Part III: The Implications for Daily
chapter I am concerned to establish that there is a significant
difference in meaning between the words evil and sin,
a difference which profoundly affects the implications of a number
of passages of Scripture of great importance to a correct understanding
of the basis of divine judgment and human responsibility.
1 of 12
In ordinary conversation, we commonly
equate evil and sin, employing the words more or less interchangeably.
But in doing so we effectively conceal a distinction between
the words as employed in Scripture, thereby creating problems
in interpretation which are then resolved only by the very unsatisfactory
method of assuming that the text cannot possibly mean what it
says. When we learn that God does evil, appoints evil, intends
evil, purposes evil, and even creates evil, we seem to be left
with no alternative but to explain such passages away. And this
we must do, of course, if evil and sin mean the same thing, for
we cannot suppose that God is the author of sin. Indeed, we know
He is not, for He refuses to listen to those who sin (Isaiah
59 2; John 9:31).
Thus we seem to be forced to make
a distinction between the two words. But as soon as we decide
that this is proper, we come across passages where the supposed
distinction is ignored! Thus Habbakuk 1:13 reads, "You are
of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on iniquity
[i.e., sin]." Is this a case of repetition for the sake
of emphasis in which evil and sin are synonymous terms? Do we
have two separate statements used by the Holy Spirit to drive
home the point that God cannot countenance either evil or sin?
Now this problem in the use of
terms applies not only in the matter of evil and sin but in the
matter of their opposites, goodness and righteousness. Are these
also to be distinguished, or are they likewise synonymous terms
An examination of many key passages
in the New Testament suggests that a real distinction does exist.
In the Old Testament the issue is far less clear. But the reason
for this may be that the Old Testament is a study of
rather than of the underlying theology which accounts for that
experience. It is in the New Testament that the theology of Christian
experience becomes explicit, pre-eminently in Paul's Epistles.
And it is in the New Testament therefore that we find a certain
precision of language that is largely lacking in the Old Testament.
In common parlance we are not precise
in our use of many words. The context of the conversation conveys
our meaning as a rule, or it may happen that precision of meaning
is not important. Thus we may speak of a good man or a righteous
man, but we do not stop to consider whether a man may be good
who tells a lie to save a friend. During the war under Nazi pressure
not a few Christians faced this as a very practical problem.
They were being good, but were they righteous? By the same token,
when we speak of an evil man or a sinful man, we assume there
is essentially no difference, and often we are perfectly right.
But yet we know that there are some evil things that must be
done which are nevertheless not wicked � like the amputation
of a leg in an emergency. An evil act may or may not be sinful,
though a sinful act is almost always an evil one. The two facets
of a single deed can often be separated by the discerning mind.
It is indeed difficult to distinguish
evil and wickedness, and goodness and righteousness, in the
abstract. One must consider these words in their context.
When man does evil it is usually sinful: when God does evil it
cannot possibly be sinful. Clearly the words as used in Scripture
are to be distinguished.
The best lexicographers of the
Greek (Kittel, Thayer, Liddell and Scott, etc.) have not altogether
clarified the situation, and the reader is left to struggle with
the problem for himself. There are indeed difficulties, for virtually
every "rule" is broken distressingly often.
It is possible that the basic difference
from a biblical point of view is that evil and goodness are ethical
in character and temporal in effect whereas, by contrast, sin
and righteousness are moral in character and eternal in consequence.
Evil and goodness apply to relationships between man and man,
"horizontal" in bearing and "historical"
in effect, whereas sin and righteousness are identified with
relationships between man and God, "vertical" in their
connection and everlasting in consequence. The former, moreover,
relate chiefly to what we do, the latter to what we are. These
contrasts are set forth as in the chart below.
In the light of these distinctions
between what is wicked and what is only evil and therefore between
what is culpable and what is only unfortunate, let us look at
what Scripture has to say on the subject and then see if there
are general principles that will serve to illuminate satisfyingly
the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility.
The issue is not merely an academic one; it relates to our sense
of the rightness of things, and if God is truly righteous and
omnipotent, it is surely proper to expect that in all his ways
He will not merely act justly but will be seen to act
|| Evil and Goodness
|| Sin and Righteousness
|| Horizontal And
| Vertical And
Man To God
| Relative To
|| What We Do
|| What We Are
When the wicked
are fulfilling the purposes of God, how can they justly be held
accountable? Not every evil deed is foreordained, for not every
evil deed forms part of the predeterminate counsel of God, but
it must surely be by his permission. We do know from Scripture
that some evil deeds are foreordained, like the selling of Joseph
or the crucifixion of our Lord, and that in spite of their predetermination
those who performed them were nevertheless held accountable.
