Evil and the human suffering that goes with it is a strange thing to observe. With the constant news cycle there is no end to the evils that we read. Every day, every hour, new evil is uncovered, new evil that is really old evil, the same tired patterns endlessly repeating. It becomes a background to life and we become inoculated against caring because life is too short to take the time to feel the pain of everyone.
Then there comes an event of particular magnitude, evil beyond the usual and its as though all the unfelt injustice, all the unconsidered empathy, all the pain not shared, all of it gets rolled up into this one horrific event. The terrorist attack on Paris was such an event of particular evil, in a place not too far away, with acts of violence that given meaning to the word "senseless". The only purpose to cause as much human suffering as could be achieved.
The immediate response I had was to pray: "Lord Jesus, come back soon." For seeing such evil, how could I ever want to see such a thing again? Better by far that the world end, that Jesus returns, that this present fallen world is done away with. Even if there are 10 billion more of God's elect still to be saved, it seems better to have the world end now.
Please understand, this is not some overly spiritual form of nihilism. The only rational desire when faced with evil is to wish it away. What else does our current obsession with superheroes prove? But evil cannot be solved with a simple punch to the face. The human heart is not made right by a man flying around in red tights. But the Bible is clear that evil does have an end date, a day of judgement that will come and destroy all that is evil. I was reading in 2 Thessalonians this morning:
"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 marvelled at among all those who have believed." (1v7-10)
The doctrine of Hell, the eternal punishment of the unrighteous, is rarely a comforting one. However, in the face of great and scarcely imaginable evil it becomes a comfort. Although suicide bombers put themselves beyond human justice, there is God, the Judge of all the Earth. And while I hope that in those fleeting moments between detonating the bombs and death, the terrorists had time to repent and look to Jesus, it is a comfort to know that they will face judgement.
The desire I have as a Christian is for heaven, to be free from sin and evil and to see Jesus face to face, this personal desire was writ large, over all of humanity. But the world did not end. And that led to a second questioning prayer: "How long oh Lord? how long will you contend with man?"
For the awful truth is that the Paris terror attack is neither unusual nor the worst of the evils humanity has committed. It is merely the latest in a long list of wrongdoing that stretches back throughout history. Does it not make you ashamed to be human? For there, but for God's grace, we could all go.
The question of how God can allow evil is often asked in selfishness - how can God allow evil to be done against me? A much harder question to answer is how can God allow such evil to be done against himself? For if the terror attacks in Paris were an affront to all of humanity, how much more are they an affront to God?
It is a marvel that the patience of God is such that he was contended with humanity for all these thousands of years. It is a greater marvel still that forgiveness is still available for the perpetrators of this crime. For those left alive who had a hand in this atrocity, it is still possible for them to turn to God and repent of their sin.
There have been many acts of kindness in the wake of the Paris attack. For as is often the case great evil can reveal great good. There have been many calls not to be angry with Muslims for the sins of a radicalised minority. There has been a concerted effort to be at peace which is encouraging to see.
But no one has suggested that we forgive these terrorists. No one has suggested that those who planned this evil should be pardoned. The very idea offends every notion of justice we have. Yet for these people, there is an avenue of forgiveness, a way to be pardoned, at the cross of Christ, they could still find forgiveness.
If the question: how can God allow evil? is a tough one then the question: how can God forgive evil? is surely tougher by far!
For the third and final prayer is that everyone might find this forgiveness as the church grows to cover the vast majority of the world. The longing is for the triumph of Jesus Christ, not in violence or conflict, not in bombs or oppression, but the spiritual triumph of a spiritual kingdom. It is for that day, prophesied in Isaiah, when: "Nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
Such a day seems so impossible now, a day beyond hope or imagining. And without the gospel such a day would be a fantasy, blown away by every evil desire of the human heart. But with the gospel, such a promise becomes not just possible but likely.