Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out

God’s image is imprinted in each person, but it’s only a reflection unless we embrace Him..

In the first century, Hebrews believed that they would be defiled by the things they ate. In the twenty first century, many Americans believe that people are generally good, and they learn to be prejudiced and hateful from their environment. I hadn’t seen the parallel until I spent some time meditating on the following words Jesus spoke to his first century audience:

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  …. Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” …. And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Mark 7:15, 18, 19, 20-23 ESV

Modern Americans may not agree with the list of evils Jesus mentions here, nor would they agree with ancient Hebrews’ list of evils, but I find it interesting that they might both generally agree, perhaps, on the source of evil – coming from outside the person. Modern Americans popularly believe that all people are good, that we only learn to be bad. It’s pressure from outside of us that influences us to do evil things.

Jesus said that isn’t true. It’s what comes from within us that defiles us. Jesus might have been echoing the Prophet, Jeremiah, when he said the human heart is deceitful (and “desperately sick”). (Jer. 17:9) We fool ourselves when we think that we are basically good.

James says, “[E]ach person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire …” (and, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin….”). (James 1:14-15) Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13), and all people have sinned and fallen short. (Rom 3:23) The thread of sin runs through all people.

I think that Scripture is correct in this. The human heart tends toward evil. We have to learn to be good. Evil is what comes naturally, but good has to be learned.

But what is the essence of goodness and evil? This is where we find agreement (it’s not good to kill babies for fun) and disagreement (on issues like abortion).

Jesus breaks “being good” down to two things: loving God above all else, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:36-40) If these things are the greatest goods, then the greatest evils are what is contrary to them: not loving God and not loving our neighbors.

I think modern Americans can agree about the goodness of loving others, but we tend to reject (or are agnostic about) loving God. Ancient Hebrews generally subscribed to both precepts, but there was a disconnect for them. They got caught up in the commandments (the do’s and don’ts) and didn’t understand that those commandments pointed to something greater. Thus, they focused on what they took into their bodies instead of what came out of their hearts.

Jesus focused on the heart of the matter – human hearts. We would do well to refocus our attention in the twenty first century on human hearts as well, beginning with our own hearts. We search for ultimate truth within ourselves, but the hateful things that we detest in others come from within us also.

Continue reading “Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out”

Francis Collins on Proof of God: The Options are Simple

Which position requires more faith? The existence of God? Or the existence of a multiverse?


Francis Collins is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute where he spearheaded the Human Genome Project. He is now director of the National Institute of Health. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

He graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in physical chemistry from Yale University. Then he earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Francis Collins is best known for his work in sequencing and mapping the human genome. He has been involved in the discovery of genes associated with various diseases. Most recently, Francis Collins was announced as the 2020 Templeton Prize winner.

“The Templeton Prize is an annual award granted to a living person, in the estimation of the judges, ‘whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.’” The Templeton Prize exceeds he value of the Nobel Prize each year and is awarded to recognize progress toward research and discoveries about spiritual realities. (See Wikipedia)

The early trajectory of his life would not have predicted a Templeton Prize in his future. Francis Collins grew up on a small farm, in a non-religious home of parents he describes as hippies. He was home schooled through 6th grade. He loved science despite his more artsy upbringing, but any notions of the possibility of a God were wiped from the ledger of possibilities for him by the time he entered graduate school.

Francis Collins was an atheist, and he didn’t give God or religion much thought until sometime after doctoral degrees were completed and he was working in the field of medicine. He was challenged one day by a cancer patient to support his view that God didn’t exist. While he was convinced of his position, he realized his position was merely one of making assumptions. He hadn’t really considered the evidence, or lack thereof, and formed his position in a scientific way.

The scientist in him recognized that he really should know why he didn’t believe in God, and, therefore, he couldn’t really hold that position with any degree of integrity without considering the contrary evidence. Thus, he set out to inform himself. Along the way, he came to the conclusion that his original position wasn’t as tenable as he supposed. Reluctantly he came to believe that God is the best explanation for all the evidence he understood.

Francis Collins was in his late 20’s when he found himself a believer, and specifically a believer in the Christian concept of God. (A little bit of his story is captured in Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason) That position has informed his life work.

Francis Collins recently sat down (remotely) with Justin Brierley, the Unbelievable? Podcast, host, to discuss faith and science. I will embed the YouTube footage of the interview at the end of this article, focusing on the question: what is evidence of God is most compelling? (But the whole interview is worth a listen.)

Continue reading “Francis Collins on Proof of God: The Options are Simple”

Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 1

Job was probably the envy of all who knew him, and he may have been insufferable because of it.


