By / Sep 1

If God is so good, why is there evil in the world? If you are a Christian, chances are you have been asked that question many times, and if I am being honest I haven’t always had an answer. Even now I am not completely sure. There are a lot of questions about God that are impossible to answer because we simply are not God. He is outside of time, space, and matter. We are his creation. However, there are some questions that I think God does gives us an answer to and in fact wants us to know, such as how did it all start, or why is the world the way that it is? 

Daniel Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, reveals where the answers to these questions are found in his new book, The Characters of Creation. He also answers how we can find meaning and purpose in a broken world. Darling takes readers through the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and highlights how it is not just a story but God’s living Word to humanity. Below, he talks about how his book can help us rest in God’s providence. 

Joshua Martin: I found it interesting how you pointed out that if we were in the same situation as Adam and Eve, we would have decided to partake of the fruit, causing sin to enter into the world. How was it possible, if the first humans were in perfect communion with God, to disobey him? What does that say about our nature? 

Daniel Darling: Humans walked in innocence, but were not necessarily sanctified, as Christians redeemed by Christ experience and will experience in full at the end of the age. The innocence of Adam was tested and found wanting in the Garden. Of course, the innocence of the second Adam was tested and found worthy in Jesus. The way God’s sovereignty and rule coexist with our moral agency to commit sin against God is a mystery that theologians have wrestled with throughout the church age, but it is clear that God created human beings with a conscience and moral agency, which means humans can make choices which can go against their Creator and for which they are accountable. 

JM: If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we long for community with others. In your book, you emphasize that we can see from the very first book of the Bible that we ultimately long for community with the One who created us. Does that give us any indication of what Heaven will be like? 

DD: I think it’s profound that Moses paused the narration of his description of God’s creation of humans to make a statement that “it is not good for man to be alone.” This is the only part of God’s creative acts that was declared not good, because it was unfinished. Humans were created for community as a way of imaging the community experienced by the Triune God. I think we saw this during the last few years, as the pandemic forced a worldwide social experiment that I think reminded us that we were made for community, made for togetherness. We learned that while technology has thankfully allowed us ways to interact and communicate without being physically present, there is no substitute for embodied presence. In many ways, this is how the church can minister in a digital, isolated age. The ancient and often analog rhythms of church life can in many ways serve as a respite for digitally exhausted people. 

Our longing for togetherness, for community, does, in many ways, give us a glimpse of Heaven. Heaven is not just me and a thousand mansions and Jesus. Heaven will be, as described in Revelation 5 and 7 and other places, God’s gathering of his people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. It will be perfected fellowship. Humans are embodied people, not merely souls on sticks. And by design, we grow, we find joy, in our life together. The new Jerusalem will have all of the goodness of life together as humans, absent all of the ways in which life together can be corrupted and destructive. 

JM: You state that “Sometimes we assume that the battle between God and Satan is a fight among equals.” Why do we sometimes believe this, and what dangers does this present? 

DD: There is a natural sense, even among those who are not professing Christians, that the world is a battle between good and evil. We see this in the stories we tell, from the superhero genre to the ancient tales to even the cliched Hallmark movies at Christmas. This stems from, I believe, the Christian story where God prophesied to Adam and Even an epic battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, which runs as a thread throughout Scripture, culminating in the cross where Jesus cried it is finished, and in the empty tomb, where death, the final foe, was defeated. Satan walks around as a lion today, powerful, yes, but toothless against the people of God. 

And yet, this epic struggle is not an even one. Genesis and the story of Job and other passages remind us that Satan is a created being. He is a mere fallen angel. He does not do anything that is not allowed by God and is not worked, in God’s inscrutable and mysterious way, into God’s plan from before time began. As Christians this is important to understand. We can underestimate Satan’s power in that we foolishly tempt him and think we can beat him on our own (we can’t). But we can overestimate Satan’s power, who is no match for the all powerful I Am. 

JM: In our day and age, truth gets misconstrued, and Satan’s words in the garden, “Did God really say?” do not seem so foreign. In what ways do we act like the serpent in the garden and question God’s Word? 

DD: The same whispers the Serpent uttered to our first family in the garden are uttered today, the temptations to question God’s Word, twisting it to fit the moment and our desires. At the heart of this is the lie that Satan managed to get Eve to believe, this idea that the Creator of the Universe, the one who fashioned her from dust and breathed into her the breath of life, was somehow holding out on her. We are tempted to believe the idea that our Father is not a Good Father, that we would be better gods than God, that we are better rulers of ourselves than the one who made us. All of this only ever leads, not to “being like God, ” but actually being less than human, succumbing to the animalistic instincts of the tempter. 

JM: In Genesis, Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” From God’s response and other verses in the New Testament, we see that the answer to that question is unequivocally yes. What does it actually look like to be our brother’s keeper? 

DD: That’s such a great question. At the heart of it is a kind of disjointed view of what it means to be human, the seeds of the expressive individualism we see championed today. Cain’s conceit was that he could find his way to God with his own self-righteousness and that by eliminating his brother, he could hide from the Creator, who sees everything. Cain falsely believed he could sin in isolation, that his hubris and pride would not affect the rest of the human family. But that’s always the case. Sin is always a public event. And God sees every act of violence, every time humans try to advance at the expense of other humans, every time we see those made in God’s image as disposable. We are our brother’s keepers, whether we admit it or not. Cain’s ethic was the exact opposite of Jesus’ ethic which tells us to “love our neighbors as ourselves” and reminds us that our neighbors are the people we least likely want to be responsible for. 

JM: What is your response to people who question, If God is so good, why is there evil in the world? How do you point them to hope? 

DD: At the heart of that question, I would say, is a conception of who God should be if he were to exist. In the mind of someone who asks that question is the idea of a God who is sovereign and big and good enough to reverse what is evil and prevent what is bad. And in a sense this is the story the Bible tells, that there is a God who is renewing and restoring creation, who is making all things new, who is making all that is broken right again. 

Personally, like Naomi, like Job, like Habbakuk and Paul and millions of believers down through the ages, I have wrestled with a God who seems to allow things I despise, to allow things even he despises. But I’ve found it more comfortable to believe in a God who is in control, to know someone is at the wheel, than the alternative, which is that life has no meaning, no purpose, and no grand plan. When I lay my head on the pillow at night, when I send my kids out into the world, I take comfort in knowing that there is a God who is big enough to control what I cannot control and who is gathering history to himself. That doesn’t mean I always like what God allows. But I trust the God who allows it. 

By / Jun 8

Growing up, I heard a lot about Joseph. His coat. His dreams. His betrayal. His plight in prison. Then there was God’s sovereign hand in Joseph’s unexpected climb up the Egyptian power ladder that resulted in incredible provision for his family. These stories were colorfully and memorably shared to us as kids and referenced as we grew, reminding us “God works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28).

But wedged in the middle of Joseph’s redemptive narrative is a big problem: Genesis 38. This is a chapter we like to fast forward, the way Dad dives for the remote when a family movie presents an unexpectedly mature scene. This chapter is all about Judah, Joseph’s big brother (and the one who famously suggested they sell their irritating baby brother into slavery), and his interactions with a prostitute that turns out to be his daughter-in-law Tamar. In other words, yikes. Or as Kevin DeYoung says in his kids’ book, The Biggest Story, “Judah did such dumb stuff, we don’t even want to talk about it.” I love the way DeYoung handles this for kids—neither exposing kids to an unsuitable brain-pretzel nor side-stepping the acknowledgement of grievous sin.

Even still, DeYoung’s wise treatment of Genesis 38 for kids begs the question: When should we talk about the prickly passages—particularly the ones that don’t resolve as neatly as Joseph’s?

