Does God help to restrain evil in our society? If so, by what means does He do it?
Growing Violence and Evil
In 2nd Thessalonians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul writes about someone who is taken out of the way. Could this refer to a time when God withdraws His Spirit from the world, although never from believers? Paul wrote, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2nd Thess 2:7-8). The “man of lawlessness” is really the man of sin, and apparently, when this man is revealed, God may no longer restrain him. It may be that the Spirit of God is restraining lawlessness on the earth, but when the “lawless one” or “man of sin” is revealed, the Spirit will no longer restrain it, because “he is out of the way” or “out in the open,” so to speak. This restraining that now restrains evil on the earth, when finally taken away, all hell may break loose. Without God’s Spirit in the world to convict the world of sin, there will be no restraints, and it may end up like in the days of Noah, when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5), and “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:11). That is very much like the world we live in, isn’t it? God was only with Noah and his family, and so the rest of the world had no restraints and evil was all they thought about, so is it really any different today than it was in Noah’s day? It seems close to our day because there seems to be no restraint on what goes, and about all Hollywood ever thinks about is evil, violence, and sex. That’s the language of these passages. It’s like they all sat around trying to come up with something more evil than before, so God says, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen 6:13). That’s an extreme way to restrain evil in society, but there was no other way because they were never going to repent, even after a hundred or so years of Noah’s preaching.
It’s easy to see that the Bible teaches we are to be subject to those in authority. Jesus once told Pontius Pilate that he could have no power if it had not been given from above (John 19:11), and Jesus never disobeyed the local authorities. He broke the tradition of the Jews, but never the law of God. They accused Jesus of insurrection because He declared Himself to be a king or the Son of God, but never did He hint toward disobedience in society. The only exception would be where we are to obey God over man (Acts 5:29). The Apostle Peter wrote, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1st Pet 2:13-14). It is for the Lord’s sake and those who punish evil are “sent by him” or sent by God. The Apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1), because “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom 13:2), and “he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 12:5). There is no wiggle room here at all. We must obey those in authority, and only when faced with a choice of obeying God and disobeying man, we must obey God first because where mankind rules, God overrules and reigns supreme.
Using Nations to Restrain
God has a history of using one nation to punish another, thereby achieving His purpose. The ancient nation of Israel was stuck in a vicious or deadly cycle where they would be obeying God and prosper, their prosperity would make them forget about God, they would fall into idolatry, and another nation would come and take them into captivity, so God used other nations as a rod of correction for His own people. That is not harsh, but what a loving parent does, because God loved them enough to discipline them, He brought them back to Himself in turning back to Him or as a form of repentance. If not for the harsh bondage the people of Israel had to suffer under, they would have never forsaken their idolatry, and God does the same thing to His own children in restraining their (and our) evil. God, as the Perfect, and most loving Father, for the Scripture says, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:6), so think of it this way, “God is treating you as sons (and daughters). For what son (or daughter) is there whom his father does not discipline” (Heb 12:7)? The opposite of love is not hatred…I believe it is indifference, or apathy. Most prisoners say their fathers didn’t care. They let them do what they wanted to do. Sometimes it’s the single mother who is overly burdened with this responsibility. The greatest act of love is to be willing to offend or discipline because to not do so shows that you do not care what happens to them. God is not like this.
He Who Restrains
Jesus spoke of the One Who will restrain evil and He is the Holy Spirit that was to come into the world to convict the world of sin. Jesus said, “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8), and since sin is the transgression of the law (1st John 3:4), we are all found guilty under God’s law because none but Christ have kept it. Paul writes, “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom 3:19), or we have no excuse and can say nothing with substance, because God is right…we’re all lawbreakers….every one, so God restrains evil by His Holy Spirit in us, but also in the world. We think it’s bad now, but without the Spirit of God, all hell would break out on this earth.
Finally, some believe that God used America to help punish the wickedness of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. These two nations joined in an evil cause during World War II, but interestingly, in both the European and Pacific theatre, many who fought in this war, were absolutely positive that God had intervened on their behalf, and there were so many reports of miraculous events and timing, that they could not all have been coincidence. That shouldn’t really surprise us though, because as far as the nations of this earth are concerned, they might think they’re in charge, but “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1), whether the king knows about it or not.
More reading for you: 4 Christian Roles in Society
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.