Here are some background thoughts mixed into the editorial comments which will follow:
Acts of Satan?
Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas, refused to sign a bill referring to tornados as “acts of God.” I wonder, had he been thinking about Job 1:19 which attributes a tragically destructive “great wind” to the “power” (v. 12) which God allowed Satan to exercise? Would the legislature change the wording to “acts of Satan?” Some Evangelicals oppose his refusal. They think it is better to attribute good and bad things to God.
Cannibals, again. Hugh Ross refers in his recent newsletter to the same amazing new book we mentioned last fall—which verifies the existence of cannibalism everywhere in ancient times. He comments with sage insight that secular scholars had been reluctant, he suspects, to acknowledge such widespread cannibalism because “belief in Satan is even more politically incorrect than belief in God.” Now, that is a significant observation!
Will there be a Next Millennium? National Geographic for January 1998 steps back to take in a huge view of the last 1,000 years and to muse about what’s next. There are some awesome realities just ahead, ominous things that have never happened in all history—what does population explosion really mean?
Revising the Revolution! The recent 6-hour TV special on the American Revolution (called Liberty) combined marvelous technical expertise with extensive historical research. But, alas, it drops out totally the very extensive and crucial role of the Evangelical Awakening and the vibrant, inter-colonial Evangelical movement without which there would not have been a revolution nor a successful one. The result? A caricature that is both shocking and misleading. But, how many in the nationwide audience noticed?
Wait a minute! Are the tobacco interests now buying off the state governments the way the riverboat casinos are buying off the Mississippi river city governments? Is the practice now of cutting the states in on tobacco’s assured profits from mass addiction something that will decrease or prolong addiction? As soon as those profits become addicting to the state governments, will the fight against nicotine be replaced by the need for continued flow of money? Are we already feeding a monster that is devouring our people?
Thousands of teens per day start into addiction to nicotine. Well, that’s not all. Twelve thousand also daily contract STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Oh, God, who is devouring our people?
Who is Devouring Our People? Satan’s greatest achievement is to cover his tracks. Evangelicals today may read Peretti books but those stories don’t deal with the half of what Satan is up to.
This issue arose poignantly in the TV debate last Saturday: Both Philip Johnson and Michael Behe (as well as Buckley) were arrayed against some nice people who feel evolution is necessarily explained by purely natural processes.
At a key point during those two hours a pleasant Canadian professor/philosopher (Michael Ruse) asked the question, “Does your God create parasites?”
Neither Johnson nor Behe were quite prepared for that. For them it is enough right now just to prove that only a guiding Hand can explain the “irreducible complexity” we see in the micro-world of the human cell, which is “the evidence of intelligent design,” and the startling and mysterious “gaps” in the record of the rocks.
I asked Phillip Johnson myself, face to face, four weeks ago at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society if it were not necessary to go beyond the recognition of “intelligent design” to “intelligent good and evil design.” He said, “I’ll have to think about that.” (I had suggested that it is very common to attribute computer viruses to the existence of malevolent souls who are out to destroy everyone’s computer memory; why not attribute the real viruses that assail us to the malevolence of Satan?)
I came away from watching that two-hour TV debate feeling that a major reason why some very honest and thinking people find it hard to believe a Creator God is in charge of things is precisely due to the unacknowledged factor of Satanic, destructive opposition to God’s creative benevolent design. Only the presence of Satanic efforts in the constant damaging of God’s creative intent can explain the pervasive, insidious, painful horror of the destructive parasites of our world.
World Population and Sin Stepping back for a second, consider the truly amazing fact that for many, many centuries due to hatred, unrestrained bloodshed, and microbial assaults the incredible potential of population growth on a world level simply did not happen.
Let me explain that. We are now ending the second millennium AD, aren’t we? For the entire first millennium world population didn’t go anywhere. Only in the Christian West did it even begin a tiny expansion. According to the National Geographic issue mentioned above the growth was then only one tenth of one percent per year until 1700 AD. But, as hygiene and increased food production began to batter down the destructive forces, and colonial expansion put an end to hundreds of local wars in Africa and Asia, world population began to explode.