During the teen years (which is a prickly passage of another sort), engaging with the awkward, upsetting, or mind-boggling parts of Scripture is important. Shepherding teenagers through hard passages will bolster their personal discernment as they navigate awkward, upsetting, and mind-boggling scenarios in their lives, it will engage their curiosity, and it will strengthen their spiritual muscles for a lifetime of faith.

Bolster personal discernment

When I first encountered Genesis 38, I was a teenager spurred on by independent reading plans and encouragement to “stay in the Word,” which meant the Bible’s content was no longer thoughtfully curated for me. The familiar Joseph narrative featured what seemed like an R-rated commercial break, and I had no idea what to do with it besides shove the thing under the rug. Meanwhile, at school, I overheard other shocking tales of sexual exploits. These were harder to shove under the rug because they so often hung in the air around me. 

Shepherding teenagers through hard passages will bolster their personal discernment as they navigate awkward, upsetting, and mind-boggling scenarios in their lives, it will engage their curiosity, and it will strengthen their spiritual muscles for a lifetime of faith.

Many of our young people are in a similar boat, but there is good news: facing difficult texts can equip them to face difficult situations and issues. When we come alongside a high school or middle school student and help them process difficult things in the Bible, we are simultaneously discipling them to process other difficult subjects, and we are positioning ourselves as trusted advisors who are unafraid of sticky subjects. Both can contribute greatly to bolster a student’s personal discernment: they have seen hard stuff handled with integrity, and they have gained a mentor who makes it a habit to talk with them about the hard stuff.

Engage curiosity

Teenagers are notorious for both their big questions and their superhuman ability to sniff out anything phony. While an adult who dives to fast forward past the tough stuff will quickly lose credibility, an adult who is willing to tackle intense questions and cling to authenticity in the process is a great resource indeed. Instead of subverting a teenager’s curiosity about the Bible, we have an opportunity to engage it and capitalize on it by training them to interpret the Bible with integrity. As any educator knows, teaching at the point of need is the most powerful opportunity. There’s no better time to equip a believer to interpret the Bible and investigate context than when he or she is asking the biggest questions—and there are strong odds that’s during the teen years.

Strengthen spiritual muscles

However, as any seasoned believer can attest, being equipped to interpret Scripture doesn’t mean we find all the answers to our questions. Thankfully, both the Bible and our churches are filled with people who had to choose to follow the Lord in the midst of the unknown. This is likely the position from which King David is writing when he penned, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psa. 139:6). Engaging teenagers’ questions—especially the unanswered ones—lays an important foundation for longterm faith. Rather than placing their hope in answers, young believers have the opportunity to place their hope in our God of mystery.

They’ll also experience the unparalleled joy that occurs when our mysterious God makes himself known. What a treasure to dig into Genesis 38 and begin to see that this turn of events was God’s strange provision not just for Judah, but for the Lion of Judah—Jesus himself. (Jesus’s lineage in Matthew 1 demonstrates that Jesus is a descendant of Perez, one of the twins Tamar conceived with Judah.) In the more familiar Joseph narrative, God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers to preserve their family by offering grain during a time of famine. In the Judah narrative, God used the sin of Judah to preserve the family of God—by offering the Bread of Life. 

As students endure the difficulties of adolescence, we can tell them, “God works all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28)—but we can also shepherd them through prickly passages that prove it. The difficult parts of the Bible can bolster their discernment, engage their curiosity, and strengthen them in their faith, in which they can cling to the end of the story: “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered” (Rev. 5:5).

By / Sep 25

As a kid growing up in church, surrounded by Christian culture, I knew the things that were important. Read your Bible. Pray. Go to church. Be kind to others.

Those were the rules I lived by.

Rules of religion

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that the Christian life was a list of rules. If you’re a Christian, this is how you live. These are the rules you keep. If you kept the rules, you were loved by God. I didn’t just pick up this mindset; I absorbed it. I latched onto it with all the strength of a fish biting the hook, heedless that there was even a danger.

