by Bob Wheeler
Abraham once asked God the pointed question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25; NKJV). And indeed that is the central question of human existence. God is indeed “the King of all the earth,” and He “reigns over the nations, / God sits on His holy throne” (Ps. 47:7,8). Why, then, is there sin and evil in the world?
The immediate answer to the question, of course, is that we human beings are the ones who are doing the sinning. So the real question should be, why do we sin? Why do we do things that we ourselves believe to be wrong? It is the human race that is fallen and corrupt, not God. We are the direct cause of our own misery. But as for God, “the Lord is righteous, / He loves righteousness . . .” (Ps. 11:7).
But if God is “a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2), why does He not prevent evil? Can He not stop it? And if He can, why does He not? The answer is that there is, in fact, a partial justice now, but there will be a final justice later.
First of all, we can see partial justice now. David could say,
“For You have maintained my right and my cause;
You sat on the throne judging in righteousness.
You have rebuked the nations,
You have destroyed the wicked;
You have blotted out their name forever and ever.”
Where are the Assyrian and Babylonian empires today? Where is the Roman Empire? Where is Hitler’s Third Reich? They are all in the ashbin of history, brought to their inevitable ruin by their own decadence and recklessness. In the end their wickedness destroyed them.
But even on a smaller scale we can see justice being carried out. In God’s common grace the civil magistrate is “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:1-4). When civil government works the way it is supposed to, law and order is maintained, criminals are punished, and neighborhoods are kept safe.
But even on a more personal level God works in the life of an individual believer to protect him, provide for him, and lead him along. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This can be a hard thing at times for a believer to understand. We certainly are not kept from trials and difficulties in this life. But the verse does not say that “all things are good,” but rather that “all things work together for good.” By themselves many of the things that happen to us are bad: sickness, injury, joblessness, etc. But God can use the bad things that happen to us for the ultimate good. Even if we, as Christians, are called upon to suffer martyrdom, it advances God’s kingdom and promotes His glory, and we will receive a reward in the age to come. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” as the saying goes. And thus David could say,
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
But it takes faith to believe that when we are in “the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4).
But God’s perfect, final justice will be revealed at the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. The apostle Paul describes “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will ‘render to each one according to his deeds’” (Rom. 2:5,6) God has appointed a day, sometime in the future, when everyone outside of Christ will get exactly what he deserves – “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man who does evil . . .” (vv. 8,9).
But there is a delay in God’s justice until history runs its course; first of all, to give everyone the opportunity to repent and believe – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (II Peter 3:9); and secondly, to make sure that the wicked really do deserve the punishment they will receive – “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5).
But this all raises an even more difficult and disturbing question: if God is just and punishes sin, what hope is there for us? – for we are all sinners. The answer is not what some would imagine it to be – that God simply forgets and overlooks sin. The sin is real and the guilt is real. So rather than simply overlook sin, what God has done is to arrange to make an atonement for sin. We have redemption through Christ Jesus, “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood . . . to demonstrate at this time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25,26). A “propitiation” (Greek hilasterion) is an atoning sacrifice that turns away the wrath of an offended Deity. By sending forth His Son as a propitiation God can effectively punish sin and forgive it at the same time. Thus His justice is upheld while He shows mercy to those who repent of their sins and believe on Christ.
The prospect of divine judgment is both sobering and comforting at the same time – sobering, because “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31); but comforting because we can know that evil will not ultimately prevail, and that righteousness will finally triumph. We do not live in an amoral, unjust universe, where crime pays and “nice guys finish last.”
Seeing, then, that God is just, and will judge the world, how careful we should be to live righteous lives that please Him! And if we do not know Christ as our Savior, how quick we should be to flee to Him for salvation!