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Making Sense of Evil at Christmas

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Sun. Dec 23rd 2018
Mike examines the problem of evil and how the Bible responds to the irony of evil's existence, even at Christmas.

So whether you watch the local news on TV or read the newspaper, or if you get your news on any of the news sites online, you're going to notice a pattern, and here's the pattern. That evil does not stop for Christmas. No break for evil at Christmas. People are murdered, they die in fires, they succumb to illness, they take their own lives, even on Christmas day. And when it comes to suicide, especially on Christmas day.

Of course you not only hear and see many of these sad stories on television or online, but you often experience them in your own lives, or in the lives of friends or family, causing sorrow and confusion of course, anger, instead of the joyful feelings that we usually anticipate. We anticipate that we're going to feel good, we anticipate that this is going to be a wonderful time. We're waiting for family to arrive and so on and so forth, and we get a phone call, grandma passed away or so and so, on their way, had an accident.

People getting married during the Christmas holidays, this I actually read in the paper, in the news story. A couple getting married, on the way to get married, had an accident with the car and were both killed. It just doesn't get any sadder than that.

So the natural desire is to try to make sense of it all. But unfortunately, CNN, Fox News, or the local newscast don't provide the insight necessary to get an understanding of what seems to be senseless evil. They report it, they may even make it sensational, but they don't make any sense of the thing. And so I'd like to just make a couple of brief observations in order to help us get the problem of evil into perspective especially since it crashes into us during the time of year when we'd like to take a break from it.And that of course is Christmas time.

Observation #1 – The Devil is Real

I know we don't usually say that around Christmas time, but the devil is real. If the brutality and mindless evil proves anything, it proves that the devil is real. When we read the Book of Job, for example, we see a man subjected to what seemed like mindless catastrophe, brutal violence and suffering that was so unfair. The text reveals to us that the source of these was not fate or circumstance, but the calculated attack of Satan. He attacked Job with the purpose of destroying him, of destroying his salvation, of destroying his soul. Many think this is simply an Old Testament phenomenon, but Peter in the New Testament reiterates this idea. In 1 Peter 5:8, he says,

be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

This is not a suggestion. It's a statement of fact, it's a warning to us all.

I believe that Satan is more greatly restrained now than back in Job's time because we have the revelation of the gospel, and we have the Holy Spirit within us. However, Peter still warns us that his influence is such that if we are not careful, we could still be destroyed by him today, and as I say, the devil, he doesn't take off at Christmas, or any other day.

In Romans 6:23, Paul tells us that the "wages of sin is death." And we see this death in all of its ugly forms around us, but what we fail to recognize is that Satan continues to lead mankind into that sin, which indirectly manifests itself in all forms of evil and catastrophe, suffering, and ultimately death.

The warning that Peter gave was not only for people in the first century, it's for us today as well. And so when you see the killer, when you see the tragedy, what you really see is Satan's hand at work once again, destroying people, destroying their lives, destroying their souls.

So first observation, let's just remember, the devil is real, it's not a fantasy thing.

Observation #2 – There is only one answer the question, "why?"

This is always the question that is asked when we face evil. Especially mindless evil takes place. The couple on their way to be married, are both killed on that day. Mindless evil, people are asking, why?

When you observe what goes on in this world, both good and bad, you can only conclude with the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes and what he said in his book, he said, "all is vanity, all is emptiness" (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Solomon, who wrote the book, Solomon was born into a king's house and he had every advantage. We know that, it's an old story. He was given the gift of wisdom by God. He became king of a peaceful and secure nation. He became extremely wealthy. In the book of Ecclesiastes he writes that he devoted his wisdom and wealth and time to a life experiment where he tried to find happiness by experiencing different things to their maximum potential.

Kind of summarizes what he was doing and writing about. He tried a lot of things. He tried the experience of pleasure, sexual pleasure and otherwise. Power, the amassing of personal power. Building projects, the pursuit of knowledge, entertainment of all kinds, diversion. Observing the life of others and commenting on the life of others. In Solomon we see the wisest man in history spend a lifetime looking at the greatest joys in life, and its worst cruelties and injustices. And as he summed up his experiences of life, he realized that it was empty and without meaning, imagine. He says vanity of vanity, says the preacher, vanity of vanity, all is vanity. Imagine, after a lifetime of experiencing every one of these areas of life to the maximum, he says it's all worthless, it's all empty.

