Introduction: When an edition of my book about angels was published in South Africa earlier this year, the largest news-talk radio station in Cape Town asked me to come on the air for a live half-hour interview. I was glad to do it, and we started off with some of the routine questions I’ve been asked before — What do angels look like? Does everyone have a guardian angel? And so forth. But the host of the program began getting a lot of e-mail from the audience, and she passed the questions right on to me. They were questions like: “If every child has a guardian angel, why are some children raped and murdered?” and “Where were the angels during the holocaust?” Those are obviously very valid questions, but they are difficult to answer in sound bytes. I found myself struggling to give short answers to such profound questions. The presence of evil and suffering is one of the most difficult to answer theologically and personally. Why do bad things happen, and why do they happen to those who can least withstand them? This is the study of theodicy, the subject of why God allows evil and suffering in the universe.
Let me say two things about it. First, nobody has answers to these questions that are totally comprehensive and satisfying. The very fact that we have to ask them means that there is no instant answer to them. The existence of evil is deeply disturbing and deeply mysterious.
Second, the Bible and the Christian have better answers than anyone else. We can explain the presence of evil and suffering, and we can offer hope in the middle of it. If you reject the biblical explanation, all you have left is the unexplained presence of random actions or events that appear to be evil, but which cannot be morally evaluated in a universe with no baseline ethics; and for which there is no solution or ultimate hope.
Which brings us to Psalm 94. While this power chapter in the Psalms does not provide a comprehensive systematic explanation to this question, it does give us several insights based on the writing of a man who puzzled over this problem.
1. God is a God of Vengeance (v. 1) – This is a surprising term for God. The word “vengeance” means, in essence, getting even. To avenge. We’ve been taught that we’re not to do that; but that doesn’t mean that nobody is to do it. Here on earth, God ordained human government to avenge evil; and in an ultimate since God has set himself to avenge evil. He is a God of vengeance.
- Leviticus 19:18: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 32:35: Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time will come when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. For the Lord will vindicate His people.
- Psalm 58:10: The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
- Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.
- Nahum 1: The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries and keep wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
- Romans 12: Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, living peacefully with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will replay says the Lord.”
- Hebrews 10: Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people. “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10: God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not now God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed.
2. We Should Pray for Him to Exercise Vengeance (v. 1-2): O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; replay to the proud what they deserve!
3. There is Objective Evil in the Universe, which Gives Rise to Valid Questions (v. 3-7)
Here the Psalmist is saying: Lord, I don’t understand? How long is this going to go on? Verse 3 says: O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exalt? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive?”
- Even the writers of the Bible were perplexed about such evil.
4. God is Aware of Every Act of Injustice in the World (v. 8-11): Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who disciplines the nations, does He not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge—the Lord—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.
5. We Must Rely on God to Care for Us in an Evil World (v. 12-19): Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
Here we have a hint about the background of the Psalm. Evidently an enemy had swept over Judah and God’s people and had committed atrocities. The Psalmist couldn’t understand it, but He could trust. He goes on to say:
Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers? If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul
- V. 19 in God’s Word Translation: When I worried about many things, Your assuring words soothed my soul.
- In NIV: when anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.
- In Holman: When I am filled with cares, Your comfort brings me joy.
6. God will Make Things Right in the End (v. 20-23): Can wicked rulers be allied with You, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous but condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. He will bring on them their iniquity and wipe them out of their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out.
What a blunt and dramatic way to end the chapter! This is the ultimate answer to evil in the universe: God will wipe it out. In the meantime, is there an injustice in your life that needs to be consigned to God’s control? The ultimate model for God’s justice is found in the cross of the Lord Jesus.