The Problem of Suffering: Further Arguments by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.



The Problem of Suffering: Further Arguments

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

When one engages in debates over the problem of evil, the deficiencies of several standard arguments become obvious. Perhaps, with further refinement, these arguments might become more useful. In the meantime, Christians should be aware that their opponents have some ready comebacks. Frequently, in a free-for-all discussion (such as in a college dorm room or an introductory philosophy class), there is no opportunity to press each line of reasoning, or to improvise “on the fly.”

Also, there is a real temptation to flee from theodicy to theodicy (a “theodicy,” literally, is a justification of God). The dynamic of the argument tends to go along the following lines: the atheist makes his charge, you make a defense, the atheist counters, and then you resort to another defense. This can keep going, but only for so long. Eventually, you may find yourself bringing up the first argument. Your opponent repeats his criticism, and you are back to where you started.

My feature article represents an attempt to break out of this cycle by making what is, in the atheists’ view, an illicit move (i.e., insisting that the entire content of faith has everything to do with sorting out an alleged contradiction within that faith). However, this is not going to stop the atheist from bringing up the usual theodicies only to criticize them, and so we should be aware of how this debate often proceeds.

For example, a popular theistic argument rests on the concept of free will. The idea here is that suffering came into the world through the bad choices of Adam and Eve. Their resulting expulsion from the Garden of Eden forced their descendants to face a hostile world “red in tooth and claw.” Humans continue to make the wrong decisions, which brings further suffering. Victims of drunk drivers are the classic examples of people who suffer for the wrong doings of others. Despite these terrible consequences, a world populated by free moral beings is supposed to be better than a world in which there is less evil, but which is populated by creatures who have little or no choice.

This argument is attractive because it has a biblical basis in the Fall, and because it seems highly intuitive. Most of us have a strong sense that we are free to choose, and that uncoerced people of sound mind are responsible for the choices they make. If we want to blame anybody for our woes, it must be ourselves, not God.

John Mackie’s well-known challenge against this view is to pose the following question of God: “Why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?” (1990, p. 33). In this alternative world, there would be moral beings just like us, except they would choose to do right on every occasion.

The first reaction is to think that this demands a logical impossibility of God. If God creates beings who cannot sin, then He has created beings without free will. But this is not what the critic is asking: he thinks it is possible for an all-knowing, all-powerful God to create beings who could sin, but would not. If the Creator had made us in such a way that we could sin, and would sin, then this makes it seem as if we were destined to sin. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, eventually one of their descendants would have made the wrong choice. So, contrary to the intentions of the free-will argument, skeptics believe that God still must bear the brunt of the blame for suffering.

The critic may try to support this line of reasoning with what Christians claim for the life of Christ. After all, Jesus could have sinned, but did not. It is tempting to respond by pointing out His divine nature. However, if that nature shielded Christ from making the wrong choices, then it cannot be true that He was “in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). No doubt, Jesus had some special advantages, such as knowing God’s will perfectly. This could have helped Him avoid the sins of omission, or sins committed out of ignorance. Even so, there are times when we fail to do what we know is right. From a biblical standpoint, it is better to view the sinless life of Christ as an example (Philippians 2:5-8) and a prerequisite for His sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews 9:12-28), rather than proof of His deity.

Even if we can get past these doctrinal issues, the atheist will bring up the old philosophical debate between freedom and determinism. Traditionally, at least, critics of theism have allied themselves with some version of the latter view. This article is not the place to rehearse that debate, but anyone who wishes to use a free-will theodicy must be able to defend the notion of free will itself.

Given these sorts of difficulties, perhaps the reader can begin to see why I take the approach presented in the accompanying feature article. Notice that Mackie’s challenge is one of those “why” questions directed against God. It may be a good question, but that is not Mackie’s intent. In his view, God’s “failure to avail himself” of the possibility of creating free beings that would choose always to do right “is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good” (Mackie, 1990, p. 33). But how do we know that this was a possibility open to God? Could God not have some good reason for creating a world in which evil might become a reality (Plantinga, 1977, pp. 26-28)? It seems that we are not in a position to discern that reason. Anyone may wish that God had been able to create a different kind of world, but to insist that God does not exist because we think He should or could have done otherwise is quite another matter.

Another argument, made famous by John Hick, takes as its starting point a statement by Irenaeus (a second-century “church father”): “the creation is suited to [the wants of] man; for man was not made for its sake, but creation for the sake of man” (Against Heresies, v.xxix.1). Hence, the creation has a human-centered purpose that, according to Hick, includes the molding and making of our souls in the fiery trials of pain and suffering (1992, p. 492). Borrowing a phrase from John Keats, he sees this present life as a “vale of Soul-making.” Individuals perfect their souls by responding appropriately to the evils of this world.

Again, this approach seems attractive at first glance. God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). As we see in the case of Job, how we respond to the trials of life matters a great deal to God. Yet even committed theists have questioned whether suffering is the most important ingredient in spiritual growth—important enough to create a world specifically for that purpose (e.g., Adams and Adams, 1990, p. 19; Frame, 1994, p. 164). In reality, some people respond negatively to suffering, and would rather “curse God and die.” Then there are those people who seem blessed beyond measure, yet have no interest in serving God. Other individuals seem incapable of deriving any benefit from suffering, such as the child who dies at an early age. And what do we say of the faithful Christian who never has experienced intense pain or deep sorrow? Has this blessing made him or her woefully imperfect? As far as the apostle Paul was concerned, his own sufferings meant nothing as long as he might “gain Christ and be found in Him” (Philippians 3:8-9). Clearly, a world with surplus evil or, for that matter, a preponderance of good, is not the crucial factor in perfecting one’s soul.

At best, the soul-making theodicy is a partial answer, but in no way does this compromise the Christian position. A critic may want to suggest that without Hick’s account we lack an explanation for why God placed man in a world with so much suffering. Here is that “why” question again: it assumes that our ignorance of God’s reasons reflects badly on Him, which it does not.

Finally, some theodicists have argued that this is not a perfect world, but is the best of all possible worlds. If God has the attributes we think He has, then apparently the world has to contain significant amounts of evil.

This view really serves as an umbrella for many of the other arguments. We could draw on the free-will argument, and insist that this world is the best place for including free moral beings. We could draw on the soul-making theodicy, and insist that this world is the best place for having evils that perfect our souls. In the final analysis, this may not be a perfect world, but it is the best way to that perfect world.

Critics, for the most part, simply have a hard time buying this argument. Is this world really the best that an all-powerful, all-loving God can do for us? Why did God not create a world in which moral beings can choose to do right or wrong, but always choose to do right? [We have seen that question already.] Why did God have to create moral creatures at all? Could He not have created a world in which there were beings unable to choose between right and wrong? At least in such a world, there would be no moral evil. Or, why create a world at all? Is it really better that a material world should exist, whether it is populated by moral or nonmoral beings? Supposedly, creation is a divine grace, but could God not have refrained from imparting this gift? Christians claim to know of a perfect world already—they call that place heaven. Why could God not create us in heaven?

Without knowing God’s mind, we do not have the answers to these questions. We do not know why God created us the way we are. We do not know why God created a world in which suffering was possible. We do not know why we must pass through a physical existence first. Does the Bible’s silence on these matters reflect badly on the Christian faith? By no means. Christianity never claimed to have every answer, but only those answers “that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:2-3).


Adams, Marilyn McCord and Robert Merrihew Adams (1990), The Problem of Evil (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press).

Frame, John M. (1994), Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R).

Hick, John (1992), “The Irenaean Theodicy,” To Believe or not to Believe, ed. E.D. Klemke (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; originally published in Evil and the God of Love, 1966, chap. 13), pp. 482-494.