He came to this conclusion because he realized that life goes on no matter what happens. Good and evil are senseless because the world goes round and round no matter what you do or what happens to you. In his writing he says, you do a great thing, so what? It is eventually forgotten and replace by something that somebody else does after you die, nobody remembers you. You suffer and you die, so what? You're ultimately forgotten and all you have done returns to dust eventually, and the world goes on without you.

You know, those are like deep ideas and deep things to think about, but I learned this lesson myself when I was 16 years old. I learned it from "I Love Lucy." A situation comedy sitcom and Lucy always got into some hair-brain scheme each week, lot of slapstick-type comedy, lot of physical comedy for you younger folks who've never seen that show. I Love Lucy, she was on all the time, they had reruns for years. At my house, the reruns were on at 4:00 in the afternoon when I was a kid and I used to watch Lucy. Come home from school, get a snack, get in front of the TV.

My folks worked, so I'd just watch TV till they came home, did my homework, all that kind of stuff. And then one day, unexpectedly, my father died, he had a heart attack, 53 years old. My mother woke me up, it was two in the morning, she says, "I think daddy is not well." And I said, well, just give him some Bromo-Seltzer or something. She says, "No, no, I really think he's not well." So I was the only child, so I got up, I came to the room, and I watched him as he died of the heart attack, not knowing what to do. And so the funeral went on, everything that happens when somebody dies, especially somebody who dies suddenly. You're not expecting it. One day he was there, we had supper the night before, he had to go out, he came back in and he died.

And so about a week or two after the funeral, things kind of settled down, you know how it works. You get a lot of attention during the funeral, everybody's there, everybody's bringing food and so on and so forth, and everybody's, I'm sorry. And then after a week or two, people go back to their lives. And you continue with your life. And so I went back to school and my mom always worked, and she continued to work. And I continued to come home, and I finally got back into my routines.

And I remember one day I came home and sat on the couch and I had a snack, and glass of milk, some cookies. And I turned on the TV and there was Lucy. I think it was the show where there's this conveyor belt and she's trying to kind of put whipped cream on cakes and stuff, and the conveyor belt's going faster and faster and she's trying to do that and the cake and the whipped cream's flying all over the place, and the canned laughter's going, so on and so forth. And I'm watching her, and the voice in my head said, your father is dead and Lucy's still clowning around. My dad is dead, I'll never see him again, I said to myself. But Lucy just keeps on going. She doesn't care, she doesn't know, she just keeps on going. And at that moment, I learned this lesson right here. It doesn't matter what happens. The worst, most traumatic thing can happen to you and there'll be a little bump in the road and then after that, it doesn't matter. Life goes on, people go on with their lives, you've got to go on with your life. It seems all senseless.

Thankfully, after Solomon came to that discouraging, yet accurate conclusion, he realized that the only hope that existed in this senseless world was the fact that God would eventually judge what man did and reward accordingly. And he wrote, familiar passage:

13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Without this understanding, the best we can do is to bring evildoers to justice, or make better laws, or find cures to more diseases. But doing all of this does not make sense of evil, it only keeps us busy dealing with the different forms of evil and newer kinds of diseases. And that never stops coming. Only the realization that God will judge evil and reward good one day gives any meaning to what we do, and satisfaction to those who are victimized now but are denied justice, that's the only thing.

If we live and are blessed, then we need to give thanks and glory to God. And if we suffer and die, let us depend on God for mercy, because only God's presence makes any sense of good and evil at this or any other time. Without God, nothing makes sense, nothing makes sense.

I had not been taught the Bible when I was a child, there was no religious teaching in our home, there was no religious activity, no spiritual talk, zero at my house. And so I sat there as a 16 year old and realized what Solomon realized. This is all there is, nobody cares. And it's too long a story, but that explains a lot of what I did between the age of 16 until I was baptized at 30 years of age. I lived as a man who lived in a world that didn't make any sense.

