Christian Symbols – The Jesus Fish

In 2022’s Advent season, I’m giving a midweek sermon series sharing the origins and meanings of various Christian symbols with applications to Christians as we look forward to the return of Christ and prepare ourselves for the celebration of his birth at Christmas. Before this sermon, Genesis 22, John 3:16-21, and Matthew 4:18-21 were read.

Before we speak about the Jesus fish symbol tonight, I want to share how the most well-known symbol of Christianity is being used in Egypt by Christians.

I had a student from Egypt – he visited family in Egypt and told me that the Christians in Egypt, who are almost always Coptic Christians, a branch of the Orthodox Church, are always at risk of losing their physical safety, and especially when going to Church.  The student said they have guards at their churches and to get into the Church, the Egyptian Christians would have to show their wrists to the guard to get in… on the wrist was a cross tattoo!  It proves they are Christian and that the mean no harm.  He told me that the Christians would have to check their cars for bombs before starting their cars to leave church! 

Being a Christian is serious business in Egypt, there are no cultural Christians, a country which is about 90 percent Islamic population.  The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation.[1]

I met a Georgia Gwinnett College student this year who was a Coptic Christian and I asked him about these reports I had heard, and he pulled down his sleeve and he had the tattoo… it’s very small, but it was clearly a cross.  He confirmed the reports I heard from the student who had visited family in Egypt. 

It is said that the Jesus Fish has a similar origin.  It was a marking to signify that you were Christian, but it was done in secrecy – it was a symbol that was only known among the Christians.  The concept is that under Roman persecution in the first centuries of the Church, Christians would make the top half of the swoop of the fish with their foot in the dirt and the person they were speaking to if Christian would make the other swoop – proving they were a safe person to speak to about Jesus.  This is a popular account of the origin of the fish, but it’s not based in any evidence.  It’s pure speculation.  The earliest preserved markings of the fish come on tombstones that don’t have more clear markings that say, “This person was a believer” but with the invocation of Jesus’ name no where to be found, so it is assumed that it was a secret mark to show the dead were Christians.  But there is evidence of these marking also as use in markets and entry ways to homes to proclaim the person is a Christian.  And there is nothing to verify that they would half draw a fish to check if who they were talking to was a fellow Christian.  Personally, it doesn’t seem to fit with what we see concerning their boldness in the Bible and in the centuries following to boldly proclaim the Gospel under persecution. 

The Egyptian cross emerged in a different way too… It emerged in 640 AD when Egypt was conquered by Muslims, and Christians who refused to convert were forced to receive a tattoo of a cross on their wrist and pay a religious tax for not being Muslims[2] (something that still occurs today for some Christians in Egypt – the tax that is).  The Christians in Egypt today choose to mark themselves as Christians.  What was once a mark of persecution is now embraced as a mark of boldness and perseverance.  People of all ages are persecuted and killed over this cross, and yet the tradition lives on. During protests and funeral chants, this phrase is often repeated: “With our souls and our blood, we will protect the cross.”[3]

The symbol of the fish was certainly used among Christians in times in which there was persecution against the Church – was it a sign only known among Christians, maybe or maybe not, but it’s a sign that was used and displayed.  It’s a sign that we call the Jesus Fish today because we know the fish is to represent Christianity, but in every way the fish was created to represent Jesus and in fact to tell a confessional creed about who Jesus was and is!  It’s a symbol that points us to Christmas and the birth of the Son of God, our Savior. 

Let me demonstrate this for you.  Many today might think the fish is a symbol that was chosen to fit the call that Jesus gave to his disciples to be fishers of men, or a reminder of Jesus’ miracles of multiplying fish for food, or his first disciples being fishermen by trade. 

There is so much more to this that we miss as English speakers.

ιχθύς is the 1st century koine Greek word for fish. The early Church used this word as an acrostic.

