Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/24/2020
[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students understand the problem of evil.]
Tonight could go a lot of ways given what we’re talking about, which is the problem of evil. In a minute, we are going to play a clip of a philosopher who studied genocide for multiple years. Now after the video I will preach the remaining amount of time on the logical response to evil, then we will do a Q&A with three additional leaders on stage to talk about the emotional response to evil.
But there’s a catch because you decide which of our two videos we are going to watch. Option 1: we watch a 4 minute video and I teach 15 minutes. Option 2: we watch a 10 minute video and I teach only 10 minutes. But whichever way option you choose, we’ll do for you. So what will it be? Which option do you choose?
[Like most nights in ministry, especially in youth ministry, things don’t go according to plan. This entire introduction was scrapped because we left our projector at another location and couldn’t play either video. In response, I summarized the basic idea of what Clay Jones was conveying about Adam & Eve, along with the general problem of evil. I was going to share one of two clips from an interview that was done by Cameron Bertuzzi from Capturing Christianity with Jones, but God had other plans.]
1) Why are we responsible for what Adam & Eve did?
Based off of the video, we can gather a couple things about who we are as people. First, the problem with evil started a long time ago. It started with the first people and since then has spread like a disease to everyone else. This is what a lot of people refer to as generational sin or in other words “the sins of our fathers.”. But how does that work exactly? How did we inherit something that someone else did?
Let me explain by telling you about my family tree. In my family, we have a generational sin that everyone suffers from and that is addiction. On my Dad’s side of the family, we have my Great-Grandad who was a violent alcoholic. Then he had my Grandad who became a stoic workaholic because of the physical abuse he suffered as a kid. Next was my Dad who returned to the bottle, drugs, and the like because he grew up with a father who didn’t know how to show affection.
Same story is on my Mom’s side of the family too. Her Grandad was murdered by his own sons because they didn’t like that he was a violent alcoholic who physically abused their mom. Next my Mom’s parents also became addicted to alcohol and drugs, which is apart of the reason my Mom has to take medication for seizures because they abused substances during the pregnancy. If you take my Dad’s substance abuse and my Mom’s seizures, you get me who has the same problems because of their decisions and the decisions of the family before them.
That’s generational sin, in that when faced with the opportunity for self-actualization you instead choose self-destruction. Instead of finding an escape, you choose to live in the comfort of excuses. Like my family, all people are born evil because of the evil that’s been done before them.
This is how sin is inherited. By being a bandwagon following other examples and by blood we are naturally inclined to evil. At the end of the day, the problem with evil is you. The problem is me. The problem with evil is all of us because no one is good. We have both inherited sin and have a strong interest in it too. This is the cycle of sin.
2) If God is so good, then why is there so much evil in the world?
Wait a minute. How do you know I’m not good? What determines what’s good? God? Are you kidding me? Give me a break! If God is so good, then why is there so much evil and pain in the world?
Great question! Let’s answer that real quick, but first let me ask you a question. If God is so evil, then why is there so much good?
You see, the question whichever way you raise it implies that God and evil cannot both exist. That it’s impossible for God and evil to exist. Yet science proves God exists (i.e. the Big Bang Model and Evolution), along with all of us knowing that evil and good exist as well. It’s obvious. There’s evil and good everywhere!
[When sharing this message, I do remember expanding on this idea that evil and good are evident by sharing a few examples of these things existing.]
We don’t need to look very far to find any of these three variables. But the question remains: what is the ultimate standard that tells us what is evil or good? To put it simply, there’s only four options: nature, myself, society, and God.
First, let’s start with nature. In the animal kingdom and the natural world, everything is less than humans because we are the top of the food chain. We are the true kings of the world and no other species can top us because we are more evolved to be the fittest species to survive. So why should we find our standard of right and wrong from something that is beneath us? Therefore, nature is not our standard to measure good and evil.
What about myself? Am I the standard of what determines what is good or evil? I mean, you-do-you right? Whatever is true to you is true! But what if my truth contradicts your truth? Your truth is that lying is wrong, but my truth is that lying is right. Whose standard is correct if it’s between each other? Do I have absolute authority over everyone else who thinks they have absolute authority? No, so that’s not it either.
Wait, but what about society? Surely there is a society that has it all figured out! Not exactly because then how do we know which society is right? If there is a specific society, then what happens when it dies like all other societies have in history?
During WWII, we saw this problem in a really obvious way. Americans enslaved and tortured the Japanese, but weren’t okay with the Germans doing the same to the Polish and Jews. Yet the Germans weren’t okay with the Japanese enslaving and torturing the Chinese, even though they did the exact same thing. But then the Japanese felt the same way towards Americans because of what they did to them. Which society is right in that situation? Which society has the authority to say what is right or wrong? None of them if it’s all relative.
Now from the process of elimination, we know that God is the standard of what is right or wrong. He determines what is good or evil. Why is that? Because he created all things (Genesis 1:1), he made each and every one of us for a reason (Genesis 1:26-28), and he has established every society for our good (Romans 13:1). At the end of the day, God is the standard that shows us what’s right or wrong.
God in the beginning created everything from chaos and brought it into order. Then we took what was in order and made it chaotic. Now Jesus has offered to bring us out of chaos and into order, but the decision is yours to make. You can stay in the comfort of your own chaos or join God on the journey to order. That’s up to you because God doesn’t cause chaos, but he does allow us to do so.
God cannot be held responsible for a choice you and I make. If we want to sin, then we can and if we want to follow him, then we can do that as well. Like a parent whose kid decided to get in trouble at school, God isn’t responsible for your choices. In the end, you are responsible and that’s why God is good, yet we are the problem of evil.
[In retrospect, this concluding part was switched up to flow better in-person. Here it’s too rigid and comes off as brute, rather than loving. When sharing this message, I was much more tonally aware of the audience and adjusted to the nights circumstances.]
Now what you’ve just heard is a brief logical response to the problem of evil, but now we are going into a Q&A to talk about the emotional response to the problem of evil. If we could, can our three pre-selected leaders come up to the stage? Alright, let’s get to our first question.
Similar to my sermon about Job during the summer of 2019, I too wrestled to give a succinct response to such a weighty issue. The problem of evil and suffering. How do you approach that? How do you explain to students this extremely complicated problem without being confusing? In my case I attempted it and was not happy with the end result. It’s just a tough thing to understand, let alone explain to someone else.
Despite my mixed feelings about the sermon, the students seemed to engage quite well and the Q&A was very successful as I moderated while a few leaders answered questions I posed to challenge them. The best part was they were answering on the spot and had no prep ahead of time because I wanted them to speak from the heart, instead of their head. Ironic that they ended up giving better responses to the problem of evil then me during my message!
I was very proud of them and thank God for their willingness to jump into any ministry moment with joy. If I remember correctly, it was Mackenzie, Trevor, and another new leader who had only just started to lead with us. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.