At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series on the spiritual realm. The Scriptures tell us our prayers can move the spiritual realm, and forces in the spiritual realm can move us – for better or worse.
You can watch the entire series at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.
Each week, there are Next Steps to help us apply the message to our lives.
Here is the message John Burke shared:
John Burke shared some of the following insights:
“Today we’re gonna talk about a very controversial topic—Evil. Some people think there’s no such thing as evil—it’s all good. I think they’re either very sheltered or very deceived.
I remember visiting Auschwitz, one of the Nazi’s most notorious death camps—the day was fitting, gray and overcast and a little chilly, as I walked the grounds of the abandoned concentration camp, seeing the showers made gas chambers where men, women and children were naively led to their destruction, the conveyor belts used to quickly and efficiently transport the bodies into the incinerator – after seeing and reading of the horrific Evil that had been carried out horribly cruel experiments, I felt sick. I walked in the fresh air between the old barracks, and I came to a solitary confinement chamber. A tiny black hole, made of bricks with a door barely big enough to fit my body through. I crawled in, maybe out of desire to empathize with those who suffered, I squeezed my body into this tiny, pitch black hole. I sat there and wondered. How could people do such Evil? How could so many be so deceived to participate in such evil thinking they were doing good? Many of these soldiers were probably normal kids growing up, how did this virus of evil and hatred toward the Jews and the disabled and others spread among so many that a whole society could passively participate? Am I immune to the same disease—or can it infect me too?
Evil is real, and it’s very disturbing. Yet we rarely really think hard about what it is and where it really comes from. Evil is alive and well on planet earth—When it happens to you, you instinctively know, it’s wrong—it’s evil. But are we really immune?
Jeffery Burton Russell, professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara says, “Evil has existed in every single world-view and religious tradition except radical relativism.”
There’s no denying it –But what is it? What causes it? Why does God allow Evil? And What will overcome it? How can we fight against it? These are the questions we’re gonna tackle the next few weeks. And I believe it’s vitally important that we understand it, and realize that we can subtly be deceived by it, or we can choose to be a part of God’s plan to fight against it.
First, What is Evil?
Plato posited that Evil is the absence of Good. Just as a lie is not a thing, but the absence of truth. Hate is not a thing, but the absence of love. And Christian philosophers would say that Evil is not the opposite of God – not the equal and opposite opponent to God, but Evil is the absence of God and God’s ways – the effect of created beings freely choosing to go against God’s will and ways.
Jesus used the metaphor of light shining in the dark often to describe God’s ways versus the evils of going our way: “The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” John 3:19 “[Jesus] said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12 Evil is metaphorically equated to darkness—it’s the absence of God’s light, God’s goodness, the light of God’s ways that lead us toward true life. Because of this, Evil has nothing good to offer at all—Evil can only take something good God created and offer it in a twisted way or a way God didn’t intend–but it’s a deceptive lie that we often fall for because evil offers instant gratification. But ultimately it’s less and less pleasurable, more and more harmful, and ultimately destructive.
Jesus says, evil is deceptive above all else. We never knowingly fall into its trap…we get there through many, small, seemingly unimportant steps, decision by decision. And if you get nothing out of this message—I hope you will see how deceptive evil can be—it must be, because none of us ever set out to do evil. So Where does Evil come from? The Scriptures teach 3 main sources, and even if you’re not a believer, I want to challenge you to find a better explanation of this bizarre fact we all call Evil.
Evil comes from: The Way of the World.
Since almost nobody ever sets out to do or be evil—how come there’s so much evil in the world, everywhere–fighting, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, greed, callousness, selfishness, racism, bigotry, religious justification for hatred, revenge, tax evasion, nasty divorce proceedings, ethical corner-cutting?
Jesus said, “The world has nothing against you…It’s against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions.” John 7:7 Jesus is not talking about God’s Creation–the good, the beauty, the people created in God’s image…God so loved the world…. But Jesus refers to the ways of the world—the world’s system of doing things—which tends to flow the opposite direction from what God intends. We live in a world that naturally drifts away from God’s ways. And if we’re not aware, if we choose to just ignore it and drift along with the way it’s always done, doing what everyone else is doing, we too can get swept along with a tide of evil and not realize it.
Evil comes from: Unseen Spiritual Forces.
Historian Jeffrey Russell points out that although modern people have tended to believe less and less in a supernatural evil force, the practical experience of evil has not decreased, but maybe even increased in our society. Our educated modern views have done nothing whatsoever to conquer the reality of the spiritual forces of evil that seem to be at work in the world. Russell notes how most cultures have attested to demonic spiritual forces at work throughout history.