Mackie, J.L. (1990), “Evil and Omnipotence,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Mind, 1955, 64:200-12), pp. 25-37.

Plantinga, Alvin (1977), God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

The Problem of Suffering by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.



 The Problem of Suffering

by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Just to be human is to deal with emotional and physical pain on a day-to-day basis. This is the practical and existential problem of suffering that affects, and is affected by, our world view. Even Christians, who confess a living God (Matthew 16:16), may wonder: Where is this God when we need Him? Why doesn’t He do something? These questions may lead to doubt, and then to disbelief. Atheists see only vindication in events like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. They hear a mother on the evening news proclaiming, “It’s a miracle that my baby survived,” and wonder: Would it have been much bother for God to have done the same for everyone else? This is not a new argument. But given academic freedom in the modern secular university, unbelievers are able to wield the extent and depth of human suffering with devastating effect on ungrounded faith.

If we understand the intellectual problem of suffering, we may have a better chance of coming through the emotional side of the problem. However, my primary goal is to defend theism, and Christianity in particular, against the charges leveled by atheists. In so doing, I intend to show how one common tactic may distract us from a God-centered response.


The intellectual problem of suffering is a challenge unique to theists. By “theist” I mean anyone who believes in a Being Who exists beyond or outside the natural world, yet Who is able to be involved in the course of human events. This excludes deists, for example, who believe that a Supreme Being created the world, and left it alone. Christians, Jews, and Moslems, for the most part, count themselves as theists. Specifically, most readers of this article will be Christians who believe that God has attributes that are infinite in degree: that He is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and so on.

Then the following question arises: How do we reconcile the existence of suffering with the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing God? The argument goes something like this:

  1. If God is all-powerful, He could do something to prevent or end suffering.
  2. If God is all-loving, He would want to prevent or end suffering.
  3. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world.
  4. Therefore, God either is not all-loving or not all-powerful.

The reason I say that this is a problem for the theist is that the atheist does not believe in the first two premises. He rejects that there is a God Who could do something about suffering if He had the power, and he rejects that there is a God Who would do something about suffering if He had the inclination. He does not deny the third premise—that there is suffering. Like every human being, he faces the existential problem of suffering. As far as he is concerned, suffering just is: it is part of our unplanned, purposeless existence. We live, we die—end of story. Only for the sake of the present argument does the atheist grant God’s existence. All he is asking us to do, as theists, is reconcile or justify suffering, given that God is supposed to be an all-loving and all-powerful Being.

Skirting the Problem

Some people have tried to sidestep the problem by denying one of the three premises listed above. This was the approach taken by Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi who lost his son at an early age to a cruel and debilitating disease. God is infinitely good, Kushner concluded in his immensely popular book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981), but He is not all-powerful.

Other theologians have suggested that God neither is infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but only in the process of acquiring these attributes. So it is understandable that there should be imperfections in our world because God, while great, likewise is imperfect or incomplete. Like Kushner, their “solution” is to abandon the God of conventional theism (e.g., Edwards, 1972, p. 213). Unfortunately, as John M. Frame has observed, such a finite god offers no “sure hope for the overcoming of evil” (1994, p. 157). In the end, this god is not the God that most Christians would want to defend.

Finally, someone may wish to deny the third premise by maintaining that suffering is not real. What we call “suffering,” they might say, is just an illusion. This is the position of Eastern mysticism, not of theism. Spinoza, a radical Jewish philosopher, maintained that evil was mere deprivation. When we think we are suffering, all we are doing is acting like children who have been denied toys or candy. If only we had a complete picture of reality, Spinoza would say, we would know God, and nothing would appear imperfect. But for Spinoza, nature and God were one and the same. Again, this is not the God of theism. Most Christians, like most atheists, acknowledge that suffering is all too real. Indeed, that Jesus suffered for the sake of mankind is a vital element of the Christian faith (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:26; Acts 17:3; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:20-25; 4:12-19; etc.).

Dismissing the Problem

So, let us say that we want to deal with this problem without giving up any of God’s essential characteristics. Where do we begin? One approach is to maintain that no explanation is necessary. We, as mere mortals, should not have to “justify the ways of God to Men” (to use a phrase of John Milton’s). Or, in the words of a Simon and Garfunkel song, “God has a plan, but it’s not available to the common man.” If God is Who we think He is, then there must be an explanation, but it is beyond our grasp.

Alvin Plantinga (1977) takes a more defensive approach. He points out that suffering, and the claims about God, are not contradictory. It is not like saying, for example,

Only birds have feathers.
Tweety has feathers.
Therefore, Tweety is not a bird.

Clearly, the last line contradicts the preceding lines. But where is the contradiction in affirming both that there is suffering, and that God is an all-loving and all-powerful Being? What a critic must do is supply some extra premises (e.g., Mackie, 1990, p. 26). He would have to insist, for instance, that the theist’s perfectly good God always would eliminate evil insofar as He could. That there is so much evil is supposed to show that God is not all-good. Further, a critic would have to insist that there are no limits to what this Being could do. That there is so much evil is supposed to show that God’s powers are limited.

The trouble is, these additional claims for what God would or could do fail to take into account a complete picture of God. For God to “eliminate evil insofar as He could” still may mean that we have a lot of evil in the world, because to reduce it any further might violate one of God’s other attributes. We simply do not know what conditions would make the existence of both God and evil logically contradictory (also see Pike, 1990, pp. 48,52). As to God’s power, there are no limits as to what He could bring to bear in any one situation. However, the actual power He uses would depend on other characteristics, such as grace, love, mercy, and so on. At the time of His arrest, the Son of God could have called on twelve legions of angels, but not without contradicting the promises of His Father in heaven (Matthew 26:52-56).

Plantinga has given us a good place to start. Theists could say, at least initially, that there is nothing irrational about believing in God and acknowledging the reality of evil. Still, people may think that this is a problem that Christians need to address. Have we got anything more to say?

Answering the Problem

One reason to suspect that there must be more answers is that the Bible—the foundation of our faith (Romans 10:17)—is not exactly silent on the subject. The Book of Job shows that God stood back and allowed a man to suffer at the hands of the Adversary. Job’s world collapsed around him. He lost his property, his children, and his health. During this time, he had no idea why these things were happening to him. Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die” (2:9). Three of his friends thought terrible sins must lie at the root of such misfortunes. Job himself came to question God’s goodness and power. In the end, of course, Job regained his faith, wealth, and much more.

But could we say that all these terrible events were necessary? Perhaps we can learn something from these events, but how can we justify the collateral damage? A great wind collapsed a house on Job’s children, killing everyone inside (1:18-19). Natural calamities killed his animals, and raiders killed his servants (1:15-17). Was all this death necessary to teach Job, and us, a lesson about suffering?

And what about the death of Christ? Maybe—just maybe—the skeptic might go along with us and agree that Jesus had to die to save us from our sins. But why did He have to die with such humiliation, with scourging and beatings, and a tortuous death on the cross? Why did God not do a better job of arranging events so that His own Son could die in a more humane way? Besides, if humankind is guilty, why not punish the whole of mankind? Why did it have to be taken out on Someone else?

To those outside the faith, all this makes no sense, yet it is central to Christianity. And therein lies the problem. When I say it “makes no sense,” I mean it makes no sense without appeal to religious concepts found in Scripture. “But why should I believe the Bible?,” a critic will respond. That is a good question, to which Christians can offer all sorts of good reasons, but that is not what the skeptic has asked us to do in this case. The fact is, every concept important to Christianity comes from the Bible, and so it is to the Bible we must go if we are to find answers that are consistent with the claims we are making about Christianity. Ultimately, I suspect, this is why well-grounded Christians remain immune to the atheists’ attacks on this front. To some degree or another, they know that suffering does not reflect badly on what they understand of God.