ι – Ἰησοῦς – Jesus
χ – Χριστός – Christ (the anointed of the Lord)
θ – Θεοῦ – The genitive case of Θεóς, meaning “of God”
ύ – υἱός – Son
ς – σωτήρ (ς is at the end of words) – Savior

Together ιχθύς represents the confession of faith – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

And is this not the message of Christmas? Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior!

This message was proclaimed by the early church with another symbol that likely predates the fish.  It is the Christian Wheel symbol.[4] 

Tertullian (c. 160-220) in his treatise on baptism, De Baptismo 1, reasons that as water sustains fish, “we, little fishes, after the image of our ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in the water (of baptism) nor are we safe but by remaining in it.”[5]

Jesus is our Fish!!! Have you ever heard that one before?  I hadn’t until preparing for this Advent message.  From what I have read thus far on this subject, Tertullian wrote these words in Latin, but when he got to calling Jesus our fish, he wrote Icthus in Greek.  This shows that it was certainly well known that ICTHUS meant more than just fish – this acrostic had spread far and wide for him to drop a Greek word in the midst of Latin with no explanation or translation following it.  

Jesus Christ Son of God Savior!  That is the central creed of Christianity.  That is the good news of Christmas. 

Jesus is the Son of God came into the world – not to condemn the world but to save the world.  Just as we read from Genesis 22 and John 3… What was asked of Abraham, God actually did… He provided his son to be the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. God gave his one and only son for your salvation, for you to have eternal life. He gave this provision for everyone and for all who hear and believe they are saved.

May we, this Christmas, be so bold as to make sure we display and make prominent this message – that Christmas is not just Santa and presents and hard eggnog and naughty elves parties – this is the day of peace and favor from God to all men because on this day in the City of David your savior – the Christ – has been born. 

To quote an old hippie saying about having long-hair in the 60s – “Let your freak flag fly” – Let people see Jesus and know Jesus in your life this Advent as we lead up to Christmas.  Amen. 


[2]  They choose to mark themselves today unless the parents mark their young children to help ensure they cannot so easily convert to Islam under pressure. 




Freed to Give All of Life

This blog post is a sermon I gave at Oak Road Lutheran Church in Lilburn, GA, on November 7th, 2021. Our church follows a 3-year lectionary of Scripture readings. An OT, Epistle, and NT reading is given in the services before the sermon. The readings for this Sunday were 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44.


I’ve been hearing about the coming collapse of the American economy for over a decade now… I thought it was supposed to happen back in 2012! 

I had friends who kept saying the American dollar will completely collapse… you need to invest in silver and gold! 

I’m sitting there going, I’m too dumb to know what do with a bar of silver.   If the economy completely collapses and every grocery store is raided and the shelves are empty (except for the tofu hot dogs), I’m sorry… I don’t know how I’d buy a loaf of bread a whole bar of silver… how do you even make change???

I just don’t think I know how to live in that system… so I’d just say, “I’m just going to trust God and pray that he’ll have some ravens bring my wife and me some bread.”  This was before kids. But in reality, I knew I was just going to go their militarized supply fortress if that happened.   

Now with kids… and in GA and no longer able to get to the doomsday preppers I know, this conversation came up again with a neighborhood friend I grew up with via text before January 6th, and I had to say, “I have nothing… I’m going to just find a creek and pray that God will have some ravens bring bread to my family.”  He’s a good friend… he didn’t correct me and say I needed six months of freeze-dried Patriot food… he just said, “God will provide.”  The other friends are good friends too, they’d tell me, that’s great, but you should prepare at least a month’s worth of food and water.  Hey that’d probably be wise stewardship – maybe God would then be able to send the ravens to someone else! 

Why am I talking about finding myself with nothing to eat, no provisions to be found even if I had the American pesos?  And why ravens? 

If you remember not being able to find toilet paper… and you’re now seeing a empty spaces in the food aisles, you probably know I’m why.  Many of you probably already know why I’m talking about bread from ravens? 

