Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Helping Kids Understand the Problem of Evil

I am privileged to be the 5-6 grade Sunday School teacher at Riverview. It's just me and usually 4-5 kids. It's been a lot of fun.

Our curriculum this year is "My Purpose Will Stand" put out by Children Desiring God. It's a fantastic curriculum that teaches kids about the providence of God.

Last week our lesson was focused on how evil fits into the sphere of God's providence. Does God control evil? Is he more powerful than evil people? Does he even (gulp) ordain evil things to happen? The answer to all of those questions, as we saw last week, is a resounding, "Yes!"

This week the lesson focuses on how God can allow (and even ordain) evil and still remain good. It's essentially a theodicy for 5th and 6th graders. This week we are learning that God remains good and righteous because he merely allows sinful people to do what sinful people want to do. This being understood, however, God is still powerful enough to intervene and prevent evil if and when he chooses.

Coupled with this idea is one that asserts that all the good things we have are evidences of God's mercy towards us. The lack of good things and existence of evil, then, can also be understood as God sovereignly and providentially removing his hand of mercy from us so that evil might occur. But how is this fair? Since God is loving, couldn't he be accused of wrongdoing by removing his hand of mercy from upon us and allowing bad things to happen? This week's lesson provides what I thought was an excellent example of how God remains just in removing mercy and allowing evil:

Suppose it were really cold out. I have dressed warmly for the cold with a coat, hat, mittens, and scarf. But you didn't wear a hat or scarf or even mittens. So I say to you, "Why don't you use my hat and mittens for a while?" You don't deserve to use my hat and mittens. I don't owe you the use of my warm clothes. I am offering them to you out of the goodness of my heart. So you put on my mittens and my hat. After a while, I say to you, "I'd like my hat and mittens back now." Am I bad to ask for my mittens and hat back? Am I doing wrong by taking back my warm clothes? Is it sinful for me to put my mittens and hat back on? No. I didn't owe you anything. You did not deserve my warm clothes. I was being kind by letting you use them for a while.

This is similar to how Job saw the situation with God allowing Satan to touch him. Job was undeserving of any mercy from God, yet God gave him health, wealth, and a family. Job had done none of these things - they were all given to him from God's heart of love. God had blessed Job, and kept Satan from touching Job time after time. God had extended mercy after mercy to Job. God allowed Satan to touch Job this time. This is kind of like saying, "I think I'll take my hat and mittens back for a while." Job did not have the right to demand mercy from God. God is the Most High; he has the right to do whatever he wants, and whatever he does is right. He is wise and he is loving.

Most of the time when we think about God and evil, we end up trying to justify ourselves - trying to assert that we don't deserve evil because we are such good people. In reality the opposite is true. We deserve evil but receive mercy. This should put life's trials and difficulties in a pretty different perspective. In R.C. Sproul's book The Holiness of God he says that the proper question to ask when something bad happens isn't "Why me?" Rather, we should be asking "Why not me?" Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil (Job 2.10) Pretty deep stuff for 5-6 graders, but I think they're getting it, and they're coming to know and love God more. It's a lot of fun.

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