Likewise, if we introduce concepts such as sin, salvation, miracles, and so on, the atheist often will respond, “Yes, but they depend on the existence of God. If God does not exist, then these explanations disappear.” Again, whether God exists is beside the point. Atheists have challenged us to reconcile certain attributes of God with the existence of evil. They were not challenging us (on this occasion) to defend the existence of God. The very problem, as it is posed to us, grants that God exists.

This is such a common tactic that I must make this point absolutely clear: the atheist cannot accuse us of a contradiction within our faith, and then block us from introducing the entire content of that faith (as opposed to discussing just the logical claims that are made about God’s attributes). Perhaps this is why the argument gets bogged down in philosophy, when really, it is a theological issue. Marilyn McCord Adams agrees:

Where the internal coherence of a system of religious beliefs is at stake, successful arguments for its inconsistency must draw on premisses (explicitly or implicitly) internal to that system or obviously acceptable to its adherents; likewise for successful rebuttals or explanations of consistency (1990, p. 210).


The Origin of Suffering

As is often the case, the Book of Beginnings is the best place to start in dealing with fundamental questions. Genesis tells us that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, and gave them access to the Tree of Life. They would live forever as long as they could eat from this tree (Genesis 3:22), but they were not immortal. God told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, otherwise they would surely die (Genesis 2:17).

At some point, apparently not too long after the creation week, Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and she, in turn, convinced Adam to do the same. This brought judgment from God. He separated them from the Tree of Life, and promised that people would suffer, and that Satan would be defeated (Genesis 3:14-19). It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this situation. We suffer—even innocent children suffer—because of the sin of two people. How could God allow so much suffering to exist for so long?

God is Sovereign

From God’s perspective, the first step is not to answer a question like this, but to deal with our accusations. Job is a case in point. The old patriarch accused God of

  • judging him falsely (9:20)
  • wronging him (19:6)
  • persecuting him (19:22)
  • not judging the wicked (24:1-12), and
  • ignoring all his good works (31:1ff.).
  • Job’s cry, like our own, seems to be “Why God? Why?!”

God’s response was to ask some probing questions of Job:

Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.... Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (40:2,8).

In his questioning, Job assumed that God was at fault. His three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—assumed that Job was at fault for some great sin that he must have committed, and God chastened them for this presumption, too (42:7ff.).

Finally, young Elihu recognized that, on occasion, suffering can have a purpose. God can use it to judge the wicked, strengthen the faithful, aid the oppressed, and bless the righteous. And yet, throughout his criticism of Job, the level-headed Elihu affirmed the sovereignty of God: “Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words” (33:13).

Paul followed the same theme in Romans 9. The apostle was responding to a “not fair” claim on the part of Jewish Christians. Apparently, some of them felt that they, as descendants of Abraham, merited a greater share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom. Of course, as Paul pointed out in verse 8, it is the children of the promise, not the children of flesh, who were to be the children of God and, therefore, heirs of salvation. He illustrated this with the example of Esau and Jacob. Some might point out that Jacob’s having a higher place than his older brother was an injustice, but God had a plan that did not take into account manmade customs of inheritance. To anyone who would accuse God of being unjust in this case (vs. 14), Paul would remind them of God’s sovereignty: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (vs. 15).

While he was at it, Paul dealt with another familiar accusation: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’” (vs. 19). In other words, “if the things that happen in my life are God’s will, then surely they are out of my control, and if my life is not my own, then why should God hold me responsible for the things I do? It’s not fair for us to suffer if God is supposed to be in control.” Again, Paul responded with a countercharge: “Who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (vs. 20). Our duty is to do what is right, not to worry about what God is doing and why.

On returning to the original question concerning Gentiles, Paul pointed out that God had been working throughout history to bring about His mercy. Along the way, He suffered the disobedience of Gentiles and Jews alike. God “endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (vs. 22). But, by His teaching and the unveiling of a redemptive plan, God had made “known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy” (vs. 23). Both Jews and Gentiles were vessels filled with iniquity, but God rescued those whom He called, and has filled them with His mercy (vs. 24).

God is Just

Paul’s comments about mercy lead us to a second response: not only is God sovereign, but His mercy demonstrates that He is just. Mercy is revealed in God’s redemptive plan: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s goal is redemption. He does not wish suffering on any of us; He wishes that we were with Him in heaven where there is no pain and suffering. Let us revisit Romans, but chapter 3 this time. Paul wrote: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [an appeasing sacrifice—TM] by His blood, through faith” (vss. 23-25a).

By justifying us, God shows that He is just; by making us righteous, He shows that He is righteous. We are justified through faith

...to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vss. 25b-26).

Often we think of God’s justifying us, but here we see that God’s justness is revealed to us at the same time. This was not so evident to the people of the Old Testament who lacked the clear testimony of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If God already has revealed so much to us in history, we can only wait in wonder to see what will be revealed to us in the future: “If we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:18,25).

In Frame’s view, Romans is the New Testament equivalent of Job. It is as much about the justification of God (a theodicy) as it is about the justification of man.

Romans confirms, therefore, what we have seen elsewhere in Scripture. (1) We have no right to complain against God, and when we do, we expose ourselves as disobedient. (2) God is under no obligation to give us an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of evil. He expects us to trust him in spite of that. (3) God’s sovereignty is not to be questioned in connection with the problem of evil; it is rather to be underscored. (4) God’s word, his truth, is altogether reliable. (5) As a matter of fact, God is not unjust. He is holy, just, and good (Frame, 1994, p. 178).


God is all-good, God is all-powerful, and yes, there is an abundance of suffering. People have struggled with this apparent dilemma throughout the ages. Sometimes we mortals may try to vindicate our God by presuming to know His mind, but God says “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). In short, God is sovereign. There is nothing wrong with asking “why” questions, but when they turn into accusations, we challenge His sovereignty. Why was this woman raped? Why did thousands die in a tropical cyclone? No one can answer these specific questions adequately, anymore than the two-year old can understand why she must undergo heart surgery (Adams, 1990, p. 217; see also Frame, 1994, pp. 150-151). The little girl does not hate her parents for the pain, but continues to love and trust them based on her life experience.

Given the tremendous amount of suffering in this world, could we not assume that God is sovereign, but some sort of malevolent ruler? On the contrary, Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross has shown God to be just.

Well-grounded Christians, I am convinced, have a strong intuition that the atheists’ standard arguments on the problem of suffering are wrong. The answers they find have more to do with the “how” of Christian faith, than the “why” of presumption against God. They want to respond with Job, and they want to respond with Christ, because these examples make sense out of suffering for them, but the atheists always try to block this part of the conversation. They ridicule the Bible and the Christian experience. They give anecdotal stories about people who lost their faith in the face of suffering. They admit freely that the intellectual problem of suffering was crucial to their own walk away from faith. And, if all else fails, there is the old standby of incredulity: “I just can’t believe you [are stupid enough to] worship a God Who [is so heinous that He] would allow so much suffering in this world.” Yet the conditions of the discussion at the very outset assume that God exists. From that point on, it does not matter for the sake of argument whether the critics believe that the Bible is true, or that we all are sinners in need of salvation, or that God raised His Son from the grave. As Adams argues:

Just as philosophers may or may not find the existence of God plausible, so they may be variously attracted or repelled by Christian values of grace and redemptive sacrifice. But agreement on truth-value is not necessary to consensus on internal consistency. My contention has been that it is not only legitimate, but, given horrendous evils, necessary for Christians to dip into their richer store of valuables to exhibit the consistency of [an all-loving, all-powerful God] and [the existence of evil] (1990, p. 220).

