Summary: God points us through the cross to the wonder of his glory in order to understand evil and suffering in this present world.
Who killed Jesus? The Apostles’ Creed says he “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Or maybe the blame belongs to the soldiers who drove the nails? Or should we condemn the Jews who demanded freedom for the criminal Barabbas and death for this one called, “Christ,” and then sealed their guilt by saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!”? Many favorite devotional hymns and songs speak of our role. And Isaiah 53.5 agrees: “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities….”
So Stuart Townend, sings: “Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders; ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished; his dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.” And from a previous generation, John Newton: “I saw one hanging on a tree, in agonies and blood; who fixed his languid eyes on me, as near his cross I stood. Alas! I knew not what I did, but now my tears are vain; where shall my trembling soul be hid? For I, the LORD have slain. A second look he gave, which said, “I freely all forgive; this blood is for your ransom paid; I die, that you may live.” Thus, while his death my sin displays, in all its blackest hue; (such is the mystery of grace) it seals my pardon too. With pleasing grief and mournful joy, my spirit now is filled; that I should such a life destroy, yet live by him I killed.”
There is truth in the statement: “I killed the Lord of glory. It was my sin that held him there.” But another, deeper truth must be owned. Isaiah 53.10 (NKJ) says: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief…” leading John Piper to entitle a chapter in The Pleasures of God, “The Pleasure of God in Bruising the Son.”
The point is too clear: the Father killed the Son. “He has put him to grief…. The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53.10,6). Or as Peter says in Acts 2.23: Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan…of God.” And in John 13, the betrayal by Judas predicted in the Psalms and accepted by Jesus is the appointed means to magnify the glory of God. Deep thoughts to consider this morning. [Read John 13.18-38. Pray.]
I learned a nifty new word this week: theodicy. It comes from two Greek words, theos meaning “God,” and dikae, “justice.” Theodicy is said to have been coined by the German philosopher Leibniz in the early 1700s as he wrote to justify the rightness of God in the face of evil in the world. Many people feel that the presence of so much and such terrible evil discredits belief in God.
Ronald Nash: “the most serious challenge to theism was, is, and will continue to be the problem of evil.”
Thomas Warren: “no charge has been made with a greater frequency or with more telling force against theism of the Judeo-Christian tradition than the existence of evil.”
David E. Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion: called the evil and suffering in the world, “evidence for the atheist.”
Richard Swinburne: “Anyone with any moral sensitivity must consider the fact of pain and suffering to constitute a prima facie objection to the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God.”
Most often such complaints come from those who have experienced great pain. In a debate in 1993 at the University of California, Edward Tabash said: “If the God of the Bible actually exists, I want to sue him for negligence for being asleep at the wheel of the universe when my grandfather and uncle were gassed to death in Auschwitz.”
British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell is reported to have said, “No one can believe in a good God if they’ve sat at the bedside of a dying child.”
In one of the most read books on theodicy, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner explains that “virtually every meaningful conversation I have ever had with people on the subject of God and religion has either started…or gotten around to this question: why do bad things happen to good people?” But Kushner admits that he only faced the question after his 3-year old son was diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease.
Although Biblical writers are not mired in antagonistic atheism, they also complain about the problem of evil. Habakkuk 1.13: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” Judges 6.13: “Gideon said to him [an angel], ‘Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us?’”