Old Testament Reading – 1 Kings 17:8-16

In our Old Testament reading, Elijah is told to go to a widow’s home to be fed! 

Do you know how Elijah was being fed at that time?  By ravens!

Elijah had told the wicked King Ahab… there shall be no rain or dew until I say so!  And God told Elijah to go to an obscure brook and drink there and that he’d send ravens to feed him.  And ravens brought him meat and bread each morning… God provides! 

But because of the drought, the brook dried up… but… God provides!  He tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and that there he has commanded a widow to feed him.

But does this widow have food? 

Yeah… enough to make one last meal of bread for her and her son.  She actually says, “I’m making it so my son and I can eat it and then die!”  At this point… she’s already rationed a lot… they’re done.  This is it.  No mas comida. 

Out of this last of her food, Elijah asks her to give to him, the prophet of God whose words will stop the drought. 

She initially says she has nothing to give… I’m about to die… this is my last meal… quite different from saying, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.”  Or “Sorry, I only have plastic.” 

But Elijah says, “Do not fear!  Go eat and die, but first give me a bit of that last meal of yours, because God says, “It ain’t your last; it won’t be.”  You will have flour and oil until the day the Lord sends rain.” 

So literally, she gives of the last that she had… trusting God provides. 

Most of us have not been in this situation… no foreseeable way to get more money, more food tomorrow or the next day or the week after that.  Most of us do not know what it is like to give all that we have from our poverty, from the end of our life. 

Most of us have not been put into that situation where we are free to give all of life with nothing left to lose. 

Most of us have not been put into that situation to demonstrate our faith in the God that provides with by giving from the last of all that we have to him.  Though she gave to Elijah, she was giving to God, trusting in the promise of God Elijah has just spoken.  God will provide! 

New Testament Reading – Mark 12:38-44

Most of us have never been put in that situation, but in our Gospel reading we see another widow giving out of poverty, everything that she had, all she had to live on. 

We witness this giving as Jesus witnessed it in the temple of God, in the Court of the Women, where all of Israel could enter and give financial offerings to support the temple worship! 

Many rich people put in large sums. 

Large coins… many of them… you could hear their giving.  (Clang clang clang, miming dumping bags into the treasury 2 to 3 times before ruffling through my pockets to drop a few more in.) 

But the widow… you don’t hear her offering.  Two small copper coins which make a penny. 

What can you buy with a penny? … In her day, what she gave was 1/64th of a days wages.  Not enough for a meal… So where does she go?  What does she do to keep on living?  She goes to the temple and gives from her poverty, everything she has, all she had to live on.  Jesus sees this and Jesus called his disciples to himself… “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” 

Last Sunday, we commemorated Luther’s kickstart of the Reformation Movement that dumped the Roman Catholic system of our works playing a role in our salvation right upside on its head, bringing back to the forefront of the Church the good news that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone! 

We see today, Jesus dumping the system of works righteousness and self-justification before God upside down on its head.  He is God and Jesus’ name means, “The Lord Saves!” Not your money. Not your prayers… your faith in God saves you.  True faith prays.  True faith gives to God’s workers who do God’s work. 

You are not saved by going to church!  You go to church because you are saved because you have faith in Jesus!  You come to church because you have faith in Jesus has promised to be here where his people are gathered in his name with his Word proclaimed. 

This wasn’t how things were being conducted in Jesus’ day.  And dare I say we fall into the same traps. 

Before the incident of the widow who gave the least in monetary value gave the most because she gave all that she had from her poverty, Jesus had dropped this warning, “Beware the scribes!”  Who were the scribes?  These were priests who were set apart as scholars!  Being a scribe wasn’t a bad thing… the prophet Ezra is the first scribe listed in Scripture… knowing Scripture inside and out and being able to interpret it, quote it, and apply it isn’t a bad thing.  Ezra wasn’t a bad guy!  Being a scribe isn’t a bad thing, but in Jesus’ day, “Beware the scribes!”  At least the ones who walked around in long robes – perhaps a mark of holiness – Mine’s longer than yours! They really liked being called grand titles in the public marketplace (Oh Rabbi, Oh Teacher), who got all the best seats in the synagogue or right next to the host at the feasts. 

