By now you have likely all heard about the terrible shooting in Texas. A man entered a church and killed 26 people, wounding another 20 or so. How do we make sense of such evil? Why would Jesus, the sovereign King of the universe, allow his people to be so afflicted? I’ve even heard some people reacting in anger against prayer. Prayer, they say, did nothing to prevent or stop this slaughter. It’s useless.
On the contrary, as Pastor Hans Feine has written, for those believing men, women, and children who lost their lives, their greatest prayer and hope has been answered. Jesus has, indeed, “delivered them from evil” and today they are with him in paradise. Sorrow and pain is ours, not theirs. They will never know suffering again and they are now and will forever be with Jesus, feasting on the joys of heaven. And one day, Christ will raise them up in their bodies, never to die again.
This does not, of course, mean that God created the wicked and murderous desire that led Devin Kelly to do what he did. Evil is our creation, not God’s. But it does mean that what Kelly planned for evil, God used to the utter good of those who love him. In this way, the violent death of the Christian always points back to the cross of Christ where God the Son gave himself over to the murderous hatred of his enemies. God channeled the evil of the human heart toward himself, and endured the fullness of it, in order to provide the remedy. By his shed blood, God forgives sin, cleanses hearts, renews minds, and draws sinners from death to life. Jesus endured evil so that evil might be crushed and destroyed in his death. And all who believe might live.
Therefore, those Christians who suffered and died as a consequence of the hatred of one man, now live as the consequence of the suffering and death of the One Man, Jesus Christ.
And yet, while Jesus’ work was finished on the cross, it is not yet consummated. That is, Jesus in his life death and resurrection, has done all the work required to take away guilt, remove the consequences of sin, cleanse the heart, undo death, and save to the uttermost all who turn to him, but we live in an “in between” era. God has not yet put an end to all wickedness.
Because he is still saving the wicked. He is still bringing sinners to repentance and faith and salvation. Were he, today, to put an utter end to evil, forever stamping out the sort of wickedness on display in Texas, it would also mean that the time of his mercy had come to an end. It would mean no more long-suffering and patience. It would mean all those unbelievers for whom we pray, would be immediately subject to judgment and eternally condemned.
No, it is good that God is patient with sinners, not wishing any to perish (that is, suffer eternal torment). But his patience does, indeed, mean that the evil and suffering caused by human sin continues.
The unique thing about the Christian faith is that Christians are expressly told, by Jesus himself, to expect just this sort of evil. Speaking of the last days, Jesus says: “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake”(Matt 24:9). Until Jesus returns, we are called to suffer. It has always been so. Paul writes: “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh”(1 Cor 4:11). In a world, fallen into sin and in rebellion against God, Christians must ever be subject to suffering; the mortification of our own sinful desires, the loss and relinquishing of things we love in the world, and the deadly attacks of the Enemy. And yet, by our lives and in our deaths, Jesus, residing in us, bears witness to the Gospel. Your faithful witness, by word and deed, in the face of evil and suffering and loss, is one means by which God drives you further into the arms of Christ, bears witness to his Son, gives mercy to the undeserving, and brings sinners to salvation.
Jesus does not promise to remove our suffering here and now, but to overcome it (John 16:33). He does that first by remaining with us, dwelling in our hearts, pouring his love and comfort into our souls as we walk though this life so that, increasingly, he becomes our great treasure here on earth. Then, second, he takes those who die in faith to be with him, to experience innumerable joys of heaven and await the coming of his kingdom. And, finally, in the end, he rejoins soul to body, raising the dead when he returns and giving them life eternal here on a restored and renewed earth where he will reign forever. Our hope is a future hope in a coming savior. Meanwhile we live like aliens and strangers here, trusting in a Lord we do not see, living for a kingdom that has yet to come, praying for ourselves and our neighbors, pleading with those who do not believe to repent and turn to Christ, and by our lives and deaths bearing witness to him and his faithfulness to all who believe.