My first experience of evil in the world was the school shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. I was in college at UCF, and the evil of it affected me in a real way…a way that no previous act of evil had… I feel that again this week.
Columbine, for me, was the first time that I saw how powerful evil could be in our world. It was the first time that I was forced to ask, “How could God allow something like this to happen? Why does he allow us the power to kill innocent people? Where is God now?”
Now, another act of evil has exploded across our world, taking seventeen lives, and forever altering hundreds more, shocking us at the callousness of those among us, and we ask the question again, “Where is God? Where is God in evil?”
Now, the correct answer is to say that God has no part in evil.
1 John 1:5 says that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” And I believe that, and our church teaches that, because it’s true.
So if the cause of evil is what really matters, then we can ask the question “Why did God create a world where evil is allowed to happen?” And if that’s a question you’d like to discuss, I would be happy to buy you a cup of coffee so we can talk about it.
But I won’t do it today. Not this week.
Because that question is a dry, intellectual question that doesn’t really respect the pain and suffering and loss of life that evil has caused this week.
The better question is “What is God going to do about it?”
So what is God going to do about evil?
He’s going to punish it.
God is going to send evil to hell.
There is going to be a final judgement. And at that time, evil will be punished. And we will all be there to see it happen.
We get a preview of the final judgement in the book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, St. John records a vision he was given on the island of Patmos. He sees lots of symbolic things, and receives messages for the churches of his time. But then, at the end, he has a vision of the final judgement. The judgement about which Jesus promised and taught over and over again in the Gospels.
Revelation 20:11- 21:8 gives us the best picture of what God is going to do about evil. John is nearing the end of the vision God gave him. He has seen amazing and terrible things…strange beasts, and other things with special meanings for the church then, and the church now. He sees a vision of heaven, of the paradise that is promised to us. There are several details in here that I want to highlight, so that we don’t just focus on the punishment, but also see the grace. So let’s read.
20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it.
This is Jesus Christ, who in John’s vision appears as a Lamb who was slain, because even at the final judgement, when he sets the world to rights, Jesus still bears the marks of the cross. He still bears in his body the consequences of removing our sin from us, and offering that same benefit to the world.
The earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.
Here is the first thing that we need to hear in answer to our question this morning, “What is God going to do about evil?”
Rev 20:11 says, “the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.” What that says to me is that when we actually get to the end, and get to see Jesus in his glory…that everything else will fade away completely.
Earth and heaven fled from his presence (the word here is literally “face”) and there was no place, no room, for them anymore. John could no longer see his hometown, or the sun, or the sea….just Him. Just Jesus.
And that is the first promise for us this morning. That when we get to the end, even though God will still do what we’re about to read that God is going to do, that it won’t seem quite as urgent to us any more, because we’ll see his face.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life.
John saw books and a book.
Books were opened, he says. And there was also another book. A book that stands on its own and is set apart from the others: the book of life.
Before we go any further, let me tell you how a person gets their name written in the book of life.
We’ll see in the second half of this verse that peoples’ deeds are recorded in the other books. The other books, and I imagine there are millions and billions of them, record the deeds, both good and bad, both great and terrible, of every person who ever lived.
But that’s not what is recorded in the book of life.
The book of life is simply a list of names.
The book of life is filled with the names of people who, by the grace of God, believe that the other books don’t describe their worth and value in this world.
The book of life is filled with the names of people who trust that their worth, and value, and place in the universe is not determined by their own goodness and rightness and power, but by the goodness, righteousness, and power of Jesus Christ.
The book of life is filled with the names of people who aren’t hoping to get in to paradise because they think that in the other books, their good deeds outnumber the bad, or that they can buy their way in, but who have placed their hope in the good news, that Jesus is the way.
And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.
Each and every person, you and me and everyone else…everyone’s actions and deeds are written down. And I don’t know about you, but I will not be proud on that day. If I didn’t believe that my name is written in the book of Life, I would terrified.
Some people have deeds written down in those books that everyone knows about…infamous deeds, terrible deeds, great deeds. Many deeds were written down this week. Both great and horrible. Many deeds are being written down in Washington DC this week, deeds of powerful people who see the good they need to do, and aren’t doing it.
And they will judged.
And so will I. And so will you.
And we will all be found guilty.
But many of us, most of us I hope, will find out that the lamb who was slain and sits on the throne has taken our sentence on our behalf.
But that will not be the case for everyone.
I want to skip down to end of our passage, because it fits here, and I don’t want to end on it. So just put a pin here, let’s look at Rev. 21:8, where Jesus, in his goodness, after giving the promise that we’ll end with, gives this specific warning:
21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
The church has put a disproportionate amount of attention on the one evil on this list that has to do with sex. I think, because the other things terrify us.
Just look at the first one. The cowardly. The cowardly are in just as much dangers of the fires of hell as witches and murderers. That’s a warning we should share with our leaders.
We should let them know about the lying part, too, shouldn’t we? I mean, who is more insulated from the need to repent, than those people who have a vested interest in not repenting?
I don’t want them to go to hell! But they’re in danger of it.
God is just that serious about taking care of evil. He wants it gone. He wants it gone from our lives here and now. He wants it gone from our world here and now.
Because this is what he’s going to do about evil.
Back to chapter 20.
20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
You know, we don’t often like to talk about punishment, do we? We prefer to focus on the positive, uplifting aspects of our faith. But if you’re troubled by the evil in the world…
If you’re troubled by the evil at the top of the food chain, by the evil of people who will never see an earthly consequence for any of their actions, because they’re too powerful, then this is, if not good news, then powerful news, right here in Rev 20:15.
I wouldn’t wish hell on anyone, but there are men who have chosen it. And I hope that they get a chance to repent.
And I hope that they get into heaven by the skin of their teeth, and that for their tour-guides, they get one of the people they have hurt, or killed, or deprived of a good life because of their selfishness. But it’s also very possible that they will choose the lake of fire to owning up to their evil deeds.
And that will be justice.
Christians have hope that one day justice will be served. Evil will be punished. The wrongs will be put right. The truth will be told.
That is what God is going to do about evil.
But it’s not the only thing.
God is also going to put all things right.
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
This is what God is going to do about evil in our world: He is going to unmake it.
That’s what we talked about last week. That’s the true healing that we all long for.
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
That’s Jesus’ promise to you. That’s what you should set your hope on when things are dark and scary.
That’s the future. That’s the promise.
So why talk about that today?
First, because this year we are looking at everything Jesus taught, studying his life and his teachings and what it all meant.
And if we don’t really see the weight and consequence of sin, then what Jesus did on the cross was a waste of time. Jesus took all of the sin and evil of the world in his death. He went to hell and back so that each of could stand a chance at getting our name in that book of life. And all of his teaching and ministry is interpreted by that central act of God’s sacrificial love.
Second, because we live now in the tension of knowing Jesus will make it all right in the end, but also seeing that what we do here and now matters.
It matters for the world today, and it matters for eternity.
This is true every week, but this week especially, we need to hear it.
The time for hand wringing is over. The world needs you. God is calling you. It’s time to get to work.
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins