Each day we are awakened to the harsh reality of violence in the world. On the news we see the consequences of palpable evil in the world. The global bloodshed is horrific and often hard to bear. It causes us to rise up in seeking justice, and this response proves that objective evil exists, as John Piper showed in his recent sermon “The Pain of the World and the Purposes of God”. Here’s what he said.
I want to ask: Why do we have a world like this? Why so much pain? Why so much conflict? Why so much suffering? Why so much death? It is a horrible place. It is a conveyor belt of corpses. Millions of people right now are weeping their eyes out over the sorrows in their lives as we speak.
Absolutely No Absolutes
Now before I go to the Bible and try to give you pointers for you to think about, let me tell you something that I found very shocking when I realized it. God has ordained, in his mercy, that sometimes very unbelieving people wake up to his reality because of pain — not because of his absence.
For example, suppose you are a professor in a university, and you have absorbed a postmodern mindset that playfully says, “What is right for you is right for you, and what is right for me is right for me, and what is wrong for you is wrong for you, and what is wrong for me is wrong for me, and we don’t impose our morality on each other. There is no one absolute right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly that gets squashed down onto our own perceptions and preferences.” That is just rampant, right? That is just rampant. And it is playful, and it is going to come to an end when that professor walks into a real, living holocaust himself.
So whatever the situation is, he walks into an experience of six million Jewish people murdered, or sixty million under the Stalinist regime starved and killed in the Gulags, or we are remembering a hundred years this year since the Armenian genocide of the Turkish people slaughtering a million and a half Armenians between Turkey and Syria in 1915. You walk into that as a professor who has been playing word games on tenure with students, fitting them to be destroyed by the world in which they live with this absolute nonsense that, “What is right for you is right for you and what is wrong for me is wrong for me.” And suddenly he is so confronted by an evil, he finds welling up out of his heart a statement he thought would never come: “That is evil.”
Mercy in Real Evil
And suddenly he realizes what he just said. He does not mean, “Well, if you don’t think it is evil, you don’t have to think it is evil. You can think it is good.” He has just woken up from a dream world, an academic dream world. And he knows he has made a pronouncement of absolute significance. “That is evil. That is evil.”
And he knows. He is a professor. He knows and he realizes, “I have just broken every rule in my philosophy, and I cannot deny what I am saying. That is evil, and I don’t mean it is the result of chemical synapses popping in my evolutionary primate brain. I mean it is real. I mean it has significance. I mean it is a moral reality. It holds for everybody. This is not part of what I was thinking. This is evil.”
And he knows that pronouncements like that are meaningless unless there is an absolute. And where do they come from? They come from God, or from nowhere. You live a life of meaninglessness, you are a bag of chemicals and electrical impulses, just moving at a kind of evolutionary movement of time and chance, with no significance to your moral judgments whatsoever — unless God is. It happens. It happens that, in the midst of evil, evil becomes the very moment and means by which a person can awaken to the fact that we are not playing games. We are not just stuff.
It is a wonderful thing that God has mercy like that in the midst of such great evils.