None of this is necessarily bad… who are the pastors who are set apart as scholars today, who are the Scribes today? In our church denomination, I’d reckon the he seminary professors, the professors at our Concordia Universities… when they role into town, people call them Dr. People call them Professor.  When they come to your church, they do get treated as royalty. Nothing is wrong with this… depending on their heart at such receptions and heart in the giving of such respect and adoration…

But in Jesus’ day, Beware of the Scribes… Jesus says it straight up – the Scribes devour the widows houses.  The Scribes had no source of income but offerings, and they abused the giving system.  They took advantage of widows… just like the church took advantage of people selling indulgences in Luther’s day, and just as the church sometimes takes advantage of the downtrodden today… using passages like ours today to say, give until it hurts!  Give it all from your poverty. 

No, this widow is the one whose house was being devoured by the Scribes.  This widow was giving everything she had… give her a meal! 

Jesus could have given her a meal… but it wouldn’t have solved the systemic problem.  The problem of sin… the problem of the Scribes living large, devouring the homes of widows who had no safety net of protection in their day… no large life insurance policies in the first century if your husband died and left you with little kids or no elder son to care for you and in a societal system that offered women no training or skills for in demand hired labor.  Giving her a meal wouldn’t solve the systemic sinful problem that we have of looking to how much money we give as being the mark of who gives the most. Or the sinful problem we have of putting worship buildings over people – and the need to keep the temple worship going over people’s physical needs – when someone literally has given all they have and can’t eat or drink.  How about that? 

Do you know what the disciples said right after Jesus told them the widow gave the most… they left the temple and one of them started saying, “Look, teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”  Yeah… these stones are really nice… and they were, these stones were 37 ft long, 18ft wide, and 12 ft high and covered all in gold!  (Clang clang clang miming the dumping of money into the treasury). 

Where was their heart?  Did they even hear Jesus?  Beware the Scribes.  This poor widow gave more for they contributed from their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on…

She gave from all of her life — the word used is bios… life… all the translations say what she had to live on… but I really like just saying she gave all her life… and in her position… she was completely free to do so…

Jesus gave all his life!!! Jesus gave all of his life from his abundance, from having everything as the eternally begotten Son of God, creator and sustainer of all things. Jesus gave all of his life, dying on the cross for your sins, so you may have eternal life through faith in him. 

We in return are free to give all our life…. Not all that we have to live on… but all of our life… to give it to God.  It’s beginning to see that all of our life is to be offered to God – out of freedom, not compulsion or to earn anything from him, we’ve already been given everything for free from his giving all of his life for us. 

God provides, and he has given all of his life to you! 

The Story of Job – Told by his friend Elihu

This storytelling of Job was given as a sermon at Oak Road Lutheran Church in Lilburn, GA, on Father’s Day, 2021. The Scripture reading for the sermon was Job 38:1-5. Some of the dialog quotes come from the English Standard Version translation of the Bible or The Kingstone Bible.

Are you by chance friends with someone who is really rich?  Are you friends with the richest person in Gwinnett for instance… a person who has everything they’d ever need or want in life… And he… or she… is actually a good friend of yours.  And this uber rich person who is a good friend of yours is also just… good.  He loves and worships the one true Lord – no can find any fault in him… and his kids are great too… the best kids you can imagine having.  You probably don’t have a friend like that… you probably don’t hear about too many people like that either… rich and righteous. 

Well, I have a friend like that.  His name is Job and we’re from the land of Uz… about 4,000 years ago.  We all lived around the same time as the patriarch, Father Abraham.  I’m sure you’ve heard of him.

Job… He was a righteous man.  He had 7 sons and 3 daughters.  He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many, many servants.  Job was the greatest of all the people in the East. 