To get perspective, if the population of the entire globe in Abraham’s day (estimated to be 27 million in 2000 BC) had grown at the present rate of world population growth (1.7 percent per year), world population would have shot up from 27 million to 6 billion in just the next 321 years.
A second example: if the 2 million population of England in 440 AD (at the time of the withdrawal of the Roman legions) had grown at the current rate of world population growth, England would have multiplied 38,275 times in the next six centuries to become 76 billion people by the time of the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066 AD! That’s over ten times the present world population—in England alone.
But no growth took place during those hundreds of turbulent years between 440 and 1066 AD. Why? Unending tragedy of war and bloodshed and pestilence—first the invasion of the pagan Anglo Saxons and later the invasion of the pagan Vikings. Once those illiterate invading savages (ancestors of some of us) became Christians things began to settle down. And the population began to grow, albeit slowly…
…slowly until Satan’s insidious inroads at the microbial level were intelligently and specifically resisted. Then disease was reduced and growth picked up speed. Yes, evil was dramatically unmasked when the very existence of microbes was discovered. Who would have thought that tiny little things smaller than you could see with the naked eye (20,000 on the face of a smooth, clean front tooth) would be a source of such staggering global suffering and tragedy? People were as confused about how to fight these evil bugs as we are about how to fight nicotine and STDs which are devouring our people today
Did God create these evil bugs? That is what some of the evolutionists are wondering about. (Are the grisly predations of life against life on this plant His ideal?) That is why some of them cannot believe in a divine creator—they are as unaware of Satan as we are. Have we gotten accustomed to rampaging evil within God’s creation? as mentioned above, Hugh Ross says in his latest newsletter, Reasons to Believe, “belief in Satan is even more politically incorrect than belief in God.” (4th Q, 1997, page 8—better yet, write for this superb resource, Box 5978, Pasadena, CA 91117).
So we began to fight the microbes that were designed to destroy. Some specialists just a few years ago thought that all disease could be shortly eliminated from this planet. No one apparently realize that Satan’s evil, dark angels would continue to invent new ways to penetrate our body’s defenses. The wonder drugs of sulfa and penicillin and a myriad of antibiotics were for a time another optimistic marvel.
But the true scope of microbial evil was, and is, underestimated. Just as once we thought we could do nothing to fight the plagues at their source, we now continue to give up easily with the newest species of tuberculosis, malaria, and many other maladies that distress and destroy and hold the world captive to torturing pain.
Where is Missions in all this? Don’t we know now where we stand? Can’t we realize that merely sending out friendly missionaries is not enough…that God is expecting us to fight Satan back at every level? What does “Thy Kingdom come…deliver us from evil” mean? How can people around the world convert to a God Who appears not to care and/or does not understand how to deal with malaria? Or who Himself tweaked the DNA to produce ingenious parasites? What sort of good news is that? If God’s missionaries don’t toss a penny into a fundamental assault on malaria, how can anyone believe that an omnipotent God cares? Even the winsome Canadian philosopher, Michael Ruse, on Buckley’s show?
[I know of only one small mission hospital in Zimbabwe with just two doctors who are researching the elimination of the cause of malaria. Meanwhile, the global secular world is doing essentially nothing. And, meanwhile, the Christian world is sending out a half billion dollars a year to help children stay alive long enough to die of malaria—four children die every sixty seconds from malaria.]
Now we know—or we should know by now—that the mysteries of viral illnesses can be combatted, and that God is expecting us to not just lie down and let the plagues roll over us.
Can we in good conscience go around the world with a gospel for everyone that tells people about a loving God but does not identify Him as being willing and able to fight the Satanically inspired diseases that are killing people right and left? Can we tell people to “be warmed and filled and believe in Jesus as you die?”
I have a hunch that somewhere along the line we got off the track of glorifying God by fighting Satan and his perversions, and got more interested in bailing out of this world, getting ourselves and our friends to.
I have been reading some of the detailed accounts of plagues in our own past history. They were generally assumed to be the scourges of God, and that could be true. We today are surely suffering a lot of scourges that may be permitted by God. This does not mean God is happy for us to endure scourges.