What kind of justice is it that holds men accountable for an
evil deed which it has been foreordained they shall perform?
It seems that Paul, when speaking to the Christians in Rome,
had been asked this very question, "Who then is morally
accountable?" Or as he put it in Romans 9:19: "You
will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has
resisted his will?" On what basis will any man be judged
accountable if the sovereignty of God really extends this far?
We have no great problem in understanding
the justice of holding men accountable for evil deeds which are
performed as free expressions of their own will. Because
such actions are humanly initiated, they are in a sense doubly
culpable. They are culpable because of the evil they entail,
and they are culpable because of the wicked intention which lies
behind them. And there is thus an important difference between
what is evil and what is wicked. For there are many evil acts
which must be performed in society but which are performed normally
by people whose intentions are good. The executioner who carries
out the sentence of a judge, whose judgment is
fitting and is directed
towards the good of society, is carrying out an evil act with
good intention, for it is undoubtedly an evil thing that a man's
life should have to be cut short; yet it may, if it is truly
fitting, also be a righteous act. It is an evil thing that a
surgeon should have to remove a gangrenous foot and leave a man
lame for life, and yet his intention is morally correct if he
honestly believes it is the best treatment. An evil deed need
not have any aspect of wickedness about it. The amputation of
a man's leg is an unfortunate evil but it does not per se
involve any moral impropriety that would convert it into a wicked
This is not a novel truth. It has
been talked about by philosophers probably since man first began
to think in abstract terms. But is it simply an abstract idea,
interesting but not of practical importance? Or is it an important
truth essential to an understanding of what is said in Scripture
in connection with good and evil, righteousness and wickedness,
reward and punishment? Let us look at some passages which give
us very firm guidance in this matter and which provide some amazingly
First of all,
it is very clear that while God can never be accused of committing
wickedness, He is often expressly declared to be the author of
evil. Because of our confusion in the use of these two words,
evil and wickedness, such a blanket statement may
well be very disturbing to one who has not examined the matter
in the light of the Word of God. Yet, that God does evil is stated
so frequently and so unequivocally in Scripture that it is remarkable
how few commentators have taken this matter into account except
to explain it away. What can one do with such a plain statement
as the following? In Isaiah 45:7 it is written: "I form
the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.
I the Lord do all these things."
Now in the Scofield Bible there
is a footnote at this point which correctly explains that the
Hebrew word ra' translated "evil" in Isaiah
45:7, is elsewhere translated "sorrow," "wretchedness,"
"calamities," but never translated sin. God created
evil only in the sense that He made sorrow, wretchedness, and
calamities, which are assuredly among the fruits of sin but not
to be equated with sin, for many evils (earthquakes, for example)
have nothing to do with sin. I believe this is a perfectly fair
statement of the case as far as it goes, and yet I feel it glosses
over a most important aspect of God's sovereignty.
The story of Job suggests that
evil does not always come as the direct result of sin. I am not
suggesting that Job was not a sinner, for all men are sinners,
and Job must be counted as one of them. But the story of Job
as set forth in Scripture seems clearly to go out of its way
to establish the fact that the calamities that came upon him
were not directly the consequence of his unrighteousness nor
even of someone else's. They came from Satan, by God's permission.
first chapter presents the background of the scenario. Job is
pictured as performing faithfully what was required of him as
head of his household in a time antecedent to the establishment
of the Mosaic ritual and of the building of the Temple. He offered
sacrifices for his family and himself in a way which I believe
we must assume was divinely ordered in those early days; and
in Job 1:8 we read the Lord's extraordinary testimony to Satan
regarding Job's moral stature, thus confirming strongly his introduction
in verse 1 as a man "perfect and upright and one that feared
God and eschewed evil." So the Lord said to Satan, "Have
you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in
the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one who fears God and
eschews evil?" This was God's judgment of the man.