This “richer store of valuables” for the Christian includes not only an intellectual acceptance of God’s sovereignty and justice, but an abiding experience of God in their lives. Hope for a better world has enabled Christians to survive the worst of times. This is not an explanation for why we have suffering, but a justification of God’s love, in that we would expect our Creator to endow us with the ability to find an essential worth in our own existence (Adams, 1990, p. 216).

Contrary to the atheists’ assertion, a Christian’s faith in God is not a humiliating emotional crutch, but a source of joy in overcoming the practical and existential problem of suffering. Christians, I believe, know within themselves that their faith has been a source of strength. All they see in the atheists’ charges is an allegation of internal inconsistency leveled by people who, frequently, know little to nothing of Scripture, and who, perhaps, never have experienced a full, spiritual life.

Only by being faithful to God can we attest to the perfect revealing of His redemptive plan, which is for us to live with Him forever. “Don’t you think it’s awful,” the atheist speaks with incredulity once more, “that God will condemn all those people who don’t bow down and worship Him and only Him?” What would be worse is if there were no God to punish the Neros, Hitlers, and child molesters of this world. There is a God, if there is any justice at all. In the meantime, the words of Peter remind us that the Lord “is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is just before us; the only question that remains is: Are we just before Him?


Adams, Marilyn McCord (1990), “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1989, 63S:297-310), pp. 207-221.

Edwards, Rem (1972), Reason and Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).

Frame, John M. (1994), Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R).

Kushner, Harold (1981), When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Shocken Books).

Mackie, J.L. (1990), “Evil and Omnipotence,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Mind, 1955, 64:200-12), pp. 25-37.

Pike, Nelson (1990), “Hume on Evil,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in The Philosophical Review, 1963, 72:180-197), pp. 38-52.

Plantinga, Alvin (1977), God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).


The Problem of Evil by Dave Miller, Ph.D. Kyle Butt, M.Div.



The Problem of Evil

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.
Kyle Butt, M.Div.

On February 12, 2009, in a debate with Kyle Butt, Dan Barker affirmed the proposition that the God of the Bible does not exist. Three minutes and 15 seconds into his opening speech, he stated that one reason he believes God does not exist is because “there are no good replies to the arguments against the existence of God, such as the problem of evil. All you have to do is walk into any children’s hospital and you know there is no God. Prayer doesn’t make any difference. Those people pray for their beloved children to live, and they die” (Butt and Barker, 2009). Barker suggested that “the problem of evil” is one of the strongest positive arguments against the existence of God.

What, precisely, is the so-called “problem of evil”? Atheists like Barker note that the Bible depicts God as all-loving as well as all-powerful. This observation is certainly correct (e.g., 1 John 4:8; Genesis 17:1; Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26). Yet everyone admits that evil exists in the world. For God to allow evil and suffering either implies that He is not all-loving, or if He is all-loving, He lacks the power to eliminate them. In either case, the God of the Bible would not exist. To phrase the “problem of evil” more precisely, the atheist contends that the biblical theist cannot consistently affirm all three of the following propositions:

  • God is omnipotent.

  • God is perfect in goodness.

  • Evil exists.

Again, the atheist insists that if God is omnipotent (as the Bible affirms), He is not perfect in goodness since He permits evil and suffering to run rampant in the world. If, on the other hand, He is perfect in goodness, He lacks omnipotence since His goodness would move Him to exercise His power to eliminate evil on the Earth. Since the Christian affirms all three of the propositions, the atheist claims that Christians are guilty of affirming a logical contradiction, making their position false. Supposedly, the “problem of evil” presents an insurmountable problem for the Christian theist.

In truth, however, the “problem of evil” is a problem for the atheist—not the Christian theist. First, atheistic philosophy cannot provide a definition of “evil.” There is no rational way that atheism can accurately label anything as “evil” or “good.” On February 12, 1998, William Provine, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the distinguished Cornell University, delivered the keynote address at the second annual Darwin Day. In an abstract of that speech on the Darwin Day Web site, Dr. Provine asserted: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent” (Provine, 1998, emp. added). Provine’s ensuing message centered on his fifth statement regarding human free will. Prior to delving into the “meat” of his message, however, he noted: “The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them” (1998, emp. added). If there is no foundation upon which to base any ethical conclusions, then how could an atheist label any action or occurrence as “evil,” “bad,” or “wrong”?

Frederick Nietzsche understood atheistic philosophy so well that he suggested that the bulk of humanity has misunderstood concepts such as “evil” and “good.” In his work Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche wrote: “We believe that severity, violence, slavery, danger in the street and in the heart, secrecy, stoicism, tempter’s art and devilry of every kind—that everything wicked, terrible, tyrannical, predatory, and serpentine in man, serves as well for the elevation of the human species as its opposite” (2007, p. 35, emp. added). Nietzsche’s point simply was that what we might call morally “evil,” actually helps humans evolve higher thinking capacities, quicker reflexes, or greater problem-solving skills. Thus, if an “evil” occurrence helps humanity “evolve,” then there can be no legitimate grounds for labeling that occurrence as “evil.” In fact, according to atheistic evolution, anything that furthers the human species should be deemed as “good.”

As C.S. Lewis made his journey from atheism to theism, he realized that the “problem of evil” presented more of a problem for atheism than it did for theism. He stated:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust...? Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple (Lewis, 1952, p. 45-46, italics in orig.).

Theistic apologist, William Lane Craig, has summarized the issue quite well:

I think that evil, paradoxically, actually proves the existence of God. My argument would go like this: If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. (2) Evil exists, (3) therefore objective moral values exist, that is to say, some things are really evil. Therefore, God exists. Thus, although evil and suffering at one level seem to call into question God’s existence, on a deeper more fundamental level, they actually prove God’s existence (n.d.).

Craig and Lewis are correct. If evil actually exists in the world, and some things are not the way they “should” be, then there must be a standard outside of the natural world that would give meaning to the terms “evil” and “good”—and the atheistic assumption proves false.


In addition to the fact that “evil” cannot even be discussed without reference to God, Barker rested the force of his statement on an emotional appeal. He said: “All you have to do is walk into any children’s hospital and you know there is no God.” Is it really the case that anyone who walks into a children’s hospital is immediately struck by the overwhelming force of atheism? No, it is not true. In fact, it is the farthest thing from the truth. Anticipating Barker’s tactics, one of us [KB] visited the children’s hospital in Columbia, South Carolina and met a lady who volunteered there. When asked why she volunteered, she pointed to a bullet hole in her skull. She said that it was a blessing she was still alive and she wanted to give something back since God had allowed her to live. When asked if many of the volunteers in the hospital were religious, she responded that many of them were from churches in the area, i.e., churches that believe in the God of the Bible.

According to Barker’s “line of reasoning,” the lady with whom we talked should not believe in a loving God, the volunteers that gave their time to the hospital should not believe in a loving God, we should no longer believe in a loving God (since we walked through the hospital), nor should any other person who has visited that facility. The falsity of such reasoning is apparent. Seeing the suffering in a children’s hospital does not necessarily drive a person to atheism. Truth be told, most people who visit a children’s hospital, and even have children who are patients there, believe in the God of the Bible. Barker’s assertion does not stand up to rational criticism.