In the Middle Ages people had not the foggiest notion of the source of these plagues, and did not stop long enough to pursue it; and thus their attempts to avoid the plague are today whimsical and tragic. Do you recall as a child the rhyme going around… Ring around the rosie, pockets full of posie, ashes, ashes, all fall down.
This ditty reflects the fact that flowers in the hair and in the pocket, and ashes on the head were thought to ward off the plague. But, in the end, “all fall down,” was the grisly result. Desperation, despair, darkness of heart and confusion of mind, even civil disorder were all part of the picture.
Robbers would wait a couple of days and break into a barred quarantined home and loot it while the occupants looked on, too weak to resist them. Then, the robbers would come down with the plague and their homes in turn would be boarded up, and presently other robbers would break in and loot them and their loot, and on and on. Stolen goods would change hands all through a town like that.
Hyper-Calvinists may think the Arkansas governor’s theology (page 2) is lacking. Hyper-Calvinists are people who so highly respect Calvin’s incredible insights that they may go beyond what Calvin himself might say.
I have received letters objecting to my attributing the evil of malarial parasites to the “intelligent and malevolent design” of Satan rather than God.
Even Olasky’s column in World, Dec 20, 1997 objects to the Arkansas governor on this point. He says there are psychological disadvantages to thinking God’s sovereignty does not imply that He controls everything. Possibly. However, the Bible portrays God as the one who conceded certain powers to Satan in the first place (Job 1:12), just as He does to humans.
But a more weighty psychological distortion, I feel, is to confuse direct and indirect sovereignty. I have no problem believing that God is the Prime Mover. I have no problem believing that God often uses “for good” that which is meant “for evil,” whether the evil intentions involved belong to Satan or to human beings. Otherwise no one can be accused of evil motives if all motives are God’s.
Thus, to ignore the alarming connection between human (and/or Satanic) responsibility and the evil that permeates this world is to plunge headlong into a type of Hindu fatalism.
But not to be too hard on the Hindus, Take the case of a devout Christian woman in the Middle Ages who considered a worm growing in her forehead something God had “sent” to her to keep her humble. One day, leaning over, she noticed that the “God-sent” worm fell out on the floor. She hurriedly restored it to the open sore in her forehead—not wishing to frustrate the purposes of God.
Is this not similar to a Hindu family grieving over the death of a child from the fangs of a cobra well-known to have made its abode in a clump of bamboo in the back yard? Even after the boy’s tragic and much mourned death the cobra continues on unassailed since the family earnestly seeks to “consent” to God’s will. God obviously placed that cobra in the clump of bamboo? Thus, the family feels it is not their place to eliminate that evil. Is this the best way to look at what is going on?
Or, finally, if you are ready for this, my wife and I hear from all kinds of wonderful loving people who are willing to pray for my wife whose cancer is steadily eating its way throughout all her bones. We deeply value and appreciate those prayers. We devoutly hope they help. But we think that there comes a time when the worm must die, and the cobra must go.
To talk as if God’s direct initiative accounts for these evil things, even the tornado, is a misleading way of putting things—I agree with the governor—however correct it might be from a technical hypercalvinistic perspective.
See, no one that I know of has suggested that we, the Evangelical world, have a responsibility to get up and “kill the worm” or “kill the cobra” when it comes to malaria or cancer. That is, no one has suggested that either I or Evangelicals in general set out resolutely with the millions of dollars at our disposal to combat the source of malaria or cancer. (And very little is going to either—about one tenth of one percent of the total cost of treatments.)
In fact, you might imagine someone saying to me, “Sit down old man. If God wants to kill off malarial parasites in India or your wife he will do it without your help or ours.” Compare this to how young William Carey was treated—on page 30. To those fine Baptist pastors the evils tormenting India’s millions were none of their business. If God wanted to torment the peoples of India that was His business? Do you believe that?
Is not our faith easier to share, and our God easier to understand, if we decline to use the phraseology of hypercalvinistic fatalism in favor of the Bible’s nuanced descriptions which allow for a Satan who is walking about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour? Doesn’t this put the blame where it belongs, tracing motivations and intentions more clearly?