His sons used to go and hold big feasts in their homes on each of their birthdays, and their siblings would join in on the party.  Job, always woke up early and made a sacrifice, an animal for each of his ten kids, at the end of these feasts, just in case his kids had partied to hard and moved into sin or if they cursed God in their hearts during their celebration. 

After one of these offerings to the Lord… Job sees one of his servants from the field, bloody and bruised and coming to him on foot… the news was not good… it was horrible.  The Sabeans stole all the oxen and donkeys and all the servants killed with the sword… that servant alone escaped. 

While that servant was still speaking another servant came… a fire from heaven fell and burned up the sheep and the servants… they all were consumed except the one.

While that servant was still speaking yet another came… the Chaldeans formed three groups and raided the camel caravan… all the servants were killed and the camels stolen, except the one to return. 

While that servant was still speaking… there came another servant… “Master, something horrible has happened.”  “I know, all the servants are killed, all the livestock, killed or stolen.”  “No, master, it’s something worse. Your sons and daughters were all at your oldest son’s house celebrating….”  “I know, I know.  What did you come to tell us?” 

“A great wind came sir… it came and struck the house down… we looked through the rubble… we found everyone, but they were all…they were all…”  He didn’t have to finish the sentence… we all knew. 

After collapsing on the ground and wailing with his wife, Job rose… tore his rob and cut off his hair with a knife and he fell on the ground… and then he gave the greatest testimony of faith in God I’ve ever heard… after that whirlwind of devastating news, after the whirlwind of destruction that took everything but his wife and his life… Job laying on the ground said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed by the name of the Lord.” 

In all of this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong…. Amazing… All your business, all your income, all your employees, all your children… gone… and you don’t curse God???

Then while Job was in mourning, sitting in ashes he was struck with boils all over his body… he was in great pain and he grabbed a piece of broken pottery to scrape these sores.  His wife then told him to curse God and die.  He refused.   He said that was foolishness.  He said shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?  In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. 

Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, came to Job from their own territories when they heard of his suffering and they were good friends to him… they came to show him sympathy and to comfort him.  When they saw Job they couldn’t even recognize him… and they too wept and tore their robes and cast dust on their heads.  They sat with Job for seven days, day and night.  They did not speak a word to him for they saw that his suffering was very great. 

After these seven days… Job cursed himself… he didn’t listen to his wife who told him to curse God.  Instead, he cursed the day he was born and he wished for death.  This is understandable… most of us would do this if we had suffered only a fraction of Job, or we would sin unlike Job by cursing God! 

Eliphaz then spoke up… “When we went through hard times, Job, it was you who helped us out.  You encouraged us to put our hope in God. Now where is your hope?  Shouldn’t you have hope, if you are as sinless as you seem?” 

Job, so faithful, his answer, “If I have no hope, it’s because I just don’t have the strength to hope.” 

But Eliphaz didn’t take that word… he pushed Job.  “Job, God does not punish or cut off innocent people!  If you plow evil and sow trouble, what will you reap? Evil and trouble.  You’ve done something to deserve this! Seek God.  Be happy, for God has chosen to correct you!”

Happy?  Yeah, right?  Eliphaz was fortunate that Job didn’t punch him right in the nose or worse.  Could you imagine telling a Holocaust survivor or survivor of any of the genocides of human history, you must have committed a particular sin to have caused your suffering? But, Job was a much better man than me. 

Job… just shut Eliphaz down… “Be happy?  My children are all dead.  My body oozes with sores!  And I have never doubted God or denied his words.  Show me what I have done wrong!”

Eliphaz can’t point out his sin.

So Job turns to God, “What have I done?  Why have you made me your target?”  He then admitted his sinfulness, not a particular sin, but he did admit his sinfulness, and he asked that God would take away his iniquity! 

Bildad then speaks and pours on more of what Eliphaz said… “Job, you must have done something wrong.”  As does Zophar.  “Repent.  Repent.  Repent.”