Job was a righteous man the Book of Job says in the opening chapter and verse. (Job 1:1) But was he really? It seems that Job was very well regarded in his community, taking a prominent place (at the gate where the wise men sat). Job thought he was righteous and believed that everyone saw him that way too: as a righteous man above reproach. (Job 32:7-17)

Job was also a very wealthy man. He had a large family. He was proud of his good fortune, which he believed was the result of his righteous living. He even offered sacrifices for his children in case they sinned. (Job 1:5) Job may have been one of those people who think they children are perfect, but in case they sinned, he wanted to get a jump on it.

Before Job’s world is turned upside down, he might have been the kind of person who lives in a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The kind of person who has a perfect wife and perfect children who got good grades, got along with each other and always did the right things in their parents’ eyes. The kind of person who listened to his parents and other authorities growing up, was the example coaches pointed to on the athletic field, got good grades, went to a good college, got a good job, didn’t smoke or drink, went to church on Sunday and lived a good and secure life.

Job was probably the envy of all who knew him, and he might have been insufferable because of it. It seems Job was righteous, at least compared to other people. Job was also righteous in his own eyes (Job 32:1), and, as a result, Job viewed the world through the lens of his own self-righteousness.

Job viewed the world through the lens of his own self-righteousness

Job reminds me of the kind of person who was good and proud of it. Job believed that his goodness was the source of all the good things he accomplished and acquired in his life. Job believed in God, of course, like a good Catholic or Protestant Christian. Job would have been a good American, a self-made man, equal parts proud of good living and proud of the wisdom of his belief in God. He might have been a proud patriot too, if he was alive today.

Scripture is clear, however, that no man is righteous before God. (Romans 3:10) None! Job may have been righteous compared to other people, but no one can stand up to God on his own merit.

Jesus eliminated all doubt on the subject when he said, “No one is good but God.” (Mark 10:18) To bring that point home, Jesus challenged the holy men of his day (men like Job) saying: it’s not enough to refrain from murder – you sin when you are angry at your brother, insult him and call him a fool (Matt. 5:21-22); and it’s not enough to refrain from committing the act of adultery – you commit adultery in your heart when you lust after a woman (Matt. 5:27-28).

Then Jesus really got down to the bottom line: if you really want to be good, then don’t just be just (Matt. 5:38) – be merciful and gracious and loving:

“[I]f anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:39-42)

If you really want to be good, then don’t just love your family, friends and people who are good to you:

“‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.'” (Matt. 5:44-48)

The statement in the first chapter and verse of Job, then, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It isn’t true. It can’t be true, because we know that no man is righteous before God, but that statement sets the stage for the entire Book of Job. Maybe it isn’t meant to be taken as true. Maybe it is meant to clue us into the way Job viewed himself.

Job’s view of himself as a righteous man colored Job’s view of the world. His belief that he was righteous defined who he thought he was. He attributed all of his success to it.

As we will see in the next blog post, Job viewed others through the lens of his own self-righteousness. We see this in his friends who mirrored to Job the advice Job had given others. Now that the tables were turned, Job and his friends would come to realize how cold and hollow that advice really is, and they would come to see God in a different way.

We tend to think that all of the misfortunes of other people are brought on by their own bad decisions, bad actions and bad living, but that isn’t always the case. We tend to think our fortunes are the result of our good decisions, good actions and good living, but that isn’t necessarily true either.

God’s Purpose for Good

Jacob with his sons before the Pharaoh, ceiling fresco by Johann Adam Remele in Joseph Hall, Cistercian Abbey of Bronbach in Reicholzheim near Wertheim, Germany

“But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.'” Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

I have written recently about the verse, Genesis 50:20 (things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good). (See God in the Dark) The message that God can turn the evil that impacts our lives for good is  powerful one. Though we might despair in our circumstances, especially when the evil we experience is caused by people, maybe even people we love, God is ever at work. God is able to redeem our circumstances, and, more importantly, redeem us.

As with any verse in the Bible, though we need to read it in context to understand the fullest, and most complete meaning. Genesis 50:20 was spoken by Joseph in a very specific context, so let’s take a look at that context and mine this well-known verse for some deeper meaning.

Continue reading “God’s Purpose for Good”

On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church

The Nazi party came to power in a Christian nation, and church leaders participated in the Rwandan genocide. How do we deal with that?

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

How could that be?! About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particularly faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded solely in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately – especially if the failure arises in the Church!

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

Continue reading “On Acknowledging and Transcending Evil – A Message to the Church”