It wasn’t just that I was taught to think that way. Those rules were exactly what my sinful heart wanted. If a list could make me right with God—if following a set of prescriptions would make him love me more—then at some fundamental level I could be in control. If I could make God happy, I thought, he would give me what I wanted.

Sometimes we talk about faith as though it’s an easy thing, but it’s not. It’s easy to grasp for control. It’s harder to open your hands and give over that control, even to the Lord of the universe. Maybe especially to him.

It’s easy to earn your place. We do it every day in America, especially as young people. It’s harder to accept a place prepared for you, a position you don’t even deserve. It’s easy to base your identity on the rules you keep. It appeals to our pride and our individualism. It takes a lot more faith to allow yourself to be defined by what someone else has done.

Keep the rules, read the Bible

Read your Bible. That was one of those rules. So I read my Bible every day. I memorized and studied it, too. Sometimes it was for Bible memory competitions, and sometimes it was purely for my own purposes. Either way, it was to get something, make myself look better, or be a “good Christian.”

The Christian life begins with and depends on faith.

Bible reading and study can easily become just another ritual to perform in hopes of earning God’s favor. That’s how I treated it for years. Just like the Jews of John 5, I searched the Scriptures, but didn’t realize their whole purpose was to point to Christ (John 5:39).

True transformation

Maybe the reason we love the rules-based approach to life is because we don’t like the alternative. The Scriptures’ call isn’t for us to please God with our outward obedience. It’s for us to become like him.

Paul writes, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). We were created to reflect the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). And we do still, but it has been twisted and obscured in us by sin. 

But God has purposed that we should bear the image of his Son—of Jesus Christ, who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). Day after day he is changing us at the level of our heart and soul. He is transforming us into his glorious image.

Learning to trust

That transformation isn’t just about doing more good works or keeping God’s law more fully. It’s about trust. God is not looking for teens who can look good on the outside or do enough outward good works (Rom. 4:2-3). He wants us to love and trust him.

The Christian life begins with and depends on faith.

Throughout Scripture, God calls his people again and again to trust in him. Abraham believed God’s covenant promise, and “it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, quoting Gen. 15:6). God called Israel to trust him in the wilderness, to worship him alone and not seek life or happiness in other gods (Deut. 6:4).

We receive our righteousness, our justification, our peace with God, and our position in Christ through faith (Rom. 5:1-2). We are to live our Christian life according to faith, and “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

The entire structure of most of Paul’s epistles (Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, for instance) reflects this too. He spends the first section explaining and reminding his readers of the gospel—of the righteousness and blessings we have in Christ, of who God is, what we deserve in our sin, and what we have in him. Then, on the basis of that, he exhorts his readers to holy living. 

The holy living (or good works) don’t come first. That’s not to say they’re not important—but they’re not how we become right with God. Rather, they’re based on the fact that we already are.

You can’t obey God from the heart if you don’t trust him. And you can’t trust him if you don’t know him.

Bible study for the right reasons

That’s where I got mixed up about Bible study. I thought it was just another one of those outward good works. But it’s really a path to knowing him—a way to learn to love and trust and then obey our Savior. It’s a means toward that inward transformation that shows itself in how we live and how we treat others.

We don’t need to wonder about who God is—about this Being we’re supposed to follow and trust. He’s told us. He’s revealed himself in his Word. Reading, studying, and memorizing it is how we learn about him and come to know him more.

All this isn’t to say that we should only focus on the intellectual or emotional side of knowing God. We should work hard at obeying him—and it is hard work. However, we have to do it in the strength that he provides. Before anything else, we need to know him, to “seek his face continually” (Psalm 105:4).

Beginning with Bible study

So how can you begin to invest in God’s Word and study it more seriously, especially as a teen? Here are a few tips. I’d also encourage you to talk to a pastor or older Christian at your church for more wisdom and insight. 