Nevertheless, because of certain
circumstances which are revealed to us in Job 1:9�12, of
which Job himself was evidently not aware, a series of terrible
calamities fell suddenly upon him and devastated him. Job was
neither rebellious nor embittered, but it was quite otherwise
with his wife who saw herself reduced to ruin on his account.
So she said to Job (2:9): "Do you still retain your
integrity! Curse God and die." It is interesting to note
that even in his utter wretchedness he retained his integrity
and his wife observed it with surprise. How could he be so docile?
God had unfairly demolished him; why should he want to live any
longer? Let him simply curse God to his face and be struck dead.
. . .
But Job answered (verse 10): "You
speakt as one of the foolish women speak. What? Shall we receive
good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"
And then the writer added significantly: "In all this did
not Job sin with his lips."
Shall we not receive evil from
the hand of God? What an extraordinary statement to make; and
Job is immediately exonerated from any suspicion of foolishness
or impropriety for having said it. Clearly then, we may here
observe a case of evil originating with the Lord for purposes
quite other than the punishment of a man's wickedness. Moreover,
we have a somewhat parallel circumstance in the New Testament
in the case of the man born blind. In John 9:1 ff. we read: "As
Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from his birth. And
his disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man
or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither
has this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God
should be made manifest in him."
Here is a case of a manifest evil,
blindness from birth, that was not traceable, in this instance,
either to the man's own sin or to the sin of his parents. Clearly
it was not the Lord's intention to have us suppose that neither
the man nor his parents were sinners. In the context the Lord
plainly intended his disciples to understand rather that this
particular instance of blindness from birth was not directly
attributable to human wickedness but was in the strictest sense
purely an act of God. It was an evil that God had appointed
for a very special purpose.
It was not a penalty. It is difficult to know what language the
Lord could have used beyond what He did to make this any clearer.
And we must conclude, I think, that not all wretchedness or sorrow
or calamity is the direct fruit of sin � even though in a
sinless world such evils ought never to be necessary, for the
exhibition of the glory of God would not need this kind of demonstration.
In Lamentations 3:38 Jeremiah asks
a question: "Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth
not evil and good?" This is put in the form of a question
in the original because Jeremiah is really asking, "Do not
both evil and good proceed out of the mouth of the most High?"
And clearly the implied answer is, "Yes, indeed."
In Amos 3:6 it is asked, "Shall
there be evil in a city and God has not done it?" It is
hardly sufficient to say that evils come about everywhere and
always because of human wickedness in city life, though this
is undoubtedly a truth. But is it really the truth
of this utterance? Would, then, the text not have to say rather
that God had permitted it than that He had actually done it?
The Hebrew word 'asah rendered
"done" in this passage is a word which may mean "doing"
or "making" (nearly two thousand times), or it may
mean "appointing." The former is by far the more frequent
rendering in the King James Version. But even if one should seek
to escape the implications of Amos 3:6 by opting for the alternative
rendering of "appointing," we still have to acknowledge
that God is the initiator who makes the appointment.
Certainly in Jeremiah 36:3 the
purpose of God was to do evil, and the same seems clearly
to be implied in Judges 2:15; Isaiah 31:2; Ezekiel 6:10; Amos
9:4; and Micah 1:12. That God "brought evil" upon men
is very frequently asserted without apology: Joshua 23:15: 2
Samuel 17:14; 1 Kings 9:9; 14:10; 21:21; 2 Kings 6:33: 22:16;
2 Chronicles 7:22; 34:24; Nehemiah 13:18; Job 42:11; Jeremiah
4:6; 6:19; 11:11, 23; 18:8; 19:3,15; 23:12; 32:42; 35:17, 36:31,
42:17, 44:2, Ezekiel 5:16; 14:22; and so forth. And it is clear
that here the evil is a consequence of wickedness, an appointed
punishment. But I believe it is only by a strained form of exegesis
that we can say the same of Job's case or of the man born blind.
And we therefore have to recognize that evil is not always punishment.
When man initiates evil it is often sinful and punishable, whereas
when God initiates evil it never is.
Evil may in fact be good, seen
in the long view, whereas wickedness can never be righteousness
no matter how long a view we take. The selling of Joseph is a
case in point, for it was an evil in the sense of being Joseph's
misfortune at the time, but in the end it turned out for his
brothers' good (Genesis 45:5) � but only because Joseph bore
the penalty in his own person, and God vindicated him by raising
him up, as it were, from the dead. It is indeed God's prerogative
to do both evil and good together (Isaiah 41:23), and
Isaiah presents this
circumstance as a challenge that could not be met by false gods.
