Evil is definitely not one of my favorite subjects to talk about. Nevertheless, the topic has been weighing very heavily on me of late. I feel inundated and surrounded by its effects! In my almost forty-seven years of life, I’ve observed the darkness within man’s heart on a variety of levels. Global scale evil results in wars, genocides and atrocities. Terrorism produces the death of innocent civilians by suicide bombers, the downing of passenger planes, and the murder of people in shopping malls, movie theaters, schools and restaurants. The entire world witnesses these events, but the evil that pervades countries and groups also exists in individual hearts. Many wicked deeds are performed on a much smaller scale or privately – children are molested and abused in the secret places of their own homes or even in their churches, married people solicit prostitutes, individuals devastate the lives of others by stealing their identity, etc.
Most folks would much rather talk about God’s love and mercy than about sin and God’s wrath. Nevertheless, discussion about evil and its consequences is necessary and serious – deadly serious, in fact, to God.
Several months ago, I began reading J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, but I put my reading on hold until I could catch up on some other projects. I finally picked up the book again this week, and, lo and behold, the chapter I had left my bookmark in was entitled, “The Wrath of God”. I find that God leads me to read or hear something exactly when my heart is open to receive it, and this was definitely one of those times. As I watched the news for the latest updates on the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was talking with God and expressing my concern to him about the evil that is so prevalent in our world. I was reminded in Packer’s book about God’s wrath toward his enemies and how, once his wrath is unleashed, his foes will not escape unpunished.
In the Bible, the prophet Nahum warns of the LORD’s coming anger against the wicked city of Nineveh:
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of [Nineveh]; he will pursue his foes into darkness. Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (Nahum 1:2-9; NIV; emphasis mine)
In these verses, God both comforts the good people and strikes terror into the hearts of the evil. Make no mistake about it: Our God is a just and righteous God! We may not always see justice served in our lifetime, but rest assured everyone will one day stand in judgement. Paul emphasized this truth in his second letter to the Thessalonians:
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; emphasis mine)
It may sound like I’m taking comfort in the knowledge that the wicked will be punished. On the contrary, I do not revel in the punishment and destruction of others. Instead, I feel deep, deep sadness for those who never come to know God in this life. The reality that the only way some will ever know and experience God will be through his wrath grieves me. For this reason, I pray for God to soften the hearts of men, and replace the evil that lies therein with a true repentance and a desire for his love and mercy.
Though I know God and try to obey him, I recognize that evil and wickedness also reside in my own heart. It may not always manifest itself in blatant outward actions such as murder or theft. But as the Lord who searches me and knows my heart can attest, the ugliness within me manages to creep up regularly. For this reason, I must focus not so much on the evil in others but on what needs to be changed in me.
If you are as appalled and disgusted by the wickedness in the world as I am, take comfort in knowing that the Lord will have the final say. Stay tuned, beloved Warriors! God is mercifully slow to anger, but “the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished”. When you feel distraught and frightened by the wickedness of man, remember that “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him”.
There is Power in the Name of Jesus, Friends!
Packer, J.I. Knowing God. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1973.