The Hebrew Old Testament prophets taught there are unseen, spiritual beings at work in the world. The Hebrew word, Satan, means “adversary, accuser.” Devil, diaballos—one who divides, or throws apart. Jesus in the New Testament confronted demonic forces.
The Scriptures teach that there are demonic spiritual forces at work in the world. That God created spiritual beings, called angels. Angels are creatures, like us, but not bound by time and space as we are—they’re purely spirit. And angels were created with a free will—before humans. Some of the angels, followed the most beautiful, powerful angel created – Lucifer–which means lightbearer—called the bright morning star. Created good—not God’s equal opposite, nor the only source of evil. Lucifer’s fall was his pride. He wanted to be God—and his most powerful lie is to persuade us to play God of our little universe instead of seeking God and his will. [ Isaiah the prophet said, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14 ] Jesus tells us his characteristics when he said,“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my [followers]. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…” John 8:31-32
But some of the religious leaders who would later crucify Jesus said, “We’re already free – we’re children of God. Jesus said, No “You are the children of your father the Devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him…for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44
As we will see, the way we fight evil is with the truth—taking thoughts captive, resisting lies, trusting God’s truth. The Scriptures teach there are many fallen angels—demonic spiritual beings who followed Lucifer. They are void of the love of God, they are consumed with their own desires. Their decision to turn from God was eternal—so there’s no 2nd chance for them like for us. Bent on murderous destruction of God’s creation because they know they will be destroyed. But notice, the power they have is only in the lie. They are deceivers at the core. They want you to follow their false guidance instead of seeking God’s guidance.
God has been warning humanity not to mess with this stuff since 1500 BC. Interestingly, some of the oldest purveyors of contacting the dead were the Egyptians. God uses his prophet Isaiah to speak to them about it. 3 The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists. 4 I will hand the Egyptians over to the power of a cruel master…When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. 21 So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians. Isaiah 19:3-4, 20-21
God has always been the God of all people—not just the Jews or Christians, and when people consult idols and spirits of the dead—they are turning from the One True God who lovingly wants to guide them. When people keep turning away from God, ignoring their conscience like we talked about last week, eventually God let’s them go that way, but the master they end up following is a cruel master they discover in the end. God lets people go their own way, in hopes that they will cry out to him and turn back. And as with the Egyptians, he says to us too—turn to the Lord, he will be your savior and defender, he will make himself known to you.
Moses explained that when people follow Spiritual Forces that are not God, something more deceptive is happening: He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. 16 They made [God] jealous with their foreign gods…They sacrificed to demons, which are not God.” Deut. 32:15-17
When people give their hearts to following idols or spirit guides or the dead, Moses says they are really being led astray by demonic spirits that can be very deceptive. Some people would argue, but this stuff can’t be evil—these spirit guides or dead relatives seem to be harmless and helpful—and besides, Oprah says it’s okay. If Oprah likes it, what could be wrong with it? But don’t forget the words of Jesus who said Satan is a deceiver, a schemer, and a liar. And scripture reminds us, “Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers.” 2 Corinthians 11:14-15
The religious leaders who crucified Jesus, did so in the name of God—pretending to be godly ministers.
Evil comes from: The Heart of Every Person.
We can’t just say “Everybody’s doing it, or the Devil made me do it—we choose to turn from God’s ways and we become a source of evil as well. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19 Jesus is not saying that we are all completely evil, we were created in God’s image – good. But that image has been marred by evil, and so one place that evil can originate if we are not careful, is in our own hearts. None of these things starts with us deciding to do evil, it starts with little choices in our minds and hearts to turn away from God and his will.
That’s why God’s Solution to Evil is to overcome evil one willing human heart at a time. So God’s solution is very simple. We need God—we need God to forgive us and take us back and lead and guide us—but it only happens one willing heart at a time. We can’t become the people he wants us to be without willfully letting him guide our lives. And he has provided a way back. A free gift that he offers through the payment Christ paid for us on the cross—he experienced the just payment for all our wrongs. You were dead because of your sins…Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. 14He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. 15In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. Colossians 2:13-15
Instead of giving us what we justly deserve, out of Love for you and me, he pays all our debts, so that you can once again be at home with God—doing life with the only one who can help us overcome evil by resisting lies and walking truth. We’ll talk about how to do that in next 2 weeks. But here’s the deal—In pride, we can willfully continue to resist the love of God forever. Or by faith, we can simply say “God I want what Jesus did to count for me—I want your loving guidance.” Ultimately, it’s God’s love for us, and our loving God by following His guidance that overcomes evil in the world.
When overwhelmed, remind yourself that evil will not prevail in the end because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. The final answer to the problem of evil:
“Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3-4″