  • Make the Bible part of your routine. If you don’t already read your Bible daily, or if it’s hit-and-miss, find a way to incorporate it into your day. Tie it to something you already do regularly—for instance, read the Bible when you get up in the morning, or on your lunch break, or after dinner.
  • Pursue it in community. Join a Bible study in your church or area—or start one. The church is the means God has ordained for us to seek him and grow in faith together.
  • Write things down. A good way to start is to mark every reference to God in a passage (including pronouns!), and then write down what you learn about him from every instance. Then, pray those truths back to him. Let your study turn into prayer and worship.
  • Learn the inductive study method. Inductive Bible study is just the process of coming to the Scripture and letting it speak for itself—of digging deep into the Word to understand what it says, what it means, and how it applies to your life.

Bible study is one of the most important things you can pursue as a Christian, and especially as a teen. Let God use his Word in your life to convict, comfort, and transform you.

Check out Katherine’s new book, Transformed by Truth: Why and How to Study the Bible for Yourself As a Teen.

By / Sep 12

Matt Hall discusses how spiritual disciples like Bible study and prayer influence and shape our ethics. 

By / Aug 24

Randall Goodgame teaches parents how to engage their kids with the message of the Gospel through music, and explains why creative outlets such as art and music can be effective tools to build a Gospel-centered family. 

By / Dec 19

"Good broth will resurrect the dead” – South American proverb

The women in my community know me as a Bible study teacher, but what they may not know is that I am also the Queen of Soup. I earned my title as growing grocery bills for my family of six pushed me to probe the limits of left-over options. Happily, I have learned that the application of a little effort can turn one meal into many–just about anything can be boiled into savory submission.

The holidays are a productive time for the Queen of Soup, and she is equal to the challenge. There was a time when I thought the turkey carcass belonged in the trash after the big meal. I now know that that ruined shell, pillaged of its choicest offerings, is the secret repository of all that makes soup wonderful. Sure, it looks like something out of a horror movie, but it is culinary gold to those who will mine for it. And the Queen of Soup is just the gold-digger for the job.

Anyone who has ever made homemade turkey soup can tell you that it is a labor of love. First, the carcass must be boiled to render the marrow. Then the broth must be strained and refrigerated so the excess fat can be removed. Then all remaining meat must be picked off of the bones to be added back into the soup. Finally, after much chopping, simmering and tasting, the Queen of Soup is ready to ascend her throne and receive her accolades. Sometimes the process takes days, so it’s not surprising that most of us are willing to part with the turkey after its headliner appearance.

But soup-making has taught me an important truth: that time, effort and patience render an unforeseen yield. Every turkey has way more to give than meets the eye. What I once discarded as fully consumed I now know will yield two more meals if I give it my attention and effort. This lesson from the stock pot is one I need to embrace when I approach the banquet table of God’s word.

I realize I have sometimes treated the Bible like that turkey, satisfied to be nourished by it in ways that require little effort on my part. I seat myself at the Big Meal on Sunday and enjoy a generous serving of teaching. But if I take time during the week to do a little metaphorical "deboning"–by studying and meditating on a passage, by allowing it time to render its hidden treasures–the benefit to my spiritual life increases in a loaves-and-fishes way. Studying and meditating on the word is meticulous and time-consuming work, but it renders up a feast and leaves nothing wasted.

I want to be a person who moves slowly enough to savor every morsel. I want to be a person who is methodical enough not to miss one precious bite.

What about you? You don’t have to become the Queen of Soup–I “get” that not everyone loves it. But be the Queen of Quiet Time. Love the word enough to patiently and methodically render every bit of goodness it has to offer. Linger over it. Labor over it. Study and meditate. Therein is good meat that will turn spiritual beggars into royalty. Therein is good broth that will resurrect the dead.

"My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches" (Psalm 63:5-6).