God creates and restores. Satan destroys and perverts. That’s it. Let’s not let children and adult seekers be confused.
More important still, let’s not confuse ourselves about what God allows indirectly and what He initiates directly.
To die at all is obviously part of the “original design”: we have a living and learning and loving life-span. Stop and think. All life has a life-span. From tiny pillow mites, and even smaller microbes, to hairy mammoths, dinosaurs and sequoia trees. They all are born, grow, serve, live, and pass from the scene.
Back to us. We will either die suddenly, “before our time,” or go gradually throughout our lifetime from diapers to diapers, from helplessness to helplessness, with many wonderful years of helpfulness in between—hopefully!
But why do I have to say hopefully? Because there is another way to die. (And every form of life is subject to what could be called premature death.)
There is a “man-eating lion” that goes about seeking human prey. He—that “hideous strength”—will kill you if you don’t watch out. Maybe even if you do watch out. You may prematurely lose your life even more readily if all you do is to worry about dying.
Okay, dying is good. It is part of God’s “original design.” We would not study if we did not have a term paper deadline, a final exam, or grades coming up. Life is a test, an extravagant opportunity—for most Americans. Most people in the world, by contrast, have no word in their vocabulary for leisure. The pressures under which they live are so bitter, so relentless, that life is just one long imprisonment in despair and hopelessness.
Meanwhile, for most Americans leisure is often merely opportunity to waste their talents in trivia.
Dear friend in Christ, how are you living your life? How much of each day do you “dwell in distraction?” Is your daily experience a moment-by-moment, more-and-more discovery of the person, the purposes and the glory of the Living God? Or is it messy survival, a life of meaningless, mindless struggle 99 percent of the time?
Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and life more abundantly.” He didn’t say “life more lengthily.”
And, why has war and pestilence been so hideously widespread for the vast majority of the many, many centuries of human experience? Why do we find cannibalism in every evidence of ancient man? The National Geographic article sanitarily skirts these factors.
The grisly reality of the very slow human population growth on this planet fairly shouts at us: there is an evil principle (person) at work at every level of life, from the world of good microbes and cell structures in our bodies battling for survival against assailing destructive microbes to the grim world of combat by tooth and talon. No doubt about it, evil was unleashed and has been stalking the world unchecked until, until, until, what? …until another principle took hold—at the time God set in motion a corrective, conquering Kingdom in Abraham’s mandate (Gen 12:1-3).
No question about it—except to those who may not have thought it through—our modern, relatively safer, healthier, explosively growing, relatively less warlike world of today is due to the quiet, 4,000 year-old impact of the work of God in collaboration with His people. Things are coming to an end.
The world is now already in a permanently unstable situation that cannot last long. See Ehrlich et al in “No Middle Way” (Atlantic Monthly, Dec 1997).This is precisely due to the massive reversal of evil—that bitter cocktail of suffering that has suppressed world population for many centuries.
But this does not at all mean that all evil will be conquered before the end of history. At the end there will still be tears to wipe away (Rev 21:3). No, sorry, history may end in a global conflagration of atomic warfare. That, in fact, could happen tomorrow. But, meanwhile our task is to honor and glorify God and to lead all peoples to “declare His glory.” That is the over-arching task of the believers. It is a lot more, not less, than winning people to Jesus Christ. It is called Missions.
What now? The theme of this issue is the need for strong, enlightened home-church backing of the cause of missions by highlighting John Piper’s superb ministry at the Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis and his far-reaching Desiring God Ministries. See the interview on page 8 and his pungent statement on page 12: “Duty is good but delight is better!”
Other voices join his. In particular Robert Alderman tells of the radically new perspective of his congregation. Don’t miss that (on page 29).
At the same time you will find an arresting, passionate, critical treatment of the dangers which simultaneously lurk in the enthusiastic “Rush to the Frontiers.” This is tough thinking. See page 40.
What did William Buckley’s two-hour Firing Line panel have to do with the cause of God’s mission in this world? Was it just another debate on evolution? What does this have to do with missions? See the editorial here and on page four.