Furthermore, Barker’s emotional appeal can easily be turned on its head: Walk through any children’s hospital and observe the love, care, and concern that the parents, doctors, and volunteers show the children, and you know atheistic evolution cannot be true. After all, evolution is about the survival of the fittest, in which the strong struggle against the weak to survive in a never-ending contest to pass on their genes. If evolution were true, parents and doctors would not waste their valuable resources on children who will not pass on their genes. Only theism can account for the selfless devotion and care that you see in children’s hospitals.


When the “problem of evil” is presented, it quickly becomes apparent that the term “evil” cannot be used in any meaningful way by an atheist. The tactic, therefore, is to swap the terms “suffering,” “pain,” or “harm” for the word “evil,” and contend that the world is filled with too much pain, harm, and suffering. Since it is evident that countless people suffer physical, emotional, and psychological harm, the atheist contends that, even though there is no real “evil,” a loving God would not allow such suffering. [NOTE: The atheist’s argument has not really changed. He is still contending that suffering is “bad” or “evil” and would not be present in a “good” world. In truth, he remains in the same dilemma of proving that evil exists and that suffering is objectively evil.]

At first glance, it seems that the atheist is claiming that a loving, moral God would not allow His creatures, the objects of His love, to suffer at all. Again, the atheist reasons that humans are supposed to be the objects of God’s love, yet they suffer. Thus, God does not love or does not have the power to stop the suffering—and therefore does not exist.

The thoughtful observer soon sees the problem with this line of reasoning, which even the skeptic is forced to admit: it is morally right to allow some suffering in order to bring about greater good. On numerous occasions, Dan Barker and his fellow atheists have admitted the validity of this truth. During the cross-examination period of the Butt/Barker Debate, Barker stated:

You can’t get through life without some harm.... I think we all agree that it is wrong to stick a needle into a baby. That’s horrible. But, if that baby needs a life-saving injection, we will cause that harm, we will do that. The baby won’t understand it, but we will do that because there is a greater good. So, humanistic morality understands that within certain situations, there is harm, and there’s a trade off of values (Butt and Barker, 2009, emp. added).

In his debate with Peter Payne, Barker stated: “Often ethics involves creating harm. Sometimes harm is good” (Barker and Payne, 2005, emp. added). In his book, Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide for Young Thinkers, Barker wrote: “When possible, you should try to stop the pain of others. If you have to hurt someone, then hurt them as little as possible.... If you do have to hurt someone, then try to stop as soon as possible. A good person does not enjoy causing pain” (1992, p. 33, emp. added).

It becomes evident that the atheist cannot argue against the concept of God based on the mere existence of suffering, because atheists are forced to admit that there can be morally justifiable reasons for suffering. Once again, the argument has been altered. No longer are we dealing with the “problem of evil,” since without the concept of God, the term “evil” means nothing. Furthermore, no longer are we dealing with a “problem of suffering,” since the atheist must admit that some suffering could be morally justifiable in order to produce a greater good. The atheist must add an additional term to qualify suffering: “pointless.”


Since the skeptic knows that some suffering could be morally justified, he is forced to argue against the biblical concept of God by claiming that at least some of the suffering in this world is pointless or unnecessary. The skeptic then maintains that any being that allows pointless suffering cannot be loving or moral. In his book The Miracle of Theism, J.L. Mackie noted that if the theist could legitimately show that the suffering in the world is in some way useful, then the concept of the God of the Bible “is formally possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil” (1982, p. 154). In light of this fact, Mackie admitted: “[W]e can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another” (p. 154). Did Mackie throw in the proverbial towel and admit that the “problem” of evil and suffering does not militate against God? On the contrary, he contended that even though some suffering or evil might be necessary or useful, there is far too much pointless evil (he terms it “unabsorbed evil”) in the world for the traditional God of the Bible to exist. He then concluded: “The problem, therefore, now recurs as the problem of unabsorbed evils, and we have as yet no way of reconciling their existence with that of a god of the traditional sort” (p. 155, emp. added). Notice how Mackie was forced to change the “problem of evil” to the “problem of unabsorbed evil.”

Dan Barker understands this alteration in the “problem of evil” and has used it himself. In a debate with Rubel Shelly, Dan used his standard argument that the suffering in a children’s hospital is enough to show God does not exist. Shelly responded with a lengthy rebuttal, bringing to light the idea that suffering in this world can be consistently reconciled with God’s purposes for mankind. In concluding his comments, Shelly stated: “The kind of world, apparently, that unbelief wants is a world where no wrong action could have bad effects or where we just couldn’t make wrong actions” (Barker and Shelly, 1999). Barker responded to Shelly’s comments, saying:

I’m not asking for a world that’s free of pain.... No atheist is asking that the world be changed or requiring that if there is a God, He be able to change it. I’m not asking for a world that’s free of consequences. I think pain and consequences are important to a rational education.... What I am asking for is for human beings to strive as much as possible for a world that is free of unnecessary harm (1999, emp. added).

Barker went on to describe a scenario in which a forest fire forces a baby fawn to flee its home. In the process, the fawn catches its leg in a snare and is consumed by the flames. Barker then stated that he believed no one’s soul or character was edified by the fawn’s suffering, thus it would be an example of unnecessary or useless suffering. Barker further admitted that even though some suffering is acceptable, there simply is far too much to be reconciled with a loving God. Here again, it is important to notice that Barker’s entire argument has been altered. It is no longer a “problem of evil (harm)” but now he has amended it to the “problem of unnecessary evil (harm).”

The next question that must be asked is: What would classify as “pointless,” “unnecessary,” or “unabsorbed” suffering? The simple answer that the atheistic position must suggest is that any suffering that the atheist does not deem necessary is pointless. As Timothy Keller points out, the fact is that Mackie and others use the term “pointless” to mean that they, themselves cannot see the point of it. Keller stated: “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless” (2008, p. 23, italics in orig.). Keller further noted:

This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order (p. 23).

Indeed, it is the atheist who lives by the blind faith that he mistakenly attributes to the theist.


In his monumental volume, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?, philosopher Thomas B. Warren undercut completely the atheist’s use of the problem of evil. He insightfully demonstrated that the Bible teaches that “God has a morally justifiable reason for having created the world...in which evil can (and does) occur” (1972, p. 16). What is that reason? God created the planet to be “the ideal environment for soul-making” (p. 16). God specifically created humans to be immortal, free moral agents, responsible for their own actions, with this earthly life being their one and only probationary period in which their eternal fate is determined by their response to God’s will during earthly life (p. 19). Hence, the world “is as good (for the purpose God had in creating it) as any possible world” since it was designed to function as man’s “vale of soul-making” (p. 19). The physical environment in which humans were to reside was specifically created with the necessary characteristics for achieving that central purpose. This environment would have to be so arranged that it would allow humans to be free moral agents, provide them with their basic physical needs, allow them to be challenged, and enable them to learn those things they most need to learn (p. 47).

Whereas the atheist typically defines “evil” as physical pain and suffering, the Bible, quite logically, defines evil as violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4). Observe, therefore, that the only intrinsic evil is sin, i.e., disobeying or transgressing the laws of God. Hence, pain and suffering are not intrinsically evil. (“[I]ntrinsic evil on the purely physical level does not exist” [p. 93]). In fact, animal pain, natural calamities, and human suffering are all necessary constituent variables in the overall environment designed for spiritual development. Such variables, for example, impress upon humans the very critical realizations that life on Earth is uncertain, precarious, and temporary. They also demonstrate that life on Earth is brief—that it will soon end (p. 58). Such realizations not only propel people to consider their spiritual condition, and the necessity of using this life to prepare for the afterlife, they prod people to contemplate God! Suffering, pain, and hardship encourage people to cultivate their spirits and to grow in moral character—acquiring virtuous attributes such as courage, patience, humility, and fortitude. Suffering can serve as discipline and motivation to spur spiritual growth and strength. It literally stimulates people to develop compassion, sympathy, love, and empathy for their fellowman (p. 81).