But Job… in great sarcasm, “No doubt when you three die, wisdom will die with you.” 

Job corrects them – “Look at the world.  Sometimes good men go hungry and thieves and thugs get rich and richer.  No matter what God does, I will trust him.  Though he slay me, I will hope in him.”

Again and again they went in circles… “Job you are being punished, the only question is what have you done?  You know, but we don’t. God knows but we don’t.” 

Finally, Job broke… and he began to justify himself, saying everything good he has ever done, and it’s more than any of us could ever list.  And Job questions why this calamity has come upon him?  Isn’t such disaster for the wicked.  Why have you allowed this to happen to me, God? 

This is when I, Elihu, finally spoke!  I had had enough.  I was the youngest and so I let my elder friends speak first and I listened, but they all had erred and I was angry with them all.

I rebuked Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  All they did was argue with Job.  They never proved him wrong.  They just condemned him for some secret sin.  Who are they to do that?  They are not God.  How do they know why he is suffering the way he is?”

I then had to rebuke Job… for he said, “That it profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God.” And he asked, “What advantage have I?  How am I better off than if I had sinned?” 

He began to argue the same way as our other friends… saying that his good deeds should have brought him good from God!  Job finally broke and began to justify himself instead of simply trusting God. 

I told him, “But look at the heavens!  How high are they?  They are certainly higher than you, Job.  If you have sinned, what do you give to God?  If you are righteous, what do you give to him?  If you are righteous, what does he receive from you?”

“Job,” I said, “You complain against God for not answering you and explaining himself!  But God does speak just not always as you expect or desire.  He speaks and answers in a dream, in a vision, through your experiences, through pain, through punishment.  When God punishes, it is to help us turn to him.  We all deserve worse than we get.  Are you anything like God, Job?  The universe answers to him.  He commands the lightening to go.  He says when it is to rain and when it is to snow.  We are to fear him in reverence and trust.” 

God then spoke to Job out of the whirlwind… the very storm that took the life of his kids. 

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

“Have you ever brought the morning light to break the dark of night?”

“Have you ever strolled through the depths of the sea?”

“Who is the dad of the rain?” 

“Can you untie the Orion’s belt up there?”

“Can you tell me when mountain goats give birth or when does give birth to their calves?”

“Do you give the horse his great power?”

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk flies?”

“Answer me Job, you who argues with me.” 

Job promised to keep his mouth shut, silenced.  Remember God was speaking from whirlwind!  And he continued to ask Job questions! 

“Look at the Behemoth, can you take him by his eyes or pierce his nose?”

“Or the Leviathan – can you catch him on a fishhook?  Can you make him your pet and put him on a leash or play with him like a bird?” 

God never answered Job as to why he allowed all his suffering… but he revealed to Job what he needed to hear… God was telling him, “Trust me.  I know what you do not.”  Job learned that he did not have the wisdom of God, but that he could trust in God’s wisdom. 

Job repented.  And God forgave him.

God rebuked Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for not speaking what was right about himself.  And they made a sacrifice unto the Lord as God requested and Job prayed for their forgiveness and they were forgiven.  The Lord restored Job’s fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.  And he had 7 more sons and 3 more daughters.  And he lived for 140 more years.  I told you we lived during the time of the patriarchs, right?

Why did it all happen?  Was it to teach Job a lesson?  Was it to teach his friends a lesson?  Was it to teach all of you a lesson?  Perhaps all of it, or more beyond our comprehension. 

A lesson for you today is that God is always speaking, always calling out, “Trust Me.”  “Trust Me.” 

Trust God in your suffering!  Trust God in your good fortunes.  You may never understand why one suffers and someone else prospers.  And that’s OK.  There is much that you simply cannot understand because you are not God.  Job represents all of humanity in that way. 

You sit in a great time in history… you live after God has revealed his Son Jesus Christ in the flesh.  What Job could not do to save himself, Jesus did for Job and for you.  It is in the cross of Jesus that we see that even God has suffered, yet he has overcame all.  And so trust in God.  Trust in Jesus. 

