The Great Restrainer

The question is, Why not more?

Why There Isn’t More Evil (1)

And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me…”
Genesis 20.6

So many tares, so little evil
A question arises as we work to understand our times concerning the decency, goodness, and beauty which every day confront us. Our secular age is a generation in flight from God (Rom. 1.18-32). They have embraced the gods of self and happiness, are driven in life by narcissistic and materialistic self-interest, have thrown off the Law of God and its counsels for liberty and love, and are rushing pell-mell toward some calamitous ruin of the planet and all its inhabitants.

We don’t have to look very far to see that the tares of rebellion and unbelief are everywhere being sown, taking root, and flourishing. Sin, corruption, wickedness, oppression, abuse, destruction, misery, and death are so common, that we can easily become inured to them.

So we might wonder, Why, given that the tares are so many, and so widely dispersed throughout the field of the world, isn’t there more evil than is presently in evidence? Why does so much of what is good, pleasing, happy, decent, loving, generous, compassionate, and edifying exist at all?

As we work to understand the times, we need to answer this question, so that we may be encouraged to get on with doing what needs to be done in sowing good Kingdom seed into the field of the world.

Side bars of insight
It is often the case, when reading Scripture, that, as we are straining to discern the main point of a passage, we can miss important “side bars” of insight. As in the story of Abraham and Abimelech.

The king of Gerar welcomed Abraham and Sarah in his domain, and abruptly decided he might like to add Sarah to his harem of wives. Abraham, in order to save his own skin, had explained that she was, after all, just his sister, so Abimelech saw no harm in bringing her in and preparing her for marriage.

But God intervened to preserve Sarah’s purity and keep the covenant line unspoiled and secure. The main point of this incident is that God is able to rescue His people from their own folly, to fulfill His intentions and keep His economy advancing. The sovereign power and grace of God, here extended even to an unbeliever, seems to be the main point of this story. And so it is.

But there is more.

God’s restraining love
One of the persistent objections to the Gospel of Jesus Christ proceeds along the lines, “If God is good and all-powerful, then why is there so much evil in the world?” That’s a fair enough question, but it’s not easy to answer. Indeed, theologians as accomplished as Augustine and Edwards have tried, with unsatisfying results.

But a different approach to that objection might be more effective. Rather than try to answer the question to the inquirer’s satisfaction – which rarely occurs, and which most who pose this objection aren’t really seeking anyway – why not instead turn the question in a different direction? I would suggest that we explain, this is not really the proper question. The proper question is not, Why is there so much evil in the world? The proper question is, Why isn’t there more evil? After all, given the essentially selfish nature of every human being, the dominance of self-interest in the heart of every person, plus the rewards that can be so very pleasant in doing whatever one wants and can get away with, and this within the framework of a worldview grounded in the struggle for survival, the vulnerability of the weak and innocent, and the relativism and narcissism which everywhere cloud the issue of right and wrong – why, indeed, is there not more of wickedness and evil in the world, rather than any at all?

The answer is revealed in our text: God, in His grace and compassion, even toward those who do not know or regard Him, restrains evil, and prevents people from doing everything their wicked hearts can imagine, even though they may not regard their intentions as wicked. And wasn’t Abimelech happy that He does?

After all, since most people in the world seem to be relatively free from, or, at least, able to cope with the evil of the world – though they are always wary of it – we should explain that only a worldview established on grace and truth, which arises from a source outside sinful men, and which advances an economy of love for God and neighbors, can ensure that evil will never be as potent or destructive as it might be. God loves His world, and He loves even His enemies. By many means, and in countless everyday situations, God is at work in the field of the world, restraining the growth, spread, and infection of tares, to the advantage of wheat and tares alike.

In a worldview grounded in chance, committed to the survival of the fittest, and driven by an ethics of relativism, narcissism, and power, we should expect evil to advance continually and exponentially. But when we understand our times in line with the teaching of God’s Word, we see a totally different perspective on our secular age, one that should encourage us to do our work joyfully, expectantly, and to the glory of God in all things.

For reflection
1.  Why does it make sense, from the vantage point of a secular and evolutionary worldview, to expect that there should be more evil in the world than at present?

2.  What are some examples of things good, true, beautiful, helpful, uplifting, edifying, and so forth that you encounter every day? Should we take these for granted? How should we respond to them?

3.  We note that it was a word from God that restrained Abimelech from adding to the evil of the world. Does this help us in thinking about how God might restrain evil in our Personal Mission Fields? Explain.

Next steps – Conversation: Why isn’t there more evil in the world? Try that question out on some of your unbelieving friends or co-workers, and listen carefully as they respond.

Jesus Christ rules the world in truth and grace – the world, and everything in it. From His throne in heaven, He is advancing His Kingdom and God’s economy of love. You can read about this – and your calling in this great plan – by ordering a copy of our book, The Kingship of Jesus (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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