Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and we peaceably gathered with our congregations to remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as King of Israel, to celebrate His Kingship today, and worship Him as the Prince of Peace. Yet it wasn’t peaceful for every Christian yesterday. In Egypt, two churches were attacked by suicide bombers for doing what we were able to do in peace here in America. When I read the news and saw the photos of the aftereffect, I could not help but shed tears for my brothers and sisters in Christ with those who were weeping for their lost loved ones, and I also couldn’t help but be angry with the evil that persists in the world.
Events like yesterday’s bring up many questions for us as Christians. How can we worship a Prince of Peace when such evil happens? The world is full of suffering, so how can we say Jesus gives us peace while others suffer and we even die for the sake of His name? Some of Jesus’ most famous words are, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). But when things like yesterday happen, and our media ignores such suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can He give us such peace? How can we have peace in the midst of evil?
My answer: I don’t know. As a future pastor, I would love to give you an answer, but I don’t know. The thing to recognise about pastors is that though they are certainly full of theological knowledge and great faith, we don’t have all the answers. A good pastor will admit he doesn’t have all the answers. Indeed, we may never know all the answers. I may not know how we can have peace in the midst of evil, but I do know what Scripture says about who God is.
God is Present even in the Midst of Evil
When something bad or horrible happens, the last thing we think is that God is present. If God is present in the midst of evil, why doesn’t He stop it? The problem with this question is we assume God can only be present when good things happen. This question also fails to recognise that we live in a fallen, corrupt, sinful world. The thing to remember about Christianity is that a peaceful life is not promised; we are promised tribulation (John 16:33). Jesus certainly promises to give us peace, but He does not promise the Christian life will be peaceful. How can Christians live in peace in a world that hates Jesus (see John 7:7)? Suffering evil as a Christian—and even as an unbeliever—is not only reality, but also inevitable. Yet if a peaceful life is not a guarantee for the Christian, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Peace I leave with you”?
The key is when Jesus says, “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” How does the world imagine peace? The world thinks of peace as being absent of evil and contrition. This would certainly be peace, yet this is not the kind of peace Jesus says He gives us. This is why context is so important when we pull out single verses from the Bible. Directly after this, Jesus said, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I… I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me, but I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:28, 30-31). Jesus is foreshadowing His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus came into this world to save us from our sins. In order to do this, He had to suffer and die in our place and afterwards, be with the Father.
Consider how Scripture describes Jesus’ sacrifice: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God… For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12, 14). Recall that in the Old Testament, the Israelites had to continually sacrifice animals to cover their sins. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). Christ was the final sacrifice to atone for our sins. The author of Hebrews is writing with the understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system and Jesus’ sacrifice as its fulfilment. He summarises it perfectly:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. [And now the following verse is our ultimate hope.] And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. (Hebrews 9:22-28)
It is through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ in which we find peace in our own suffering and death. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The peace Jesus gives us is peace with God the Father. We are no longer enemies of God (Romans 5:10), but now children of God (Ephesians 1:3-5). Although it occurred through horrible events, those who died in yesterday’s events are now in ultimate peace with God. Those who are wounded and those who mourn can find peace because they have peace with God. We have a God with whom we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). If there’s anything to know about God, it’s that He keeps His promises. Whether this promise is peace and comfort for His people, or destruction for evildoers, He never breaks a promise.
Although we suffer in the midst of evil, we can find peace and comfort in God. This might seem easy to say, but consider how the rape victim finds peace with God in spite of her tragedy. Consider the mother who finds peace with God when her son is murdered. Consider how the drug addict finds peace with God and as a result finds freedom from addiction. Consider the married couple who find peace with God after suffering two miscarriages. I don’t know how these people in their tragedies have found peace with God, but I do know God brought them peace precisely because He was present in the midst of their suffering. I don’t know how God brings us such peace, for each circumstance and individual are unique cases; I just know God shows He is present by giving us peace in surprising ways.
God has the Power to Use Evil for Good
Paul says it well, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). This is also easy for someone to say who hasn’t suffered much and hasn’t suffered as those in Egypt have suffered. Yet again, I know what Scripture says about God, which attests to how He has acted in my life and how I have seen Him act in the lives of others. Consider Job. God permitted the Devil to harm Job’s family and his way of living and even his health, yet God did not permit Satan to take Job’s life. In its full context, we see God permitted this to prove to the Devil—and us—that the Devil can only do what God permits as well as God’s habit of doing the great reversal for His people. Job suffered tremendously, yet at the end we find that God restores Job’s health, He gave him twice as many livestock than he had before, and He gave him twice as many children than he had before. As readers, we learn God has ultimate power over the Devil and can reverse great evil into His good. Job—while he certainly experienced what we learn—learnt that as God’s creature, he is not in the place to question God’s nature and His will. Our focus here, however, is God’s ability to do the great reversal in our lives.
We see in Scripture how God reverses tragedies into blessings. Job is just one of many examples. The greatest reversal was God using the death of Christ on the Cross to defeat the Devil. We still see God doing such great reversals in our lives today, whether in our own or those we observe. I’ll keep the story short, but in my own life I experienced a great reversal from depression to mental health. I say mental health instead of happiness because happiness always changes depending on the circumstances. Things make us happy; we are never generally happy all the time. Anyway, I was depressed for about five years, from the time I was about 13- to 17-years-old. Therapy was ineffective and Prozac medication made my symptoms worse; nothing was working. I didn’t come to faith until I was seventeen, which occurred about a year after I stopped going to therapy and taking medication. I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t ask Him to, but God did the great reversal by removing my depression. I honestly cannot say how He did it. All I know is that after a few months of being in relationship with Christ and having fellowship with His people, I was no longer depressed. I don’t know how God did it, but He turned this evil into good; He was present in my suffering.
Yet that does not compare to yesterday’s great tragedy. People died—I did not die. People became mortally wounded—I was not mortally wounded, apart from psychologically. People lost loved ones—I did not lose anyone. This does not mean God cannot use the evil for His good. Again, consider Job. He lost his children in a great tragedy (a building collapsed on them), which was just one of many tragedies he suffered. Yet Job maintained his faith—he maintained his integrity, which was what God set to prove to Satan. Even though Job complained, he still had faith in God, and God did the great reversal by giving him more children.
How can God use yesterday’s great evil for His good? Once again, I don’t know. But if there’s anything I know from Scripture, my own life, and the lives of those I love, it’s that suffering is always an opportunity for God to be known. Paul said he boasts in his suffering and weaknesses. Why? Because Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The power of Christ is made perfect in weakness… Consider that for a moment… Think of any point in your life where God’s power was shown in your weakness or someone you know. To use my earlier personal example: depression was my weakness, and God’s power was shown in my depression by making it miraculously disappear. I know a couple—who are Christians—who suffered through two miscarriages. They questioned God’s will, as any sinner would, but they continued their life of prayer and trusting God, and He blessed them with a child with no pregnancy complications. What a great reversal!
I don’t know how God can possibly use yesterday’s evil for good; I just know He can. Who knows how God will bring the wounded and mourning through this evil? But we can certainly expect He will. Let us also consider what we can do for our suffering brothers and sisters. We can pray for them, and I need not expound on the power of prayer. One could even be with them in person, should one feel the call. In America, we can pray for our brothers and sisters. I have no doubt that God is already bringing them comfort through others and is, in this way, among them. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Although evil sets itself against us, we become victors over it through God’s preservation, and we have ultimate victory in it through Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection. For now that we have peace with God through the justification of Christ, God promises to be with us to the end of the age and His power becomes known in our weaknesses and in evil itself through His great reversals in our lives.