For fathers on Father’s Day… there is much that you do not understand and much that is completely out of your control in the lives of your kids – just like it was with Job.  Pray for your kids like Job did.  Pray that God would cover their sins and forgive their sins. 

The quote by someone named Billy Graham on the back of your bulletin insert (not from my time, you may know him) stood out to me: “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”  As you pray for your kids, pray also for yourself to be a good father.  Ask the perfect Father who knows all beyond anything we can imagine for His wisdom in being a good father, and as you pray for your kids trust Him with their lives… that might be hard when we look at Job and what happened with his first ten kids.  I pray that you never have to go through what my friend suffered… but as Job said, I hope you too can say in all situations, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, yet blessed be the name of the Lord.”  The Lord is good.  The Lord is just.  Walk humbly and be good fathers as you trust in the perfect Father above.  Amen. 

God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil

The following is a sermon based on the Old Testament text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.

Habakkuk is crying out to God with the complaint that God’s people have struggled with through every age – and this is a struggle that won’t go away until Jesus returns and makes all things new – and that complaint is the problem of evil.  Why, oh why, does an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God allow evil?  Why does he let his people suffer?

habakkuk 2

In our day and age, even those who reject the existence of God – ask this question.  In fact, many people who do not believe in God reject his existence, because of this very problem of evil.  They think if God is all-powerful and all-good and all-loving, he’d stop evil.  Since evil still exists, they conclude that an all-powerful God must not exist; he must be impotent.  Or, maybe he’s all-powerful, but he isn’t all good, maybe he is actually evil.  They conclude that an all-powerful, all-loving God does not exist.

The text does not tell us what the exact sins are that Habakkuk is witnessing.  We are told that there is violence.  That there is destruction.  That there is constant strife and contention.  We are told that the law can’t do anything to stop this evil – that there is no justice for the righteous who are surrounded by the wicked.

Not knowing the exact details of the evil deeds in Judah at the time of Habakkuk works to make the text more relatable to us today, because we all can turn on the news, or read our social media feeds, and witness the evil and injustices that occur daily in our society.

Many of us have experienced evil and injustice against us and against our family, friends, and neighbors.

Many of us have also experienced suffering and pain that can’t be directly linked to specific sinful acts– such as a loved one dying of cancer or suffering from mental depression that can’t simply be stopped.

Do we usually get the answer we want from God when we ask why such evil and suffering is happening to us, to our people, and in our nation?  Probably not.

Habakkuk didn’t get the answer he wanted either.  In chapter 1 verses 5-11, he is told that the evil in Judah that he wanted the Lord to stop would be stopped, but that it would happen through God raising up the Chaldeans, a fierce, strong nation that marched through nations taking whatever they desired – their strength was their god.

Habakkuk can’t believe this answer – not at all.  Is God really going to stop the evil in Judah by having a more evil nation conquer his people?

In verse 13 of Chapter 1, Habakkuk wants to know why God sits around and looks at the traitors and remains silent when the wicked swallow up the man more righteous than he.  So he raises a second complaint to God – Habakkuk asks if God plans to just let nations continue to eat each other up forever?

He then takes his stand at the watchtower, and he waits for the Lord to answer this second complaint.

The answer, again, is likely not what Habakkuk wanted to hear, but he is told to write down the answer and to make it easy to read on tablets.  He was to make it so big that a person running could read it.  Habakkuk might have even written the answer he received from the Lord on something very big like a giant billboard – that the person running by couldn’t miss even if he wanted to not see.

The answer God gives is simple, and it is two-fold – First, God says, “Be patient.”  God’s word is true – the world as it is now is not as God intended it to be; God is setting everything right, though his coming salvation and end to all evil seems very, very slow to us.