It is clear
therefore that evil per se is not to be equated with sin,
and that God has every right to ordain evil as well as good in
the working out of his purpose, even as He has the right to make
one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour for the same
reason (Romans 9:21). And the difference does not lie in the
clay itself out of which they are made, for both are made "of
the same lump." And the evils that sometimes beset us are
no more a just dessert of our sins than the blessings which fall
to our lot are necessarily the reward of our righteousness.
Then what is it that is punishable
in the one who is chosen to be an agent in the working out of
some evil cause divinely ordained? Many performed evil deeds
in response to the Lord's direct ordination, yet they were punished.
But not all were punished; some were even rewarded! Since it
is the motive that determines whether an act is punishable or
meritorious, such evil actions may sometimes be worthy of reward
even as the executioner receives his wages. Indeed, we are likely
to reward him well, because he is doing a task that is hateful
to ordinary people. Will God then condemn those who similarly
perform an evil deed essential to the fulfillment of his purposes
simply because the deed itself is evil of necessity? And will
He necessarily reward a good deed done under the same conditions?
But what if a man takes pleasure
in performing the evil deed? Obviously that is an entirely different
matter. It is not the deed that is punished, but the spirit in
which the deed is carried out: it is the heart that makes
guilty, not the hand. Although the purposes of God are
thus carried forward, yet the agent now becomes accountable,
not for the deed itself but for the pleasure he experienced in
giving free expression to his own inclination to injure a fellow
man. The hands of those who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts
2:23) were wicked not because they crucified the Lord, for this
was in express fulfillment of the Father's predetermined plan.
They were wicked because they had a wrong reason, a wrong motive,
a sinful intention in what they did. They did it because they
hated Him without a cause (John 15:25), not because they clearly
understood that it was God's will that He be crucified. And this
therefore provides us with a paramount instance in which the
sinfulness of the world does not lie in the fact that it thwarts
the will of God by not doing it, but in the fact that it does
not choose the will of God. It is the motive, not the
deed, that is culpable.
There is a beautiful illustration
of this principle to be found in Isaiah 10:5�12, one verse
of which we have already considered. But now let us look carefully
at the whole passage, omitting for brevity only verses 9 and
the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is
mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical
nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a
charge, to take the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them
down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he means not so,
neither does his heart think so: but it is in his heart to
destroy and cut off nations not a few. For he says, "Are
not my princes as good as kings? . . . Shall I not, as
I have done unto Samaria and her idols so do to Jerusalem and
her idols?" Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the
Lord has performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem,
I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of
Assyria and the glory of his high looks. [my emphasis]
points stand out in this remarkable passage, which is a behind-the-scenes
revelation of history as seen from God's point of view. First
of all, as we have already noted, the Assyrian was God's servant,
his rod and his staff (verse 5). Secondly, he was sent by God
to fulfill God's will, which in this case was to perform an evil
work upon Jerusalem and the people of Judea, to devastate
their city and their land, to slaughter many of their people,
and to carry away their wealth and the precious furnishings of
Solomon's Temple (verse 6). Thirdly, the King of Assyria clearly
had no conscious intention of fulfilling the will of God. In
his own heart he was prompted entirely by self-serving motives.
He did not for one moment consider the possibility that he was
acting under divine compulsion. Though his actions originated
with God, his intentions originated entirely in his own
mind (verse 7). And finally, he was to be punished, not for his
deeds but for the fruit of his proud heart, that is to say, for
the motivation which sent him forth to descend upon Judea like
a wolf upon the fold (verse 12).
Here then we have a perfect example
of the dual perspective of historic events. There is no doubt
that we shall see many things in an entirely new light when we
see them in eternity from God's point of view. Even now as we
look back at the Lord's dealings with ourselves we are aware
that some things, taken at the time as incomprehensible disappointments
or even tragedies of a sort, have nevertheless turned out for
good, even as Joseph's experience did. We begin to discern in
retrospect that some who opposed us to our temporary discomfort,
and intending our hurt, were actually serving the Lord's purposes.
Though they acted as the Lord's rod and staff, they were in the
final analysis sent to be a source of correction and improvement,
not for our confounding.