Since atheists cannot say that real, moral evil exists, they must adjust their objection and say that a loving God would not allow suffering. This position quickly becomes indefensible, so again the position is altered to posit that some suffering is morally permissible, but not pointless or unnecessary suffering. Who, then, is to determine if there truly exists unnecessary suffering that would negate the concept of God? Some atheists, such as Barker, are quick to set themselves up as the final judges who alone can set the proper limits of suffering. Yet, when those limits are analyzed, it again becomes apparent that the “problem of evil” is a legitimate problem only for the atheist.

In his book godless, Dan Barker stated: “There is no big mystery to morality. Morality is simply acting with the intention to minimize harm” (2008, p. 214). In his explanation about how to minimize harm, Barker wrote: “And the way to avoid making a mistake is to try to be as informed as possible about the likely consequences of the actions being considered” (p. 214). Reasoning from Barker’s comments about morality, if there truly is an omniscient God Who knows every consequence of every action that ever has been or ever will be taken, then that Being, and only that Being, would be in a position to speak with absolute authority about the amount and kind of suffering that is “necessary.” Barker and his fellow atheists may object to God’s tolerance for suffering, but were God to condescend to speak directly to them, He could simply respond by saying: “What you do not know is...,” and He could fill in the blank with a thousand reasons about future consequences that would legitimize the suffering He allows.

Indeed, this is precisely the tact God employed with Job, when He challenged Job’s knowledge and comprehension of the mysteries of the Universe:

Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Do you know it, because you were born then, or because the number of your days is great? Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it. Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 38:2-4,18,21; 40:2,8).

God’s interrogation of Job elucidated the fact of humanity’s limited knowledge, especially as it relates to suffering. In contrast to this, Barker wrote:

Why should the mind of a deity—an outsider—be better able to judge human actions than the minds of humans themselves? Which mind is in a better position to make judgments about human actions and feelings? Which mind has more credibility? Which has more experience in the real world? Which mind has more of a right? (2008, p. 211).

Of course, Barker’s rhetorical questions were supposed to force the reader to respond that humans are in a better position to understand what actions are moral, or how much suffering is permissable. In light of his comments about knowing the consequences of actions, however, Barker’s position falls flat. Whose mind knows more about the consequences of all actions? Whose mind is in a better position to know what will happen if this action is permitted? Whose mind has the ability to see the bigger picture? And Who alone is in the position to know how much suffering is permissible to bring about the ultimate good for humankind? That would be the infinite, eternal, omniscient Creator—the God of the Bible.


Barker, Dan (2008), godless (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press).

Barker, Dan (1992), Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong: A Guide for Young Thinkers (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).

Barker, Dan and Rubel Shelly (1999), Barker/Shelly Debate: Does God Exist? (Brentwood, TN: Faith Matters).

Barker, Dan and Peter Payne (2005), Barker/Payne Debate: Does Ethics Require God?, [On-line], URL: http://www.ffrf.org/about/bybarker/ethics_debate.php.

Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).

Craig, William Lane (no date), Pain and Suffering Debate, Part 1, [On-line], URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZTG5xyefEo.

Keller, Timothy (2008), The Reason for God (New York: Dutton).

Lewis, C.S. (1952), Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster).

Mackie, J.L. (1982), The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2007 reprint), Beyond Good and Evil (Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press), [On-line], URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=C7sRYOPWke0C&pg=PA1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=0_1#PPP1,M1.

Provine, William (1998), “Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life,” [On-line], URL: http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/darwin/DarwinDayProvineAddress.htm.

Warren, Thomas B. (1972), Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? (Ramer, TN: National Christian Press).

"THE GOSPEL OF JOHN" The Promise Of The Spirit (7:37-39)





The Promise Of The Spirit (7:37-39)


1. During the Feast Of Tabernacles, there was a daily ceremony involving water...
   a. Each day, the priests and the people would joyfully make their way
      to the pool of Siloam
   b. Using a golden pitcher, water was drawn, taken back to the temple,
      and poured on the altar of burnt offering
   c. The words of Isa 12:3 were then sung:  "Therefore with joy you
      will draw water from the wells of salvation."

2. On such an occasion Jesus used the opportunity to extend a wonderful promise...
   a. Inviting those who thirst to come to Him and drink - Jn 7:37
   b. Those who believe in Him will have "rivers of living water" flow
      from their hearts - Jn 7:38

3. The apostle John explains that this promise concerns the Holy Spirit... - Jn 7:39
   a. Whom those who believe would receive
   b. Who had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified

[What else might we glean from the Scriptures concerning this promise of
the Spirit?  Let's first take a closer look at...]


      1. A promise foretold by the Scriptures - Jn 7:38; cf. Isa 44:3;58:11
         a. "The reference is not to any single passage, but to the
            spirit of the Scripture, notably such passages as Isa 55:1;
            58:11; Ps 36:8-9." - B. W. Johnson
         b. "...referring not to any particular passage, but to such as
            Isa 58:11; Joel 3:18; Zec 14:8; Ezek 47:1-12; in most of
            which the idea is that of waters issuing from beneath the
            temple, to which our Lord compares Himself and those who
            believe in Him." - Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
      2. A promise that makes one a blessing to others - Jn 7:38
         a. "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water"
         b. "When a man turns himself to the Lord, he shall be as a
            fountain filled with living water, and his streams shall
            flow to all the nations and tribes of men" - Kuinoel
         c. "...those who are Christians shall diffuse large, and
            liberal, and constant blessings on their fellowmen" - Barnes
      3. A promise offered to believers - Jn 7:39
         a. Not to those who have yet to believe
         b. Which is why I do not believe it refers to the ministry of
            the Spirit through the Word alone, for such occurs even on
            those who do not believe - e.g., Jn 16:8
         c. Note this observation by Robert Milligan:
            1) "He manifestly refers in this passage to something which
               had hitherto been enjoyed by no one, and which could be
               enjoyed by none until after that he himself was
               glorified." - Robert Milligan, Scheme of Redemption, p.283
            2) "This, it would seem, could not have reference to the
               mediate agency of the Spirit, through the written word
               and the ordinary workings of God's providence; for
               through these media the Spirit had always operated on the
               minds of both Jews and Patriarchs." - ibid.
            3) "Christ is speaking here of what is peculiar to his own
               personal reign and administration." - ibid.
      4. A promise extended to all believers - Jn 7:39
         a. Not just to select disciples with special tasks, such as
            apostles and prophets
         b. Which is why I do not believe it refers to miraculous
            manifestations of the Spirit, such as the gifts of the
            Spirit, for not all Christians had such; note also:
            1) This promise of the Spirit had not yet been given
            2) Yet miraculous manifestations of the Spirit had been
               experienced prior to the glorification of Jesus - e.g., Lk 1:41,67
      5. A promise given after Jesus was "glorified" - Jn 7:39
         a. I.e., after His resurrection and ascension to heaven
         b. "The first and second chapters of the Book of Acts is the
            best comment upon this passage. When Jesus ascended to the
            right hand of the Father and was glorified, he sent forth
            the Spirit upon his apostles on the day of Pentecost, and
            the apostles in turn promised the gift of the Spirit to all
            who would believe, repent, and be baptized." - J. W. McGarvey (Fourfold Gospel)

      1. We conclude that it refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit
         a. Promised to all who repent and are baptized - cf. Ac 2:38-39
         b. Given to all who obey - cf. Ac 5:32
         c. Imbibed by all who are baptized - cf. 1Co 12:13
         d. Sent into our hearts because we are God's children - cf. Ga 4:6
      2. We conclude that it refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit
         a. Who indwells all that belong to Christ - cf. Ro 8:9-10
         b. Making their bodies a temple of the Spirit - cf. 1Co 6:19

[That this promise refers to the gift or indwelling of the Spirit given
to all Christians becomes more apparent as we now focus our attention on...]


      1. Remember what Jesus said of those who receive the Spirit - Jn 7:38
         a. "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water"
         b. I.e., they will become a blessing to others; note again:
            1) "When a man turns himself to the Lord, he shall be as a
               fountain filled with living water, and his streams shall
               flow to all the nations and tribes of men" - Kuinoel
            2) "...those who are Christians shall diffuse large, and
               liberal, and constant blessings on their fellowmen"- Barnes
      2. Especially when they bear the fruit of the Spirit in their lives- Ga 5:22-23
         a. Such as love, joy, peace
         b. Such as longsuffering, kindness, goodness
         c. Such as gentleness, faithfulness, self-control
      -- Bearing such fruit of the Spirit, they bless the lives of others!

      1. The fruit of the Spirit becomes possible with the aid of the Spirit
         a. Who helps us to put to death the deeds of the body - Ro 8:12-13; cf. Col 3:5-8
         b. Who enables us to be filled with joy and peace, abounding in hope - Ro 15:13
      2. For the Spirit is God's instrumental agent to strengthen the Christian
         a. Strengthening with might through the Spirit in the inner man - Ep 3:16
         b. With a power working in us - Ep 3:20
   -- We are able to be a blessing to others, with the aid of the Spirit
      working in us!

[Jesus therefore offers us the opportunity to be blessed by the Spirit's
indwelling, so we can be useful in blessing the lives of those around
us.  But to ensure that we receive this blessing of the Spirit, let's be careful to consider...]


      1. By believing in Jesus Christ
         a. The need to believe emphasized twice in our text - Jn 7:38-39
         b. For faith is necessary to receive "life in His name" - cf. Jn 20:31
      2. By repenting of our sins
         a. The gift of the Spirit promised to those who repent - Ac 2:38-39
         b. Those who repent will experience "times of refreshing" (what
            could be more refreshing than "rivers of living water"?)- cf. Ac 3:19
      3. By being baptized for the remission of our sins
         a. Those baptized are promised the gift of the Spirit - Ac 2:38-39
         b. They are made to drink into one Spirit - cf. 1Co 12:13
      -- As Peter put it, God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him - Ac 5:32

      1. By singing psalms, hymns, spiritual songs
         a. We are to be filled with the Spirit - Ep 5:18
         b. Which we can do by singing - Ep 5:19
      2. By studying the Word of God
         a. Which is the sword of the Spirit - Ep 6:17
         b. The means by which the Spirit teaches and instructs the
            Christian, for it contains the revelation of God given by
            the Spirit to inspired men who wrote it for our benefit- cf.1Co 2:9-13; Ep 3:5-7
      3. By praying, making requests regarding the Spirit
         a. That God would fill one with all joy and peace in believing,
            abounding in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit - Ro 15:13
         b. That God would strengthen one with might through His Spirit
            in the inner man - Ep 3:16
      4. By turning away from sin
         a. Lest they grieve the Spirit - cf. Ep 4:29-31
         b. Lest they quench the Spirit - cf. 1Th 5:19


1. What a wonderful promise Jesus offers in our text...
   a. The Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him
   b. A refreshing drink that can become rivers of living water
      1) First refreshing our souls
      2) Then refreshing the souls around us by His impact on our lives

2. How sad if we quench the Spirit Who is intended to quench our thirst...
   a. By failing to obey the Lord
   b. By failing to grow in the Lord

May our attitude and heart's felt desire be similar to that of the
Samaritan woman, when Jesus spoke to her at Jacob's well...

   "Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water
   will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall
   give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him
   will become in him a fountain of water springing up into
   everlasting life.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, give me this
   water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.'" (Jn 4:13-15)

Are you willing to say to Jesus, "Sir, give me this water, that I may
not thirst" by coming to Him in faithful obedience...?
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

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Great Verses of the Bible: 2Chronicles 7:14 by Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


 Great Verses of the Bible: 2Chronicles 7:14

Today is the 242nd birthday of the United States of America. For the first time in my life, I’m out of the country for the 4th, although just across the border in Ontario, Canada. But I don’t have to be “home” to know that America is hurting.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that the number of US citizens who consider themselves “extremely proud to be an American” has sunk to an 18 year low. In fact, for the first time, the number fell below 50%.

This year’s July 4th celebration comes at a time of increasing political tension. Today, some of our own elected leaders are calling for riots and worse. Incivility seems to be the new social norm. If Facebook posts are any indication, there is sharp social and political polarization between many groups of people, even Christians.

Add to this the alarming increase of mass shootings that are occurring in our country. No place is exempt from violence. Schools. Streets. Social gatherings. The workplace. Even churches.

As our people and political leaders debate illegal immigration, the economy, trade, Supreme Court nominees and a host of other concerns, let us be reminded that our greatest problems are not political or social. As William Bennett expressed it, “the real crisis of our time is spiritual.”

The words of God to King Solomon at the beginning of his reign, when He appeared to him in the night, are appropriate for our age 3,000 years later.

“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)

I understand that America is not God’s people is the same way as Old Testament Israel. In fact, the fondness many have for calling America a “Christian nation” is neither politically or Biblically correct. While there is an influence of Christian principles in our documents, there is nothing in the Constitution that makes such a claim. The name “Christian” is used in the Bible to refer to individual followers of Christ, not nations.

So, let us, as God’s people apply this ancient, Divine counsel to our lives.

(1) Humble ourselves. “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor” (Prov. 29:23). We need to be reminded that God has blessed us. Our personal and collective affluence, success and greatness is the result of a benevolent Creator.
(2) Pray. Humility leads to earnest prayer. Pride takes us away from prayer. Paul exhorted that we should pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-2). Would it be too extreme to suggest that prayer might be more effective and efficacious than vitriolic Facebook posts ranting and raving against our leaders?

(3) Seek the Face of God. If our nation is to be healed, we must come to the great Physician for the spiritual balm so badly needed. Our 30th President Calvin Coolidge once said, “We do not need more national development, we need more spiritual development.”

(4) Turn from our Wicked Ways. It is not enough to know what is right, we must do it. We must turn from both the practice of sin and the approval and tolerance of it.

While it is easy to apply these principles to others, perhaps we all should look within our own hearts to see whether we are really being “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13-16).

Rather than cursing the darkness and criticizing others for our nation’s ills, let us live for the Lord. Love others. Let our light shine. And lead the way.

Happy birthday everyone!

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


"NOR IN JERUSALEM" by David Vaughn Elliott



by David Vaughn Elliott

"Nor in Jerusalem" jumped off the page during my morning devotions the other day. Not that I wasn't well acquainted with the verse already. But it struck me anew: prophetic, poignant, and personal. An unnamed woman had a concern we all should have: correct worship. Jesus told her: "An hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father... God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24).

Jerusalem is arguably the most revered as well as the most contested city in the world. There will be no peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians without an agreement on Jerusalem. Jews, Muslims, and various branches of Christianity maintain holy sites within Jerusalem's walls.
Jesus said, "nor in Jerusalem." The Jerusalem Jesus referred to is not the huge spread of modern Jerusalem. Rather, it is a tiny area within modern Jerusalem that is surrounded by walls and called "The Old City." That's the Jerusalem Jesus visited and spoke of. That's the contested Jerusalem with various holy sites. That's the Jerusalem of this Insight. Covering only 220 acres, the Old City is smaller than the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Old City is about one-fourth the size of Central Park in NYC. So tiny, yet so important.

