When you contemplate the quiet dignity of a tall tree, especially if there’s a gurgling brook close by, it’s hard to remember that we’re in a war. But this very scene – including we who are enjoying it – is part of God’s declaration of war against evil. And the peace that this scene exudes is one of our most potent weapons in that war. Ironic, isn’t it? The way to win the war we’re fighting is to use weapons like peace, love, and patience that we so often associate with the absence of war.
The war of good and evil operates entirely according to rules. The first rule laid down at creation was that whatever humanity says on the earth, goes. Angels would have power over forces of creation, and God would preside as judge over angels and humanity. The words and deeds of humanity, however, would be the leading causes of the universe’s effects. For example, Adam and Eve could be tempted to take the forbidden fruit, but they couldn’t be forced to take it. And until they took it, no wrongdoing was attributed to them. And for His part, God Himself would not make people do right. He would inspire them, but they were free to act according to their own decisions. Summarizing, evil forces could use temptation; forces of goodness could use inspiration. Humanity would be free to follow either.
You and I can recognize these same forces in our own lives. We feel urges to do that which we know is wrong, as well as urges to goodness. Some urges are stronger than others. We can yield so often to temptation that we become weaker in the process. We can also respond to inspiration in a way that makes us more sensitive to future inspiration. Nevertheless, in our strongest moments we can be tempted, and in our weakest moments we can be inspired. As long as we’re on the earth, we’re never completely removed from either force. Yet it is our decisions that are always determining consequences. That’s why we are responsible for our actions – not God or the devil. Free will, or the power to choose, is a defining characteristic of humanity.
Humanity would rule creation with freedom, but here was the catch: everything said and done would have consequences. Everything. Thoughts, words, and deeds would be like seed sown into the creation. Those that were good would bring forth good consequences. Those that were evil would bring forth evil consequences. Like various physical seeds and fruit there would be varying time lapses involved. Regardless of the time it took, however, results were inevitable. And exact consequences couldn’t always be foreseen any more than the shape and size of fruit can be predicted by the shape and size of the seed. God would govern all the processes.
The entire creation is thus operating on the principle of justice. Goodness sown brings a harvest of goodness; evil sown brings a harvest of evil. Every thought, word, and deed has repercussions. How many such repercussions do you think are created in a single minute of human existence? Multiply that number by the number of minutes in a day and the number of people in the earth and you have billions upon billions of events to track in the course of a year. Yet heaven keeps up with it all, including a census of sparrows and of the individual hairs on your head. It is precisely because everything matters that it is so hard to sort out the sense and justice of every situation we encounter.
God is both judge of the universe and friend to us all. As a judge, he can’t bend the law for our sake or His own. As a friend, he stays involved with our every situation. He forgives us when we slap Him on the cheek; He simply turns the other. But when we go around slapping other people’s cheeks, His responsibilities as judge require Him to let us feel some consequences. There is no inconsistency between God’s allowing trouble to come on us and His befriending us. His love is unconditional, not unjust. He doesn’t break the rules. Instead, He walks with us through the trouble we’ve caused in order to help us endure and outlast it.
One of the first sentences we put together as children is “That’s not fair!” And we never stop finding occasions to say it our whole life long. If we’re 80 years old and someone cuts in front of us in line we can’t help thinking, “That’s not fair!” The instinctive sense of justice behind these exclamations is a sign of the purpose for which we were created. We couldn’t very well fight a war of good and evil without such a sense. It’s also a sign that indeed unfair things happen in life.
Humanity’s freedom to choose means that you can encounter evil that you didn’t sow. Life is a shared experience. Sometime we reap the evil that someone else has sown. For this reason, we can’t assume that everything that is happening to us is a consequence of our own behavior. Some of our troubles are the result of heredity, a force over which we have no control. Some of our troubles are the result of the behavior of our contemporaries, another force over which we have no control. These troubles are unfair for we’ve done nothing to deserve them. However, heredity and contemporaries can also benefit us, and this is an “unfairness” that works to our advantage.
The fact that life is a shared experience makes it even harder to explain the justice of every situation we encounter. It would take omniscience to figure it all out, and that’s why God is the only one who’s qualified to judge the whole thing. By His omniscience, He governs in fairness a world in which unfair things can take place. The ultimate rule of creation – the one it was designed to prove – is that goodness eventually overcomes evil…even the evil of unfair things. That everyone is going to heaven is the grandest expression of this rule.
Death Versus Human Reproduction
The ultimate hostility that the creation shows toward humanity is death. Ejection from the game. People who frequently sin, hasten their death. Illegal drugs, promiscuous sex, and violent behavior are activities – to name just a few – that tend to shorten one’s earthly life span. For this reason, parents warn their children against such behavior. In support, the Bible tells children to honor their parents, and promises a long life to those who obey.
God went into the war of good and evil with His eyes open. He knew that we wouldn’t always do good. He knew that the forces of temptation would eventually get to us all. The Bible was therefore only promising a long life on the earth, not an endless one. God knew that every one of us would die sooner or later. Premature death would be a consequence of our own behavior, or a consequence of someone else’s – an unfair thing. Cain’s killing of Abel, for example, was unfair. It was a consequence not of Abel’s behavior but of Cain’s freedom. Fairly or unfairly, death would take us all.
For this reason, God established the human reproductive system to keep His forces continually supplied. You and I are reinforcements in the battle. Good angels rejoiced when you and I were born because two more human beings were added to their side! (Is it coming through that there is far more interest in your life than you ever imagined?) We are sent here to carry on for our fallen comrades. But we, too, will die. And how can God win a war when He keeps losing all the individual battles? The answer lies in the battle for heaven which He won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.