But what is an evil, performed
according to the Lord's intention, becomes a wickedness when
the motive is not in accordance with that intention. Thus we
may have the strange situation where a deed is rewarded but the
motive is punished. For even such actions as have been conducted
(albeit unknowingly) according to the Lord's will may be rewarded,
The servant who knows not what his lord does is nevertheless
worthy of his wages (John 15:15; Luke 10:7). God is no man's
debtor. When the Lord borrowed Peter's
boat to teach the crowds
of people who pressed too closely against Him along the shore,
He respected the fact that Peter made his living as a fisherman,
and rewarded him with more fish than he could possibly have caught
in the interval (Luke 5:4-6)!
both the reward for the work and the punishment for the motive
are carried out by like powers, one therefore fulfilling one
purpose and the other another purpose, in a system of checks
and balances under the Lord's sovereign control. Thus in Ezekiel
29:18�20 we are told:
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king
of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against
Tyre: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled:
yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyre, for the service
he had served against it. Therefore thus saith the Lord God;
Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king
of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil,
and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.
I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith
he served against it, because they wrought for me, said
the Lord God. [my emphasis throughout]
Comment is hardly
necessary here. The message is clear. So God's checks and balances
keep wickedness curbed or punished, while service is rewarded
at one and the same time. What is punished is the intent, which
Scripture refers to as the "fruit" of a man's doings,
reflected by the effect upon the man himself either restraining
or confirming in him the bent of his life, the way of his heart.
The man who exults afterwards in the revenge he has obtained
by punishing his enemy, reveals why he punished his enemy. The
father who mourns afterwards, having punished his son, reveals
why he punished his son. The act in either case may be very similar,
but the effect upon the doer makes all the difference. This seems
to be why in Jeremiah 21:14, where the troubles which were to
come upon Judea and Jerusalem were in prospect, the Lord said,
"I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings."
In more personal terms, Jeremiah
(32:19) repeats this warning: "Great in counsel, and mighty
in work; for your eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons
of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according
to the fruit of his doings." And lest any man should suppose
himself immune, Jeremiah (17:9, 10) issues that familiar warning:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the
reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according
to the fruit of his doings." Alas, man's intentions are
sometimes great but his work is small; or his intentions are
"small" but his work is great. In either case the judgment
of God is stamped above all on man's ways rather than
his works, upon the fruit of his doings rather than upon those
So we have a basic principle here, that evil is not
necessarily wickedness, for God Himself does evil, appoints it,
intends it, or even creates it where his purposes demand. But
with man evil is all too often wickedness also; so frequently
is this the case that we have mistakenly equated the two words.
When evils are performed by man as a direct result of God's command,
they bring no penalty unless the doer takes delight in
the harm that is done. In this case he is punished for his intention
but not for the deed; he may in fact be rewarded for an evil
deed, as Nebuchadrezzar was. If he should perform an evil that
the Lord has not commanded and if he should do it with wicked
intent, then in due time he will suffer for both the action and
the intention, doubly condemned for a wickedness doubly offensive.
There is, of course, another side
to this. The Lord's people may perform good deeds and yet the
motive may be self-serving. Paul's hypothetical "unloving"
gift to feed the poor would profit them but not himself, as he
openly admitted (1 Corinthians 13:3). In 1 Corinthians 9:16,
17 Paul speaks of the commission he had received to preach the
Gospel. Yet he disclaimed any merit in the mere fact of being
a preacher. "For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing
to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto
me if I preach not the Gospel! For if I do this thing willingly,
I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the
Gospel is committed unto me." The secret of reward was not
obedience � but willing obedience. It is thus quite
possible to perform the Lord's will perfectly and yet not receive
a reward; moreover, it is quite possible to be punished for doing
it, as the Assyrian King Sennacherib was.
Sometimes the good deeds of men
are involuntary, acts of kindness done by accident as it were,
or unknowingly. Such good deeds are good in themselves but obviously
not righteous, and not being righteous they are not meritorious.
Similarly, as we have seen, there will be those who will profess
to have done many good deeds in the Lord's name who yet will
be declared "workers of iniquity" (Matthew 7:23).