Jerusalem Before Jesus
To appreciate the astounding nature of Jesus' remark, we must go back 1,500 years before Jesus – to Moses. Jesus told the unnamed Samaritan woman, "We [Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). From the time of Moses, the Jews had been taught the correct way to worship God. The first four of the Ten Commandments directly relate to worship of God. So also does the tabernacle, for which God gave Moses detailed instructions.

Many lessons are wrapped up in the tabernacle, but we are only concerned here with its location. Obviously, being a tent-like structure, it was made to be set up and dismantled over and over again as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. But there would be a day when that temporary system would cease. God told Moses: "You shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices" (Deut. 12:5-6). Ten times in Deuteronomy emphasis is placed on worship in the Promised Land at the place God would choose.

Fast forward 500 years to King Solomon. Solomon built a magnificent permanent temple in Jerusalem. At the great dedication ceremony "when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house... Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, 'I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice' " (2 Chron. 7:1-2, 12).

Jerusalem thus became sacred to the Jews. No city could be compared to it. It was there they sacrificed. It was there they met God. Years later when Jerusalem was devastated by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews in captivity were devastated emotionally. "By the Rivers of Babylon," a pop song in the 1970's and 1980's, was taken from a portion of Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion [Jerusalem]... there our captors demanded of us songs... saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.' How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy." With such a background, Jesus dared to say, "nor in Jerusalem."

Jesus' View of Jerusalem
It is God who with fire, glory, and spoken word clearly showed the Jews that the temple in Jerusalem was the place He had chosen for His worship. That's why Jesus could tell the Samaritan woman that the Samaritans were wrong and the Jews were right about the worship of God: "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). But just before that, Jesus said what would be astounding to any Jew: "An hour is coming when neither in this mountainnor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father" (vs. 21). The exact place God himself had chosen would no longer be the place to worship Him. Jesus was challenging 1,000 years of Jewishness. One thousand years of what almighty God himself had ordained.

Jesus loved Jerusalem; Jesus wept over Jerusalem. During the Triumphal Entry "when He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation' " (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus thus predicted Jerusalem's total destruction, which would become world history just forty years later. And there is a great difference between the former destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians and the coming destruction by the Romans under Titus in A.D. 70. In the former case, there was a promise of rebuilding after 70 years. In the latter case, there is no such promise or prediction.

Jerusalem After Jesus

It was God who chose the temple in Jerusalem. It was God who revoked that choice when his Son died on Calvary. The moment Jesus died "behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split" (Matt. 27:51). The veil separated the holy place from the most holy place. With Jesus' death and shed blood for our sins, the whole old system was done away. "We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh" (Heb. 10:19-20). Jesus replaced the old way. That is why he could declare "nor in Jerusalem."

In Solomon's time, God had sent fire from heaven to authenticate the worship at the temple in Jerusalem. However, forty years after tearing the veil in two, God sent the Romans to physically wipe the temple from off the face of the earth. It has never been rebuilt, even though attempts have been made.

In A.D. 132, Bar-Cochba led a Jewish uprising, reconquering Jerusalem, intending to rebuild the temple. However, Emperor Hadrian's top commander crushed the revolt. Bar-Cochba was slain, and it was all over. A new idolatrous city, Aelia Capitolina, was built on Jerusalem's ruins. Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem upon pain of death. They could only look from afar on each anniversary of Bar-Cochba's defeat.

In A.D. 361, Rome acquired a new emperor, Julian, called the Apostate. As an avowed enemy of Christianity, he had allies in the Jews. "Rebuild the temple," ordered the emperor. Jews flocked to Jerusalem, opened their purses, and rolled up their sleeves. Julian provided great sums of money and assigned one of his ministers to take charge. Their first job was to clear the debris. The Jews were enthralled. But what's that? Fire! They fled. Horrible balls of fire broke out near the foundations. The fire died down. Back to work. Fire again, and again, and again. They could not continue. The work was abandoned. Shortly after, Julian was slain in battle just 18 months after taking office. It was all over. The fire? Some say it was a miracle; some say it was natural. In any case, it is a fact of history attested to by both Christian and pagan contemporary sources. (See Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chap. 23, Part 3).

Neither the rebel Bar-Cochba nor the Emperor Julian could frustrate Jesus' solemn prediction: "nor in Jerusalem."

Jerusalem Today
Since the Six-Day War in 1967, the Jews have been back in Jerusalem. And the temple? For over thirteen centuries, the Muslim Dome of the Rock has been on the former temple site. Jews believe that if the temple is to be rebuilt, it can only be built on the exact spot where it stood before. If you know anything about Middle East politics, you know that Israel does not dare touch the Dome of the Rock. Thus, Jews continue to this day without the place of worship that God had chosen.

All that Jews have today is a portion of the Western Wall often called the Wailing Wall. Some mistakenly think this is a surviving wall of the temple. Rather, it is a portion of the retaining wall that held up a level area upon which the temple was built. The Wailing Wall is today the most holy place for the Jews. Filled with lament. Filled with hopes. And filled with paper prayers. Not only Jews but people of many religions write prayers and place them in the cracks of the wall. The concept is that the wall is the closest that people can get to God. More than a million prayers are placed in the wall every year. Twice a year they are cleaned out, bagged, and buried. What a vain and superstitious attempt to reach God!

On the temple mount, the Dome of the Rock not only stands in the way of Jewish aspirations for rebuilding their temple, it is an open attack upon Jesus Christ. Arabic inscriptions on the walls repeatedly attack Jesus. Here is a direct quote from an Islamic web site which reproduces the inscriptions in Arabic and provides the English translation. "There is no god but God. He is One. He has no associate... O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not 'Three' - Cease! (it is) better for you! - God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son." A frontal attack on Jesus in the same city that cried, "Crucify him!"

Then there are the "Christian" holy places in Jerusalem today. The main attraction is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The main owners/custodians of the complex are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic churches. On display is the stone of anointing, a limestone slab commemorative of the supposed slab upon which Jesus' dead body was prepared for burial. Pilgrims kneel around it to pray, rub their hands on it, and kiss it. There is the purported rock of Golgotha, which can be seen through glass. At the top of it under an altar, there is a silver plate with a hole through which you can extend your hand to touch the rock. There is the purported tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, the prison where Jesus was held, a piece of the stone rolled away by the angels, Jesus' tomb itself, and much more. It is full of images, burning candles, and altars with masses celebrated daily. Should I mention that under the place of crucifixion is Adam's burial place and that Jesus' blood ran down into the ground and into Adam's skull? House of superstition, myth, and idolatry!

"Nor in Jerusalem," said Jesus. "Worship in spirit and truth," said Jesus. Before Jesus, Jerusalem was God's dwelling place on earth. Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection took place in and just outside Jerusalem. The true gospel began in Jerusalem less than two months later. Jerusalem was the center of the gospel for many years. In A.D. 70, all that was terminated dramatically. Jerusalem is no longer "the holy city." It is no longer God's dwelling place on earth. There may be some "worship in spirit and truth" somewhere within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem today, but it would be hard to find. In its place is superstition, myth, idolatry, unbelief, and outright denial of Jesus being the Son of God. Jerusalem is no longer the place to worship God. We must seek Him in spirit and truth through Jesus Christ who is the Truth, no matter where we dwell on this planet.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB._________________________________________
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