Observation #3 – There is no comfort without Christ

Solomon didn't have Christ. He didn't see God's final plan. You ever realize, even though Solomon is wise, we have been given greater insight because we have been given the gospel. You can catch and execute the criminals. You can form support groups for the victims, but nothing brings back those who are dead.

A granddad of the murdered child was interviewed once on TV, and he said that there was a hole inside of him where his precious granddaughter used to be. I can relate to that, and I'm sure many of you can as well. When my dad passed away, there was a hole in me that has never been filled to this day. And I'm sure many of you feel the same way about the things and the people that you may have lost in your life. You can take drugs that will help you deal with the pain and depression, but there is no drug or treatment that gives you hope. Only the promise of resurrection, given to us by Jesus Christ creates hope, nothing else.

In John 6:40, Jesus says,

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

I read this and I have hope for two reasons.

  1. He says there is a resurrection.
  2. And He actually wants me to go to heaven.

I don't have to fight my way to heaven. I don't have to get through him in order to get to heaven. Jesus is saying that the will of the Father is that I get to heaven. And Jesus says, I will make sure you get to heaven. I take great comfort in that because you know what? There're not a lot of people out there who want me to go to heaven, or want you to go to heaven. And certainly not the devil.

The empty grave of Jesus Christ says to the victim that someone has killed the body but not the soul, and one day Christ will provide a new and indestructible body that no one will be able to harm. If there's joy at Christmas, if there's joy at the idea that Jesus came to Earth, that joy is not projected to the birth of Christ, that joy is projected to the resurrection of Christ. That's where our joy is, actually that's where the difference between the quote celebration of Christmas is, and the joy that Christians actually feel about Jesus. Our joy is at the empty tomb, that's where I get my joy. That he was born, okay, great. But that he rose from the dead on my account, to prove to me that I can also be resurrected, this is what makes me joyful and hopeful.

The gospel of hope says to the rest of us, not to be afraid or confused, that God will have the last word, that Christ will reunite us with those we love, never to be separated by death again. I believe that, I believe that with all my heart.

It's ironic that on the same newscast the media reports the mindless evil that happens every day and then in the next breath promotes the season of Christmas with ads for things we ought to buy and give at this time of year, it's amazing. We open the newscast, 10 people died, there's a building on fire, and by the way, Macy's is open till 9:00pm and with 40% off!

Jesus rightly said that in every generation there are those who see but do not perceive. They hear and they yet do not understand. The answer is right under everybody's nose. The one who defeated Satan, the one who will judge and reward, the one who rose from the dead to give us all hope, the one who makes sense of it all. The senseless evil and sorrow is somehow forgotten or ignored or drowned out by the noise and the activity surrounding his supposed birthday. Amazing.

Let's not fall into the same trap, shall we? Let's enjoy the season and all that comes with it. Let's be perceptive, there's a lot of good things, let's enjoy them.

But let us all take a moment during the season to pray for all the victims of Satan's attacks, and ask that God restrain him.

Maybe it's getting crazier out there because there's not enough of us praying in here. That's important. Let's pray that Jesus keep our souls through the trials of this life so we can all have times when we can rejoice now and look forward to a time when it will all make sense, it will all be truth, it will all be peace, it will all be love and joy.

Not manufactured love and joy, true love and joy, for true eternal reasons. So let's take advantage of the opportunity to defeat Satan now, and avoid judgment now, and guarantee our resurrection and heavenly reward now.

So if we're not Christians, we can do all of this by repenting of our sins of course, by confessing Christ, being baptized, even tonight. And if we are Christians and suffering from Satan's attacks even at this time of year, because he doesn't take a day off.

If we're suffering from his attacks or fear of death, discouragement in our faith, as I say every time that I preach, the elders are here, they're ready to pray, they're ready to encourage you. If you have any particular need, especially at this time, then we encourage you to come now as we stand and as we sing the song of encouragement that John has selected.

"Excellent resources for Bible class teachers, preachers and students."


Chris Hill
Minister, Luther Church of Christ