Alternatively, there are times
when the intention is right but by reason of circumstances actual
performance proves impossible. What of these? If intention is
what is rewarded or punished, then is the actual doing important
in this respect? Is not a man counted guilty merely for secret
desires? Indeed, he is. Whoever looks upon a woman with lust
in his heart has already committed adultery but for lack of opportunity
(Matthew 5:28), * even as coveting is stealing but for lack of
opportunity, and hating is murder
* The Greek gune, (woman) in this case
almost certainly has the common meaning of the "wife of
another." See Oepke, in Kittel's Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament. Vol. 1, p. 776. DOC
(1 John 3:15). The fact
that no actual killing has been committed is not important in
the judgment of the individual, though it obviously is in the
social context. Thus the Jewish people slew the Lord by hating
Him � and then crucified Him. Thus the King James Version
rightly renders the Greek of Acts 5:30 as "slew and hanged
[Him] on a tree" (in that order), and similarly Acts 10:39.
This is a profound truth. Moreover, it was a normal practice
with the Jews to slay first before crucifying as will be seen
by reference to many related passages of Scripture such as Joshua
10:26 and Matthew 23:34. They hated the Lord long before the
crucifixion, and their hatred was potential murder awaiting only
the proper opportunity.
But again, the reverse
is also true. A kindness fully intended is counted with God as
actually done and rewarded as such. The best example is seen
in David's desire to build the Temple. So firm was his resolve
to build that he set the process in operation and began the preparation
and assembly of the needed materials long before the Temple construction
was begun. Yet because he was a man of war (1 Chronicles 28:3),
the Lord would not allow the desire of his heart to be fulfilled
in the actual building of it. When the day finally came to consecrate
the House of God of which David had dreamed, his son Solomon
said to the people (1 Kings 8:17�19): "It was in the
heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the
Lord God of Israel. But the Lord said unto David my father, Whereas
it was in your heart to build an house unto my name you did
well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not
build the house; but your son that shall come forth out of your
loins, he shall build the house unto my name." So David
did well, just as much as the faithful servant in Luke 19:17
who was commended for having actually "done well."
Paul states this as a general principle.
Thus in 2 Corinthians 8:12 he writes: "If there be first
a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has and
not according to what he has not." The widow who cast in
two mites which was everything that she had (after all, she might
have put in only one of them) had in fact given more than
all the rest who cast in a mere pittance of their abundance (Luke
this all is! How appropriate! The only necessity is that we assume
that God is precise in his revelation and that He requires us
to distinguish between things that differ: between intention
and deed, and therefore between wickedness and evil. Paul recognizes
the difference between goodness and righteousness when he points
out the simple truth that in a time of emergency a man will more
readily give up his life for a good man than for a righteous
one! Goodness in man is appealing; righteousness is forbidding.
In Romans 5:7 he writes: "Scarcely for a righteous man will
one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare
to die." It is true!
A good deed has primarily an historical significance
on a horizontal plane and on a short-term basis, as between man
and man. A righteous act has a vertical dimension with ultimate
reference to God and to eternity. It was against Bathsheba and
Uriah her husband that David did an evil thing (Psalm
51:4), whereas the unrighteousness of his act was essentially
against God. It was in this sense he could speak of it as being
"against Thee, and Thee only. . ."
There is something cold and harsh about
righteousness when it has reference to relationships between
men. There is something warm and kind about goodness. A good
man can lie to save a friend and thereby confirm our sense of
goodness in his nature. There is a real difference between these
two terms, as there is between evil and wickedness.
So we seem to
have a partial solution to a troublesome problem in the minds
of many people. The wicked are punished even when their evil
acts fulfill the will of God and are performed under his direction.
The Lord's children are fully rewarded even when all they have
accomplished is but a pitiful fragment of their earnest desire.
What they have longed to do, as David longed to build the Temple,
they may never be permitted to see done; yet there is no doubt
that when God sees that their longing is pure and holy, it will
be counted as though fulfilled. The "if only" of all
worldly aspirations that fail to be realized becomes the "well
done!" of all spiritual aspirations that failed only because
of circumstances. Perhaps in heaven we shall be surprised to
find many greatly rewarded who seemed in fact never to have achieved
anything, while those who stand unrewarded in God's Judgment
will undoubtedly find themselves in no position to quarrel with
that assessment when they realize that God is not a judge of
action but a judge of intention.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Here, then, we begin to discern
the meeting place of divine sovereignty and human responsibility,
of Predestination and reward.