We struggle in understanding why he is delaying his salvation.  But… the second part of the answer is given to Habakkuk – “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

The person who lives by his faith in God and God’s Word is righteous before God.  The righteous are those who trust in God and his promises, patiently waiting for the Lord to bring about his salvation – in his chosen time and in his chosen way.

Unlike Habakkuk who lived before the coming of God’s promised savior, the Christ, we living in the New Testament era of the Church know our promised savior, Jesus of Nazareth.  We know how Jesus came to save us from evil – how he saved each and every one of us from evil.  He saved us from our own evil.

He saved us from our own sins.  Our sins deserve God’s eternal punishment.  Jesus saved us from the punishment we so rightly deserved by taking our sins upon himself, paying the penalty that we deserve through his death on the cross.

Jesus brought us from being enemies of God into being the children of God.

And through his resurrection from the dead, he has given us the assurance that our sins truly are forgiven and that he has all power over sin, death, and the devil, that at his promised return, he will put a final end to all evil in this world, in our lives – forever.  The wicked will no longer devour the righteous.  Nations will no longer continually eat each other up over and over and over again.

Jesus will restore all of creation and he will make all things new again.  He will make all things as he intended them to be.

So we ask, like Habakkuk, when are you going to do this oh Lord?  When will Jesus return to do as he promised?

And the answer we get from the Lord is the same that Habakkuk received – “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

Peter at the end of his second letter tells us a very similar message to what Habakkuk received from the Lord.  In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

He continues in verses 10 to 13, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

God is not slow in keeping his promises to free us from all evil and suffering.  He is patient with us.  He desires for all to come to repentance.

Let me ask you, what would happen if Christ were to return today?  To return right now?

All who are not repentant, all who are not living by faith in Christ, will be lost to death forever along with everything else of this world that is destined for fire.

Who do you know that would be lost forever?  Do you really want God to put an end to all evil, right now, when you think of the ones you love who are not yet repentant of their sins?  Even those who have caused you evil would you really want that to be their fate?

What we perceive to be God’s lack of action in the problem of evil is actually patience that comes from his love for us – for you – for all people who are still outside of faith in Christ.  He does not want them to perish, though it is what they deserve, and that is what you deserve.

As he is patient with the wicked, he calls us, we who are righteous, not by any righteousness of our own, but by the righteousness we receive from Christ, through the faith by which we live, to be patient too.

So the problem of evil there is an answer – the answer is Jesus.

What is the greatest act of evil in the history of the world?  Many people typically will point to the acts of Hitler, or Stalin, or Mao Zedeng that led to the deaths of millions upon millions of people.

I’d point people however to the cross of Jesus.  The greatest act of evil that ever occurred in history has to be when Jesus, God in the flesh, innocent of any wrongdoing, was viciously beaten, whipped, and crucified at the hands of his sinful creation. Can anything more evil possibly happen than man killing God?

But what we see from the greatest act of evil is that the greatest good was produced: the forgiveness of all of our sins, the salvation of mankind. When Jesus allowed the greatest evil to be done to him and when God the Father offered his one and only son for us that we see the greatest love ever – God’s love.  And we see that God loves us.

When you face evil, remember Jesus and his love for you.

When you face evil, be patient and trust in the promises of God.  Pray and stand watch like Habakkuk.  Look for the return of Christ as Peter tells you to do.

Depending on what evil you have experienced or are experiencing, depending on what suffering you are enduring, such an answer may fail to cut the mustard.  If you attend the Sunday English Bible Study for Light of Christ, you’ll recognize that phrase “cut the mustard” from a couple of weeks ago.  It means that to be told to wait and trust in God when you are under attack by evil or when you are suffering in sorrow or pain will probably fail to satisfy your troubled heart and mind.

But nevertheless, when you stare evil in the face, remember the righteous shall live by his faith.  And it is through this faith that we live in holiness and godliness – as we wait for and speed the coming of the Day of the Lord.

And it is in that promised day of Christ’s return that Jesus will destroy sin, death, and the devil forever.