversary of Christ and slanderer of God.
If judgment were what men think it is, mere punishment for misbehavior, it would be somewhat difficult to see clearly just why Satan should suffer in the lake of fire for having played his part according to the underlying purpose of God. But God's judgment is never such an exhibition of puerile impotence. It sets matters right. During the eons, it will deal with all in accord with His revealed will, and in such a fashion that this will coincide with His underlying purpose at the consummation.
Neither is God's judgment concerned with detached cases, with no reference to its effect on others, especially Himself. He did not make His power known in His dealings with Pharaoh in such a way as to forfeit the regard of all who love justice and righteousness, though such seems to be the case at present. The judgment of Pharaoh will not only set him right but will set God right in the eyes of all His creatures. He is God, hence He must be an absolute ruler. But He will yet show that His is a most benevolent and beneficent rule.
So with Satan. His judgment is unique. Why is he not cast into the lake of fire together with the beast and the false prophet at the beginning of the thousand years? Because God still has work for him to do. If it was contrary to the underlying purpose of God that mankind should rebel at the close of the millennium, why is he kept and loosed in order to bring it about? Some will insist that this rebellion was of the devil. So it was. But if the mayor of one of our municipalities were to set a noted political prisoner loose in order to lead a revolution against the government there are some hard-headed individuals who would hold him responsible just as much, if not more, than the traitor.
Satan's judgment is not a private, but a public affair, quite as much as his previous career. He is not bound for his own sake but to restrain his power for evil. He does not make his escape, but is deliberately loosed in order to stir up strife. It is evident that Gog and Magog would not have rebelled apart from his instigation. They are not "responsible." Neither could Satan have done it if he had not been set free. He is not "responsible." God alone is "responsible," for He is the only One Who is neither bound nor influenced by an exterior force
Here is an episode in the annals of evil which we would commend to the consideration of those who insist on the deity of Satan but repudiate the deity of God. They may refuse Jehovah's solemn declaration that He is the creator of evil and place the sable crown on the brow of Satan and thus rob God of His proper place because their vision of the past has been dimmed by the fogs of tradition, but they cannot confute the fact that in this final irruption of sin, which rehearses briefly its introduction at the first, their god goes forth as the obedient vassal of his Jailer. The unbinding of Satan is just as much the deliberate act of God as his binding at the beginning of the thousand years.
It is worthy of note that Satan is one of the few who receive no hearing before the great white throne. As soon as his part has been played he is cast into the place specially prepared for him and his messengers. There is no need to inquire into his case. All judicial proceedings are superfluous. So he is summarily consigned to the lake of fire.
With ordinary human beings the lake of fire means immediate death. But not so with Satan. A man would soon succumb to imprisonment in the abyss. He stood it for a thousand years. There is no reason to suppose that it was a place of suffering. We have no ground for believing that Satan suffers before his doom. The salutary though severe providence which subdues and softens the hearts of mankind has never been his portion. Some of God's dearest saints have spent a lifetime in pain. They will thank Him for it when they realize its benefits. It does not destroy their sense of God's love. It will form the foil for its display.
For Satan to enter the consummation with all the unbroken pride and arrogance that are his at the end of the thousand years would be unthinkable. Then all creation will have been subdued. So that Satan must be the subject of the severest discipline to bring him into subjection to God and in harmony with all creation at the consummation. This is found in the lake of fire. This is not the place where men are judged. Their judgment precedes it. Satan suffers in it. There is just as equitable a proportion between his life and its rectification as there is in the case of mankind. If men are judged in accord with their deeds it is only reasonable to assume that Satan's doom should be more severe, to accord with his doings.
In brief, the case of Satan presents no special difficulties. The case of Pharaoh or of any man presents precisely the same problem. Indeed, our own experience ought to enable us to understand these greater examples. We may refuse to believe that Satan was made a sinner apart from his own choosing, but we can hardly convince even ourselves that we had any choice in our own entrance into the world as we are. Why not ask, "If men come into a world of sin without their own volition, what right has God to condemn them?" The principle is the same. The answer is the same. God is God, and we are His creatures.
We can see the answer to this problem in the creation about us (Rom.8:18-24). God has subjected it to vanity. It had no will in the matter. But this is in expectation. We can see the solution in our own experience. We are suffering at the present time, not because God uses us to oppose His will, but because we are making it known. Is it not stranger to suffer for doing the will of God, than for consciously undoing His decrees? Is it not more difficult to see why we should suffer than to understand Satan's judgment? But, you say, we have a hope. We know that our suffering does not deserve the glory about to be revealed. So with all suffering. It is transient, disciplinary, corrective, and leads to the haven of God's heart. Christ died for all, and all will eventually benefit by the efficacy of His blood.
If Satan, created to oppose God, were doomed to eternal torment, then we may indeed question the justice of God. If the Slanderer, formed to destroy, is finally annihilated, then indeed we may wonder if God has done right. So long as we are held by either of these alternatives, we are almost forced to shield the character of God by falling back on the assumption that He is not responsible for the creation of His adversary, and thus we unconsciously drag Him from His throne. The doctrine of the deity of the Devil is the rational recoil from God's supposed inability to bring His creation to a successful consummation.
But once we see that sin and suffering are parts of the divine process, not the goal, and that all will contribute to the full revelation of Himself and the utmost blessing of His creatures, we have a destiny which does not demand His dethronement at the beginning. We do not need to fabricate another god to take the blame from His shoulders. In brief, we have a God. Satan's suffering in the lake of fire is essential to God's purpose for both Himself and all creation. It is not his end. It is the process by which he is prepared for his ultimate place in the perfected universe.
The rational retribution of believing in the triumph of Satan at the close is to deify him at the beginning. Reason demands that one who can thwart God and rob Him of the mass of His creatures must be His equal or superior. As a result we come to the most startling conclusion that very few, even of His saints, intelligently hold to the proper deity of God! Of course all will repudiate the charge. They would not think of denying what seems so "fundamental." Yet their words and their actions all proclaim that He is not God alone, but only one of the Christian pantheon.
It is quite fitting that those who hold to eternal torment or annihilation should object to God's deity. They reason in a circle. Because all are not saved He is not God. He is not God because all are not saved. But they should not load us with their problems. We who see the grand ultimate are enabled to acknowledge His Godhood. Eternal torment either deifies the devil or transforms God Himself into a fiend. Annihilation somewhat softens the harshness of His injustice, yet insists on Satan's supremacy. No one can be held by either of these doctrines or any intermediate scheme of human destiny and acknowledge the full deity of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His own loving adamantine will.
It is only as we see His supreme success at the consummation, when He will be All in all His creatures, that we are able to grasp the great truth of the deity of God. Only then can we turn back to the beginning and see Him supreme. Only then can we look above the clouds and see Him ride the storm. Only then can we believe Him when He says (Isa.45:6-9):
I am Yahweh, and there is none else,
Former of light, and Creator of darkness,
Maker of peace, and Creator of evil:
I the Yahweh, am Maker of all these.
Drip jubilation, ye heavens, from above,
And ye skies, distil righteousness.
Open, O earth, and be fruitful with salvation
And let righteousness sprout together with it.
I, Yahweh, am its Creator.
Will one contend with his Former?
The earthenware with the Ceramist?
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