Monday, April 2, 2012

The Teachings of Jesus (III), Week 14: Jesus on the Kingdom of Heaven – The Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

In the next parable about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus continues the agricultural theme:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43, ESV)

One of the most common complaints against Christianity (or Theism in general) is called “The Problem of Evil”. The problem of evil is stated this way:

• If God is all-good (omnibenevolent), then He would want to prevent evil;
• If God is all-knowing (omniscient), then He knows how to prevent evil;
• If God is all-present (omnipresent), then He can be present to prevent evil;
• If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), then He has the power to prevent evil;
• Evil exists;
• Therefore, either God does not exist, or He lacks one or more of the qualities above.

Now there is one standard response from Christians, which is of course quite good and fair—God gave us free will, which means that He must allows us the freedom to choose to be evil.

This is a perfectly good description, and therein lies the solution—for the Arminian, that is. For the Calvinist or the Lutheran, things are a bit more difficult: for if God either did not give us fully free will, or He gave us a will that is now bound in our sinful natures, then the problem of evil still exists.

For many Christians, this is a tough challenge. It need not be so—for Jesus clearly answered it in the parable of the weeds.

In this parable, Jesus says that the wheat represents those who are righteous and follow Him, and the weeds represent those who do evil. (Comparing to the Parable of the Sower, we would say that the ‘thorny soil’ and ‘good soil’ are the “wheat” in this passage, while those ‘beside the path’ and in ‘rocky ground’ are the “weeds” in this passage).

Notice the very first thing the servants say to the master, when they see that their otherwise good field is polluted with weeds: “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?” Or, to put it in spiritual terms: “God, are you not good?” They see the evil and they pose the same “Problem of Evil” question that we posed earlier—God if you are good, how could you allow these evil people to exist at all?

The master responds that the evil exists not because of him, but because of an adversary—as Jesus says, the devil. Clearly Jesus is referring to the Fall of Man, when the devil ‘sowed the seeds’ of distrust between man and God and brought about all sinfulness.

So, Jesus has explained clearly where evil came from—it is not due to God’s will, but Satan’s.

The next obvious question, though, is what is asked by the servants: “do you want us to go and gather them?” What they are asking is exactly what the Problem of Evil asks—if God has the power to remove evil doers, why does He not do so?

So Jesus’ next answer is quite critical to us, for it will reveal the solution according to Jesus of the Problem of Evil.

Jesus says in response, that if the weeds are gathered now, before the wheat has had time to fully mature, then the wheat could be destroyed as well. So instead the master chooses to wait until harvest time, when they can be easily separated.

So what was Jesus’ answer to why God allows evil? Because if He stamps out evil, the followers of Jesus will be stamped out as well.

Consider—how many people are righteous today? How many of us have not done evil? How many of us do not have a little “weed” within us? As Paul would say, “None is righteous, no not one.” And again, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The reason God does not stamp out evil among us today is that there would be none left!

No, instead Jesus says that He is waiting until the end of time, until the now-still-growing seeds have matured into their final forms: either weeds or wheat. Then they can be easily distinguished between. Remember that the Bible says that God is transforming believers through the working of the Spirit into the creatures we are going to be; just like the seeds in Jesus’ parable, we are growing and maturing and one day will clearly be wheat. As C.S. Lewis once said, everyone you see is eternal—either a thing of everlasting beauty or eternal horror…we just can’t see which yet.

So you see then Jesus’ answer to the problem of evil:

• Evil came about because Satan tempted men;
• All men have created some evil
• Therefore, evil is allowed to stay because God cannot ‘destroy’ evil without destroying all of His followers too.

And though that satisfactorily answers the Problem of Evil, Jesus even goes a step further:

• God is transforming His believers into new creatures, with their sins washed away by the blood of Christ.
• Therefore, when all His believers are cleansed, the evil will be separated from the good.

Remember a few weeks ago, when Jesus said that He taught in parables so that His followers would be able to comprehend and those who reject Him would not? This is a perfect example. People have worried about the Problem of Evil for thousands of years, and many atheists believe that Christians cannot possibly answer it. And yet, lo and behold, Jesus spelled it out for us two millennia ago.